Nellie has been a Batley fan from the age of 4, over 74 years ago, only missing games when she was working in Hollywood for Alan Arkin and Dustin Hoffman. She had 30 happy years married to Ron Earnshaw, Batley’s secretary and has been a volunteer at the club for as long as she can remember.
Julia Lee finds out more about Nellie’s life in Rugby League
I started coming here 74 year ago. Me dad started taking me. And the only time I haven’t followed them was a year I worked in London and five years I worked in America. I worked in New York and Hollywood. And apart from that I followed them all the time. Before this were built, we had a big tanker and we served coffee and tea from up in this corner here and we had some great times. But there’s been a lot of changes around here, I think Kevin’s good, in his own way. I love Paul.
When, on a match day, Ron, would always be in that office. Everybody knew where Ron were and when they wanted him, they came there. He gave people jobs to do. I want the club to go to Wembley. We could go this time. If we go, oh, it would be brilliant for me, brilliant for me. We’ve had some good times here and some bad times. But the good times outweigh the bad times, cos we’ve had some great players. I can’t remember all the names, but I can look at pictures as though they were stood there, but I can’t think of the names. I just loved them all. Jim Etty, you’ve seen Jim Etty, haven’t you? The one fellow, played on the wing and he had a garage in Huddersfield, because he was booked in for my son and I says to my son about his name, you know, he says, you don’t know the manager and he says, yeah, he’s my dad. He says, “Bring your car up to my garage up there and I’ll fix it for you, and I won’t charge you”.
I was four when me dad brought me. First of all, well, it could of been before because he could have brought me in me pram, but when I got here with my dad I daren’t move. Not like the kids these days running round and showing themselves off. I had to stand there, next to my dad, and my dad were a lovely, lovely man, and I had to stand there and all of a sudden, he’d say, “Go on, Nellie”. And I’d say, “Come on Batley” and my dad would say “Come on Batley” and everybody used to laugh. He used to have me shouting, you know, and of course one day one feller shouted out, “When’s she going to shout, Fred?”, “Any minute, any minute”
Me dad had watched them for ages. You see, me dad were quite old when he and me mum got married. They were both a bit older when they had me and my brother. My brother got killed and there was just me, really. It were just me and me mum and me dad, he’d watched them for years. And we used to go on away coaches, and we used to go to all and me mum used to say to me dad, when we were going, “Don’t have her shouting. You know what she’s like, she’ll be shouting at everybody.” And one day we were stood down at the bottom – the Ron Earnshaw thing, before it came down – and I was stood with my friend and I’ll never forget – you won’t remember him, the touch judge, he had a bald head and we called him … and we were shouting cos he weren’t doing it right and the match stopped and referee came over and he said, “If you two young ladies don’t stop shouting at this touch judge, I’m going to stop this match”. And I said “We won’t shout any more. But”, I says, “we are supporters and we can say what we want”, and he says, “Yeah, but you don’t shout at the touch judge all the time”, and I says, “Oh, well, we’ll shout at you then”. I mean like now when the referees come up the ticket for the Sunday, I always speak to them, I say, “You’re the referee”, he says, “Yeah, you’ve told me, you’ve told me last time, it’s alright, I’ll watch it, I know you’re watching me through the window”.
I think we’ve got a good ground here. Somebody said to me, this is the nicest, it’s the nicest food you can get, you know. Sue’s very good at the food. And me and Barbara work up here and we have a great time. But we do moan. We’ll be there and Barbara will say, “Nellie, in the office”, then we start moaning…
We only lived over there. On Powell Avenue. So only five minutes to walk down here.
When we went away, we went on the supporter’s bus, yeah. That’s the way we did it. Ordinary matches it were just two minutes walking down here. In fact, when I got a bit older, I used to run here. And you know the – in the cricket ground there, that little hut? We used that. And one day, we were in there and we were using it as a place to stop and all the team came and had their meal and somebody came in and they said, “Well, I don’t know what’s happened here. Somebody’s stolen my things”. It were one of’ t players, I can’t remember who it were. And I said, “Ask referee – he’s stolen everything else”.
