Back in 2003, Dave Hadfield took part in a 220-mile charity trek across rugby league’s heartlands. Up and Over is the resulting vivid – and amusing – account of spending a fortnight with Stevo chirping in your ear.
Starting in Hull and winding his way to Widnes, Hadfield stumbles across the bizarre, loveable and downright silly while also bringing to life some of rugby league’s most memorable characters.
Thankfully for Hadfield’s battered feet, Catalans Dragons and Celtic Crusaders had yet to be born when this book was put together. But a meander that roughly follows the M62 is a rich enough source of material for this book to be full of heart-warming chuckles and moments of poignancy from a sport that has enchanted so many fans, players, administrators and journalists alike.
Hadfield’s style perfectly illuminates the camaraderie that curses through rugby league’s communities. There are flashes of exasperation mixed with gems of wisdom – see Stevo’s explanation of the ‘momentum’ rule: “It’s quite simple. If I get thrown out of a train as it goes through Dewsbury, I might hit the ground in Batley, but I’ve still gone backwards.” – but underneath it all lies a deep love for The Greatest Game and the people that inhabit its world.
“I hope I haven’t just painted a picture of a game which is irredeemably barmy, because the times when I believe that rugby league is perfectly rational and it is just the rest of the world that’s lost its marbles come more and more frequently.”
Five years later, Hadfield wrote a follow up called ‘Down and Under‘, which charted his travels around Australia during the 2008 Rugby League World Cup.
But there’s no Salford in Sydney, as the following tale from ‘Up and Over’ attests:
“When we’re ushered into one (a Joseph Holt’s pub)… it’s free pints from the landlady and hands in pockets from all the drinkers. They get Sky in that pub, so they know exactly who Stevo is and what he’s doing. Some nine- or ten-year-old scallies out on the street aren’t quite as sure.
‘Where you walking to, mister?’
Welcome to Salford.”
As far as we’re aware, Bill Bryson doesn’t do rugby league. But Dave Hadfield might just be a distant relative.