David Attenborough and the BBC Two Floodlit Trophy

IF you were, Family Fortunes-style, to ask 100 people to name something they would associate Sir David Attenborough with, the chances are rugby league would come some way down the list – if at all.
But while being best known for his work with the BBC’s Natural History unit, it is often overlooked that Attenborough’s time of controller of BBC Two led to him having an unintentional role in changing the face of the sport.
And it all came from the introduction of a made-for-television competition, the BBC Two Floodlit Trophy.
Attenborough’s brief was to make the channel’s output as diverse as possible from BBC One and ITV, with 1965 seeing the launch of a new midweek tournament for those rugby league clubs with floodlights.
This was not the 13-man code’s first foray into this kind of event, with eight sides having competed for the Independent Television Floodlit Trophy ten years prior.
Played at football grounds across London between September and November, with the second half from each match broadcast live as part of Associated-Rediffusion’s ‘Cavalcade of Sport’ – ironically, not shown in rugby league’s heartland due to ITV not commencing broadcasts to the north of England until 1956 – it was won by Warrington and each participating club received £400 for their troubles.
Given rugby league’s somewhat tempestuous relationship with television and the BBC at the time it might seem a surprise the Floodlit Trophy actually got past the planning stage.
Nevertheless, a payment of £9,000 for the rights led to St Helens, Leigh, Warrington, Widnes, Swinton, Oldham, Castleford – the seven clubs with floodlights – and Leeds, who would install floodlights in 1996, being invited to take part.
To satisfy the demands of the broadcast and, cynics might suggest, in keeping with the RFL’s love of needlessly complicated competition set-ups, the format saw the participants compete in two qualifying rounds, with the top four qualifying for the semi-finals.
Played across 11 weeks, the inaugural Floodlit Trophy was won by Castleford thanks to two goals from Ron Willett securing a 4-0 victory over St Helens in the final.
Barrow, Rochdale Hornets and Salford’s entry to the following year’s Floodlit Trophy necessitated the introduction of a two-legged knock-out preliminary round, with Castleford again emerging triumphant, this time with victory over Swinton in the final.
But while the first two editions had helped establish rugby league a regular television presence, the second season also introduced an innovation which would change the sport forever.
A desire to make the game more competitive and encourage attacking play saw the four major league-playing nations of Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand and France saw them agree to trial the four-tackles-then-a-scrum rule, with the Floodlit Trophy giving the RFL the perfect place to experiment with it.
Such was its success that the change to the Laws of the Game was implemented in all matches from October 31, although not, as Tony Collins notes in his book Rugby League in Twentieth Century Britain: A Social and Cultural History, without a few teething problems.
This was eventually increased to six tackles in 1972, by which time the Floodlit Trophy had become an established part of the calendar and encouraged more clubs to install lights, with 18 sides by now competing in a traditional straight knock-out format.
Despite that, the 1973 tournament has the distinction of being the only one won by a team without floodlights.
Thanks to the effects of the Three Day Week, perennial strugglers Bramley beat Widnes on the afternoon of Tuesday, December 18 to claim the only trophy in their history, with the final eventually being broadcast at 8.10pm that evening.
But by the end of the decade, budget cutback saw the BBC’s commitment to the tournament wane and it was eventually axed after the 1979 competition which saw Hull triumph over bitter rivals Hull Kingston Rovers – a match which was broadcast only as highlights.
These days, the BBC Two Floodlit Trophy is remembered as little more than a footnote in rugby league history, although it did receive brief recognition in 2008 when the trophy was revived to give to the winners of the short-lived Carnegie Floodlit Nines.
Nevertheless, its contribution to the sport should not be overlooked. Neither should that, however inadvertent it was, of a certain Mr Attenborough’s.

