31 Mar 2020

Hemmings Way: The birth of Super League

His voice is recognisable to millions as the soundtrack to some of the greatest moments in Super League history. 

Sky Sports commentary legend, Eddie Hemmings has been there since the start (and before) and as part of a new weekly column, Eddie will be bringing his favourite memories, best players, behind the scenes stories from the last 25 seasons of Super League along with no doubt a story two about his commentary box side kick, the ever-opinionated, Mike "Stevo" Stephenson

This week, Eddie takes us back to that night in Paris where it all began.....

I cannot quite believe we are in the 25th season of Super League, it only seems like yesterday that it all began in Paris back in March 1996.

I first heard about Super League in 1995 and remember it was announced in Wigan on Grand National day.

My face dropped. 

Not because I didn’t think it would work, but I had just bought a one-bedroom flat in Spain and was planning to spend every summer out there playing golf.

From a professional perspective, it was new and exciting.

The previous season had only finished a couple of months before in January, and that was a transitional season, so we were ready for Super League.

The move to the summer transformed the game, it became more professional and the players were a lot fitter.

Maurice Lindsay had a grand vision and, of course, it all got started at the Charlety Stadium in Paris, which was just a brilliant place to get the season up and running.

We flew into Paris on the day of the game, but Stevo nearly didn’t make it to the match.

Everyone else went through passport control, they then shut the gate, but Stevo was still in the toilet.

He almost ended up getting arrested by the Gendarmerie (French Police).

It was fine, eventually, but it was typical of Stevo to end up in trouble.

We got to the ground, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. There were so many questions that I didn't know the answers to...

How was the sport going to go down in Paris?

Would they even know what rugby league is?

The former French Rugby Union international, Jacques Fouroux was heading up the PSG club.

They managed to get over 17,000 fans into the ground that night.

We were hopeful there would be a big crowd but in our wildest dreams we never thought it would be anything like that.

They beat Sheffield Eagles and it got the competition off to the perfect start.

It wasn’t just on the pitch where things were different.

The bosses at Sky Sports wanted something new to go with the beginning of Super League.

Not that they didn’t like what we were already doing, but they spoke to Neville Smith about what could be done differently.

So, Neville and the referees came up with the video referee, to be used for checking tries. 

We were still a bit unsure about how it would be used.

But it worked and all 17,000 people in the ground that night were able to see whether a try had been scored or not.

The video referee has worked successfully since that day. People still complain but you only have to look at VAR to see how well it has worked for us.

Another idea we had was that Stevo would call out players’ names as they ran past him out of the tunnel.

However, what he didn’t know, was that there would be fireworks going off around him while he was doing it.

It went out to the people watching at home but also the fans in the stadium, that was another first on the night.

It was the same sport but with different intricacies.

We all got back on the plane that night as we were covering Oldham against Wigan the next day and Maurice was talking about matches being played in places like Barcelona, and we all thought we had found something really special.