Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Pies, William Blake and Rugby League

So the Super League title belongs to the Pie Eaters, Wigan that is. The nickname derives from the General Strike of 1926 when Wigan's miners were forced back to work and were thus 'made to eat humble pie'. It was an insult, but one that has been embraced and transformed by the town, even to the extent of hosting the annual World Pie Eating Championship. They did much the same by taking George Orwell's distinctly unpleasant account of his visit to Wigan and creating a visitor attraction called Wigan Pier, complete with a large pub called the Orwell.

The transformation of William Blake's poem, Jerusalem, taken from his Preface to Milton, into a national - even nationalist - anthem is even more odd. The setting of the words to sumptuous music by C H H Parry turned this subversive, strange poem into a patriotic song, taken up as their anthem by, amongst others, the Women's Institute. It is played before every Grand Final, a rousing and emotional precursor, helping build the atmosphere before the entry of the teams. Yet, whatever the use, the words remain, even if stripped of context, and perhaps it makes Jerusalem the best known English poem. And I can't help feeling that Blake would not have demurred at the thought of his words blasting out in front of seventy-one thousand Northerners, celebrating the climax of the season of a sport rooted in the experience of the working classes and born as a fight-back against the class war being waged against them by the officials of the Rugby Football Union.

As for Saturday's final, St Helens proved no match for a resurgent Wigan. Missing their first choice half backs, they were completely outplayed as Wigan took their first title since 1992. The Wigan forwards dominated and their kicking game was devastating. If ever there was a victory due to a change of coaching, this was it. Last season Wigan were a good, if unspectacular, team; a new coach turned the same players into champions. The transformation was obvious from the first match of the season when super-fit players, considerably lighter than before, tore into the opposition. And then an Australian coach surprised and delighted by picking young local players instead of expensive overseas imports. Finally, it was a tactical switch that clinched it. The veteran Paul Deacon was moved to stand-off and the wonderfully talented Sam Tomkins moved to full-back, allowing him to attack from deep.

It was a great occasion, as always, whilst the youthful English talent on display and the high standards of play gave hope that one day we might begin to match the Aussies and end their comprehensive dominance. We can but dream.

1 comment:

Graf Mikeovswintondorf said...

Two things Pete; I always thought Pie eaters had rather more down to earth origins, but I'll bow to your superior wisdom. It was a Riversider who told me about the delights of the Pie Barm, though.

Second, the notion that a religious fanatic like Blake would have wanted to have anything to do with any organised sport is surely wrong. He'd have thought you should have been in a drafty hall discussing Swedenborg's theories of correspondance, or Graf Zinzendorf's latest text. The late EP Thompson has a lot to answer for in the left's rather naive view of Blake.