Written by Callum Walker
In 2015, the Rugby Football League took the decision to move the Magic Weekend to Newcastle. Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium was undergoing construction immediately after the 2014-15 Premier League season, meaning the RFL had to look elsewhere for somewhere to host the Magic Weekend – a concept first introduced in 2007.
Newcastle’s St James’ Park and Coventry’s Ricoh Arena battled it out for the rights, with Newcastle winning. Since then, Newcastle has twice broken the Magic Weekend record attendance – in 2015, 67,841 spectators turned out with over 68,000 the following year.
In the city centre and engulfed in a friendly atmosphere, St James’ Park looked to be the perfect venue. But, Super League clubs took it upon themselves to switch to Liverpool’s Anfield, a stadium, coincidentally, nearest to Lancashire sides Wigan and St Helens and Cheshire club Warrington.
Liverpool is a fantastic city, but Anfield is approximately three miles outside of the city centre – hardly walking distance from any of the pubs in the centre. Newcastle’s St James’ Park, however, is situated a short walk from the throng of bars and clubs lining Newcastle’s city centre streets.
Newcastle’s atmosphere also takes some beating with the inhabitants as friendly as they come. Liverpool, on the other hand, is notorious for its trouble in the surrounding suburbs where Anfield is situated.
Yes, Anfield is a magnificent stadium and has already hosted England’s second Test against New Zealand in the 2018 series and the 2016 Four Nations final. But, these were one-off games rather than a whole weekend and it remains to be seen if that kind of atmosphere and occasion can be reproduced or if the magic of Newcastle can be replicated.
The fixture list for the 2019 Magic Weekend has also done no favours with winning over sceptics; Leeds play London, Castleford play St Helens, Huddersfield face Hull FC and Hull KR do battle against Salford. That means no Hull derby, no Leeds-Castleford derby and yet again no Wigan-Saints derby.
By omitting such fixtures as these, a lot of the attraction for these clubs’ fans has been lost. Some would argue that they already play each other enough during the season, but they will be playing the same team at least three times – home, away and at the Magic Weekend – regardless of who it is.
Whose bright idea was it to stage the Magic Weekend in Liverpool on the same weekend as the Liverpool marathon? Nearly 20,000 people ran in 2018 with more expected in 2019. As such, hotel and accommodation prices have already skyrocketed after the announcement that the Magic Weekend will too be organised for the same weekend. If this isn’t evidence of the naivety of leading Super League clubs then what is? Fans have found it difficult to find suitable accommodation at a suitable price and many have abandoned the idea altogether.
What can we expect?
So then, what can we expect from Liverpool? Well, it will take something special to beat Newcastle and it appears the decision to move has been met with disdain from the vast majority of supporters – especially when numerous polls throughout the year have gone in favour of keeping the event at Newcastle.
Despite the fact that the Magic Weekend has made a home in the toon, it was supposed to be a concept that moved to different parts of Britain in an attempt to attract new fans and give existing fans an exciting day or weekend away.
Liverpool, for the most part, is an attractive place and major steps have been taken in recent times to improve the city. But, the numbers are worrying. Over 130,000 spectators made their way to Brisbane for the NRL’s Magic Weekend recently, yet Super League are further away from this figure as Neptune is from Mercury with a reported 13,000 tickets being sold so far.
If that figure is true then it will be an incredibly embarrassing event for Rugby League as a whole. Fans just aren’t interested in Liverpool as they are with Newcastle – it doesn’t have the same attraction and the fixtures are not exactly inviting either. The Magic Weekend will die a quick death if it is not moved back to St James’ Park in 2020.