Goodnight, God Bless Wilderspool - home to Warrington Wolves for 105 years (From Warrington Guardian)
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Goodnight, God Bless Wilderspool - home to Warrington Wolves for 105 years
TONIGHT I will be reporting on my last game at Wilderspool Stadium, home to Warrington RLFC for 105 years.
A sold-out crowd of 800 will gather in the Brian Bevan Memorial Stand to see potential stars of the future represent Warrington and Cumbria under 16s teams, while also paying due respects to an old dear before the bulldozers move in.
The place, beyond tired and seemingly accepting of its fate to be soon demolished, means so much to so many people.
For me, it’s been a gladiatorial arena, it’s been a stage, it’s been a night out, it’s been a workplace – as a 40-year supporter, as a schoolboy player and as a working man with Warrington Guardian. In fact, it’s been a second home.
As I close my eyes and reflect, I see heroes. John Bevan’s salute after one of his 201 Warrington tries, Steve Hesford kicking a goal from inside his own half and Les Boyd smashing into Kurt Sorensen.
Growing up they were my Batman, Superman, Spiderman and one naughty villain, while referee Billy Thompson must have been a creature from The Muppet Show.
Thinking back to the 70s, it was the crowd that intrigued me as I gained a viewing advantage by standing on a stool while leaning on the wall close to the players’ tunnel.
Familiar faces from week to week would flip between anger with gritted teeth to elation with pumping clenched fists as the twisting rollercoaster of supporter emotions hit me between the eyes. It was hard not to get involved, to be swept up by the passion.
I close my eyes again. There’s Tommy Martyn offloading in a tackle, Ken Kelly and Bob Eccles combining for a wonder score, Mike Gregory giving his all for the cause and Paul Cullen putting himself about both physically and skilfully.
And I recall playing in the Miller Sevens for St James’ School against Sacred Heart and Bruche, trying to emulate my idols, while at the Saturday morning kids’ club it was gym training with ‘Bev’ and field practice with coach Kevin Ashcroft. I was in my element.
There are fans on the pitch, changing ends at half time so that they can be close to the tries.
I’m in Legends, the nightclub in the leisure centre built along the touchline to save Wire from ruin in 1971. It’s the end-of-school party I helped to organise, and I’m back there in a vicar’s outfit for the Priestley College fancy dress Christmas party a few months later.
A huge roar. It’s coming from the Fletcher Street End after a Dessie Drummond special. And I’m losing my balance as the crowd falls like a wave from top to bottom of the stand on the night Warrington famously destroyed world champions Widnes in a Lancashire Cup semi final in front of a locked house.
I hear Kevin Ellis singing ‘Here We Go’ on the karaoke in the Touchdown Club after a winning Sunday, and the fans belting out ‘Brian Johnson’s Barmy Army’ for the entire second half against Sheffield Eagles when Warrington became champions for 19 hours .
Now I’m in the steamy changing rooms, conducting an interview with rising star Iestyn Harris and move on to have a chat with Jonathan Davies, so that I can relay their thoughts and emotions to the supporters through the sports pages of the Guardian.
I’m playing snooker with Kelly Shelford in the leisure centre, while Duane Mann and Gary Mercer are battling it out on the neighbouring table. Mike Nicholas shows me how to train on the punch bag during an afternoon’s workout in the Wilderspool gym.
Now there’s tears – not mine, but Brian Johnson’s in his Wilderpool office. He’s just resigned as coach because of the previous night’s 80-0 hammering by St Helens in the Regal Trophy semi final. I’m the last man he wants to see, a reporter seeking his final words by way of a goodbye story in the paper.
The gluepot pitch of wintertime becomes something of a dust bath as Super League’s summer rugby era arrives in 1996.
Richard Henare’s just set the stadium alight by going full length, Allan Langer’s delivered a sublime pass to Lee Briers and Tawera Nikau’s nearly knocked someone’s head off.
The memories end as I visualise there hardly being a dry eye in the house when Wolves’ first team played at Wilderspool for the last time - 11 years ago.
That’s my Wilderspool, some of it at least. Like so many others, I sure will miss it. Goodnight, God bless.
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