Steve Mascord – born Andrew John Langley – was obsessed with rugby league and rock’n’roll. Long after almost everyone he knew, he clung to these things like twin teddybears, turning at least one of them into a career and making a bit of money out of the other.

But he spent all this money on …. rugby league and rock’n’roll. At the age of 47 he owned precisely nothing aside from hundreds of records and CDs and almost every edition of Rugby League Week ever printed. He was unmarried, had no car or property and was the proud owner of $50,000 of credit card debt.

Touchstones coverThen one day he discovered the truth about himself.

He always knew he was adopted but it turned out he was part of a bohemian family, his mother forced to give him up after suffering a mental breakdown. She searched for him until her dying day. Steve met uncles and cousins and aunties he never knew existed and for the first time in his life he felt whole. And he looked around that storage room full of CDs and football magazines and felt sad; a sense of loss.

He appeared in newspapers and on radio and television and people thought he was successful but had he really created a life for himself? Or was he living in a childhood fantasy, compensating for what had been missing, ready to fall down on top of him as traditional media imploded?

Steve thought ‘enough of being Steve Mascord, who is not a real person. Time to finally be Andrew John Langley’.

Having figuratively thrown all his toys out of the cot, he decided to conduct an audit. Which ones to pick up off the floor and keep in his new life, and which to leave laying there forever.

Click on one of the links below to order Touchstones. More to come!

advertise hereadvertise hereadvertise hereadvertise here
advertise here
advertise here
advertise here
advertise here
advertise here

WHITE LINE FEVER Column: December 2016/January 2017

p1_coverBy STEVE MASCORD

THE real question in the current imbroglio between the NRL and its clubs is not who’s in the right and who’s in the wrong.
It’s which group is worse.
Firstly, the basics. The clubs are trying have Australian Rugby League Commission chairman John Grant ousted. They have the required votes. What they are angry about is a promise to give them 130 per cent of total player payments from 2018 being broken when Grant came back from the Rugby League International Congress in Liverpool.
A memorandum of agreement was “taken off the table”, causing a group of chairman to walk out of a meeting at Moore Park’s League HQ in Sydney. Subsequent meetings were postponed when the chairmen refused to show up.
Let’s start with the clubs. They have all their player wages and travel expenses covered by head office but only one of them returned a profit last year. Why? Because they spend so much money trying to out-do each other via high-priced coaches, cutting-edge technology and expensive scouting networks.
In most cases the clubs run their own local junior leagues, too. They have under 20s sides and a reserve grade team of some kind. In Sydney, any short-fall is made up by grants from Leagues Clubs, which are basically giant poker machine palaces that get tax breaks precisely because they support junior rugby league.
The entire structure of the traditional Sydney clubs is mired in the past, when players played for beer money and TV rights were worth a few thousand dollars.
Now to the so called “Independent Commission”.
Australians love a “commission”. Forming one is what they do when there is perceived to be a problem with something. There’s the Independent Commission Against Corruption, the Australian Football League Commission, etc, etc.
All eight members of the commission are independent of the clubs. Under chairman Grant, in its four years the ARLC has performed an almost complete clean-out of the NRL, on the back of an army of consultants picking the brains of existing staff members and using the information to appoint those staffers’ new bosses.
Grant’s big mistake in promising the 130 per cent of player wages to the clubs is that he underestimated their deviousness and desperation. Now the clubs stood to make more money, the more the players were paid – so the players and clubs were suddenly allies and the central body became a giant cash cow.
But the question has to be asked: if the clubs are truly calling for Grant’s head because he’s shown incompetence, then why didn’t they point it out to him in the first place instead of pulling the wool over his eyes?
Like in England, rugby league in Australia needs blowing up and starting again. Like just about everywhere, it’s a cargo cult driven by self-interest.
In truth, the clubs should just be shells. Twenty five players, a capped staff selling tickets and sponsorships and that’s it. Everything else should be run from head office. The best model for the sport would be the lean teams making money for the the rest of the game, franchises in the true sense.
Junior development would be run centrally, players would change clubs via a draft.
But would I trust THIS head office not to make a mess of this fantasy scenario? Definitely not….

