Lanzarote to London and back! Halifax postman leaves family holiday to deliver on promise to see Panthers win at new Wembley
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After studying the fixture list ahead of the 2023 season, lifelong Fax fan Craig Atkinson, 51, and his partner Becky Williams had booked the summer trip to the Canary Islands with their six-year-old child Ernie before a ball had even been thrown. And fears of missing out on a big game for the club during August were eased when the Panthers were drawn against Featherstone Rovers in the third round of the Challenge Cup.
“I always look at the calendar,” admitted postman Craig. “We drew Featherstone away and I thought, ‘We’re going to be safe here because we won’t beat them, especially away from home!’ But we beat them and I started to get a bit nervous after that as we’d knocked the best team out!”
The run continued against Barrow Raiders and Bradford Bulls, with victory over their fierce West Yorkshire rivals ensuring a place in the 1895 Cup semi-finals against London Broncos.
“It’s been a fantastic cup run,” he said. “We all went down to London to see them win in the semi-final. Of course I wanted them to win but it would mean me flying back from holiday. It was a bit of a double-edger!
“We ended up winning, which I didn’t think we would because London were playing good and we weren’t playing right well.
“But we managed to do it so the planning went ahead!”
“I was a bit too young to appreciate what it took to get to Wembley in the 80s,” reflected Craig, who was a teenager when he saw Fax beat St Helens in 1987, before watching them lose to Wigan the following year.
“I have been on loads of rugby trips since but I’ve never gone into the new Wembley. I have always watched the game in the pub because I always said that I don’t want to go into that new stadium until my team gets there. I never thought it would happen.”
He added: “I dropped it into conversation! We were talking about other things and I dropped it in. But Becky is very understanding about rugby. We have been together for 15 years but she knows that rugby is a big part of our lives.”
Craig, who met up with his Dad, sister and her husband, Damian Clayton, who was awarded an MBE for services to rugby league in the Armed Forces, in the capital, admitted it was an emotional occasion.
He said: “The last time we were at Wembley our mother was with us. My mum is not with us now so it was a bit emotional.
“It was just a cracking day and, to cap it all, we ended up winning. Everyone just went wild. It was absolutely brilliant.”
This is not the first time Craig’s love of rugby has intervened with a summer holiday, however, as he explained:
“When Becky was pregnant with Ernie, she had booked the flights for 11 o’clock on a Sunday. I told her, ‘I can’t go then, we’ve got Featherstone at home, it’s a massive game.’
“She ended up flying over on her own while she was pregnant and I got a later flight from Liverpool after the game!
“I’ve even asked about flying back for the London Broncos game this weekend but that hasn’t gone down too well!”
Asked what the family’s holiday plans were for next season, Craig replied:
“We’re going skiing in the off-season next year! We’re going to have to double, double check the calendar, definitely!”