Underdogs book charters Batley Bulldogs’ historic charge to middle eights

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A new book chartering Batley Bulldogs’ charge to the middle eights qualifiers last year has been published.

Author Tony Hannan spent nearly quarter of a century in journalism and wanted to write a book on a year of a Championship club.

When he opted to cover a season at Batley Bulldogs, Tony couldn’t have envisaged the drama that would follow as John Kear guided the unfancied club to a top four Championship finish and a place in last season’s middle eights.

Tony explained: “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, since the advent of Super League, have struggled for crowds, profile and proper appreciation.

“I grew up in Wibsey, Bradford, not far from Odsal stadium but Bradford Bulls weren’t your usual Championship club.

“Batley were initial members of the Northern Union, original winners of the Challenge Cup and one of four clubs still on their 1895 plot.

“Batley has a fascinating history, but what about its present and, indeed, future?

“I reckoned the club 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’.

“Every tale needs characters and Batley 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. No one could have predicted just how eventful, both for the Gallant Youths and the town itself.”

Underdogs - Keegan Hirst, Batley and a Year in the Life of a Rugby League Town - covers the Bulldogs on and off the field during an eventful and historic campaign .

Hannan added: “Chairman Kevin Nicholas ought to be in comedy, you had inspirational John Kear, celebrity skipper Keegan Hirst and a supporting cast including kit man Johnny Potts, touch-finding ace Shaun Ainscough, crowd favourite Wayne Reittie, the inimitable James Brown, Alex Bretherton and physio Carl.

“There’s Barbara, Nellie and loads of equally entertaining and impressive personalities peppering a rugby league book intended to read like no other.

“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 was out of bounds including the bench, team bus and changing roomd before, at half-time and after.”

“It was a privilege to be there and record it all for posterity.”

The book is published by Bantam Press, an imprint of Transworld and Penguin Random House, and is available in bookshops and online.