Not many people will know this but former Newcastle United, Liverpool, Everton and England maestro Peter Beardsley is a real Rugby League aficionado.
His association with the sport goes back to the 1980s when Alex ‘The Mouth’ Murphy was rocking round St Helens’ Knowsley Road at just the right time when Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish broke what was then the British transfer record by paying Newcastle £1.9m for Beardsley’s services in July 1987.
When the RFL brought Rugby League to Anfield, Beardsley took in his first game and was hooked. And through Liverpool’s links with St Helens on Merseyside, Beardsley found himself being drawn to the Red Vee and has been a big fan ever since.
“I’m old enough to remember the likes of Vincent Karalius,” the Newcastle Under-23s coach said. “I’m a massive fan. If I’m being honest it’s one of the toughest sports in the world. Ice hockey is the only one on a par with it. Rugby union is obviously tough but Rugby League is tougher.
“We had Liam Watts up from Hull to do some promo stuff ahead of the weekend and I said to him, ‘How do you run at two or three men who are going to tackle you neck high and put a big hit on you?’
“I’m just full of admiration for these athletes. You never see them pull out. They just know they are going to get hit. The courage they have is incredible.”
When the doors swing open at St James’ Park to signal the start of Dacia Magic Weekend, at the very front of the queue will be Rugby League fanatic Peter Beardsley
“This will be my first Magic here as I’ve been away with the reserves in Hong Kong the past two times, so I’m excited I can be a part of it.
“For the next month or so there’ll be a carnival atmosphere in this city with us getting promotion. I know the Magic Weekend atmospheres are impressive but our promotion will certainly help the party.
“I know last year they had record crowds and I’m sure it will be the case again. Having this Weekend here is something we are very proud to have. We are biased but we think it’s the perfect stadium for it.
“I was talking to a few Rugby League fans about how they can all stand together and generally everyone mucks in and have a bit of a laugh. The great thing is that they can see six games of Rugby League with a weekend ticket. What better city for them to enjoy the weekend and watch some top class Rugby League.”
In an era where there’s plenty of talk about diving in football and the integrity of certain Premier League players, Beardsley says young footballers of today need to look no further than their oval-shaped cousins for guidance.
“I think there’s some things we can learn from this great sport of Rugby League,” Beardsley admitted. “There’s an honesty and integrity about the sport and that’s what I really respect and admire.
“The players know they are going to get hit. You have seen it in football where sometimes you see players pulling out of a tackle but you’ll never get that in Rugby League – there’s no chance.
Beardsley has also been involved in Widnes Vikings’ charity link-up with the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation. “Sir Bobby is a legend and for Widnes to take that brand under their wing is brilliant,” he said.
“I have got a bit of credit for this but I’ve not done anything. It’s amazing what they’ve done and for me to do a bit of publicity is minor in comparison to what that club is doing. They are doing all the work and I’m getting the glory!
“They’ve raised a lot of money for the Foundation - as have a lot of people - but they’ve got a genuine interest in it.”
Read the full interview in the official Dacia Magic Weekend programme, available at the Stadium.
Tickets are still available for the Dacia Magic Weekend starting at just £12.50 for concessions and £25 for adults. Tickets can be purchased online for collection at the stadium ticket office over the weekend here. Alternatively fans can buy tickets on the day from the Stadium ticket office from 11:30am on Saturday and 10am on Sunday.