By December 1993, I think we all knew we were watching something pretty special; a scintillating brand of RL being played by a tight knit Crusaders squad, who were connecting so closely with us fans (especially in the Copthall Stadium bar!) But on the 12th of that month I didn’t think I’d connect quite so closely when our Supporters Club coach left Victoria Station for the Regal Trophy 3rd Round clash away at Ryedale York. It was a bright, sunny, freezing cold glorious day for RL as the beer was flowing en route, but by Leicester the clouds had gathered, by Sheffield the sleet was heavy and York? No chance of snow, it’s in a vale! Yep, an absolute whiteout and a foot deep!
“There’s always the Minster to visit” said our beloved Alex Ferguson, “they don’t serve beer there” came the witty reply from the front of the coach. Tucked safely in the Ryedale Stadium bar looking at a blanket of white at 2pm the game looked more than in doubt. I was half cut to be honest, when Club Secretary Neil Robinson strolls in to summon my services, having passed my RFL referees exam just two months previous. “David Campbell is stuck in Leeds….and his two touch judges are in the car with him! We need some officials……..” David Asquith from Easingwold was there as a spectator to step in, Stuart Evans was down as 4th official and yours truly was selected from a panel of one as the other touch judge. While I rustled up kit, volunteers cleared the lines and lent me some gloves, Mr Asquith undertook two pitch inspections before banging on the dressing room doors “Get your boys out there Sammy [Stewart]”!!
I’ve never been so cold, but never been more excited, because I ran out behind a set of heroes. Sorry, completely neutral… I was doing anything to keep warm in front of 741 hardy souls in blizzard conditions, sprinting to the corner flag awaiting kick off. At the point at which Abi Ekoku did a double take and said “what the hell are you doing here?” I realised I’d spent too much time in that Copthall bar!
Crusaders got off to a flyer with two early tries and John Gallagher kicking well through the snow, good stuff! But minutes later quick hands through Neville Ramsey and Logan Campbell saw Abi flying down the wing and in at the corner, ‘where’s the touchline I thought’ desperately searching for my own boot marks. Up went my flag, no try, and shouts of ‘oh you’re kidding mate’ in Kiwi accents! No matter, we cruised it 42-10 and I recall Mark Johnson not wanting to come off….it was his first ever experience of snow. I remember David Asquith commenting on how Crusaders used dummy runners to brilliant effect and were as well drilled a team as he’d seen. And gave me a view of the game I hadn’t appreciated.
I’ll never forget my one and only experience of officiating a professional Rugby League game, the intensity, the skill level and the importance of match officials. Our great game. I loved it despite 80 minutes of ‘banter’ from the Crusaders (and York) fans, including the Go West song adapted to ‘more meat on a chickens legs’. We ran top flight Bradford Northern so close in the quarter finals, what a year, I’ll never forget it. Trigger