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Rugby League: Thrum Hall tradition ends after112 years

Dave Hadfield witnesses the final farewell of a rugby ground which yesterday closed its doors on the sport for the last time
THE JOKE around Halifax is that Thrum Hall has had more farewells than Frank Sinatra, but, after a few false endings, there really is no going back for Ol' Blue Sox.

A ground that has staged rugby for 112 years closed its gates for the last time after Halifax had won what was misleadingly billed as a friendly against Leeds 35-28.

There is no such thing as a friendly when such fierce local rivalries are involved and there was enough of the real red blood of the game to make this a suitable finale to that long history as the club shuffles off to share The Shay.

They laid on the tradition with a big shovel yesterday. The Todmorden Old Brass Band played "Abide With Me," sung by what was described as "one of Calderdale's top vocalists," not helped by one of Calderdale's less reliable microphones - itself something of a Thrum Hall tradition in recent years.

There was a parade of ex-players, with the loudest welcomes reserved for their record try-scorer of the 50s and 60s, Johnny Freeman, who still looked fit enough to play in an emergency, and for their oldest survivor, Hubert Lockwood.

Lockwood, now 89, played for the side he never could have imagined being called The Blue Sox on either side of the Second World War.

"It's a sad day for me and for anyone with a long association with the club," he said. "I played on a lot of grounds that are now gone, but I never thought that Thrum Hall would be the next.

"It's a sign of the times, because there's no room to expand here. I've been down to have a look at The Shay this morning and I can see the possibilities there.''

The only serious breach of tradition was that it should be such a balmy, spring-like afternoon, not at all the conditions for which Thrum Hall is justly famous. You could, however, collect a Certificate of Attendance at the turnstiles - a reminder of some of the afternoons and evenings in the past when you had to be certifiable to be there.

Halifax even wore proper blue-and-white hooped jerseys that looked from a distance as though they could be made of wool. They were also numbered from one to 13, although not necessarily in that order.

For all that, it was Leeds - the epitome of everything that Yorkshire town teams resent - who started as though they intended to make the most of the occasion.

Tony Kemp scored two tries and set up another for Ryan Sheridan as they raced into a 16-2 lead, before two outbreaks of fighting showed that there would be no concessions to sentiment and saw Martin Moana and Dean Lawford - who like "Fax'' Craig Dean was later carried off with a potentially serious ankle injury - sin-binned.

The introduction of first-string forwards like Karl Harrison, Paul Rowley and Gary Mercer from the over-populated bench revitalised Halifax and, by half-time, they were starting to enjoy their own party.

Fereti Tuilagi was the catalyst, taking Gavin Clinch's kick to send the former Leeds full-back, Damien Gibson, in for one try and then taking Chris Chester's pass to score himself.

Tuilagi also supplied the pass for Mercer to put Halifax into the lead, although Graham Holroyd went half the length of the field to keep Leeds in contention.

Gibson's second try, the sixth of Martin Pearson's seven goals and a drop goal from Rowley gave Halifax a nine point lead, but Paul Sterling and Holroyd brought Leeds back to within one point.

It would not have been inappropriate if Holroyd's try, in the corner where Freeman scored many of his 290 tries for the club, had been the last at Thrum Hall, because he is a Halifax lad, who grew up on the terraces at the ground before being lured to the big city.

Instead, the honour fell to another local product, the reserve hooker, Danny Seal, who went over from close range in injury time. It set the seal on a long and proud history; the future lies at The Shay, but the loss of Thrum Hall is still a shame.

Halifax: Pearson, Gibson, Tuilagi, Daio Powell, Bouveng, Chester, Clinch, Marshall, Seal, Clarkson, Baldwin, Gillespie, Moana. Substitutes used: Mercer, Hobson, Clark, Monro, Harrison, Rowley, Dean.

Leeds: Harris, Sterling, Blackmore, Godden, Rivett, Kemp, Sheridan, Masella, Lawford, Fleary, Morley, Farrell, Glanville. Substitutes used: Holroyd, Cummins, St Hilaire, Daryl Powell, Cantillon, McDermott, Carvell.

Referee: R Smith (Castleford).