Ron’s first wife were my friend. Me and Cath had been friends for donkey’s years. I don’t know, but I think she committed suicide. There were problems. I don’t mean with Ron, with her own family. Alison and Robert, the children, they were with more than, what with… They used to come to our house all the time and then she went to the …. Huddersfield, you know that? That home in Huddersfield. And then she committed suicide. Her daughter came to my house, my flat, and I says, “Oh, what’re you doing here love?” and she says, “I’ve come to tell you something rotten, Auntie Nellie”, and she told me that, you know… And quite a bit after that, we got together.
I lived in America. Have you heard of Alan Arkin? Well, I worked for Alan. Loveliest man I’ve ever met. I was in my early 20s because I worked for Alan. And Dustin Hoffman. And who else was it? Theodore Bickel.
I looked after house and looked after kids. And then I worked for an impresario. He knew all the stars. He used to have a lovely… Cos when I worked for Alan and Barbara, they only had Alan’s children over for the summer, and I looked after them then. And then I decided I’d come home because… well, I came home. And then I got a phone call from Alan. He wanted me to come and work with him. I says, “I don’t really know, I don’t know”. And I looked, and my mother’s going, “Go on, get off, get off” and I says, “Yeah I’ll come, tell him I’m coming, tell him I’m on next plane”. And they were lovely. Absolutely. To say they were so well off and they were so good. I loved Alan and Barbara. That’s his wife. She were an actress. I loved them and oh, we’d some great times together. But that’s nowt to do with rugby.
That were me time out. Because then I went to Hollywood. There, I got engaged, to Louie. I got pregnant. I got our Peter and brought him home and he says, “If you go home, I’ll kill you. You’re not leaving this country”. I says, “I am”, and I brought him home. But he eventually got… somebody killed him. Louie and his brother. He were in this bar. They were Puerto Ricans. Now his brother were white. He were like an Italian, were Louie, but our Peter, I says, “You never asked about your biological father”. And he says, “I’ve got one father and I call him Ron”.
We came back home when Peter was 6 months. He’s fifty-two now. He’s a professional musician. He’s, he’s got a job of his own, but I’ve told him not to give it up. I’ve told him he’s got to keep his job going and… He’s played all over ’t world. He’s a brilliant drummer. And he’s one of the four people in this country that can play a Hungarian instrument.
I’m not talking about that any more – we’re talking about rugby.
When I came back Cath was still alive then. And then it just happened. Quite a while after. He came to my flat for something, I can’t remember, and then he says, “I’m going to…”, you know, that bar, and he says, “I’m going up there for a drink. Do you want to come with me?”. I says, “No, but ask me another time”. He says, “Have you got Saturday night for a drink?”. I says go on then. And that were it.
That were it. It were lovely. And then we were together 30-odd year. It were lovely. I’ve had a lovely life with rugby and everything else. It’s been lovely.
Ron has done everything at this club, from washing the kit, to being sat when he were young at side of field – you know, a ball boy. He’s done everything at this club. He got this club, he was the one who got this club to the state it’s in at the moment. I’m proud of that. I’m just glad of that. I have another boyfriend now, because he’s been dead a few years has Ron, but we talk about him. Something comes on telly and I say, Ron’ d… and he says I know. We talk about him. It’s a nice feeling.
When me and Ron got together, I came, and I’ve done more or less everything. I’ve been at this café thing. I’ve done everything. One thing I’m very proud of is that I’ve never taken a penny. I’m proud of that, I wouldn’t have dreamed of getting paid for it. You know, money goes into the club. I said to my son – my son is an American and he’s still an American at 52-year-old, he’s been here since he were 6 months old – and I said, “You won’t get a lot of money when I go, you know, Peter, maybe about five thous…”. “I thought I were going to get ten, Mum”. “No, you might get five”, because all our money, when we sold up and went into a flat, a lot of it went back in ’t club. So that’s how it went on.
Ron more or less run it. He did what Paul does now, but… You’ve got to get paid for it. But he… I don’t know what Paul gets… Paul gets about twenty odd thousand. Ron got a thousand a year, a month. He wouldn’t take any more. He says no, he says, well that’s what I’ll have but I don’t want any more. And it went back in ‘t club anyway. So that’s what happened with him anyway. He’d no second thoughts about anything. In fact, rugby were his main… Everything that were in there. And that’s why Steve Ball said that, he said I don’t want your money, I want that in there.
