Talking Sport: Older players had stomach to handle fight

Trevor Watson
Trevor Watson

In these days of sports people living off pulses, supplements and healthy stuff we’ve never heard of, it was heartening when England full-back Sam Tomkins reminded us that the way to a rugby player’s heart can still be through his stomach.

After 18 months with New Zealand Warriors, Sam is returning to play over here because he’s homesick, despite a beachside apartment. Asked what he missed most about his home town of Wigan, he simply replied: ‘The pies.’ You could hear him licking his lips.

Wigan is renowned for them with the club still known as the pie eaters. When their new stadium was built locals suggested they call it The Piedome and were only half-joking.

Mind you, if Sam wanted good pies, he could have signed for a club round here because there are plenty of tasty suppliers. When dear old George Palmer attended the Batley ex-players’ reunion he always said to the serving ladies: ‘Save me a couple of them pars love.’ George, of course, came from Hull and they talk like that - ‘Gerrem onsard’ etc.

At one time solid, indeed stodgy food was regarded as essential. Many big props had heavy jobs and ate and drank to fuel up even before matches, they certainly wouldn’t take kindly to current diets.

Talking of Batley and the late Jack Briggs used to recall a trip to play Liverpool. They had their pre-match walk on the East Lancs Road and spotted a burger van, which was just opening.

Naturally they had a snack, the trouble was the burgers were underdone. Shortly before the game several players felt extreme discomfort and there was a queue for the toilet. Batley endured a distinctly uncomfortable 80 minutes with players constantly going off the field - no subs - but held on to win.

There were men such as Wakefield’s dazzling stand-off Harold Poynton, known as ‘Fishcake’, and ‘Scon’ Hartley at Keighley, all right, be posh - scone.

Old Hunslet players talked of their bulky prop Sammy Newbound tucking into the daffodils at a pub when they called for a post-match meal. He must have known something because that sort of thing is now all the rage.

Steak and eggs was a popular pre-match meal. I’ve seen many players tuck in just before Wembley. Then a nutritionist revealed it was of little value because the steak took 24 hours to be fully digested.

I think the horses I backed in the National had steak and eggs because there was a nil return.

Snow in the Lake District last weekend, of course, meant the start of county cricket with club matches this Saturday. It’s remarkable to see such pristine grounds these days with covered wickets.

On a wet and breezy April afternoon the ball used to shoot up like a rocket. Lucky was the player who had a second sweater to field in. Mind you there’ll still be chips in the Hanging Heaton clubhouse and Nat Lawrence ready with the salt.