Danny Lockwood: It’s Still The Weekend To Beat All Others

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THERE’S a higgledy-piggledy fashion to Locky’s Wembley Diary this year, starting with…

FRIDAY

I rang League Weekly editor Paul Bennett amidst the mad rush of Swiss Cottage traffic about 10.30am.

Nostradamus might not have been able to foresee the manner of his death, but I’ve already had three or four glimpses this morning alone. I thought I might as well convey the inevitable manner of my demise to Paul amongst other business.

When the staff at George Brooke Funeral Directors in Dewsbury have an August bank holiday ruined by a call from a London traffic cop to come collect Lockwood’s corpse, it will be accompanied by a strange instruction.

The coffin will need to be about 12ft long, 4ft wide and only six inches deep.

As I told Paul, the instruction to bury me with my Boris Bike might be superfluous, because there’s every chance the two of us will be impossible to separate.

By the time Neil Brooke arrives to scrape us off the road, the HGV driver responsible will probably be back in Poland or Lithuania.

So far today I have seen not a single RL fan taking advantage of the fantastic Friday weather in the capital by means of a Boris Bike.

Clearly, and unlike me, they are not as daft as they sometimes look and sound. There have however been a great many spilling onto the sun-kissed pub pavements of the capital.

Like I said, not daft.

TUESDAY (AND THURSDAY ON PREMIER SPORTS)

Who says diaries have to be contiguous? A big talking point of Saturday’s big game was kicked around the Back Chat table during the show’s Tuesday morning recording.

Part-time ref Gareth Hewer gets the big game over an increasing full-time roster of officials. Discuss.

I was pleased for Hewer, the most consistent second tier ref for some time. I’m writing this ahead of the game and so, as I told Back Chatters, hope and pray he had a cracking game – but I couldn’t for the life of me understand the logic of it.

The many and various talking points that arise from our story with Matt Thomason and George Stokes (see page 6-7), what kind of message does it send? (continued below)ONE OF THE LADS: Lee Crooks takes time with Hull fans on Wembley Way

I can tell you what I think it’s meant to say – that the form official gets the big game and that Hewer didn’t put a foot wrong in the Warrington-Wakefleld semi.

I would point out that a one-sided parade like that game could be reffed by Gareth Hewer’s mum. Hull-Wigan in the other semi was a different beast altogether.

Every year we go on about the Challenge Cup Final being our annual selling-point because of the terrestrial exposure on BBC, and as much as it was a worthy reward for Hewer, I find it difficult to be convinced that he’s been the best referee across the entire season – opportunity can’t afford to have chances taken with it.

And if the message is actually, yes, Gareth Hewer has been the best, then what on earth does It say about the full-time officials? If he’s overtaken Thaler, Child and Betham, then it’s no wonder that the single biggest issue disillusioned fans raise, when they switch off the telly or don’t bother renewing season tickets, is the standard of the officiating.

Change is afoot in the Match Officials Department as explained elsewhere in the paper. It stool has a way to go.

THURSDAY

I came dawn to London a day early, and not only so that I could get a only on the Hull Trains service I use.

The Rovers fans were a jolly, high-spirited lot, packing out the Friday services last year. Remarkably, they weren’t much less amiable on the way back, despite being on the end of that disappointing 50-point shellacking from the Rhinos.

There were a few RC supporters coming down on the Thursday train, but I didn’t see a single club shirt while out and about through the day and evening.

I did however have my accent picked up on in three different establishments, prompting the inquiry, “are you down for the rugby?”

We don’t go completely unnoticed then!

FRIDAY

It’s been a three cold shower day – toasting in the capital. The annual meet-up with my old Dewsbury Celtic pals and regulars from John Foulstone’s Woodman Inn has switched from the Three Tuns off Oxford Street to The Castle in Islington.

Last year’s festivities were sadly – and rudely – curtailed when the manager explained they didn’t have a music licence  and shut Tommy Burgess’s boogie-box down.

This year, guess what? They have a licence and were playing some decent toons. Not as decent as Tommy’s rousing rendition of The Beatles’ When I’m 64 though, followed by the Rodgers and Hammerstein catalogue. It wasn’t what the management had in mind for their music licence though and ended in tears. Spoilsports.

