COMMENT: Sick of Football? Try Rugby!


Leeds Rhinos, St. Michaels Lane, Headingley, Leeds, LS6 3BR


I make no secret of the fact that I have fallen out of love with football somewhat. The money, the egos, the tantrums and the play-acting has become an intensely watered down version of the game that I knew and watched avidly as a boy. Because of this, coupled with the fact I have a young family, I now concentrate all my efforts on a game that has a better product to watch and holds better values (courage, teamwork, honesty) on the field and a more inclusive atmosphere, for all ages, off the field. That game of choice, is Rugby League.

I’ve always been a fan off the game (there’s not many sports that I’m not into!) as it is fast, hard, honest and t’northern –  but with a young family I am always wary of taking them to live games for fear of the loutish minority in any sport who you hear so much about.

It’s fair to say that the friendly, family ambience created around the ground at Headingley on match day has put paid to those fears and been a breath of fresh air in a world where money seems to be at the crux of everything. That’s not to say that the Leeds Rhinos did not make money out of their ‘family day’ during the match against Widnes Vikings. They are after all, a very savvy business these days, but it certainly didn’t feel like that was their main priority…and surely that is the point.

What we did pay was £72.00 for a family of 4 which included a £5 food voucher each to spend on match-day within the ground. This is not cheap by any stretch of the imagination but the kids aren’t quite old enough for the season ticket which works out at much better value (they would more than likely sleep during a Friday night game after a full week of school), and for what they gained from many facets of the experience throughout the day, it represents decent value as a one-off payment.

A vast array of large children’s toys are dotted around the outside of the ground as we first arrive which don’t go unnoticed by the kids. A lengthy spell on the trampolines later and a swift veer around of the mechanical bull with all its obvious perils (don’t want to spend the game in A&E!) and we enter the ground via the turnstiles. The ground itself paints a picture of blue and amber bunting, replica shirts and advertising which envelops the place in a unison of colours and a definite party atmosphere.

The main pre-match family entertainment took place in the Carnegie Café, a newer area of the ground which is used in association with Leeds Metropolitan University during the week. As a result, the café itself is typical university fare – all open plan canteen areas, serving counters and vending machines. However, the walls are adorned with images of players past and present and on this day in particular, the party atmosphere had definitely continued inside. A disco, face painting, oversized board games, balloon modelling, colouring and party games galore with the Heart FM team – the ‘family day’ was indeed living up to its billing. After a game of giant jenga and one of sleeping lions, there was no mistaking who the kids were rooting for by now all dressed up in their rhino face paint, rhino balloon models and rhinos cardboard clappers.. Their minds already filled with memories of the day and a willingness to return even before the match began, the marketing at Leeds Rhinos is working a treat. A pre-match meal of fried chicken and cheese burgers, handily paid for with the food vouchers that came with our seats, and we were ready for the game to begin.

Now, it probably doesn’t require mentioning that, after the highs of last season, this year has been a severe anticlimax for a Rhinos fan. Not so good when you’re trying to get a 5 year old interested in the game, especially with the distinct lack of tries we have managed all season. However, even though we were on the wrong end of the result against this Widnes side, the game was engaging enough to hold his attention, especially with reference to the scoreboard where he was quite eager for the Rhinos to stay in front. He also has a new favourite player in Ryan Hall (with a little help from Mrs Hangry I think). Our 3 year old was not as easily entertained and she was more taken with the peripherals surrounding the game – namely the antics of Ronnie the Rhino and the Spencer Properties Dance Team cheerleaders. As the game wore on, the atmosphere, as well as the kids, started to tire – you could probably put that down to Widnes coming back into contention and eventually nicking the win, but at no point in our position in the main stand did we hear or see anything that we wouldn’t want the kids to witness.

Overall, despite the rugby result, we all thoroughly enjoyed our day out at the Leeds Rhinos. The many Friday evening kick offs have limited our availability this season but with our son becoming ever more interested, we hope to visit more often. The game is fast, frenetic and exciting and played by individuals who have values such as hard-work, honesty and teamwork at their core. These ethics transfer themselves to the crowd and in turn they, in the majority, are supportive and empathetic toward the teams situation and the players hard work. That such a family friendly, party atmosphere was forthcoming in this atmosphere, was a very welcome change from the obvious pitfalls of football and its particular brand of fans. Well done Leeds Rhinos, there is a lot of credit to come your way for events such as this which not only target a young audience, but captivate them once they arrive. We will definitely be back.

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