Jon Sheldon enthuses about the top quality sport on our doorstep.
I have lived in Shropshire for 14 years now and at last we have easy access to watch top quality sport on our doorstep. Wrexham Racecourse, in addition to Wrexham Football club, is now home to Rugby Superleague team “The Crusaders”, who moved up from South Wales at the beginning of last season.
I have followed Rugby League (off and on, sometimes watching live and also on TV) since the late 1970s and have supported Wigan as I lived quite close then and have been privileged to have seen greats like Ellery Handley, Martin Offiah, Sean Edwards and a teenage Jason Robinson, although it pains me to say the best player I have ever seen was Jonathan Edwards when he was playing for Warrington.
So I was delighted to hear in late 2009 that Crusaders would be playing the 2010 season based at the Racecourse. Rugby League is now a “summer” sport; the season starts in February and finishes with the Grand Final in October, which means it can dovetail quite well with football grounds for ground sharing.
I was still in hospital in 2009 and my return home co-incided with the start of the 2010 season. As part of my re-hab I was encouraged to get out and not allow my condition to limit what I could do and the Rugby League at Wrexham fitted the bill perfectly. Although the Crusaders had struggled in South Wales we are talking premier league here and the chance to see some of the best players in the world.
There is a family friendly atmosphere and I have taken my wife and kids along on occasion since who have all enjoyed it. So with my carer, we obtained tickets to see Huddersfield and checked out the disabled facilities, which I have to say are excellent. The disabled parking was free and the typical cost for myself AND a carer was only £10!
The car parking is right next to the stand and it is an easy transfer to the disabled section at the front of the stand. There are disabled toilets on the way but it is only about 50 metres from the car park and no steps. There is a very helpful steward in the car park and if you can transfer in and out of a car OK then you are sorted.
The only downside is if the rain blows the wrong way you do get caught but it was never a major problem as long as I wrapped up well. Unfortunately, we lost against Huddersfield and then also against the Catalan Dragons in the cup with the last kick of the game. All matches are covered on Sky but the Challenge Cup was on BBC2 and much to the embarrassment of my kids, as Wrexham took a conversion we were on the Telly!
Before the game Claire Balding conducted the pre-match interviews in front of us and the Challenge Cup itself was right in front of us, a mighty impressive piece of silverware! After that we predictably lost to Wigan and due to difficult kick off times I then missed a few games. At the end of each season the top eight teams play in the play offs and it is a massive achievement just to make it.
Despite a wobbly start the Crusaders got some real momentum going and needed to beat Hull Kingston Rovers and for St Helens to also win their last game to make eighth. The atmosphere at the racecourse was electric. In typical Crusaders style the game was end to end, the lead changed hands a couple of times then Jarrod Sammut intercepted the ball and ran the entire length of the ground to score.
I thought the roof of the main stand was going to come off! We were in the play-offs and my carer and I decided to follow them as far as they went. We were due to play Huddersfield and had a fantastic day out at the Galfarm Stadium. Crusaders took about 1000 fans and made a mighty impressive noise.
I recorded the game and when I watched it later you couldn’t hear the Huddersfield fans at all – all the noise from was the Crusaders fans from start to finish. Despite playing very well, and leading for a good part of the game we narrowly lost in the dying minutes, but from being thumped at home by the same team to narrowly loosing away in the biggest game of our season showed just how far the team had come in a relatively short space of time.
Equally importantly, it was great so see such enthusiastic support and I have great hopes for the 2011 season which starts mid February. The first home game is against Hull KR on Friday 24th February 8pm kick off. If you are interested you can find more info at www.crusadersrfl.com or pop into the club shop next to the Wrexham Racecourse Ground.
PS . Despite Crusaders going out we went along to Old Trafford to watch Wigan beat St Helens in the Grand Final. 77,000 people there, what a venue and event, maybe the Crusaders might make it there in 2011….. Hope to see you there this season!