On to the annual pre-final dinner, this year at Millbank Tower and a 28th floor room with stunning evening views across London. It is a magnificent city.

The BBC’s George Riley was host and can’t have had an ‘easier’ Q&A than when he got Lee Crooks and Alex Murphy up for a chat. Talk about light and blue touch paper … Guests new to the sport might have thought the pair were going to start taking swings at one another. Great fun, all in the best
possible humour.

SATURDAY

There had been speculation about heavy rain which most forecasts were now dispelling. I looked like I’d been in some though because the humidity was at tropical levels. By the time I parked my Boris Bike and headed for the Jubilee
Line I was sweating like a fat lass in a tight spacesuit.(continued below)

Mention earlier of Lee Crooks, and there was a danger he might not make the game, such was the adoration, handshakes and selfies he was called on to pose for while trying to navigate Wembley Way. A proper Hull hero, Crooksy and a gent with it.

And then onto the game, played before a ‘packed’ house of 76,000 (not). More on that in the weeks to come.

Match reportage is elsewhere and abundant, but I remain convinced that the Lance Todd Trophy voting remains unfit for purpose. More on that also, to follow.

On the last Hull Trains service home and it was packed like the Delhi Express, with every inch of standing or floor-sitting space taken. Not quite what people might expect for 90 quid.

Good job the discomfited and well-oiled passengers were in a mood… I suspect some would have walked home, so long as they could talk about that glorious afternoon all the way.

Referee revelations – RFL’s a victim of its own governance

THERE will be one or two people squirming in discomfort I suspect, reading today’s paper. I’m not going to dive in feet first on the revelations of ex-Super League referees Matt Thomason and George Stokes. Their stories and the obvious hard feelings about their time with the Match Officials Department speak for themselves.

I do think it is fair however to put a newspaper story like this into some kind of context. l spoke to both men to clarify a number of the points they make, and others that aren’t included.

If you sense a big chunk of grievance, then you’d be right. Much of that comes down to the RFL’s understandable if opaque governance. They’re like most big organisations with a public face – they don’t do dirty laundry for our titiliation. But unless you buy the silence of everyone who leaves on reluctant terms, you risk this.

Tim Roby walked away, Matt Thomason and Richard Silverwood (pictured) fronted up, and their former boss Jon Sharp was given a face-saving option to take a cheque and go quietly.

Justice? That depends on what you call justice, but it certainly wasn’t transparent justice of the kind being sought by the perceived victims. It you are the whistleblower as Thomason was with Sharp, then any subsequent harsh workplace treatment will be viewed through the prism of your having spoken out. That’s human nature.
World Cup ebayTheir friend Richard Silverwood paid the price of boozy idiocy, but it was something neither he nor the RFL wanted to air for the wider world either. Whether Silvers was a victim of three strikes and out, having fronted up to Sharp, or being an overpriced commodity, is a moot question. Depends which side of the fence you’re on.

It’s the same with the accusations of homophobia. The RFL is proud of its LGBT credentials – it wears them prouder than the pink float in the Gay Pride parade – but that makes managing a department where some members of staff are homosexual a minefield. Where does a quip end and abuse start, when everyone’s full of beer and off-duty?

Can gay people use gay terminology that is forbidden to straight employees, as we all too often see in a racial context? Go fathom.

And then there’s the ‘poor’ RFL. Their hands are tied on stories like these. No one can address the Sharp/Silverwood cases because of the confidentiality agreements and the same applies to Thomason and Stokes’s allegations.

So, is it mistreatment, or a one-sided account coloured by employee grievance? Whichever, I think we can read this account and agree that senior referees are under huge pressure and not just the 80 minutes when it’s them and a whistle.

The RFL says it is dealing with historical problems and explains many of the steps it has taken to reinvent the match officials department. It would have undoubtedly preferred to have carried out that task without the wider RL community understanding why it was required.

Whatever the fine detail or interpretation, Matt Thomason and George Stokes have done the sport a service in being brave enough to speak out about it. And once they’ve got over the temporary red faces, the RFL need to prove
they’re learning the lessons.

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