When my parents told me that we were moving to Wolverhampton when I was 5 years old, I didn’t really understand what Wolverhampton was, other than a place a long way from where I lived at the time. I recall wondering whether real wolves lived there so decided that I wanted to become a wolf-hunter just in case there were real ones roaming around!
I had no idea how long we were going to live there. I didn’t know how life was going to pan out. You don’t think those kinds of things generally as a five year old. We had moved to a nice house that had a very big garden for me and my brother to play in. My world was good at that time. It was different, but as a happy little child, I accepted the move as that’s what you do – you just get on with what you have there and then at the time.
As I went through primary school, I made lots of good friends and have kept in touch with several of them still to this day, many years on. After leaving secondary school at 16, I got a job working for Royal Mail as part of their Postal Cadet scheme.
Life changed then! I was no longer a schoolboy. I was no longer expected to be a child or young adult. I was now expected to do an adult’s job and to behave in an adult manner. I was getting paid for doing a job. As a 16 year old, this was great. Suddenly large amounts of money were being paid to be each week. They weren’t large amounts of money but when you are 16, they were large amounts!
As many of my friends stayed on a school for ‘A’ levels and University, I was one of a small handful who had moved into the big wide world of employment. I often think of it as whilst they were getting an education through one route, I was getting an education through a different route. We are all on different paths on the game of life, but they can lead any number of ways dependent on the choices we make.
I stayed with Royal Mail for over seven years before I decided to make a change in my career path. I didn’t want to be doing manual sorting of letters and parcels or typing in postcodes for machines to sort the letters electronically. I felt I had something that needed to be explored. I had interests that needed to be investigated. I wanted to work in an office.
With Royal Mail being shift work, the change to working office hours and to have the opportunity to earn more through learning new skills was something that I had to explore.
I was fortunate to get a job working for a local company called W.W. Fixings Limited, who specialised in selling power tools and construction fixings such as nails, screws, and consumable items for the building and construction industry. In my early twenties, I was enjoying life in work and socially too as my friends and I were now out quite often enjoying our freedom and the benefits of being in employment in the early 1990s.
Out of Hours GP Service
After a number of redundancies that shook me up a bit, I found myself working for the Out of Hours GP service for the area – Wolverhampton Doctors On Call. I was responsible for the production of service performance reports, efficiency savings and did a couple of shifts per week driving the doctors round to see patients in their homes. This was an interesting time for me and one where I felt I grew a lot in my capabilities, but also realised that there was more to life than what I was getting out of it at the time.
I was made redundant from this role after our not-for-profit organisation lost the contract to a profit-seeking commercial organisation and made the decision to take a leap of faith and relocate back up to Yorkshire and to try and build a new future for myself.
Rugby League in Wolverhampton
Whilst I had now lived in the Midlands longer than I had lived in Yorkshire, I hadn’t forgotten my roots. My dad and I often went ‘home’ to watch Wakefield Trinity play rugby league back in Wakefield.
My passion and interest in rugby league grew over the years. I almost felt it was a responsibility for the Yorkshireman in me to be doing some kind of missionary work in the Midlands and to be an advocate for the sport outside of the heartlands. It may sound daft, but it was my interest in what was locally a minority sport that helped me develop a steely determination to try and make the best out something that I believe in. If I feel an excitement in an interest of yours, then you become more of an ambassador for it, and bang the drum for it – metaphorically speaking!
I started going to watch Wolverhampton Wizards play locally. They were effectively a group of rugby union players who played rugby league throughout their off-season. There were some rugby league purists who knew more about the sport and were mostly ex-pat northerners who were living in the Midlands. This blend of backgrounds was good for the team. They went from being towards the bottom of the league each and every season to starting to make a difference and to improve in all aspects.
I got involved with the club becoming their Media Manager. I was responsible for match reports, press releases, radio interviews, as well as writing and producing the matchday programme. This publication became a great avenue for the club to get noticed further afield than just the crowd that came along on matchdays.
I secured interviews with prominent people in the sport for the matchday programmes, which were met with praise across the Rugby League community. I later became the Club Manager and dealt with all the admin and off-field activities including sponsorship and led the club in many of its activities.
After a while battling with the dilemma of trying to push a more purist approach to rugby league and to move away from a reliance on rugby union players who were playing the sport as their second choice, I decided to leave the Wizards and to set up a club from scratch.
The new club would be concentrating on the development aspect of getting players who were rugby league only or would choose to play rugby league instead of rugby union if the choice was put to them. This meant a quite difficult time as some didn’t understand that to me the sport was the important thing, and not just the club. The Wolverhampton Warlords were born!
I was very lucky to have some good people who shared the same vision as me and saw rugby league as the winner if we got more people involved in the sport locally. I worked with Paul Yuen who was a qualified coach who had been involved with Wolverhampton Rugby League since its inception some fifteen years previous.
I also worked with George Heinz, a young rugby league fan with a passion for the sport and for growing something new and exciting for the area of Wolverhampton. Together we worked to achieve our goal of a stronger rugby league scene for the city of Wolverhampton.
I was later presented with a national award from the sport’s governing body – Pioneer of the Year – for my recruitment approach as Manager of a Rugby League club outside of the traditional heartland area.
I was also invited to a Mayoral Reception for my Contribution to Sport in the City of Wolverhampton, having recruited over 100 new players in the area in just over two years with Wolverhampton Warlords. It was through my negotiations with the local council that the first ever council-provided Rugby League pitch in the Midlands was built.
Particular highlights are when former GB coach Brian Noble came to watch us play Heavy Woollen Donkeys at Dewsbury where we were 24-0 at half time before he had to leave. I also have fond memories of a weekend trip to Aberystywyth to play the university side on a mud-bath pitch with one heck of an after-match celebration evening!
Before I moved back to Yorkshire, one of my last contributions to rugby league in the area was to merge the two sides together – Wizards and Warlords – to create Wolverhampton RLFC to pool the talent, facilities and equipment for them to take the sport forwards in the city. Unfortunately, the sport didn’t thrive without the leadership after my exit from the scene, but those heady days of the Wizards and the Warlords playing rugby league in the area still remain in many people’s memories.
Rugby League in Wolverhampton was better off from my involvement. Unfortunately, you need someone else with a similar passion and vision and time available to carry on a dream.