Last time I visited the John Smith's Stadium in Huddersfield, it was in 2003, to watch Great Britain's rugby league side lose 12-18 to the Australian tourists. I thought I'd done a really clever thing arriving at what was then the McAlpine Stadium really early, and getting parked right outside the Ropewalk pub.
Sadly the plan backfired spectacularly, as we fell foul of the "first in last out rule" and were still in the queue to exit the car park an hour after the game had ended.
My previous visit was to watch the reformed Gateshead Thunder take on a Huddersfield Giants squad bound for Super League on the back of a fantastic undefeated league campaign. The home fans genuinely thought their side would rack up a hundred points that day, but Thunder's young squad produced a battling performance to keep the score to a respectable level, and cross for two fine tries of their own.
It was also the day when my friend Gary "Frankie" Davidson decided to give the Thunder players a rousing 1940s-style welcome by throwing his baseball cap into the air as the team ran onto the pitch. The cap was hurled skyward, and Gary had every right to expect that it would come back down again.
But it didn't, and its disappearance remains one of life's biggest unsolved mysteries...
The Giants squad that season included the experienced half back Chris Thorman, and a young, but huge centre called Eorl Crabtree.
Twelve years later, both these England internationals are still at the club: Chris is assistant coach, and Eorl is now a prop forward, an influential and integral part of the side—and still huge.
Because of the link to my club's past, I was really keen to get the chance to meet Eorl, and having known Chris' parents for many years, the arrangements were soon made, and Elaine and I set off for West Yorkshire on what was a glorious morning.
We saw the Ropewalk... but parked nowhere near it. Not falling for that one again! Chris appeared soon after the players had finished training, and it was good to finally meet. A few minutes later, Eorl arrived—and he was huge.
And he's a thoroughly likeable bloke as well. One thing I've found from following rugby league for the past fifteen years, is that even the game's top stars are down-to-earth and approachable, and even though he'd had a tough training session, and had little time to grab some lunch before fulfilling several other commitments, he was happy to chat away and pose for a few pictures inside the magnificent stadium.
Chris then took a couple of pictures with Elaine being flanked by two tall, handsome, rugged athletes; but having seen the old, bald and portly bloke on Elaine's right, I have to seriously question Chris' ability as a photographer!
And with that, another challenge was completed. I am indebted to Chris Thorman for making it happen, and to Eorl Crabtree for taking the time to meet both of us. It was a pleasure and a privilege, and although I did glance across at the far stand, sadly Gary's baseball cap was still nowhere to be seen...
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