Members of the '80 club' flourish on Batley caviare

THEY must have looked after rugby league players well in the old days, about 50 or so years ago.

A quick visit to the Batley ex-players gathering before the game against Doncaster saw a remarkable trim and smart-looking bunch and several of them were 80-year-olds.

Jackie Perry was the oldest there at 83 and looked about 18 with his fresh face, a good head of hair and not much of it grey. It must be the Blackpool breeze.You look at Jackie, who can't be much over five foot tall and weighs nine stone at best, and wonder how he used to shell over touchline goals with the wet leather ball.

Gil Smith was next at a sprightly 82, a few months older than George Palmer, John Etty remains ramrod straight at 81 and George Northern is 80. I mentioned Jackie Perry's hair but all this group had more than their share. They must have slapped the vaseline on in those days or was it lard? Watching them on the pitch at half-time revived many memories.

George Northern was concerned because his name didn't appear in the programme as having played for Batley and Doncaster. He pointed out he was scrum-half and captain at both clubs. He was at The Mount in 1954 and played for Doncaster from 1955 to 1963, one of the pioneers over there.

Ian Gelderd, who has put a bit of weight on since his stand-off days, was a welcome new visitor and there was another appearance by Peter Fox.

Jim Etty, chairman of the ex-players, who is in the '80 club' because he got that magical 85-yard try at Crown Flatt – ask him about it because he rarely mentions it – welcomed the guests. He presented Batley chairman Kevin Nicholas with a cheque for 250 from their funds and also handed over another 250 to BISSA towards their fundraising for players. Great stuff by a loyal bunch.

One familiar face missing was that of Jack Briggs, who wasn't feeling 100 per cent after his recent operation, but was up and about on Monday and Jim had kept him informed.

A number of people kindly pointed out that the good old Batley caviare, or mucky fat, was available and George Palmer had his usual 'two of them pars love' saved for him.

Mention of Ian Gelderd and Jackie Perry makes you realise how things change. They'd be lucky to be considered for a rugby team these days, league or union. The England RU pack which trampled the Welsh was said to have an average height of 6ft 4in and weight around 18 stone 7lbs. A 13-stone winger was described as 'lightweight.' You can't help feeling this desire for bulk and power is removing the skill.

Henry Cooper fought for the world heavyweight title and was lucky to weigh 14 stone.

There probably won't be any 80-year-old former players at Shaw Cross on Saturday but a few will feel that age after playing in the past v present game at Leeds Road.

Some of them will look it on Sunday morning. Knee bandages and strapping will be ordered by the crane load and some of the oldies will realise why they packed in, the knocks take much longer to shake off. Darryl Senior is so keen to play he has cancelled a shopping trip, while Adie Ripley will be testing his sore elbows for 'one last time.'

Joe Bates will also turn out but there is some doubt as to whether Johnny Bates will play for the past, the present or the future.

THE football season began with the usual hysteria. Top of the happy list was Sven whose team of Man City unknowns had them heading early in droves for the exits at Upton Park as they beat West Ham. Were these the wonderful loyal Hammers fans, who were the reason they didn't have points deducted for cheating and lying last season?

A mere 75,655 turned up at Old Trafford to see Wayne Rooney suffer another foot injury that only England players seem to get. It has again revived the call for proper boots or they could try clogs.

You have to wonder how these Premiership stars would cope when faced with the old-fashioned, no-nonsense defenders like Banks and Hartle at Bolton, who talked of giving opponents gravel rash. And you couldn't kick a wet leather ball in those boots.