I’ve been to a number of ‘sporting’ dinners this year, this was possible one of the lower key events, yet it was also a rather special one.
This was to celebrate 20 years of London Skolars – in the scheme of things that may not seem too many years, in the scheme of the game of rugby league in the South however that is an amazing feat! In those 20 years, other than moving out while work was carried out the club has only had 2 homes.
I had an opportunity to interview Hector Mcneil one of the founders of the club – here’s a link – the article gives some good background into the club.
The dinner was held in the Wesley Hotel near to Euston Station – that meant a journey on the sauna that is the Northern Line, I was beyond hot by the time I stopped being a girl and actually managed to read the google map instructions!
One of the joys of a club like Skolars is that it can sometimes be like walking into a room full of friends – so not a nerve wracking experience in the least. It was great to see fellow fans amongst the players, staff and ex players.
It was also great to meet Kris Radlinski – I have met him a few times but was on the hunt for a promise of an interview – I’m fascinated by his role and influence at Wigan and he was a favourite player of mine – I confess I pounced quite early in the evening and came away with his card.
Imagine my delight when I found myself sitting next to Kris for dinner! This is a man with not only Wigan Warriors at the very heart of his being but also the game of rugby league. He talks an awful lot of sense!
Howard Kramer started proceedings, passing over to Hector who spoke about the vision for the club – he reminded us that a 20 year history was a reminder that rugby league does exist and is thriving outside of the M62 corridor.
The club is growing from the ground up with a big mini’s section with teams from Under 7’s upwards, and a masters team playing regularly – big things are happening in North London! The club have aspirations to be a Championship team and are looking to raise money behind the scenes.
It was Kris’s turn to be ‘grilled’ after the main course, Wigan Warriors had taken a game on the road to Millwall Football Club in the Super 8’s, playing Les Catalans – in a crowd of 8,000 a quarter of them were new to the game. The club gained a sleeve sponsor from the event..
Kris explained that Wigan are well aware of the pool of players in the South, two Southern lads Dan Sarginson and Tony Clubb are regular Warriors starters. They’ll be keeping their eyes trained on the talent available.
Kris spoke about the 2105 season, Wigan were moments away from doing the double, but Leeds achieved the treble – a bitter pill to swallow. Sam Tomkins has come home, which will please every Wigan and England fan, he’ll be speaking at the HAC Skolars v Wigan event in January.
In common with 2015 a young team will turn out against Skolars, with a £1.9m salary cap rugby league has to be able to grow its own talent, Wigan are renowned for doing so.
Howard asked Kris how the sport has changed in the last 20 years, when Kris started playing Wigan were the only full time professional club. They had a man who helped with the weight training, now they employ Sports Scientists and players are in at 8 and leaving at 4. I’d say the change have been beyond recognition.
A conversation started around the 2 codes – Kris summed up the major differences in a nutshell when he spoke about Joel Tomkins when he returned to Wigan after a spell with Saracens (where he was a popular figure). In his words Joel had to retrain to play league – with union being about winning the floor and league being about winning the collision. Perfectly put!
Kris flirted with rugby union, having the chance to go to Leicester Tigers when he was at his peak at 24/25, he met with Sir Clive Woodward, but he was where he wanted to be. It really can’t be underestimated how much Wigan Warriors means to their community. Having had a Premier League Football club there is no football legacy, all of the kids want to be a rugby league player. He has no regrets about not making the move.
We had the inevitable very topical question about Sam Burgess, Kris who clearly knows Sam is sure that the move wasn’t financially motivated. While Kris is pleased to have Sam back in the game of rugby league he’s disappointed that he didn’t stay and master the game of rugby union.
Kris took a question from the floor – ‘who’s the best player you’ve played with and why?’ – the first name was unsurprisingly Andy Farrell – he was an outstanding rugby league player – a laugh was raised when it was explained that away fans sung insulting songs about Andy’s wife – taking the pressure off the rest of the team!
Adrian Lam was the second – they lived near each other and Adrian would invite Kris round to lie on his trampoline and chat rugby, chat tactics. He made him think about the game differently and helped him grow into the truly great player Kris was.
Kris reconfirmed Wigan’s commitment to the London Challenge at the HAC ground – music to the Skolars fans ears!
The final formal part of the evening was to celebrate some of the former players – with 6 nominations for the Hall of Fame
- Gareth Honor
- Robert Jonker
- Charlie Oyebade
- Paul Thorman
- Bobby Brown
- Austen Aggrey
The regard all 6 men are held in was plain to see, on this occasion 2 men were inducted (burn from the ‘programme’ for the night)
Austen Aggrey – The leading try scorer of the professional era, Austen joined the club part way through 2004and played 179 games over the next 8 years. He scored the majority of his 57 tries on the wing, where his tough running style made him a difficult man to stop.
Bobby Brown – One of the regulars in the National Conference League days, Bobby started playing for the Skolars at an age when most players would be hanging up their boots, but he belied his years with pace and power. He made a surprise return to the 1st team in 2033, making the mistake of travelling to Workington to watch the side play. After his pro debut at 41, over the last decade he has worked with the junior section.
There were photo opportunities after dinner and it was plain there were many old friends in the room – I’ll be looking forward to the 25 year dinner!