Steve Lupton embodies the ardent supporter who is also a willing and unselfish volunteer, of which Hunslet Rugby League club is blessed with many.
Enthusiastic as he is about getting behind his team, he is even more committed to supporting his club. And, for that reason, he doesn’t usually get to see much of the action when the Parksiders are at home.
The reason – Steve is generally ensconced at the back of the stand, on the upper tier, ably manning the bottle bar.
It’s a labour of love for the 64-year-old who, until 2012, didn’t even describe himself as a sports’ fan, let alone as anyone remotely interested in Hunslet Rugby League club, although he has a vague recollection of being take to Parkside by his dad, as a five- or six-year old, back in the 1960s.
He reveals: “I first started watching Hunslet properly about eight or nine years ago, when we were in the Championship. I took my son-in-law Gareth Cairns, and my grand-son Corey, to home games at the South Leeds Stadium. We’d got very much into sport through the 2012 Olympics, which we attended in London, watching a range of sports including hockey, boxing, basketball and netball while, in the Paralympics, we saw events in the Olympic Pool, the Olympic Stadium and the Velodrome.
“It was a terrific experience and although it cost me a small fortune it was money well spent.
“That got us wanting to watch live sport and, living in Middleton, I suppose I naturally gravitated to Hunslet Rugby League club. I checked everything out on the website and, amusingly, wondered whether there’d be any seats available for us.
“The first game we saw was at home to Bradford Bulls on 5 July 2015 and although as far as I can remember we were comfortably beaten we nevertheless enjoyed it and immediately became regulars. It’s easy for us to get to the ground, we live in Middleton, near the site of the old Middleton Arms, and we have a nice walk through the woods to get to games, although more often than not we get a taxi back as it’s nice to have a drink in the Phoenix Lounge.
“During those first two years we got to know everyone in the Phoenix – this is a very friendly club – and things changed significantly, with us getting more involved as fans, when trip organiser Geoff Creswick got us interested in travelling to away games on the supporters’ bus. And since then we’ve been to as many as we can, holidays permitting (it would be helpful if the RFL published fixtures earlier, so everyone can plan, but I suppose it might not be quite as simple as that).”
It’s something of a pattern with Hunslet’s fans that commitment increases over the years. “My interest continued to grow in this club, and in the sport, and I began to attend our annual general meetings,” says Steve. “They were an eyeopener. That’s when I first appreciated that Hunslet are run on a tight budget, on a shoestring really. Clubs are scrambling for players and there’s a high turnover at most, with Jimmy Watson being a big exception to the general trend.
“Having seen what the club was like, I wanted to help out. Finance Director Phil Hodgson got me doing a few jobs; he came to my house once with a sack-full of old playing shirts for me to sort, and eventually Corey, Gareth and I started contributing a bit more to the club, buying memberships and replica shirts, and player sponsorships (Corey sponsors one and Gareth and I another).
“I said to Peter Jarvis (Jarvo) that if he wanted me to assist I could help out on the bottle bar – I’d seen Karen Bean working there – and I’ve done that since 2020, just before the first covid-19 lockdown.”
Steve enthuses: “I very much like working there, and I’ve invested a lot of ideas into it. I’ve made a price list board, and a sign (`the Goldthorpe Bar’) and a little sandwich sign, and I’ve tried to put notices up telling people the bottle bar is there but they won’t stick to the South Leeds Stadium walls. And I had to buy a mop and bucket, as the floor was sticky, plus there’s no hot water readily available.
“I’m not allowed to sell food but I buy nuts before games and give them to supporters for free.
“A benefit during covid was that some of us, as volunteers, were given the task of testing players’ temperatures. That got us into the ground to see games that were being played behind closed doors. And when crowds were allowed again the bottle bar really came into its own, as the Phoenix had restricted seating due to social distancing, plus people had to book a table in advance, which wasn’t something I had to worry about as my bar is basically in the open air. One week I took £800, which is four times the usual amount.”
It’s not all plain sailing, though, for a fan who relishes seeing the on-field action. “I only see the last 30 minutes of a game,” Steve admits. “That used to be 15 minutes but I plan it better now, locking up at half-time and cashing up at full-time, I’ve got it down to a fine art lately.”
There was a change of scenery for Steve Lupton, though, at the recent Betfred League 1 home fixture with Doncaster. Hospitality Director Mark Collin, who is having a big impact, successfully promoted the key game and Steve’s son-in-law Gareth’s firm booked a table. As a guest, he couldn’t run the bottle bar that day and he reveals: “When the match started we were sitting near our famous supporters, the Ultras, who spotted me and started chanting `we’ve got the worst barman in the league’ so I had to give them the thumbs-up. That sums up the spirit at Hunslet which until recently was the only supporter-owned club in Rugby League, with Salford having now followed suit. I can’t speak too highly of our board, such as chairman Kenny Sykes, chief executive Neil Hampshire, finance director Phil Hodgson and vice-president Peter Jarvis are superb and, in my opinion, set an example for all directors in any sport.”