There have been plenty of critics of the Daily Telegraph’s rugby league coverage during recent years, but there can be few who could question DT sub-editor Gary Slater’s love of Britain’s best kept sporting secret.
Slater’s latest book, The Official Warrington Wolves Miscellany, is a fine effort that also contains enough nuggets for those not permanently donning Primrose and Blue glasses.
There are statistics and lists, but as ever with rugby league, it is the human stories that both illuminate and dominate.
Lee Briers contributes an entertaining foreword that includes a tale involving himself, Paul Cullen and Margaret Thatcher, but that kind of unlikely happening is far from rare during the course of Slater’s work.
Even some of the dry stuff, like Jack Fish being the first Warrington player to score five tries in a match and 200 in a career, suddenly springs to life when Slater casually reveals that “his ghost is now said to haunt the Arpley area of the town”.
The strength of books like this lies in their pick-up-and-put-down nature. Whether it’s killing 10 seconds on the lavvy or 10 minutes on the train, there’s always something to dip into.
Slater also brings back memories that have long since faded, such as the Warrington stand-off who made the 2003 Super League Dream Team. We struggled to remember who that was. Can you?
And he recounts the disastrous hearing of centre Joe Pickavance, who during a 1963 Challenge Cup semi final got completely the wrong end of the stick when Jackie Edwards gave him some apparently straightforward instructions on what could have been a match-winning play.
Pickavance misheard, produced a blooper and a half, and Warrington eventually lost 5-2.
Slater’s passion for Warrington shines through, but it is a passion that is backed up by an incredible amount of research.
Perhaps the most fascinating discovery is that Warrington played their first game under floodlights not for the Floodlit Trophy in the 1960s, but against Widnes on Friday 15 November, 1878, with Slater having dug out the original report from the Warrington Evening Post.
“Last night, according to announcement, a football match was played on Arpley cricket ground by the electric light, which is just now creating so much sensation in scientific circles, and amongst the public in general.”
Oh, and that 2003 stand-off who was judged the best in the UK, ahead of guys like Paul Cooke, Andrew Dunemann and Leon Pryce? Graham Appo.