Well, it were one Friday teatime, just after tea. There were a knock on the door, and I went to the door and it was Stephen Ball, and he said, “Hello Nellie”. And I thought, that’s my name, and anyway, he said it, and he says, “Is Ron in?”. And I says “Yes”. And he says, “Do you think I could speak to him?”. And I says, “Yes. Please come in”. Well he sat there, and they were talking and talking and then all of a sudden Steve said, “Ron, I’ve come to ask you one question. Would you like to come on the Board of Directors with me?”. And Ron says, “Steve, I would love to, but I’ve no money”. And he says, “I’m not wanting your money, I want that up there”, pointing like that. And that’s one of the loveliest things that I think about it, you know.
And then we went to Australia. 1992. [Kangaroos tour] I have some beautiful photos of Australia. We went to Australia to see England, but we’d decided we were going to go because I kept saying, “I want to go to Australia”. We were sat watching a match and he said, “Do you know what I’ve booked for Australia?”. I said, “Have you?” and he says, “Yes”, he says, “We’re going”. And we went with this other couple and I got these most beautiful photographs and I met Glenn Tomlinson while we were over there, because he lived over there did Glenn and he came to us. And we met all the Australian players who played for us, Mick Booth and all them, they all came to see us when they knew we were there. I went to the toilet one day and when I came back down, Ron says, “Marvellous for you to go to the toilet, you’ll never guess who’s been here. Mick Booth.” I says, “Oh my god, where is he?” I love Mick Booth.
We went around to where they play rugby. That’s the only thing we went for. During the day we went to the different places – we went to a safari park, went to different places, you know. But we went there for the rugby. The rugby were the main reason that we went.
I think it were about two weeks. And then, while we were there, on the way back we stayed in Singapore for three days, and that were lovely. I liked that. I think Singapore’s the cleanest place on earth. Wonderful time, wonderful time. He loved his rugby.
For Batley I wouldn’t say I’ve done anything else but catering and one thing and another and I just helped Ron with what he were doing. Because I mean, even after he were taken poorly, we moved to a flat, just down there, down at the bottom of the hill and even then, when he were poorly and he could hardly walk a lot, I had to bring him up. Then when he came back down, somebody’d bring him down or he’d phone me and I’d bring him down and he told me what had gone on, all afternoon.
Oh, I’ll never forget the roll of honour. They told us to get everybody to go to Huddersfield. So, I got all my family – didn’t tell Ron – got all the family: kids, grandkids, some friends – we all sat there. Anyway, he had to go on stage to get this trophy. I’ll never forget this. So, I went with him on the stage. And we went to sit down and so we went to go down steps. Billy Boston came and helped him down ’t steps. After that, everybody used to say, “Oh it were a good do… “, “Yeah, Billy Boston helped me down ‘t steps”. And he said that many times me and my friend Chris used to say, “And Billy Boston helped me down ’t steps”. He loved Billy Boston.
I’ll tell you who’s a lovely man. Roy Powell. He played down here for quite a while and he were a really… And in fact, there’s a little clock, you know it’s like an old-fashioned clock but it’s china and he bought me that and I’ve still got it on my thing in ‘t bedroom. I keep moving it about and moving it about.
And I’ve got a lovely thing that they bought me, all the players. It’s like that, wood, lovely wood, and it’s got three things. It’s got two glasses there and a big decanter there and it’s got “To Nellie”.
That’s on my television is that. I won’t move it out ’t room.
That there, I’ve got that on my unit. That goes all over ‘t place.
Barry the Coach. He played for us. That’s Ron’s friend. When Ron were in Pinderfields and I used to go over every day. And he didn’t play for us – he came to a thing here and that’s why we’re talking to him, and Michelle, his wife, and I were talking to him and I said, “I go to Pinderfields a lot”, I says, “and it’s awful, you can’t park”. And he says “We live across the road. Park in our drive “And he says, “If you don’t park in our drive, park in front of our house”. And Michelle says, “If anybody says owt, we’ll tell them”. So, I used to park in their drive, only five minutes from’ t ground. Oh, he were lovely. Him and Ron were great friends.