True grit with nuggets of gold

BOOK OF THE WEEK
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The Independent Online
When Push Comes to Shove (Volume Two: Centenary Issues) edited by Ian Clayton (Yorkshire Arts Circus, pounds 9.95)

It isn't quite true to say that rugby league nostalgia is the one thriving industry left in the West Yorkshire Bermuda Triangle that has Castleford, Wakefield and Featherstone as its points of reference, but there have been times over the past year when you could have sworn it was.

If there was one area where the natives truly were revolting during the furore over Super League and forced mergers, then this was it. Other parts of the rugby league heartland wear their traditions lightly; here, it is a thick top-coat, buttoned to the throat.

"When Push Comes to Shove" could only have sprung from such a hot-bed and it has become a cottage industry in itself. The first volume last year was one of the code's surprise publishing successes. In Pontefract, it outsold Stephen King and Jeffrey Archer.

The follow-up is essentially more of the same; nuggets of reflection and anecdote from a wide range of people involved in the game at various levels, accompanied by gritty, grainy black-and-white photos.

Ian Clayton, the driving force behind both volumes, is the world's first professional Featherstonian, but he would resent classification as a parochial reactionary.

The entries cover a broad canvas, up to and including this autumn's Centenary World Cup, and encompass enthusiasm for the future as well as defiant celebration of the past.

But the dominant flavour remains that of the man on the terrace at Post Office Road who feels that the game is already being dragged away from him and fears that, if big city values and big money operators have their way, it will soon be denied to him completely.

The triumph of "When Push Comes to Shove" is that it finds hundreds of ways of giving expression to that fierce, possessive pride.

It can outsell Archer and King in Pontefract because that expression is frequently made through a deadpan northern brand of humour. There is the mother of Roy Dickinson, a Leeds prop of the 70s and 80s, who carried his Cup-winner's medal in her hand-bag, and Willis Frawley, who had his teeth knocked out accidentally by a team-mate, who considerately placed them by a goal-post and told him where they were.

Better still is an account of an interview with Steve Donlan, who played for Wigan in the 1985 Challenge Cup final - without doubt the best of all time. What did he remember of that great day? "Nothing in particular." What did he do after the game? "Just went to the tea rooms, had a cuppa tea and a piece of cake. Battenberg it was, really nice. Never had any before. I had David Stephenson's piece too."

I can forgive them anything in return for that delectable morsel, even the infuriating policy of not attributing the contributions. Still, trying to match them up to the list of contributors at the front could be turned into a challenging game with which to while away the long winter nights.

Time to throw another whippet on the fire and, as Willis Frawley might have put it, get on wi' t'job.

DAVE HADFIELD

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