Saints fan makes 800-mile round trip to watch games

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How far would you go to follow Saints? Not as far as Mark Bryant, who regularly makes a 800 mile round trip to Langtree Park from his home in the Scottish Highlands.

The 56-year-old, who was brought up on rugby league by his father and grandfather, attended his first match when he was four-years-old.

And moving to Ross-shire, 30 miles north of Inverness, hasn’t stopped him cheering on his beloved St Helens.

Mark now makes a six-hour journey about 10 times a year.

He said: “There was a lady doing a lap of honour on Facebook because she travels from Burnley and I said that is not really that far; I travel 400 miles.

“If you asked anyone else up here to do that it is like you have just asked them to drive to Moscow but I don’t see the distance as a problem.

“For some reason, the Scots, considering they hate London so much, the only form of rugby they play with any fervour is the rugby union.

“So I thought I am not missing out and I carried on supporting Saints.”

Regular solitary trips to Langtree Park enable Mr Bryant to visit his family who are all based in St Helens.

The proud grandad of seven said: “If I leave at two in the morning, and travel down when it’s just haulage on the roads, I can be there in time for breakfast.

“I either stay with my daughter or in a hotel if I don’t want to evict one of the grandchildren from their beds.”

Mr Bryant grew up in Rainford and remained in Merseyside until 2008 when he and his wife moved to Scotland.

With his Saints-supporting grandfather living near to Kel Coslett, and one of his daughters in the same class as Paul Wellens, it is no surprise that Mr Bryant developed, and sustained, his love of the game.

He said: “I have been an avid supporter since about four years of age.

“If, as a kid, you don’t have a parent who does fishing, you will never learn to fish; if you are introduced to rugby league, you will always like rugby league.

“It is something that you are brought up with.”

As a boy, Mark was actively discouraged from playing rugby during his time at Prescot Grammar School in case of injury, but he kept up the sport with a group of friends.

Mark has been a season ticket holder most of his life and used to make all of the games when he lived in St Helens.

He knows many of the players personally due to growing up and working in that area.

He said: “You meet these people every day.

“We are not talking about Manchester United where they turn up at the training ground and then disappear into Cheshire.

“These guys, they are running on the roads, they are in your local pub, you will be having a meal in a pub in St Helens and one will come and sit on a table next to you.”

The Saints enthusiast praised Saints for their attitude and approach, but saves extra praise for the newly retired Paul Wellens and head coach Keiron Cunningham.

He said: “They played there their whole career despite the fact that they could go to Australia and make a lot of money.

“They are faithful to their fans and they don’t see themselves as anything special.

“If Keiron Cunningham walked into a room of a round of applause, he would turn around and look for someone famous.

“It is beautiful – the whole mentality – which is really refreshing in this day and age.

“If you have the inclination and ability to identify these sorts of strengths, you are not just standing in a crowd yelling abuse at guys on a field.

“That is the difference between a fan and a supporter.”

Since moving to Scotland, the long-standing supporter has to be selective about the games he attends and opts to stay at home when he can watch on Sky.

He has been married for 20 years, moved to the Highlands for a slower and quieter lifestyle where Mr Bryant could continue his work.

He said: “You have got to shut down sometimes and you need somewhere you can have a break and chill.

“I have always preferred the countryside.

“When I worked in Merseyside, I lived 14 miles away in the middle of Lancashire.

“In life, you are either a free-range hen or a battery hen and I don’t like living on housing estates where you look out of your bathroom window and into someone else’s bedroom window.

“The politics is a bit dodgy, and some of the locals have never been over the bridge, but I like the anonymity.”

Mr Bryant now lives in the middle of a forest where there is lots of space, his nearest neighbour is about six miles away, and his nearest pub is a 16-mile trek.

He said: “It is a beautiful piece of the world up here – you don’t need a pub and a newspaper shop on the corner of every road.

“But when I came up to Scotland, I realised three things that I really missed: the grandchildren, real ale, and rugby league.”

Reminiscing about his favourite moments in the game, Mr Bryant shared his admiration of the Cunningham, Long, and Wellens triangle.

However, he was most impressed by their influence on the future generation: “They controlled the game 10 years ago and now they have all returned to St Helens to pass on their experience.

“Similar techniques are still showing; it is a training mentality, it is a recurring mentality, of the experienced players coaching the younger players and bringing them on in the same.”