Sport - Charles Nevin writes about rugby, a proper sport

If the coach does well, he gets sacked. It's tradition at The Entertainers

No, he's not here. Hunt's gone, off on his summer break. Which means that, for once, we can have a sports column about a proper game. Rugby League. I did one before, oh, quite some time ago now, but not as long ago as the last time Spurs won anything. Sorry, Hunt.

Anyway, my previous effort provoked a response from a reader, so no sneers about rugby, thank you very much. The gist of the letter was, I seem to remember, a complaint that I wasn't taking Rugby League seriously enough. To which I can reply now as I would have done then if the editor hadn't, inexplicably, decided he didn't want a regular Rugby League column: of course I don't take it seriously - I'm a St Helens supporter.

Ah yes, St Helens: one of the founder members of the Northern Rugby Union, as it then was, back in 1895, and principal proponents ever since of our code's top principle: that the game should, above all, be fun, not like the other lot, the lot we left, who spend most of the time milling about in a strange ritual, mutual grasping activity, when they're not leaping into the air in a routine that always reminds me of the hippos in Fantasia.

Sorry, got a bit carried away there. Where was I? Ah yes, St Helens, or "The Entertainers", as they are known. And it's a billing they are totally committed to. No opportunity is spurned. Only the abnormal is normal. Should I mention here that Johnny Vegas is a Saints fan? And John Malkovich? He is. Johnny signed him up.

That's what it's like. Oh yes, they, we, are the most successful club since Rugby League took the Skygeld and switched to the summer, becoming Super League - but only the Thirteen Gods of the Oval Ball know how. Despite the advent of full-time professionalism, they still play the game the way they always did: completely unpredictable, apparently careless of tactics or defence, with patches of screaming direness gloriously relieved by moments of scintillating and often last-minute brilliance. That's why we love them. And it's fantastically character-building.

But that's just on the pitch. I challenge any code to match the number of coaches that Saints have sacked immediately after they've won something. And what coaches! Forget Jose Mourinho. We used to have a coach who'd never played the game at any level; we've also had coaches who make Jose seem like Sir Alf in one of his more introspective moods.

The latest, Ian Millward, an Australian who succeeded the legendary and legendarily challenging Ellery Hanley (sacked, naturally, after winning the championship), has really gone for it. I can tell you that his nickname is Basil, but will leave the choice between Fawlty and Brush open, as both will do. Last season, he fielded a team of reserves against one of our top rivals, setting in train events that saw two of our players suspended for taking a punt on the top rivals. The pair were our star, and, as usual, our completely barking scrum-half, who, when challenged, conceded that it did look "a bit dodgy".

Oh, and we won the Challenge Cup again. And so, naturally, Millward has just been sacked. For swearing. For swearing! In professional sport! How's that for a bit of counter-intuitive, old-fashioned St Helens madness! The club's anguished claims that it's a bit more than this have been lost in a whirl of amazement, admiration and gaping disbelief, much of the last from the fans, who have mounted a seethingly angry protest and see in Millward a true Saint: a crazed genius at odds with the small minds and straight suits running the club (the poor sods).

What happens next? Frankly, anything. By the time you read this, Millward may be back as Dictator for Life after a putsch and defenestration. For you should not make the mistake of thinking that the people of St Helens are dour and grim-up-northerners; they live where Lancashire whimsy meets Liverpudlian wit, and they like their life and their rugby the same. If you want to know more, I recommend an absolutely fascinating book, Lancashire, Where Women Die of Love (Mainstream, £12.99), by, as it happens, me.

Come on, you Saints!

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