FEATURE ... the story of Rotherham rugby's terrific win in Grenoble 20 years ago and the supporters who followed the team to south eastern France

FEATURE ... the story of Rotherham rugby's terrific win in Grenoble 20 years ago and the supporters who followed the team to south eastern France

By David Beddows | 19/01/2021

FEATURE ... the story of Rotherham rugby's terrific win in Grenoble 20 years ago and the supporters who followed the team to south eastern France

 

TWENTY years ago in a town nestled in the shadow of the Alps, Rotherham's rugby players completed a French conquest.


Although there was no shortage of heroes in the team which upset the form book to beat Grenoble in the European Shield, there were scores of them in the stands at the Stade Lesdiguieres that Sunday January afternoon in 2001.


Some had flown down, others had turned the trip into an extended leisure break, but the most hardy tackled the 800-mile, 14-hour journey by road.


I was one of the braves who climbed aboard the standard 54-seater Gordons supporters bus on a murky January morning outside Clifton Lane.


Sat with my Advertiser laptop between my feet together with an overnight bag, it wasn't the most comfortable seat. It was no executive coach either, the sort with plush tables and ample leg room that professional sports teams whisk around in.


It was economy travel for sure but what made the miles more bearable was the company of the other people on the bus.
Colin Coleman, still a regular at the Lane to this day, was one of them.


“Anybody going on a bus for that length of time would have thought it would be a nightmare but it was great, the start of a really good few days,” he recalls.

 

Grenoble's Stade Lesdiguieres


Four hours later the coach rolled into Folkestone ready to board the Eurotunnel and a claustrophobic 35-minute journey under the English Channel to Calais.


Then it was back out onto the wide open, blissfully quiet French highways, the journey only punctuated by stops at bland, grey service stations. 


There was cold liquid refreshment on board, of course there was, and it ended up with me copping for a nickname I'm still called by some down at the Lane to this day.


Buffalo, or Buffalo Club, is a game where participants must drink only with their non-dominant hand.


I kept getting caught clutching mine in my right and as a forfeit had to rapidly finish each drink in one go, and then another and then another.


“There was quite a lot of alcohol consumed,” confirmed Colin. “After a couple of those, you used to lose a little bit of cohesion. Everybody got a little bit merry.”


The trip continued right down through France before the final 115km push from Lyon to Grenoble.


“People were falling asleep. The journey didn't seem quite as long if you did that,” recalls Colin.


“I can remember my son, Shaun, and little Bob sleeping for above five hours on the back seat and then waking up and not knowing where they were.”


Finally, more than 14 hours since first turning a wheel, the bus pulled up outside the hotel in Grenoble.


Tucked in a back street, it was a modest affair but the Rotherham party brought the place to life in anticipation of the match the next day.

One of the few action shots from Rotherham's game in Grenoble as Dan Cook wins lineout ball

 

The match came in the middle of an exciting but often sobering first season in English rugby's top flight.


A few months earlier, remember, Rotherham had put a string of Premiership setbacks behind them to mark their very first game in Europe by beating Perpignan 20-19 in the European Shield. These were in the days when victories in France by English teams were virtually unheard of.


The odds on a repeat were still long, even more so considering Rotherham had been softened up by more league defeats and fielded many fringe players against Grenoble, a solid, mid-ranking league side.


Everything seemed to be going depressingly to script when the fired-up French pulled out a 12-3 lead by half time.


But superbly marshalled by first-time captain Howard Parr, Rotherham were in no mood to let their travelling supporters down.


They started to haul themselves back when replacement, Phil Greaves, scored a try with his very first touch.


A penalty by the dependable Dave Scully reduced the deficit to just a point and then Rotherham went ahead for the first time on 70 minutes when wing Martin Dawson steamed in at the corner.


Scully added the extras for 18-12 as the French lost the plot, continually sniping at the referee.


Scully's second three-pointer put the issue beyond doubt and the final whistle on the 21-12 win sounded to a roar from the Rotherham contingent.

 

 

Rotherham Advertiser cutting noting Howard Parr's prominent role in south eastern France.


“Not many sides win in France once, never mind twice,” beamed Rotherham's assistant coach Geoff Wappett. “This victory is of immense value to us.”


Also among those celebrating was Tony Jenkinson — current team manager but back then a normal travelling fan.


He'd flown on the same plane as the team from Stansted to St Etienne and then travelled the rest of the way by hire car.


“I went out the night before the match and stayed out a little bit too long so I didn't go out after the match,” said Tony.


“I remember Howard Parr, as captain that day, was the team's money holder. He had about 1,000 French francs on him.


“He asked my brother 'are you having a drink Daz?' Darren replied 'yes, I'll have a bottle of champagne,' but Howard shot back: 'you'll have a pint and be happy!' That made me smile.”


Back at the Gordons supporters bus, I think I can remember Mike Schmid, one of the kingpins of the Rotherham side, hopping on board to thank everyone for making the effort and then we were on our way home, the hard miles home softened by the buzz of victory.


“For all those fans to make the journey was amazing,” adds Tony.


“They were exciting times in probably thousands of people's memories, the town was buzzing. 


“That first year up in the Premiership, every game was an adventure, particularly the away games. It was just the spirit and a newness about it and a naive hope we could do well and Grenoble was very much part of that.”


Before getting off the bus back at Clifton Lane the supporters cheekily asked if I could somehow sandwich the word “buffalo' into my Advertiser report the following week.


I obliged in paragraph 11, referring to a “mammoth buffalo charge from the rampant Rotherham pack” that led to the second try.

 

MATCH FILE

Grenoble 12
Rotherham 21
Team: Dawson, Dixon, Hassan, Northey, Simpson, Wainwright, Harrison, Wade, Earnshaw, Greeff, Cook, Parr, Latham, Garnett, Bunting.
Reps: Greaves, Scully, Schmid, Fea'unati, Turner, Johnson, Thorp
Scorers: Greaves T, Dawson T, Scully 1C 2P, Dixon P
Referee: Allin Rolland
Attendance: 2,521

******************************

IT wasn't only the supporters who felt the strain of the mammoth journey to Grenoble.

The bus very nearly gave up the ghost before the trip home.

“The starter motor went when it was in the car park outside the ground,” remembers supporter Colin Coleman.

“They sent away for a replacement part and we didn't look like getting away on time but they managed to get it repaired.”

Colin added:  “After the game, as  we were walking towards the bus, the players suddenly came out of the ground. 

“Everybody ran across the busy dual carriageway as cars and lorries were whizzing past to go and have a bit of a hug with them. Great times.”