Paul Barriere’s legacy lives on as England secure record win over France

Action from England's 84-4 win over France at Leigh Sports Village

Action from England’s 84-4 win over France at Leigh Sports Village (Picture: Marc Bazeley)

THE story goes that when Paul Barriere was informed plans were afoot to name the trophy for Rugby League World Cup after him, he refused such an honour.
So one can only wonder what the former Federation Francais de Rugby XIII president, who died in 2008 aged 88, would have made about having his name attached to the shield presented to the winners of last Saturday’s clash between England and France.
Given how Barriere – a former rugby union player no less – helped re-establish the 13-man game in France following the Vichy government’s attempts to wipe it out in World War II and was the driving force behind what these days goes by the name of the Rugby League International Federation, it is perhaps only fitting his contribution to the sport is honoured in some way.
Of course, much has changed in French rugby league since Barriere oversaw the last golden era across the Channel in the 1950s when Chanticleers and their flamboyant chain-smoking full-back Puig Aubert – arguably the greatest French rugby league player of all time – enthralled crowds in Britain and Australia.
Should they go on to win this year’s European Championship, one doubts there will be 150,000 fans cheering them on in a parade as there were in Marseille when Les Chanticleers returned from their successful 1951 tour of Australia.
Club-wise, at least, there are positive signs. Super League XXI marks ten years of Catalans Dragons being involved in the competition, as well as 2016 seeing Toulouse Olympique taking up a place in Kingston Press League One.
But the national team have yet to return to the heights of 60 years ago. Indeed, their 25-18 victory at Headingley in 1990 remains their last triumph against Great Britain or England.
And Saturday’s 84-4 defeat at Leigh Sports Village – a record loss for France – shows little sign that may change any time soon.
The signs were ominous from the start when England ran in three early tries, although winger Olivier Arnaud’s try gave a brief moment for the visitors to savour.
Otherwise, France found themselves out-matched, out-gunned and out-muscled.
While the likes of Morgan Escare, Benjamin Julliene, Kevin Larroyer and Gadwin Springer all ply their trade in Super League, most of the squad are playing in the lower divisions or the domestic Elite One Championship.
So up against team of full-time players duking it out each week in Super League or – in the case of rampaging England prop James Graham – the NRL, there was always going to be a disparity.
Especially in the physicality department, where it was clear France were struggling after some stoic defence kept England at bay for a large part of the first half following their opening scores.
Such is the nature of rugby league though, with no time to rest and nowhere to hide when faced with wave after wave of attack.
As for England, Steve McNamara’s men will face a much tougher test when the series against New Zealand kicks off in Hull this Sunday.
Debutants John Bateman, Joe Burgess, George Williams and Mike Cooper – the latter coming off the interchange bench – did their cases for a place in the matchday squad no harm at all.
Now to see how they stack up against the number one-ranked side in the world.

IF a game happens and no-one sees it, then does it really take place?
True, a crowd of over 8,000 were at Leigh Sports Village for England’s 15-try romp over France.
But The Independent’s Matt Butler and Aaron Bower of The Guardian were among those expressing their consternation at how the RFL had failed to secure any TV or radio coverage for the match.
Even Leeds Rhino’s friendly with New Zealand less than 24 hours earlier was screened by Premier Sports, although that had the added attraction of Kevin Sinfield, Jamie Peacock and Kylie Leuluai bringing the curtain down on their careers with the Rhinos.
The fact all three of England’s Test matches with the Kiwis will be free-to-air on the BBC can only be good for growing awareness of the rugby league – particularly with the 15-man code’s World Cup soon coming to an end.
One suspects though the success of the whole series will be judged – rightly or wrongly – by the wider media on how many paying punters attend the second Test at London’s Olympic Stadium.

About

The Game That Got Away is an independent rugby league blog from sports writer Marc Bazeley.

The title comes from the 1969 BBC documentary of the same name by filmaker Roger Mills, which focussed on the history of the sport.

You can follow us on Twitter @gamethatgotaway or contact the writer at marcbazeley@googlemail.com.

In the meantime, here is the aforementioned documentary…