Our journey around the villages, towns and cities that have rugby league running through their veins heads north of the border to Scotland.
Escape To A New Land
Despite producing a captain who has won the World Cup and having hosted two Challenge Cup finals, the question remains: can rugby league ever establish itself in Scotland?
For over a century, there have been efforts to introduce the game to the North.
Although a lot of attempt has been made, only a small minority of individuals are engaged in playing 13-a-side rugby.
In the past few years, the men's national team has faced challenges after their success in the 2013 World Cup quarter-finals and winning the European Cup in the following year. However, there have been some noteworthy draws against top teams like New Zealand during the 2016 Four Nations tournament and Samoa in the 2017 World Cup.
The passing of Keith Hogg at the age of 66 was an unfortunate event. He was previously the chairman of the Scotland Rugby League and was highly regarded as a dependable figure for the country. However, two years ago, he had to resign from his position due to poor health. His death marks yet another difficulty for the team.
Despite the challenges, the thistle proves to be a resilient plant. The popularity of football and rugby union may pose obstacles, but it is hoped that the sport of 13-a-side in all its variations will thrive.
Barry McGuffog, who has recently joined Scotland RL as the liaison officer for clubs, has revealed his intentions to resurrect the Scottish men's 'A' team after a prolonged absence. This will involve creating two teams for a trial match - one made up of domestic players known as the Club XIII representative team, and the other consisting of Scottish players who currently live abroad, otherwise known as the Exiles.
"My goal is to generate real chances for both players and coaching personnel," he clarified.
I believe that Scotland's 'A' team could serve as a gateway for domestic players to progress to the senior national team, and that the opportunity to earn international recognition would entice fresh talent to the sport of rugby league.
The nation, especially the area of Borders, has been well-known for having a substantial pool of skilled individuals for a considerable period.
If we turn back the clock to April in 1904, we will find rugby league's inaugural international game. During the match at Wigan's Central Park stadium, the Other Nationalities team had a couple of Scottish athletes in their ranks. George Frater, Oldham's player, led the squad to a 9-3 triumph. Additionally, Leeds' Jim Moffatt, a forward, also participated.
In 1908-09, the Australia national team embarked on a tour of Great Britain that lasted for over five months and consisted of 45 matches. One of these matches was held in Glasgow at Celtic Football Club's Parkhead, where they played against a Northern Union XIII. The schedule of games was ambitious and extensive, showcasing the team's determination to succeed.
However, due to the match being scheduled on a Wednesday afternoon in February, a time when most people were occupied with work, and also with the added hindrance of heavy rainfall, only a meager crowd of 3,000 attended the game. This was a disappointing turn out, as the venue where the match was held was one of the largest football stadiums in the world and had a capacity to hold over 60,000 people.
Many people witnessed the event, including the well-known Celtic coach Willie Maley. Rumor has it that Maley was extremely impressed by the outstanding skills of Dally Messenger, the centre of the Kangaroos rugby team. Apparently, Maley made an offer of £1,000, which would be equivalent to about £125,000 in today's currency, to convince Messenger to switch from rugby to soccer.
The messenger had a connection to rugby league, while the planners of the second Kangaroos tour in 1911-12 decided to choose Scotland again. They chose the Heart of Midlothian's Tynecastle stadium, which could hold up to 60,000 people, as the venue for the second Ashes Test against Great Britain in December.
A total of 8,000 people attended the 11-11 match on Saturday afternoon, which is more than the number of people who attended the first Test in Newcastle where Australia won 19-10 with only 5,317 people present. The same goes for the third match in Birmingham's Villa Park where only 4,000 people watched the tourists win 33-8 to secure the series.
However, national matches for soccer were mostly held at the familiar and traditional club stadiums in Northern England. Some people argue that this approach is too narrow-minded, as shown by how a proposal to form a new club called the Glasgow Eagles was turned down in 1953 due to worries about the expenses of traveling.
If the Eagles had succeeded, they might have attempted to recruit Dave Valentine, the talented back row player from Huddersfield. Valentine began his rugby career playing rugby union for Hawick in Scotland, and he led a Great Britain team, which included Davie Rose from Jedburgh, to victory at the first World Cup in France back in 1954. The French team was defeated 16-12 in the final match held in Paris.
During the eighties, rugby league's expansion led to the emergence of new clubs such as London Broncos (previously known as Fulham), Cardiff City, and Carlisle. This development also prompted Glasgow Rangers and Hearts, both football clubs, to inquire about creating their rugby league teams.
The Scottish student game was gaining prominence, prompting the formation of a national team in 1995. They participated in the Emerging Nations Tournament, which coincided with the World Cup in England and Wales that year.
In 1996, the Bravehearts had their initial home game versus Ireland in Glasgow. The match happened at Firhill, which was shared with Tynecastle as a location for the 2000 World Cup. This was the first World Cup in which Scotland participated, and they have since played in four more.
The national team has also frequented Old Anniesland, Hughenden, and Scotstoun Stadium (as well as the versatile Lochinch Park) in Glasgow, as well as Meggetland and Myreside in Edinburgh and Netherdale in Galashiels.
In August 1997, Carlisle, now known as Border Raiders, traveled to Hawick RU Club to play against Lancashire Lynx in a third-tier game. The match was witnessed by 424 people and Carlisle emerged victorious with a score of 32-6.
Back in July 1998, Bradford Bulls and London Broncos battled it out on Tynecastle grounds for a Super League 'On the Road' match. Surprisingly, London Broncos managed to secure a solid 22-8 victory with the attendance of 6,863 spectators. At that time, Scotland had just established their domestic league in 1997, and the Border Eagles lost 34-10 to the Wath Brow Hornets during the first round tie at Hughenden in the 1996 Challenge Cup, which featured Scottish participation for the very first time.
Wembley is currently being renovated, so the 2000 Challenge Cup final took place at Murrayfield in Edinburgh. This is the Scottish Rugby Union's headquarters and is less than a mile away from Tynecastle. Before Bradford clinched their victory over Leeds Rhinos with a score of 24-18 in front of an audience of 67,247, there was a big cleanup required due to a flood.
In the year 2001, the highlighted event occurred in Twickenham. In the following year, 2002, Murrayfield was chosen again as the location for an event where an audience of 62,140 witnessed Wigan Warriors achieve a 21-12 victory against St Helens.
This article was initially printed in the August 2023 edition of Rugby League World publication.
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