Disconnects between events in the northern and southern hemisphere are pretty much a constant in rugby league.
I remember as we prepared to host a world record rugby league crowd at the opening of the then-Stadium Australia in 1999, there was only a vague awareness that the previous mark was 102,575 set at the Challenge Cup final replay in 1954.
I recall encouraging the NRL to invite Harry Bath, who played in ’54, to the ’99 game as a guest. In all likelihood he was the only man there both days, 45 years apart.
The attendance was 104,583 and then the record was broken again at the end of the year for the grand final between St George Illawarra and Melbourne.
Yet yesterday the Rugby Football League Tweeted about Odsal and it was unclear if they knew the record had been broken twice since. Like I said, a terminal disconnect within a small sport with just two full-time pro competitions; a sport that that could and should be more united.
The Magic Round is another one.
I’ve seen social media posts about magic tricks and confusion generally about both the name and the purpose of the event, to be held at Suncorp Stadium this weekend after 12 years in Britain.
The Newcastle Knights (Tony Feder/Getty Images)
As someone on social media reminded me, the origins of the term ‘Magic’ are a simple piece of alliteration: it was held at Millennium Stadium in Cardiff in 2007 and hence dubbed ‘Millennium Magic’.
When it moved to Edinburgh in 2009, thy didn’t go with Edinburgh Ecstasy. It became Magic Weekend.
True, ‘Magic’ is used a little more widely in conversation in the UK than in Australia. It doesn’t have to have a supernatural connotation.
“We did the Westgate Run (a Wakefield pub crawl) for our Matthew’s stag do – it were magic!” is something you might hear.
Magic Weekend in England this year is struggling a little to sell tickets. It’s at Anfield, Liverpool, which is in easy driving distance of most of rugby league’s heartlands and the concept was sort of born out of the idea of a weekend away in a city centre, with plenty of bars and restaurants in easy walking distance.
For Liverpool, many fans can just go watch their team and go home, which kind of defeats the purpose of it all.
In this respect , Brisbane will be more true to the original idea of Magic than the event in Super League will be two weeks later.
Many fans will stay overnight, get on the sauce … and that’s what makes it lucrative to the Queensland government.
In another, very important way, the Australian event will be missing something, however. In this way, it will be more like Liverpool.
When a bunch of rugby league fans in different jerseys invade the city centre in Newcastle, Cardiff or Edinburgh, most of the locals have no idea who they are or what they’re going to watch.
These are soccer and rugby union strongholds, the invading hordes are mystifying.
Derrell Olpherts of Salford Red Devils. (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)
Magic is not so much about expanding rugby league as about giving rugby league fans a trip away, outside their heartlands.
It does what the Challenge Cup final used to – provide a sort of chaotic northern pride march in front of curious onlookers.
That won’t be the vibe on Caxton Street. Everyone there knows what rugby league is. And if we can’t have outsiders to hold a mirror up to ourselves, we don’t learn anything about ourselves.
Magic in the UK used to be where we showed the outside world who we were. Adelaide or Perth would perhaps provide this but they don’t have city centre rectangular stadiums – which makes it difficult.
Magic Round or Weekend is supposed to be a pilgrimage. As rugby league fans, it’s supposed to remind us what unites us, regardless of the team we follow.
It’s a celebration of being a rugby league fan, not just a chance to see a whole round in the same place.
Steve Mascord has covered rugby league in 15 countries and worked for most media organisations that regularly feature the sport, on both sides of the globe. He started off as an 18-year-old cadet at Australian Associated Press, transferring to the Sydney Morning Herald just in time to go on the last full Kangaroos Tour in 1994. He spent three years at Sydney's Daily Telegraph from 2006 before going freelance at the conclusion of the 2008 World Cup. Steve is the author of the book Touchstones, host of the White Line Fever podcast, partner in international rugby league merchandise start-up Mascord Brownz, and proprietor of rugbyleaguehub.com, hardrockhub.com and hotmetalonline.com. He is married to Sarah and splits his time between London and Sydney.
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