A geography lesson – oh great!
Once upon a time, I had a work colleague and friend who lived in Glossop, and he played for the rugby club there. When the Courage Leagues started in the late 1980s, every club below the National levels was assigned a place according to geography.
Historically, long before leagues, England rugby was divided into four administrative Divisions: the North comprised the six counties, three in the east (Northumberland, Durham, Yorkshire) and three in the west (Cumbria, Lancashire, Cheshire).
Glossop’s problem was they were not classified as Northern. Being in Derbyshire they were Midlands, and their local (not so local) league back then was Notts, Lincs & Derbys 2. Several opponents were Nottingham based, then there was Market Rasen and, worst of all, Grimsby, a hundred miles away.
They had on their doorstep clubs like Ashton under Lyne, in historic Lancashire, and Marple, in Cheshire. Sheffield was but a short drive away. They had to pass through Sheffield to get to their opponents’ grounds, in many cases.
We ourselves, at Sedgley Park, had to travel miles up into Cumbria to play the likes of Egremont and Cockermouth. Cleckheaton and Old Brodleians were familiar opponents just a few minutes’ drive away, but they were East, and we were West. We could not play in Yorkshire until we attained level 6 of the league pyramid. And that took us years.
All this is relevant because, next season, new lines are going to be drawn on the map of England, as clubs at level 4 and below are split into three regions. The RFU’s reasons are sound, and John Inverdale’s little speech is reassuring, but someone has to implement the tiresome details. If I were drawing lines to split England into three, I think I would start with a vertical one, from somewhere west of Southampton up the A34 through Oxford and Coventry, so I would have divided South East from South West. At some point north of Birmingham, this line would meet a horizontal one, which would signify the North. The principle is easy, the details appallingly complicated. I wish I could be confident that the relevant committee understands this. Or cares.
Wherever they draw the lines, at some point they are going to separate traditional rivals only a few miles apart. I hope they will look at individual cases more sensitively than they did with Glossop 35 years ago. It might be a sound principle to draw the lines as far away from large cities as possible. There’s no rule to say they have either to be straight lines, or to follow County boundaries.
Last weekend produced some of the best rugby I can remember. There were the televised European games, which featured some great performances. Exeter’s demolition of Glasgow saw dazzling footwork from winger Tom O’Flaherty. Marcus Smith hit the heights for Quins, and Harry Randall for Bristol. Will Eddie have the balls to pick the two of them together at 9 and 10 for England? I suspect not. Then there are the riches in the back row. Poor Stuart Lancaster had a bare backrow cupboard to pick from; Eddie Jones has one overflowing with goodies. Perm any three from about a dozen. And get Barbeary in!
The game at Park Lane was not so shabby, either, as Sedgley played their ‘Get Out of Jail card’ to pip Wharfedale at the post. Monopoly meets horse-racing; I do love a mixed metaphor.
My photos of the match are here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/forwarddefensive/albums/72177720295985008