Filed for FORTY-20 MAGAZINE

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
advertise here

White Line Fever column: Toronto Wolfpack

screen-shot-2016-11-08-at-9-54-35-amBy STEVE MASCORD

THE things that stuck out were the names. Young trialist Bomaly Costanby. Local NRL and Super League-savvy photographer Marvin Dangerfield.
We’re not at Leichhardt Oval or the DW, Toto.
When I first heard the Toronto Wolfpack were holding open trials (‘tryouts’ in the North American lexicon) across the continent, I was desperate to attend one.
But it was only the previous evening, standing under a tree at Eden Park, Wilmington Delaware, that I realised it was possible.
A Toronto Wolfpack delegation, including coach Paul Rowley and director Adam Fogerty, had been standing there waiting for the United States-Canada international to start. They were holding a tryout the next day at EE Garthwaite Stadium, Conshohocken – about 20 minutes’ drive from here – they told me.
Eden Park is not to be confused with it’s Auckland namesake. It’s a chopped up old paddock. The players got changed in the carpark, they had to break into a box to turn the lights on and the crowd numbered in the double figures.
And while the rugby league itself was quite engrossing, Wollongong-domiciled US Hawk Junior VaiVai racing away to secure a 20-14 win with two minutes left, the event was a bit of a damp squib (although the halftime food was delicious … and free).
So I held few high hopes as I took an Uber from Essington, Pennsylvania to the home of the Philadelphia Fight the next day – having been up all night blogging the NRL grand final for the Sydney Morning Herald.
But the immediate signs were good.
A Wolfpack banner at the quaint suburban ground, a documentary crew of four, the coaching staff in smart black-and-grey attire and numbered vests for the hopefuls.
amazon“I was named after Bob Marley – honestly,” says winger-in-waiting Costanby.
“I was just playing rugby union for four months. I’ve been working really hard from 4am every day and I thought I could test my skills out here, see what I can do.
“I just love everything rugby can offer a person. I’m kinda greedy. I just feel like rugby can give me a good life, you get a little pay cheque and you can have fun.
“It’s good to go out and battle with my mates.”
By the side of the pitch, an Atlanta Rhinos player is talking State of Origin and hit-ups. On the field, Rowley is presiding over three-on-two drills, schooling the triallists on unders plays and inside shoulder responsibility.
I admit, I learned a thing or two listening to him.
Rowley won’t move to Canada at all. The pre-season camp will be in Europe and they won’t play a home game until May.
Leaning over the fence with a pipe is Fogerty, the former Halifax, St Helens and
Warrington prop who was also a heavyweight boxer and movie star (once knocked out on screen by Brad Pitt).
Along with being a director of the new club, he is involved in Last Tackle – the production company turning these tryouts into a documentary. One fellow from Samoa is told to answer the question again and leave his country of origin out of the answer, mentioning only Ohio.
/p>
donate2“It’s a story of redemption – giving these athletes in North America a chance at a sport they may not know much about,” says the Huddersfield resident.
“Only have a percent make the NFL, who leave college. We’ve got thousands and thousands of college athletes.
“It’s not X Factor. We’re not in it to show people up and make fools of people. We’re going to pick 15 of what we think of the best and bring them to England.
“They’ll be whittled down from there. It’s not a voting system where people ring in. They’ve got to have something special that we think we can mould into being rugby league stars.
“We want it to go out in everyone’s front room around the world.”
The Wolfpack are still regarded by many in Britain as a bizarre joke that will be lucky to last a season.
“People have got to take it to heart in Canada,” Fogerty admits. “We need to fill the stadiums for the home games and have them get behind us.
“You’re only as good as your supporters, in a way. They money men won’t keep throwing money into it forever and ever if it’s not financially viable.
“But we’re here because we believe in it.”
An hour in Conshohocken, and I believe again, too.

