Now That’s What I Call Magic
Another Magic Weekend is over and already the fall out has begun. Here is FTBP’s take on it.
Marvel At A Load Of Old Kit
I was genuinely surprised at the backlash to some of the shirts on display. As a grown man I don’t really consider what shirt St. Helens wear to be of major importance, as long as the Saints home kit is white with a red vee (or even a single thick horizontal stripe). However I’ll put that to one side for a few moments.
On reflection should we have been in our home jersey to draw more attention to ‘brand St. Helens’? To have asserted our home draw so that Hull couldn’t play in white, green and lilac? Only our nearest and dearest stuck with tradition and wore their usual home strip. It would take the harshest cynic to deny St Helens Autism Support the national coverage they gained on Saturday and I’m definitely not that. Saints should be applauded for raising awareness, and some money too. I look forward to hearing how much the club has raised in the coming weeks.
Other than charity kits, we also saw the ISC/Marvel relationship find its way into the Magic Weekend. Again this is a great idea – it associates a top brand with our sport – but I was left with the feeling that it was an afterthought from ISC, who wanted to rebadge some NRL shirts they had left over and palm them off to Super League punters. I was disappointed that not all of all the shirts seemed to fit the teams identity colour-wise. There was no primrose and blue on the Warrington shirts, white and red on Leeds seemed odd and don’t get me started again on Hulls lilac shorts! I’d love to see slightly different designs, even for the same characters, to really encapsulate the team wearing this type of kit.
That all said, no-one forces fans to buy these shirts and there were plenty of fans around wearing them. If the clubs see more marketability in wearing a different shirt, if they see more money going into the tills then using their usual kits, if they make money for charity then who am I to disagree?
Rugby League is always better after a win isn’t it? However, it isn’t perfect. That’s not the teams or the RFL’s fault – no-one goes out to serve up the turgid game that Catalans and Huddersfield slogged out, nor do they turn up with the idea of being thumped to nil in front of a national audience. However the Magic Weekend product is still a superb concept. Every team in one stadium over a weekend is an absolute joy.
Was it as successful as other years? Where should it be held next? The editor of this site certainly thinks Newcastle is Magic Weekends perfect partner as you can read in his blog here. FTBP wouldn’t necessarily disagree with that. The RFL needs to balance its decision on the right location, right size and right money paid by the hosts. St. James Park certainly falls nicely into the first 2 of these categories. It’s also relatively easy to reach by road with loads of hotels, in or just outside the city – it’s just a shame that hoteliers have realised how popular the weekend is and matched prices to demand – but that’s business.
Other than playing outside the traditional heartlands, I’ve never understood the idea of playing at Coventry’s Ricoh Arena. With a capacity of around 32,500 you’d either have to allocate seating or drop the capacity by 10-15%. This would seem a crazy idea when the last 4 Magic Weekends have seen a first days attendance in excess of 35,000.
Trouble Hits The Fans
There’s no hiding it, there was a tiny bit of trouble at Magic Weekend. Less than 1% of the crowd having a few too many beers and losing their cool. It’s a shame, but you’re always going to get that when rival fans and alcohol mix. It’s also a shame that some RL journalists are quick to pick on this and ignore that the majority of fans were brilliant and really embraced the festival of rugby on show. I spoke to a few different clubs’ fans, debated how bad we’d been, what the score would be and then sat with them in utter disbelief as Saints pummelled Hull into submission, forcing the errors that we’d been forced into on many occasions this season.
Still it makes me chuckle that after winning 45-0 fans can moan about players performances on the day. I read one bloke on Twitter ask if Matty Smith was even playing – all because a) he obviously doesn’t rate him and b) Smith had had the audacity of being picked BY SOMEONE ELSE in the League Express Team Of The Week. It beggars belief what goes through some fans minds at times!
Following on from the minor issues with fans, the first improvement I would make is a designated Family Section in the stadium. Yes you might get a slightly sozzled dad, or mum might’ve had one Kingstone too many, but this would give families a chance not to sit with a boisterous crowd. I’ve not much time for anyone else who complains about boozy fans – unless they’re being idiots by throwing ale, the occasional punch or being overly abusive. St. James’ Park is massive. I didn’t encounter any unruly behaviour this weekend due to where I was sat in the Gallowgate end. And there was plenty of room to move if you did.
I was surprised at the slightly reduced fans zone this year. This should have been increased, not decreased! Getting more fans involved in games, the entertainment, skills tests etc. before the game is perfect for building on the on-field product. Why the second smaller car park wasn’t used again just baffles me. It was great seeing a Newcastle Thunder stall in the fans zone but again, more should be done to promote them. After all building Rugby League outside of the M62 corridor is the whole reason for the event isn’t it? I like the idea of Newcastle Thunder opening the weekend by playing at St James Park (or if its moved to Cardiff, South Wales Ironmen etc.).
Now the 9’s concept is a non-starter for me. I doubt the crowds would be as large as Magic Weekends for a competition which doesn’t mean very much – and would the longevity be there for such a tournament. I certainly wouldn’t get excited at us trying to pass off a 9’s win as a major honour and if I want to see Academy/Reserve lads play I’ll watch them in St. Helens. Also the idea of playing the Quarter Finals of the Challenge Cup doesn’t make sense – how would you sell tickets for it if your club wasn’t guaranteed to be there?
So the main issue with Magic Weekend continues to be the skew in fixtures. An extra round lumped in so you have to play one team 3 times in the regular rounds. I’ve thought about how you could change this and here are 2 possible ways of stopping this and giving us a free round for internationals:
1) The round is incorporated into the 22 rounds (home & away only) of the regular season. The RFL pays the clubs compensation for missing out on a home game every time they do so, but ensures that the draw is fair & clubs go no longer than 2 seasons missing out on a ‘home’ game. Fixtures are announced before season tickets go on sale, so fans know what they are paying for and clubs can calculate season ticket prices.
2) Magic Weekend is played as the first round of the Super & Middle 8’s. At least 4 games each day – 5 if you use the local lower league team as the curtain raiser – which ensures the balance after the break in leagues becomes 3 home games, 3 away & 1 neutral. (credit to st.etrigan on the forums for this idea). The only flaws in it are: which football stadiums will be made available by their owners in early August for Rugby League to use & it could see the end of the Summer Bash which us Super League fans may well turn an unintentional blind eye to.
There are no doubts many ways which you could take out the extra round in the regular season. But whatever format Magic Weekend takes in the future, it is a great advertisement for Rugby League. Even if you don’t attend unless it’s on your doorstep, you can admit it’s a great way of getting the Rugby League message out there. There’s nothing like it on these shores and it is a way that Rugby League truly innovates. Long live the Magic Weekend.