Rugby league welcomes fans back... ‘Watching rugby for me is more than a pastime - it’s a way of life’

Social distancing was not in operation when Buffalo Bill and his entourage of Native American braves and an exotic menagerie including over 500 horses galloped through cheering crowds to set up camp in Castleford as part of their European tour in 1904.

Fans return to Rugby League at Castleford as they play in front of fans for the first time since the Coronavirus pandemic struck in March 2020. Picture: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com

The land they alighted upon was known as the ‘Sandy Desert’ and, less than two decades later, after the trick cyclists and camel riders had cleared, it would serve as the temporary first home of Castleford Rugby League Club prior to their switch to Wheldon Road.

Since then only two world wars have enforced a longer exile from the club for the family of Paul Burns-Williamson, whose great-grandfather Ben Burns established a link which has consumed four generations of his family when he played for its predecessor, Castleford Northern Alliance, from the end of the 19th century.

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After 428 days away - “besides the wars, the longest time since my granddad started watching the current club in 1927, for sure” - Burns-Williamson was among the restricted 3,600 crowd allowed back for the Tigers’ Super League clash with Hull KR at the stadium now known as the Mend-a-Hose Jungle.

Fans return at Castleford Tigers v Hull KR.

“It’s overwhelming,” said the 61-year-old, who attended his first Castleford match as a seven-year old in 1967 and has continued the family tradition since, until it was abruptly curtailed after their win over champions-elect St Helen’s in March last year.

“Watching rugby for me is more than a pastime - it’s a way of life. It goes right back to my great-granddad who we discovered fairly recently played for the first club in the town at the end of the 19th century, and would I’m sure have been there to see Buffalo Bill.

“It’s been very difficult to stay away and follow everything digitally. The club have kept us involved with monthly events on Zoom, but it’s not the same. I can’t explain how good it feels to be back.”

Amid a tannoy crackling with social-distancing guidelines and the inevitable strains of Peters and Lee’s ‘Welcome Home’, 3,600 home supporters snaked back into the stadium and did their best to recreate the self-styled ‘roar’ which makes Castleford one of the most atmospheric arenas in the game.

Fans return to watch Hull FC at the KCOM Stadum. Picture: Zac Goodwin/PA Wire.

“Watching some of the games on TV, when they’re close you do wonder if the roar that usually comes up from the Castleford crowd would have made a difference,” added Burns-Williamson, who is secretary of the Castleford Tigers Supporters Club.

“I’ve heard quite a lot of the players say they are inspired by the atmosphere because the crowd are right on the top of the players and hopefully that is going to make a big difference now that crowds are finally allowed to return.”

It was shaping up for the kind of night of which Buffalo Bill could scarcely have conceived.

Surely even the acclaimed gun-slinging cowboy would have been impressed with the warmth of the reception that greeted the home players, and not least the ensuing stampede.

Fans return to watch Hull FC at the KCOM Stadum. Picture: Zac Goodwin/PA Wire.

Elsewhere, Hull FC fans watched their side take on Catalans Dragons at the KCOM Stadium, while Huddersfield Giants travelled to Warrington Wolves.

In the Championship, Featherstone Rovers host Oldham, while Dewsbury Rams were the visitors to Swinton.

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Fans return to watch Hull FC at the KCOM Stadum. Picture: Zac Goodwin/PA Wire.
Fans return to watch Hull FC at the KCOM Stadum. Picture: Zac Goodwin/PA Wire.