Filed for: FORTY 20 MAGAZINE

Rugby League’s Resolutions For 2016

ResolutionsBy STEVE MASCORD
WHEN News Corporation gave up its first and last rights over NRL satellite TV, we heard the expression that rugby league was “in control of its own destiny”.
The decision to surrender those rights supposedly cost Rupert Murdoch’s righthand man in Australia, Kim Williams, his job.
We had heard the same thing when News stopped being a half-owner of the game in Australia.
Yet we still had games being shown on delay, in low definition, on Channel Nine. We still had the Fox Sunday games kicking off at 2pm so they could be over before Nine’s delayed telecast started at four.
It didn’t feel like rugby league was in charge of much at all. At least not the NRL, which still seemed to be run for the sake of the broadcasters.
In England, the recent Baskerville Shield series was a success with good crowds – but the days of three Tests being played at Wembley, Old Trafford and Elland Road seem long gone.
With new streaming opportunities, British rugby league also believes it has “control of its own destiny”. But what does that actually mean?
Put another way, if you were rugby league, what would your New Years Resolutions be? Let’s have a shot.
A WORLD NINES CIRCUIT
IT was interesting that the recent RLIF strategic plan, ‘World Rugby Nines’ got a Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 09.24.13mention. Given that rugby union don’t play nine-a-side, perhaps we are about to make an attempt to reclaim that word that makes up half of our name. Semantics aside, we’ve now been talking about an off-season circuit for long enough to have acted upon it. The blueprint is already there – rugby union sevens. We use second tier players and those who are recently retired or off-contract. The developing nations pick their best and the games are therefore competitive. I am sure Duco Events, the smart people behind the NRL Nines, would love to be involved. Maybe the first year there are only two or three events – Abu Dhabi, Perth and Las Vegas – but it builds. And the beauty of it is that we use our other properties to leverage nines carnivals “You want an NRL match? An Origin? Let’s see how you go with a Nines tournament first”. As Hot Chocolate said, everyone’s a winner!

GIVE THE RLIF MORE AUTHORITY
THE appointment of the RLIF’s first full-time CEO was another milestone for the game – and we can’t expect miracles from David Collier overnight. But the spectacle of Super League CEO Blake Solly trying to get the first Anglo-New Zealand Test on Australian television a few hours before kick-off, and the feudal nature of refereeing appointments for those games, were rather unedifying. There are two countries with power in international rugby league – Australia and Britain. And if the Australians have little appetite for that side of the game, then there is a danger of the RLIF office being dominated by the country in which it resides. A real RLIF with teeth would be able to censure the RFL, something which is hard to imagine under current circumstances. Get rid of bilateral Test series completely. Have them run by the RLIF, with profits passed onto the countries involved as required. We need something more than a front for government funding.

FIX THE NEW END-OF-SEASON SCHEDULE
JAMES Lowes complained that The Qualifiers put too much pressure on his part-time players in one game but isn’t that what professional sport is all about? Most of our leagues worldwide have a final rather than handing out trophies on a first-past-the-post basis. The real problem with the new system in the UK in 2015 was that clubs were able to stockpile their teams at the end of the season, employing the same degree of cynicism that always swarmed around promotion and relegation like flies at a litter bin. The Super League teams absolutely should not get stronger when they are about to play opposition that was already spending less money. You would not be able to sign a whole new squad of players for the NRL semi-finals, would you? The bottom of the top division was also a little ho-hum for the tail end of the season, wasn’t it? Solutions on a postcard, please.

A CEASE-FIRE BETWEEN PLAYERS AND AUSTRALIAN AUTHORITIES
THREATS of awards night boycotts and even industrial action are almost annual events these days in Australia, where players complain they are overworked. Never mind that those in Super League play 10 more games a year. The NRL agreed to a 25-game schedule, still with five-day turnarounds, without consulting them and now the RLPA has hired a high-powered AFL man as its new CEO. In Australia, rugby league is a grab for cash. The new Collective Bargaining Agreement is … well, it’s not an agreement at all. When the NRL tried to mandate a 30-game season for all players, the players mocked Shane Richardson for trying to help them. A few months later, they’re screaming the house down because the season’s too long. Any cease-fire is certain to be temporary.

SEPARATE ORIGIN AUSTRALIAN SELECTION FROM ORIGIN
THE old school coaches and administrators Down Under are scared. While many other attempts to modernise and streamline the competition structures and representative programme have been greeted with enthusiasm, the simple measure of not requiring all Origin players to commit themselves to Australia has been greeted like it’s a heresy. It works like this: the RLIF does not recognise State of Origin in any way. It’s only Australia that requires dual-eligible players like Aquila Uate, James Tamou and Aiden Guerra to swear allegiance to the green and gold before they don maroon or blue. This allows Australia to retain players using the $30,000 per game appearance fee. You cannot play Origin unless you lived in NSW or Queensland before the age of 13 but international selection criteria, across all sports, are far less stringent. The solution is simple: let Origin players represent any (maybe just tier two) country for which they properly qualify. Those who fear this either don’t understand it or want Australia to have an unfair leg-up.

