“If you ever get picked to play Fiji son, pull up injured in the warm-up. Might be best to give that one a miss.” Those were the wise words of one dad to his young lad on the way home from Spotland on Monday night, after we had just seen Fiji play Ireland with a ferocity that made all of us glad we were merely spectators, rather than participants in this fantastic World Cup.
Now I was off to Workington, to watch Tonga and Scotland face each other. It also marked the start of my big travel. This was what I’d really been looking forward to from the World Cup. Workington tonight, then down to Bristol tomorrow to watch the USA and Cook Islands play at the Memorial Ground. Straight after that, I’m on the night train to London Paddington, to get the first train out Thursday morning from St Pancras to Avignon, changing in Paris.
A couple of days in the South of France for the France v New Zealand match, before I drive up to Lyon, to get the express train to Paris, for my flight Saturday morning to Leeds-Bradford airport. Mrs Davies will be there to greet me and drive to Huddersfield ahead of the England v Ireland clash. Straight after that match ends, we’ll be back in the car and off to St Helens to watch the Fijians dish it out to the Aussies that night.
We’re stopping in Widnes after the Kangaroos’ match, before heading down to Wrexham to see Wales take on the Tomahawks of America. After that, we’ll be back on the road to get home, so we can watch the Scotland v Italy match from Workington on Premier Sports. That’ll be the second of the four games I’m having to miss in the World Cup, as it is simply impossible to get to more than 24 of the 28 games without the aid of a time machine.
Bag packed, but with a constant nagging in the back of my mind that I’d forgotten something, I sat down to watch the Fiji v Ireland game again on the TV. Just as bone crunching second time round!
I’d been ready for hours and eventually it wasn’t ridiculous for me to set off. I’d only have an hour to wait at Leeds train station for my connection to Carlisle, rather than the three hours I’d have had, if I’d set off when I wanted to.
I like travelling by train, especially if it’s for pleasure and I’m not in a rush. No traffic, no hassle and a chance for a good read, all add to the experience. It has to be said though, that the journey between Leeds and Carlisle is simply stunning. With the sun shining across the Dales, it is a real pleasure to be whisked through Yorkshire and up to Cumbria.
In 2008, we took a ferry down the Parramatta river to watch Ireland play Samoa in the World Cup. As exciting as that was, I think the train ride today to watch Tonga play Scotland in Workington tops it. Though, granted, it wasn’t quite as warm.
The Carlisle to Workington journey takes 50 minutes. The train was packed, but I got chatting to an old Whitehaven fan, who’d been following the World Cup on the BBC. He’s got Sky Sports, but wasn’t paying for Premier Sports too. You don’t know what you’re missing mate.
I was booked into the Cumberland Hotel opposite the station. “Everywhere’s full because of the rugby”, I overheard the barman explain. But I was sorted, and decided on a more leisurely approach to the game tonight, opting for a beer in the bar before setting off. Not only did it give me a chance to catch the local news, where a reporter was outside the Scotland team hotel, surrounded by children, who shouted “Scotland” on queue, whilst the Leader of the Council declared that the World Cup was worth a million pounds to the town, but I also got chatting to a couple of local lads up from Wath Brow for the big match. The World Cup certainly seemed to have made the locals take notice.
There was a real buzz about the town, as I headed off for my pre-match ‘home made’ curry and chips, and the local newspaper captured the mood perfectly.
As I made my way to the ground, the rotary club, had got a couple of fellows at the train station directing visitors to the stadium, where the queues were like something from a bygone age. The Popular Stand was packed, and it was clear that the home fans were leaning toward the Scots, although their appreciation of the Tongans was in keeping with what you’d expect from league fans.
Scotland got a good lead and were 20-4 up at half-time. Perhaps this was the first big margin of the World Cup. But from the kick-off in the second half, Tonga piled the pressure on Scotland and started to close the gap. It was gripping stuff, that came down to a video referee decision as the hooter sounded and saw Scotland clinch a memorable 26-24 victory.
It was yet another great night for this World Cup that just keeps giving. The Scottish players celebrated as I often dream I will celebrate if England ever lift the cup. The joy on the faces of the players as they came to acknowledge the fans was something to behold. No big bucks, no chance of winning the cup itself, but here in Workington on a rainy Tuesday, this group of players were back where it all started, having a great time playing footy with their mates.