Chapter and verse on why the return of rugby league means so much
Granted, many people might not know him as Ben Taylor.
However, mention his working title Yorkshire Prose and plenty – approaching 100,000 on Facebook and almost 30,000 on Twitter – will quickly register with a knowing smile.
His witty and passionate poems, about all manners of subjects but more often his home county and rugby league, have become treasured companions for so many especially during dark times amid the coronavirus.
For the purpose of this piece – jus so tha knows abart it like and nowt gets confused – Taylor’s words will be written without that aforementioned accent, but, hopefully, nothing is lost in translation.
It is an interesting tale; a lad from Stanley in Wakefield who was always good at school “but not academic” and, so, at the age of 17, opted to join the Royal Navy.
An excellent amateur player – he was on Wakefield Trinity’s scholarship with Adam Milner, the current Castleford Tigers and England loose-forward – it was no surprise that Taylor went on to excel, captaining not only the Navy but also the Armed Forces.
The petty officer air engineer technician – “I fix helicopters is a the short way of explaining it” – has led his country with pride and his love for the sport is one of the reasons behind his latest penned verse.
Having already been asked by them to recite some words before England’s second Test against New Zealand at Anfield in 2018, the Rugby Football League rightly could not think of anyone better qualified to write some words regarding the domestic sport’s imminent resumption.
To mark three months since rugby league was last played and to hail ‘we’re on our way back’ after the pandemic, they released a video last week, with Taylor’s wonderful words laid over it.
With his observational flair, he reflects on how and why the rugby league fraternity has missed the sport so much, how it has responded with typical resilience and generosity, and how much everyone is relishing the chance to celebrate the return of the game.
Taylor captures the mood perfectly but how did the 29-year-old find himself in this position which has led to him even reciting verse in the South Sydney changing rooms at the personal request of former England captain Sam Burgess?
“It happened by accident,” he told The Yorkshire Post, from his Navy base in Somerset.
“I followed a bloke called Dennis Rhodes who’s from Wakefield, who did dialect verse.
“I didn’t know him – I just followed on the internet. I never tried it myself but was out with the dog one day, in around 2013, and a couple of lines just popped into my head.
“I wrote them down and thought ‘this is easy!’ I shared a couple with some pals and got into it from there.
“When I shared one on the internet, another Yorkshire site got on it and it went up to a million views. My wife jokingly said I’d loads of these so I could make some brass out of it!
“The first one I shared publicly was ‘An Introduction to t’Yorkshire Dialect’ which was for my pal who’d emigrated and his young ’un was born in Australia.
“I sent it privately to him, he put it on his Facebook and it went well from there.
“From that, I started doing more and was asked to read something before England v New Zealand in 2018. It was at Anfield and I read something out on the pitch for Remembrance Day which, for me, obviously is something really close to my own heart.
“A load of England players got hold of it. Sam Burgess was messaging and Ryan Hall was asking me to go for some snap with the players, so that took off. I’ve just carried on with it really.”
As is so often the case for talented folk, his latest piece for the RFL came quite naturally.
“For things that I care about, it’s really easy,” said Taylor, who waxes lyrically about the ‘big boppers’ like Trinty’s own Dave Fifita and touchingly reflects on the positivity and resilience of Mose Masoe and Rob Burrow.
“That one was an hour, maybe an hour-and-a-half. If that.
“Obviously, I do tend to get a lot of requests from people but I do tend to only write about things I’m bothered about.
“It’s easy and I haven’t got a reason to write about other things! I only do it for myself.
“What I’m trying to be careful of doing is not turning it into a job. Because I enjoy it, that’s why I only take things I want to do.”
It is no surprise, then, that some of his poems revolve around the NHS – his wife and mum are both nurses – while the Armed Forces are never far from his mind as well as his beloved Trinity.
Although, unlike Milner, he never quite made the cut professionally, playing for the Navy and Armed Forces has opened up so many “unbelievable” opportunities for the combative second-row.
“For rugby, I’ve toured Australia four times and New Zealand once,” he said.
“I’ve had a training session with Wayne Bennett and Michael Maguire.
“I played at Suncorp in Brisbane as a curtain raiser to a State of Origin decider.
“That was amazing going to see an Origin contest but the day was spoiled for me.
“In our game, we were beating the Aussies all the way through and in typical Aussie fashion they literally scored in the last minute to beat us. It ruined the day for me. I never like losing.
“I can look back and think what an unbelievable experience. But at the time, it was painful!
“Some of the opportunities I’ve had just from being in the Armed Forces rugby league set-up a lot of professional players have never had. I have been lucky.”
Fellow Yorkshireman Burgess is a keen fan of his work.
“We went over to Australia with Great Britain Armed Forces and had been to a Souths versus (Sydney) Roosters game,” recalled Taylor, who is now also a proud serving ambasssador of the Britsh Legion.
“I had a photo with the bloke who goes to all the Rabbitohs games who gets dressed up in the Vikings gear, posted it and wished the Burgess brothers good luck.
“But, on the back of that, they all messaged me, asked if I was still in Sydney and, if so, to bring the lads, come watch them train and have a coffee.
“It was surreal for me as I got there and Sam, George and Tom all came running over excited to meet me.
“I didn’t really have time to be starstruck as they were a bit like that with me!
“It was really surreal. Sam said he’d get me in the changing rooms after training and, if I wanted to read a bit of something, I was welcome to.
“So, on the bus on the way there, I knocked something up in 15, 20 minutes and read that.
“It went down really well. They’re great lads. They’re so down to earth and have not forgotten their roots. It’s good to see.”