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4 Forty-20 January 2012
So, what about the misfortune? Well, the roof has already blown off Saints’ Langtree Park. And rumours? Where do we start? Richard Owen scrapping with Santa Claus? The new Stobart-cum-PROBIZ-cum-Betfaircum-ribbed Durex Super League? London and the Catalans out of Mancunian Magic (except that they aren’t)? We will be glad when the on-field action starts. Sometimes a short off-season isn’t a bad thing.
Sick of the boring nightlife in Wigan? Then have we got a treat for you. (Dunno.Havewe?-ed). Scratching Shed’s highly popular ‘In League with Literature’ roadshow is back on Tuesday 31 January (6pm) at Wigan’s brand spanking new library. In alphabetical order to save ego clashes, messrs Caplan, Collins, French, Hadfield and Hannan look forward to seeing you there. Tickets (£5) can be bought by ringing 01942 827621. Don’t rustle your mint balls.
Let no one deny that Forty-20 scribes get around. Our own Harry Potter doppelgänger Gareth Walker, for example, has just returned from a mini-break in Budapest. Notice any Hungarian RL activity, we asked, as is our wont. “No,” he said. “But I did see a woman taking a ferret for a walk.”
Forty-20reader Steven Rodger was so incensed by our ‘Poor call’ quote last month, wherein rugby league was airbrushed out of history on the Olympic Movement’s website, that he sent the five gold rings brigade an email. Baron Pierre de Coubertin and Co replied thus: “The IOC only recognises the International Rugby Board (IRB)... the governing body for rugby sevens and rugby fifteens. That is the reason why you only find information dedicated to these two types of rugby.” Fascists.
Where’s Matthew?: The 3G pitch
“Matthew Lewis was there in his role of Vice-President of the Leeds Foundation...”
December’s Kelvin Fletcher interview, which also referred to Emmerdale’s on-going devotion to rugby league, overlooked the sport’s best known acting graduate - former Halifax and St Helens prop Adam Fogerty. The giant thespian, who has appeared alongside such greats as Brad Pitt, Helen Mirren, Robert De Niro and the nodding Churchill Insurance dog, was in four episodes of the rustic soap in 1998. He played fireman Jez Hudson who cheated on Kathy (Malandra Burrows) and was clocked on the head with an ashtray by Sam Dingle in the Woolpack.
Never mind the paltry 25 - or was it 26 - seconds of rugger league on the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards at Salford’s MediaCityUK. It was broadcast on a Thursday and that’s double Emmerdalenight, so no one was watching anyway. In the live audience: Jamie Jones-Buchanan’s sideburns, Sam Tomkins, Rob Burrow (casual), Adrian Morley and Kevin Sinfield. Major kudos to Forty-20 columnist Brian Noble, whose prime seat behind the striking woman in red on the front row gave him more screentime than Sue - ‘why this sudden influx of rugby league players on QuestionofSport?’ - Barker.
What price celebrity endorsement? Matthew Lewis, ubiquitous over the holiday period in HarryPotters 3 to 6, part one sub-section b, paragraph 2, turned up with no fanfare at the opening of the now state-of-the-art 3G Archie Gordon Ground in Leeds.
Matthew, as we friends of the stars call him, was there in his role of Vice-President of the Leeds Rugby Foundation. Also present were some female student volunteers from the Carnegie campus, as part of their event management course who, on spotting Neville Longbottom, were struck dumb. Also accepting a role with the Foundation is Nell McAndrew, the Belle Isle-born glamour model, and there haven’t been too many of them down the years. Well, not unless you count Garry Schofield.
The great Harry Jepson - also OBE - has had more hot dinners than, er, hot dinners. At one the other week he told a lovely tale concerning Sally Richardson, the BBC’s stalwart RL producer, to whom he presented an outstanding achievement award. Harry, still sprightly of mind and body in his 92nd year, had turned up at Wembley the day before a Challenge Cup final in his official capacity as RL board member. Spying Sally across a deserted Great Hall, he typically crept up and put his arms around her waist from behind, only to discover it was one of her colleagues. She too has been a great friend ever since.
Back to One
1. The professional playing career of veteran Australian centre Tony Martin, below, began with London Broncos in 1996, the first year of Super
2. Martin went on to have two spells in England’s capital, returning in 2001 after two seasons in Melbourne. He left again in 2003
for the New
3. Horse racing’s Melbourne Cup, below, is New Zealand’s single biggest betting event. An estimated ten per cent of the Kiwi public is said to have bet on the 2010
4. In the opening scene of the 1970 Italian Spaghetti Western My NameisTrinity, the cowboy of that name (Terence Hill) is dragged along by a horse
6. In 2011, Wakefield won a shock Super League licence ahead of Martin’s fifth professional club, Crusaders. He then signed for Hull, meaning he and Warrington’s Adrian Morley will be the last 1996 men standing in 2012
5. Wakefield Trinity’s first nickname was the Dreadnoughts, aka a battleship and Melbourne tram. Martin moved to
Trinity for a third UK stint from 2008 Personality of the month
To the manor born ANDY WILSON on newly-minted Wigan chairman Ian Lenagan
I‘ve always been fascinated, rather pruriently, by the idea of a rugby league rich list. Of course the players should always be the most prominent figures in the game, but I’m not so sure about the cliché that they are the most important. For all the admirable efforts of a London stalwart such as Rob Purdham, for example, without the financial support of David Hughes for at least the last few years there would have been no Super League club in the capital for him to serve.
