Author Tony Hannan unveils his new book about Batley and its Bulldogs...
EVERY tale needs characters – and Batley Bulldogs RLFC has plenty. It was certainly that way in 2016, when I spent a remarkable year behind the scenes with the club, researching my new book Underdogs.
Having only narrowly escaped relegation the year before, the season was always likely to be eventful. But no-one could have predicted just how eventful, both for the Gallant Youths and the town itself.
Having spent around a quarter of a century in rugby league journalism, I’ve long wanted to write a book about the realities of life at Championship level – to get in and among the clubs who, once upon a time, may have been giants but who, since the advent of Super League, have struggled for crowds, profile and proper appreciation.
But which club to choose? It really had to be Batley. Initial members of the Northern Union – alphabetically the very first in fact; original winners of the Challenge Cup; one of four clubs still on their 1895 plot, and then a story of struggle, survival and occasional glory days since.
Batley has a fascinating history, but what about its present and, indeed, future? The club, I reckoned, would be an excellent ‘case study’ that might shed light on the current state of rugby league as a whole, especially with the arrival of the Super 8s and new era.
The other well-known thing about Batley is what a welcoming place it is – I doubt I would have been given such open access at any other club in this or any other sport. Nowhere, apart from the pitch on matchday (thank goodness) was out of bounds.
A momentous year on the field and off it began with the annual Boxing Day friendly and ended in the ‘middle 8s’, with three derbies between.
None were exactly dull, but the preparation and reactions – from team bus to changing room to dugout and beyond – were a privilege to witness.
A Heavy Woollen derby as seen from the stands and terraces is one thing. The view in the raw, no-holds-barred or access denied, quite another. And all of it lightened, of course, by trademark northern humour.
“Hey love, you can’t park there,” said one old lass, as a couple of away players drove up for that initial Christmas set-to. ‘Dewsbury players only, is that.”
“I know,” her Batley foe quipped. “There’s one in the boot.”
• Underdogs: Keegan Hirst, Batley and a Year in the Life of a Rugby League Town is officially launched at the Fox’s Biscuits Stadium, Mount Pleasant, on Wednesday May 17, 7pm.
Hardback copies will be available for sale (RRP £18.99), or £20 will get you a signed copy, a free beer and a pie and pea supper.
MC for the evening is chairman Kevin Nicholas, and many of the 2016 Batley Bulldogs – including John Kear and Keegan Hirst – will be in attendance. All are welcome.