White Line Fever column: December 2016

forty20-magazineBy STEVE MASCORD

OVER the next four months, I have a book to finish.
It’s working title is Fifty-two and the kind folk here at Scratching Shed have agreed to publish it. To those of you who pledged your support on Kickstarter, I thank you.
Now, fifty-two is about to expose me to something of an adventure. According to the premise of the book, I have to attend at least one rugby league game a week for an entire year.
I’ve gone close before, covering – say – a Papua New Guinea tour of France that went until the last week in November and then fronting up for a trial match at Gosford in the middle of January. I saw plenty of winter rugby league in Britain in the early nineties, on one occasions going from a Premiership final at Old Trafford to a Winfield Cup game in Perth five days later.
But I’ve never quite done a full year. I’ve never attended a Boxing Day or New Years’ game in England. I’ve never NOT had a Mad Monday, even if the flamboyance with which I celebrate it has dimmed with the passing years.
So the week after the Four Nations final at Anfield, I’ll return to London for a couple of days and then set off for the south of France. I am not quite sure what I will see as I find the fixture list on the French Federation website rather baffling.
But I am expecting baguette, Kronenberg and long, cold nights in front of the laptop until mid-January, punctuated by Christmas with the in-laws in Tipperary and a food hangover at somewhere like Headingley around the end of the year.
What do I hope to achieve? What insight can be provided by chasing 13-a-side rugby each weekend for year?
While watching the year’s NRL Nines at the home of Wigan Observer and Rugby League Week writer Phil Wilkinson, he asked me “do you think you actually like the game, or just all the things around it?”
It was a very prescient question.
What attracted me about rugby league to start with was the iconography; the footy cards we swapped at school, the intro music to Seven’s Big League with Rex Mossop. I parried that into a career, where if you could get someone to say something interesting you would put it in the third paragraph of a newspaper story, paraphrase them in the first paragraph and live the Life of Riley.
amazonBut did I ever fall in love with the aesthetics of the game? Certainly, I wouldn’t be the first person you would go to for a view on attacking patterns and defensive responsibilities. That was just never my thing.
By going to early round Challenge Cup matches, NSW Cup finals, internationals in Wales and America and – finally – domestic matches in France I hope to divorce the artifice surrounding big time pro rugby league from the game itself.
I hope to get reach genuine, objective conclusions about the sport’s strengths and weaknesses as a spectacle. I have already discovered that I find comfort in the cadence of a rugby league match – but also that I find few games so engrossing that I won’t allow myself to be distracted.
That is one of many essential truths I’ve spent the last two-thirds of a year pursuing for this project. It’s a ridiculously ambitious concept for someone who has never written a book before.
I should have just eased my way in with, say, The Sean Rutgerson Story.
So if you’re a French rugby league game this winter and see a shivering Aussie, come up and say hello.
I’ll be looking for material.
Filed for: FORTY20 MAGAZINE
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