It has been 27 years since I first walked down the road to a wet and windy Copthall Stadium to watch a game of rugby league.
As a sports nut growing up in North London, it was only ever about football; Tottenham or Arsenal. I was the former, my two brothers the latter. I clearly needed some respite and some sporting joy in my life. I did not expect to get it that Friday night, but it was short distance from my house and there was nothing else to do that particular evening. The Broncos were known as The London Crusaders at that time. I hadn’t got a clue about the rules of league, there were around 400 people in the swirling rain, in a then hugely exposed stadium (where I had previously appeared in an unsuccessful and short-lived discus career at my school sports day). The opponents were Doncaster who I believe won the game. For some reason, from that day on, I was hooked. The rest, as they say, is history.
There have been so many highs (and yes lows) since that fateful day. It has been difficult to think of one particular game that stands out over all others. The Challenge Cup semi is definitely one, but Lesley Boon has already nabbed that one for herself.
The game I have chosen was my first overseas trip to see Broncos, Perpignan 2005. The game was not against Catalans, but Leeds. Catalans joined the competition the year after so this was seen as a showcase, even though it was very much a serious league game. The pitch at Griffin Park was being relayed so we were forced to go on our travels for home games, including a game in Bridgend the previous week. Leeds had knocked the Broncos out of the Challenge Cup quarter finals a fortnight prior and the Champions were in cracking form.
Part of why I remember this game so well is as much to do with the events in London leading up to the game. The celebrations of London being awarded the 2012 Olympics earlier in the week were short-lived as two days before the game 56 people tragically lost their lives in the attack on London’s tubes and buses.
Despite the events of the day before I flew out to Perpignan, in defiant mood, on the Friday. The weekend was to be a preview of what many Super League fans have experienced in the South of France ever since. The sun was shining, the town’s square and bars were packed with hundreds of London and Leeds fans enjoying the local brews and wines. The atmosphere was fantastic and both sets of fans were mingling with each other, as well as the many enthusiastic French fans getting a taste of Super League before it was their turn.
2005 was without doubt one of my favourite Broncos teams. The names roll off the tongue and will bring back wonderful memories; Sykes, Wells, McLinden, Leuluai, Budworth, Dorn and my own particular favourite and Broncos cult legend, hard hitting Prop Mark Tooooookey!
As for the game, after the impeccably observed minute’s silence for those who had perished in the London Bombings, Leeds got on with the business going 16-0 up after only 18 minutes. Broncos pulled one back through the diminutive (and challenger to Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook for longest name) Nick Bradley-Qalilawa converting a McLinden kick to the corner. Leeds extended their lead midway into the second half with Keith Senior going over to give Leeds a 24-8 lead. Nobody could have predicted what came next. The Broncos turned the game on its head with 3 tries in quick succession, Dorn, O’Halloran and NBQ for his second. The win was confirmed when Tommy Leuluai went in from close range four minutes from the end. Paul Sykes converted sending the small but perfectly formed Broncos travelling fans into delirium. Leeds were shell-shocked.
Celebrations went long into the night and all Broncos fans were invited to join the team in the hospitality area after the game. I even got to chat with my hero Tookey and get a picture taken with the big man.
For one reason or another, it was a week in my life that I will never forget. From a Broncos supporting perspective it is still likely my favourite ever away day.
#COYB – Adam.