Andy Burnham MP: "This is a massive moment for Leigh"
11:31am Tuesday 5th November 2013 in NW
ANDY Burnham MP is heading into town from London for a Rugby League World Cup game that he says is 'massive for Leigh'.
The Member Of Parliament for Leigh has always been a vocal supporter of rugby league - both in the town and at a wider level.
He's even playing for a politicians Rugby League side, The Political Animals, who are taking on a World XIII on November 29, at Leigh Sports Village.
We caught up with him as he speeds back to Leigh from London to take in the game.
What have you made of the Rugby League World Cup so far?
I think it's surpassed all expectations. It's been vibrant, mainly competitive, the games have been open and exciting and to be honest everything we wanted it to be. A fantastic advert for the game. Maybe the national media haven't quite given it the attention it deserves, which is everyone's loss because there are so many people who might be turned on to this great sport. Who knows, maybe that will change as the tournament progresses.
You mention the national media - you've been quite vocal about the development of rugby league and promotion/relegation in the press before. Do you think the sport is in a good place at the moment?
Yes and no. The quality of the game is outstanding at times. But outside of Super League, which obviously I see close-up from Leigh Centurions' perspective, it's a real struggle. I honestly don't believe you can run a sport where you don't allow teams to progress. You've got to be able to dream, excite people with the possibility of playing at the highest level, and when you close the door on a town like Leigh it's much harder to generate investment and interest in the game. People start to drift away from it. We've chased expanding the game at the expense of our heartlands, which is a dangerous game to play I think. In fact, it's a bit of a parallel with the Labour Party in some ways! You have to nurture your roots.
Still, what's been really encouraging is that attendances have been high in the World Cup, as it will be in Leigh tonight. What do you think it means to have a World Cup game here?
This is a massive moment for Leigh. Hosting a World Cup fixture here is something we could never have taken on a few years ago so I'm cutting short my appearance at shadow cabinet to make sure I get back in time, because it's that important. In a way, it's what we built Leigh Sports Village for, and you couldn't find a more fervent heartland of the sport than Leigh. 10,000 tickets sold says it all. It's going to be a really special occasion and it's great that the people of Leigh have embraced it. It could be a springboard, and to balance my criticisms of the game, I also want to thank the RFL for backing Leigh Sports Village with such a high-profile game.
And having the Tongan training base at Leigh Sports Village has been really special, hasn't it?
Yes, they've been in local schools and training with kids which is really great to see. I can't wait to see the haka they've been doing for myself.
You're going to be playing in the politicians' Rugby League side vs a World XIII on November 29. What's your position?
Well, I'm not sure I've got one! I think I've played five games in my life so I'm fearing a major loss of credibility - if I've got any to lose! I'm not sure I'll go up in my constituents' estimations if they see me play! I have to admit to being a goal-hanging, prima donna footballer. My games teacher at school refused to let me play football unless I toughened up and played Rugby League, so I did. I remember playing in St John Fisher on a January Tuesday night in Wigan and it's stuck in my memory! The one thing I normally do is get stuck in - my son is playing too so he's coaching me in the garden.
So as a football supporter, what is it about rugby league you love?
I just love its values. The players are accessible, down to earth, in the community. It's real sport - you don't get much diving in rugby league. The artifice and simulation in the Premier League does your head in after a while. Basically, rugby league is honest - I love it for that.
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