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News 2011-12

Wharfedale Diary

14/02/2012

On January 28th Jersey played Wharfedale, who are in their
16th straight season at National One. This 'Dale Diary' column of
the weekend was first published in the Centre' supplement of
the
Jersey Evening Post on February 11th. Pictures of the
trip, and the match, can be found in the 'Galleries' section, while
a full match report is included under the appropriate
heading.



Wharfedale is a different breed when it comes to rugby clubs,
and you can tell this by the reaction of the Jersey players as
their coach makes its way into the ground, writes Tom
Innes
. Gently sloping, with sheep grazing in neighbouring
fields, snow-capped hills in the distance and a flint wall behind
the dead-ball line, the ground is a picture, especially on a cold,
sunny afternoon. And fortunately the frost covers have done their
job, so it's game on.

The prospects for play look less rosy when the advance party
arrives on Thursday night. The journey from Skipton - the nearest
railway station - up to Grassington, the village that sits on the
opposite side of the River Wharfe from the ground, is mainly
uphill, and it's snowing. About half-way we pass Rylstone - the
village where the charity clothes-shedding of the local Womens'
Institute ended up as the film 'Calendar Girls'.

Come Saturday afternoon, the clubhouse is busy with supporters
enjoying pints of Black Sheep bitter and local pork pies.
Approaching kick-off the small grandstand is packed and most other
vantage points are taken by a crowd 40% up on average. Most are
locals hoping to see the league leaders toppled, but there's also a
decent cluster of around 70 Jersey fans who receive a welcome that
is second-to-none. Former player for both clubs, Talite Vaioleti,
or "Vee" is present with his wife and daughter the day before
making his comeback after injury for Rotherham Titans.

It's soon clear why everyone makes sure they're in place 10
minutes before the off, as Dale's famous announcer takes to the
microphone. He doesn't announce substitutions or scorers, or
trouble himself with tedious "would the owner of a blue Mondeo..."
type material, but for five minutes the audience are hushed, but
for laughter, as he sets the scene. Good-natured fun is poked at
the aristocratic visitors, who he says will be tackling a team of
horny-handed men of toil. The Islanders against the Highlanders, he
describes it, in the best league in the country. The welcome is
unique - only the legendary football commentator and 'It's a
Knockout' presenter Stuart Hall comes close. He hopes Jersey
supporters will appreciate the clear Northern air, in contrast to
"the whiff of garlic when the wind is blowing across from Brest"
and with that signs off and the players take to the field to a
thunderous welcome.

As Wharfedale attack in the first half, a popular call of "In
the River!" announces the home fans' wish to see the opposition
shunted downhill towards the Wharfe. Dale's 4th XV take this cry
literally for their home games - getting to their pitch half a mile
away involves both teams and officials clambering into a wagon on
the back of a tractor and fording the river to reach the
field-of-play.

Winning always helps, and it's fair to say this is Ben
Harvey's favourite trip to Wharfedale. When Jersey's Director of
Rugby came with Stourbridge as a player, he experienced his
coldest-ever day in rugby, not helped by a lengthy delay to play
while an air ambulance attempted to land in the next-door field, in
howling wind and rain, to treat a seriously-injured player. You
know it's cold when Ben suggests a cuddle to share bodily
warmth...

Soon after the final whistle, the frost covers are back on to
protect the pitch ahead of a Colts game on the Sunday. Supervising
operations is Colts' Coach Charlie Vyvyan, a former Dale player who
now lives next-door. As well as playing professionally with Sale,
during which time he used the Jersey RFC gym to keep in shape on
family holidays, Charlie's claim to fame is twice winning the
Penryn Sevens in his native Cornwall with his six brothers, of whom
Hugh still plays at the top level for Saracens.

Another resident adjoining the ground is the Wharfedale
President John Spencer, a 14-times England cap who played for the
club well into his 40s. John missed the trip to Jersey due to
important business in New Zealand. This included the Rugby World
Cup in his capacity as a leading light with the International Rugby
Board and Rugby Football Union, and also getting married, for the
fourth time. Dale officials sent flowers, albeit accompanied by a
note from the Treasurer stressing "this is the last
time..."

Unusually for a three-quarter, John Spencer seems to have half
an idea about the complexities of the front row. And during
post-match festivities at a hostelry in Grassington he seeks out
Jersey's Myles Landick and congratulates the loose-head prop on a
great display. 'Mylo' was one of the main reasons why Jersey
weren't even close to ending up in the river.



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