The debate over who has been the more significant figure at St Helens, Keiron Cunningham or Eamonn McManus, is trickier and more emotive, but I suspect Keiron would be one of the leading advocates for the chairman who has delivered a new stadium at Langtree Park, in addition to ensuring that his wages were paid.
Clubs, and the game as a whole, are in desperate need of wealthy backers. For the last 15 years, Wigan have had a couple of the wealthiest, who show that such support can come in very different forms.
Dave Whelan is seriously rich as a result of the 1990s success of his JJB Sports chain, but football will always be his primary sporting passion. There has never been any doubt about Ian Lenagan’s commitment to rugby league and specifically Wigan, who he has supported at Wembley on numerous occasions since a debut in 1958 for the victory over Workington. But it was only when he sold the software company he had founded in 1986, WorkPlace Systems, for £41m just before Christmas that his true financial weight became clear.
Lenagan is reported to have made £19m from the deal. I haven’t been cheeky enough to ask him if that’s correct. But he can’t have been doing so badly before, with a base in Woodstock, the beautiful Cotswold village in Inspector Morse territory just north of Oxford, in addition to the readies to buy Whelan’s controlling interest in Wigan back in 2007.
Having initially failed to resist the temptation to write about his striking likeness to Eric Pollard, a dodgy character from Emmerdale, I now see him as more of a Richard DeVere, the moneybags and mostly loveable rogue played raffishly by
Peter Bowles in the classic BBC sitcom To The Manor Born - and no relation, incidentally, to the former Brisbane and Huddersfield centre Michael.
Lenagan may be from the mean streets of Wigan in Scholes rather than the Czechoslovakian aristocracy, but in public at least, he shares Bowles’s easy eloquence and effortless class. He’s a bit of a showman, as you’d expect for someone who dabbled in theatre production, and I’m sure he’d plead guilty to a healthy slab of ego, too. The November press conference to confirm Shaun Wane’s promotion was typical, as the chairman began his lengthy address with only the Challenge Cup for company on the top table before Kris Radlinski, Paul Deacon, Iestyn Harris and finally Wane emerged from a darkened room. My other lasting memory of that occasion was Lenagan’s use of the word ‘contiguous’, which may well have been a first at a rugby league press conference. It sounded correct, as well, although I still haven’t checked in the dictionary.
I might also look up Magnetohydrodynamics, in which he gained a degree from Liverpool University after previously graduating in Maths from Manchester, while I’m at it.
But much more significant was his willingness and enthusiasm to fight back on behalf of rugby league against rugby union, both from the top table and in follow-up quotes afterwards. Everyone in Super League should be grateful that Wigan are now led by someone who appreciates the importance of keeping Sam Tomkins away from rugby union for at least a couple of years, and has the cash to satisfy his agents.
Lenagan has banged the drum for league against union far more bullishly than any other administrator I can think of. Certainly Gary Hetherington, with whom he has shared a few heated discussions but actually has plenty in common, is in no position to do so given Leeds’s cross-code interests.
It seems to me that the future success of the game in this country will be increasingly reliant on our strongest club brands, such as Leeds and Wigan, and therefore on the people who control them. Lenagan and Hetherington are both passionate advocates who see the bigger picture - best summed up by their support of development work on either side of the Severn Bridge now that Wigan have linked up with Wales to follow Leeds’s move into South West England.
One other thing that they obviously share is financial shrewdness - and no, that is not a euphemism. Hetherington has turned Leeds into a profitable business for Paul Caddick, another of those unsung but essential financial heroes of league, even if his main love is rugby union. Lenagan has done likewise at Wigan since buying out Whelan after the club had suffered a £780,000 loss in 2006. It took him a few years, but by 2009 the losses were down to £140,000, and their profits for 2011 are expected to be around the £100,000 mark recorded in 2010.
That is down to shrewd innovations like establishing a club shop in Wigan’s Grand Arcade, which has helped to drive the rise in replica shirt sales and many other ranges of merchandise - as well as subtly re-establishing the primacy of rugby league in the town centre. Of course the success of the team on the field has been a key factor in all this, too - but again, Lenagan has been at the root of that, with his decision to recruit Michael Maguire from the game’s coaching cutting edge in Melbourne to replace Brian Noble.
How he must have chuckled as officials of other clubs have travelled to Australia in the last year or so and returned with their own versions presumably ignorant of the amount of research that had gone into Maguire’s appointment. There is nothing accidental about Lenagan’s success; with Wigan as with WorkPlace Systems.
“If a British coach winning the Super League title has made some people sit up and take a look, that’s a good thing…” - LeedsbossBrian McDermottspeaks outinsupportof hiscompatriots
“The NRL have issues of their own to work through, but hopefully the new administration will have a more enlightened attitude...” - RFLchief executiveNigel Wood,afterRed Hallproposalsfor anEngland internationaltour werethwarted
“James Rule has done what every CEO would try and do in the circumstances. He has tried to put a little bit of a veil over what has gone on... I think he has tried to look after the player’s best interest and his club’s best interest.” - Adid-he-reallysay-thatmoment fromSkySports commentator EddieHemmings onSkySportsNews
January 2012 Forty-20 5