HEADINGLEY STAGED one of the most bizarre occasions in its history during this week in 1985.
As a blizzard lashed the city, on January 27, Leeds squared up to minnows Bridgend in the preliminary round of the Challenge Cup. Conditions were so bad the visitors were delayed by an hour en route and the crowd killed time by staging a huge snowball fight on the cricket pitch as they waited.
The game, scheduled to kick-off at 3pm, did not finish until after 5.30 and would have been abandoned or postponed but for Headingley’s undersoil heating. Bridgend’s players got changed on their team coach as they neared the stadium.
Their line-up included three unnamed players and one of them – an unused ‘trialist’ – was rumoured to be the coach driver, listed to ensure they had a full complement on the teamsheet. The tie went exactly according to the script as Leeds won 68-6, but was full of memorable moments.
Leeds winger Eric Grothe – signed on a short-term deal during the Australian off-season – must have wondered what he had let himself in for when he ran on to the field.
It was more like Siberia than Bondi, but the Sydney-born flier delighted the fans with a barnstorming display.
After scoring a hat-trick on his New Year’s Day debut against Leigh, he repeated the feat inside 15 first-half minutes and showed why – according to Yorkshire Evening Post reporter Trevor Watson – he was the “world’s best wingman”.
Watson reported: “He must have looked like the abominable snowman as he loomed at them out of the storm and two of [his tries] were exceptional.”
Neil Hague, John Holmes, Trevor Paterson and Paul Medley were also singled out by Watson, but he saved most of his praise for the 3,564 crowd, who he described as “absolute heroes”. He wrote: “Leeds succeeded in providing a good deal of entertainment for the frozen fans, who showed great patience and good humour.
“They cheered Bridgend’s late try, but the future for the Welsh club must be bleak unless they can recruit.
“The saddest sight was their team coach leaving Headingley facing the prospect of another nightmare journey home.”
Watson’s word were proved right when the Welsh club ceased trading at the end of the season after finishing bottom of Division Two. Their only win of 1984-85 came a month after the trip to Leeds, when they beat Sheffield Eagles 28-12. Eagles’ player/general manager Gary Hetherington was so upset he wrote to all their 23 travelling fans to apologise for the team’s performance.
(Tries Grothe 3, Paterson 2, Medley 2, Creasser 2, Lulham, Dyl, Dick, Hague. Goals Creasser 8.)
Bridgend 6 (Try Blackwood. Goal Alred)
challenge cup preliminary round, january 27, 1985
Leeds: Hague, Grothe, Creasser, Dyl, Hunt (Maskill), Lulham (Holmes), Dick, Dickinson, Ward, Hill, Medley, Paterson, Heron.
Bridgend: A Barwood, AN Other, AN Other, Jenkins, Alred, D Barwood (Blackwood), Gilmore, Davies, Glover, Thomas, Fleay, Nanson, Vickers. Unused sub AN Other.
Referee: D Fox.