SUPER LEAGUE SHOULD PUSH INTO THE AUSTRALIAN MARKET
BETWEEN 20,000 and 40,000 people get up at 5am in Australia to watch Super League. The vast majority of them know nothing about this magazine. They don’t know who Blake Solly is. They have no idea there are podcasts, radio programmes and sponsors of Super League trying to reach them. While the denizens of Salford Quays struggle to get national mainstream media attention – the midweek papers are increasingly devoid of rugby league – there is an insatiable hunger for the game Down Under. The World Cup ebaymost gambled-upon Super League game of the year is the 1pm match on Magic Weekend – because Australian fans have just finished watching Super Saturday on Fox. Super League should play more matches in this time slot and work more closely with their Fox in Australia so the matches are mentioned during NRL broadcasts and other rugby league programmes are not put up in competition with them. Super League should open an office in Sydney and Super League clubs could even sell perimeter advertising to Australian companies, as happens in soccer with overseas sponsors.

STAND UP TO OTHER SPORTS
WE’VE been warning for as long as we can remember that if rugby league did not get off its backside it would be swamped by other sports. When Sam Burgess can walk out and try international rugby union on for size, when the Dally M medallist is happy to train with an NFL team rather than play our sport, when Sonny Bill Williams can go from Allianz Stadium to Soldier Field and Twickenham in a matter of weeks, when Tom Burgess can trial for an NFL contract while he is under contract with South Sydney, you know the warning has come true. We are, globally, second division and trying to avoid further relegation. We need to stand up for ourselves in places like Dubai, where the local rugby union authorities want to run league comps and – so far – the RLIF seems to be appeasing them. We’re under siege. The barricades need manning.

REAL CULTURAL CHANGE
READ the letters page of any rugby league publication. Talk to clubs and players and administrators and media people. No-one is happy, everyone is moaning. Being a ‘working class game’ is what’s great about rugby league – but it’s perhaps also a big part of what’s wrong with it. In order to progress, the game needs to learn from its rivals, to embrace the ‘big end of town’, to leave behind the bogans and whippets. If you want violence, go watch extreme sports. If you only want to make money out of the game, we’re not giving you any. If you want to start a rebel league, start one. If you want to abuse referees, don’t come back. If you want to stay in suburban grounds, we’ll be at the big ones with corporate boxes and decent toilets. See you. We’ll take the hit. Someone needs to grab rugby league by the scruff of the neck, drag it out of what sometimes seems like a ghetto, and damn the consequences. The alternatives are obscurity and irrelevance. And if that person pays with his job, like David Smith did, we’ll just wait patiently until the next messiah comes along.

Filed for RUGBY LEAGUE WORLD

Far & Wide: July 27 2015

Far & WideBy STEVE MASCORD

OFFICIALS are hailing this year’s Ohana Cup at Honolulu’s Aloha Stadium as the best yet, with Samoa thrilling around 8000 fans in their 20-4 win over Tonga.

The Hawaiian Rugby League are still trying to lure Penrith and Brisbane to the holiday isle, despite the reservations of the NRL, and plan to use next year’s event as a precursor to a state competition for domestic players.

“We’ll shoot for four month competition starting next July,” says organiser Steve Johnson.

The Western Corridor NRL bid boss also revealed he wanted this year’s game to be a double-header, with the United States taking on Fiji in the earlier game. But the newly rebranded USA Hawks weren’t interested.

LeagueWeek Back IssuesHe said ESPN Radio and Western Union were two American companies hugely impress with what they saw just over a week ago and keen to be involved again in future.

“Samoa is one of the big places Western Union does transfers to from Hawaii and we spoke to them about putting something back,” he said.

“American sports aren’t involved in the community like rugby league is. That impresses a lot of companies in Hawaii.

“ESPN Sport were blown away by rugby league. They’d never seen it before and they want to cover whatever we do.”

.

ON the mainland, the US has named a 35-man train-on squad for the upcoming internationals against Canada.

And, as is consistent with the change of administration for the game in America, there are 28 potential international newcomers.

A number of training camps are to be held. The USARL National Championship Final will be held on rugby league’s 120th birthday, August 29.

.

A PNG minister made headlines last week with some colourful quotes regarding the re-emergence of the Kumuls

State enterprise minister Ben Micah told parliament: “”We are going to hunt them down, we’ll kill them and we’ll eat them.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK