I was up early on Saturday morning – 5:30. I had a coach to catch to take me back down to London. Not for a holiday, sightseeing or on business this time, but to watch Wigan take on Hull in the Rugby League Challenge Cup final at Wembley Stadium.
The two teams last met in the final in 1985 and the match has gone down in the history of Rugby League as a classic – some consider it to be one of the best. Wigan raced ahead but Hull made a comeback and almost, but not quite, snatching the match. There were some great tries too by Bret Kenny, John Ferguson, Henderson Gill and a young Sean Edwards (for Wigan) and James Leuluai (for Hull). But when I saw the weather forecast, it was obvious we weren’t going to have a repeat of that performance. Heavy rain was forecast for the whole of the south east of England, including London, and that proved to be the case – it poured down before, during and after the match.
We were down at Wembley a couple of years ago when we beat Leeds in the final. At that time I commented on how I felt the infrastructure around the stadium was poor and that fans were exploited with expensive food and drink sold in the stadium. (You aren’t allowed even to take your own water in and they sell water at an inflated price of £2-20 for a small bottle). Nothing had changed.
As for the match, the conditions determined the tactics and made handling the ball difficult. So it was never going to be an expansive game. Both teams defended extremely well and neither showed much imagination in attack. And play was error strewn. But with Hull making more errors than Wigan – with a lot of dropped ball in very promising attacking positions – and Wigan dominating possession and territory for much of the match, victory went to the Lancashire club who scored the only two tries of the match and managed to prevent Hull’s from scoring. There were a few heart-stopping moments, though, particularly when the Hull full back broke free and could have scored except for a tremendous effort by the Wigan winger, Josh Charnley, who overhauled him and won the ball back. So Wigan held on, the scoreline being 16-0.
So the match didn’t live up to the hopes and expectations of many people (was it ever going to?) but from the perspective of a Wigan supporter it didn’t matter too much. We’ve won the cup.
And perhaps Wigan can claim to be the sporting capital of England. The small Lancashire town’s sporting clubs holding the F A Cup as well as the Rugby League Challenge Cup. A unique achievement