Macclesfield v Wharfedale might lack the lustre of the Aviva Premiership, but this Saturday’s National Two North fixture will quicken plenty of pulses.
That much is clear from reading an astonishingly good book by Simon Ravens, who charted Wharfedale’s fortunes during the 2014-15 season when they were proudly clinging to their status as the longest-surviving club in National League One (third tier).
Ravens is a musician who once wrote a book on the history of high male singing, but happily rugby also holds a special place in his heart. He and his wife Caroline follow the ‘Dale far and wide and the tales from their travels get across stupendously the almost paralysing tension that supporting a club can entail, and the team-fans relationship that stems from that.
In his book, Riverball!, Ravens tells us about the kindred farming spirits of Tynedale, the stirring fightback at Coventry, the training-pitch snub at Hartpury, the quiet wine-tasters at Rosslyn Park and well-heeled Ealing with their two-storey dugout. He relates Taylor Prell’s amazing try against Richmond and the fortuitous one against Old Albanian when the ball bounced off Cameron Hudson’s head.
But Ravens’s colourful journey is only part of the book’s appeal for he also interweaves marvellous tales from some of the great characters at ‘Dale, people like Clarty and Adge and Roger the Groundsman, selfless servants without whom no club can function.
The narrative is funny and clever, touching and informative. It’s even surprisingly gripping as the reader is reminded of the latest league table and Wharfedale’s precarious place within it.
The club, based in the North Yorkshire village of Threshfield, was once looked down upon by bigger clubs in the region. Dale’s cow-field pitch and spartan facilities evoked a certain snobbery and Ravens is deliciously self-deprecating, referring to the club’s ground as the ‘Theatre of Bleats’.
Incidentally, the book’s title alludes to the cry from the crowd that encourages Dale’s pack to keep the ball until metaphorically driving all the way down to the River Wharfe – or literally over the try-line.
When leagues began in 1987, Dale quickly climbed from their starting position of Level Seven and among the famous days that followed was a startling win at Dewi Morris’s Winnington Park, when teenager Andy Hodgson sparked a fightback from 20 points down.
Twenty years in National One represents a staggering achievement for a village club, and Riverball!, which was published in 2015, continues the fairytale because relegation is averted – in the end, almost too easily! It’s left to the colts to provide a dramatic denouement as they win the National Plate competition with a last-minute try.
Wharfedale couldn’t defy the odds indefinitely and last year they slipped to National Two North, in which they now face the likes of Otley, Sedgley Park and South Leicester.
The story of their 2014-15 season has been brilliantly told and will interest every rugby enthusiast. You can buy the book at a special rate via Wharfedale RUFC – email them at firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
The publishers, VSP, have kindly given us five copies of the book to give away. For a chance to win one, answer the question below and fill in your details. The competition closes on Tuesday 3 October.
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