Mike Miles takes out a new mortgage to go and watch the opening game of the new Super League season at the Stoop.
I have experienced thrilling rugby league afternoons at The Stoop, when the sun has shone, the game has been set alight and the beer has flowed. I have also been there when the gloomy weather has cast a cloud over blocks of empty seats, the home side has given a tiny crowd nothing to get excited about, and the away fans have moaned about everything from the price of a pint to the ref’s ineptitude.
The Broncos had the lowest average attendance in Super-League in 2012 and the letters page of the sports leading weekly, League Express, were frequented by those moaning about the award of a franchise to a team outside the sport’s northern heartland.
It could be argued that getting 3,000 ( today’s attendance was 2,856 ) to The Stoop is a reasonable achievement compared to attendances at far more historic clubs in the north and those of other sports in the capital.
However, if the Broncos are not playing well, and today they never played well, it can make for a desperate atmosphere.
It cost me £20 for a seat anywhere in the Etihad Stand. This is a £5 increase on last season. As a new OAP I got in for a tenner then but the age limit has now been raised to 65! And you still have to pay an extra £3 to buy a ticket online and a further £3 to use a credit card! A strange way to attract punters, especially when you can so easily buy a ticket on the gate….
There was only one catering van at the end of the Etihad Stand, and the prices must put a few potential punters off. A quarter –pounder was £3.70, a humble portion of chips £2.50. A cheaper alternative was the bar under the LV= Stand where choices of pies were £2 each and a cup of coffee £1.20. It was also warm respite from a bitterly cold day.
London Bronocs 14 Widness Vikings 28 – The Stoop – Sunday 3rd February 2013
Being London’s Super League club is a huge challenge. Being at the Stoop means the Broncos are on the rugby union corridor that leads from Richmond to Cornwall. The Stoop is a 10-mile drag south-west of central London, making it a painful slog for all those fans who live to the north or east. Its easily reached via the M25 and M3 , but for away fans coming down the M1 it’s another hour’s crawl around the western edge of London. Trains run regularly from Waterloo and the station is only a ten-minute walk from the station but it still makes The Stoop a lengthy trip for all but south-west Londoners, of which I am one.
Twickenham is cut in half by the A316 dual-carriageway, with the RFU’s concrete behemoth cut adrift from the rest of the “village”. Parking is available in neighbouring car parks, including Richmond College next door. Twickenham stadium is blessed with large car park spaces so you could park there and take the 5-minute walk over the A316.
With four modern stands, three of them built since London Broncos first played here 17 years ago, the Stoop is basically a new stadium. The colourful seats are comfortable enough with unobstructed views and almost all are covered. But the low trajectory makes views of the far side difficult, and that’s not helped in the Etihad Stand where the front row of seats are 20 yards from the touchline. For some reason the Broncos have made the LV= (West) Stand season ticket holders only, so its the unreserved Etihad (East)Stand or nothing.
Super league may now be a summer game, but this was the first week of February and the day was very cold and overcast. The Broncos had finished the 2012 season 12th out of 14, but had finished the season strongly after the introduction of Tony Rea as head coach. They had had a successful pre-season, and so expectations at the club were high compared to last year. Widnes had finished bottom of the table so were widely expected to give the Broncos their first victory of the season.
However, it was Widnes who made the flying start to the season, beating Broncos 14-28. They led 18-0 at the break after three converted tries. Kieran Dixon, twice, and Chris Melling, crossed for London, but further scores from March and Winterstein sealed the win for the visitors. In truth, at no stage did the Broncos look like hauling back Widnes’ lead in an error-strewn game.
Drive back into central London on the A316 and you pass one of rugby league’s former homes, the Polytechnic Stadium by the Thames at Chiswick. The 1930s cantilever stand once restored by the supporters is now derelict, the pitch overgrown and the banking demolished. It is one of the game’s ghost grounds.
The Broncos may have come a long way from Chiswick to the Stoop, but next year there will have to be yet another ground to call home. In the meantime, The Stoop will have to do.