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Illingworth House: 6 - The Cup Tie

Mill master Abe Illingworth attends his first rugby league game.

John Waddington-Feather continues his story of the lives and intrigues of a Yorkshire mill-owning family.

On the Saturday afternoon, Abe Illingworth found himself jostled by the milling horde of workers scurrying down Garlic Lane to the rugby game.

His own workers stared surprised as he walked along, nodding at them with tight smile as they doffed their hats. He felt very uncomfortable and was out of his depth. He rarely mixed with his workers, never socially on equal terms like this walking down Garlic Lane.

On his way down the lane, he bumped into one of the club directors, Tommy Beckett, a scrap-metal dealer. Beckett had done well for himself and was not without a pound or two, and had clout in Keighworth. He, too, was surprised to see Illingworth walking to the game standing out from the crowd of men around him by his well-cut dress and expensive hat. The others all wore cheap cloth caps and off-the-peg suits.

Beckett greeted him and fell in beside him. When he heard Illingworth was actually going to watch the game, he invited him to sit beside him in a director's seat. The club officials had the only seats protected from the weather in a small new stand. The rest of the crowd stood on earth terraces or a row of farm wagons down one side of the pitch. It irked Illingworth more than ever to be seated alongside the scrap merchant and feel beholden to him.

As they entered the stand, the other directors raised their hats deferentially. Illingworth gave his tight smile and nod in reply. "Ah didn't know tha were a rugby league fan, Mr Illingworth," said Tommy when they were seated.

"It's my first time here," Abe replied, tight-lipped, his eyes roving uneasily over the crowd. "Some of my workers are in the team and I said.. .I said I'd support them as it was a cup match. I'm always keen to promote sport among my workers."

He was lying. Illingworths were loath to free their workers for Saturday games, but they knew it would tarnish their image if they refused.

"That's very good of you, Mr Illingworth. Much appreciated, I'm sure. Good for the town, eh?" said Beckett grinning. "Wherever the team goes it stands up for Keighworth."

"Yes. Good for the town, Beckett," Illingworth replied dully. He let Tommy Beckett prattle on and do most of the talking as he searched the terraces for Mary. There were few women there, for it was a brave woman who dared that male preserve at that time. They came in droves later when times had changed.

He soon picked out Mary, standing with her father on one of the farm wagons. As if by some sort of telepathy, she looked across and saw him. She waved and he raised a hand and smiled.

"Someone you know, Mr Illingworth?" asked Beckett. "Yes. Someone in our office," he replied.

Abe Illingworth had played rugby himself not so many years before and enjoyed the game. Rugby league was more physical than the kind of rugby he'd played and the league players were all workingmen who were paid for playing. His was the amateur game, rugby union, for gentlemen who paid to play and bought their own kit.

When the game ended, Tommy Beckett invited him to the clubhouse for a drink to warm up. Mary had told him she always went there with her father after the match, so he agreed. And it was there he met Joe Gibson for the first time.

Mary was talking to him when Illingworth entered the bar. He didn't understand why, but Abe felt jealous. It was the way she was looking up at Joe, all bright-eyed and sparkly. He was smiling back friendly enough but nothing more. He'd autographed her souvenir programme and they were chatting about the game when Abe muscled in.

Joe Gibson and Abe Illingworth were about the same height but Joe was much more heavily built, a rock of a man. He boxed for the town as well as playing rugby and was very popular in Keighworth, where he worked as a moulder in a foundry. Good-looking in a craggy sort of way, he was a gentle giant, childlike and kindly till roused. Then he was unstoppable, off the field as well as on. He was a man of few words and spoke slowly. When Abe Illingworth approached, he didn't pull his forelock, but spoke to Illingworth as an equal which rankled him.

Mary introduced them. "Jolly fine game you played, Gibson," said Abe, patronisingly. "Jolly fine game right through. The try you scored won the match, eh?"

"Ah don't know about that, Mr Illingworth. Couldn't ha' scored it but for me mates," Joe replied.

There was an awkward silence. Then Joe offered, "Ah didn't know you followed us, Mr Illingworth. You being a rugby union man an' all."

"I thought it was time I looked in," Illingworth said. "You've one or two of my men in the team and the men at work are setting up a supporters' club. I'm all for encouraging sport among my workers."

Joe nodded. "I'm all for that an' all, Mr Illingworth. Laiking football or any game gives a man a deal o' fun, as well as keepin him healthy," said Joe. "If I have any kids, I'll make sure they play rugby. Every kid ought."

Someone called Joe's name and he excused himself, leaving Mary alone with Abe. Her father joined them and offered to buy Abe a drink, but he refused, saying he couldn't stay. The situation was rapidly running beyond his control and he felt like a fish out of water. He told Mary he had to go.
At the time, he said nothing about how he'd felt when he'd seen her looking gooey-eyed at Joe Gibson, but he mentioned it later. He wanted her all to himself.


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