How wrong they were.
Once you enter through the doors of Ponderosa Lakeside Restaurant you forget you are in the heart of Heckmondwike. This jewel in the crown of the Rural Therapeutic Centre (which provides opportunities for educational and stimulating activities), is an absolute gem of a place. The modern restaurant, tastefully furnished, set the atmosphere and provided the ambience for what was to be one of the best BISSA dinners ever.
The inimitable John Boyd kicked off the evening with his sparkling wit & repartee to set the tone. Starters followed and then one lucky person won the first of the free raffle draws, tickets to a super league game and a bottle of wine. BISSA chairman, Colin Bottomley, welcomed everyone to the event with a topical flavour and suggestions for a new Honorary President. These were received with jocularity as was Colin’s request that he be paid expenses! A tasty roast beef main course followed, and already people were savouring and enjoying the atmosphere. Further free raffle draws took place, topped off with a dessert of ‘Aunt BISSA’s cherry & white cheesecake’ which ensured guests were suitably fed and watered.
After John Boyd’s introduction of Terry O’Connor’s achievements, the man himself began a recount of his early years and playing days.
Inspired by his dad, who was undoubtedly his hero; he was taken along to Naughton Park to watch Widnes as a three year old and dreamed of becoming a rugby league player. As he grew, he made sacrifices to play his beloved game and started at junior level with Bobby Goulding. He recalled the time in one match that, as a prop defending his half back, there was an unfortunate incident where an official (also a police officer!) was laid out cold. Terry appealed against his lifetime ban which followed and eventually resumed playing the beloved game, after being absolutely gutted at the thought of never playing again. Aged 21 he played for Salford and the games were now stepping up a notch. The 1994 tour of the Australians provided the formidable duo of Terry O’Conner & Barrie McDermott an opportunity to show how real rugby league could be played. Torrid tales of a number of games ensued (425 in all) including stories of himself and ‘fat Baz’ playing against one of the toughest figures of his career, Terry Newton. He recalled his Wigan days with games against Bradford Bulls (one particular one where Danny Orr bravely reunited Lesley Vainikolo with strands of his precious dreadlocks, after ‘borrowing’ them in a tackle!).
Terry’s accounts of games for Great Britain, along with his obvious passion for the game provided the evening with a special touch. This man was humble, yet a legend in his own right. He was grateful, yet of strong opinion. He spoke from the heart, a genuine ‘diamond bloke’ and any young rugby league players must have been given food for thought as well as the motivation, stimulation and aspiration to become the best. From working class beginnings, Terry O’Connor proved that you reap what you sow. Heights can be reached if you’re prepared to work towards them. Games can be won with hard work, commitment and the drive to be the best you can be. He praised the efforts of fundraisers for small clubs such as Batley Bulldogs and referred to supporters as being ‘salt of the earth’ people for whom the rugby team are an important part of their lives (something which is not always acknowledged by players, I’m afraid)
The evening drew to a close after John Boyd facilitated the auction of sporting memorabilia
All in all this was a ‘Top Night’. Good venue, good food, good company. An absolute bargain at £30!!
Janet Virr 16.05.09