Meet rugby league star Eddie Battye, a man who has taken an unlikely route from a farm in Oxspring which specialises in rearing buffalo to the pitches of the oval-ball game, via France and Sheffield. It’s certainly been an unorthodox career path for the 28-year-old prop forward plying his trade at London Broncos who, once the lockdown is over, aim to rekindle their bid to make an immediate return to Super League, the top flight of rugby league in the Northern Hemisphere.
Battye – whose cousin is former Barnsley FC player Nicky Wroe – was an ever-present in the side that was narrowly relegated last season. His no-nonsense attitude on the field and light-hearted approach to life off it made him hugely popular with the Broncos faithful and earned grudging admiration from supporters of rival clubs.
Unusually for a prop in the modern 13-a-side game, he even weighed in with three tries, two of them coming in the 42-24 season-opening home win over Wakefield. The gif, created for the Broncos’ social media accounts to mark a score by Battye, showed the former Sheffield Eagles player devouring a cheese butty and garnered widespread attention, with views in the hundreds of thousands.
“When we were filming the gifs in pre-season, I had absolutely no idea what to do,” he smiles. “All the other lads were coming up with stupid stuff, and I knew I needed to think fast. Our media guy had a sandwich he was going to have for lunch, so I grabbed it off him, went up to the camera, tore the packet open and ate half in one go. To be fair, I don’t get many tries, so I never expected it to see the light of day, but after getting those two against Wakefield, things blew up. It got written about, some radio stations took an interest, and all in all, that gif became a bit of a hit. Not bad for a lad from Barnsley.”
Battye now lives in London with girlfriend Elle, but has fond memories of the town he considers home. He said: “It’s where we went shopping on a Saturday, and it’s where I had my earliest nights out with mates. I well remember those wild Wednesdays and heading into town on a weekend. When I come back I still like to go to Barnsley and see a few familiar faces, and I’ll definitely be doing that when all this is over.”
Growing up, Battye regularly helped out on the farm which is still run by parents Stephen and Catherine and his brother Robert, 30. He said: “We originally had a dairy herd but, like many farmers, my parents had to diversify, and they got into the water buffalo,” he explains. “It was something a bit different, and they started going to farmers’ markets and festivals and, so far, it’s worked out OK. My brother Rob works on the farm full-time, and I might have gone down the same route had it not been for the rugby.”
Eddie considered moving back to South Yorkshire during the coronavirus crisis. He said: “The thought of being back on the farm was appealing for me because I’d have been able to fill time and keep fit by helping out. But, in the end, we decided against it because there was that worry of us potentially carrying the virus and spreading it to family members. “It’s a pity, because my daily run would have been far more pleasant in the Yorkshire countryside.”
A keen footballer as a child, Battye began playing rugby league when he moved up to Penistone Grammar, and joined Hillsborough Hawks on the recommendation of Sheffield Eagles chairman Ian Swire, whose son was a fellow pupil. He came through the scholarship scheme at professional club Doncaster and, although they released him at 17, Championship side Sheffield saw his potential and signed him up. Even so, Battye, who combined rugby with working as a personal trainer, had to be patient, and it was only after he paid his own way to spend a season with Villeneuve Leopards in South-West France at the age of 20 that his Eagles career began to soar.
“It was a great learning experience, personally and professionally. I couldn’t speak any French when I went out there, so I had to learn how to adjust to a very different lifestyle and look after myself. After mainly reserve rugby, I was playing very competitive matches against experienced men and it really brought my game on. Because it’s more of a winter sport in France, I was able to return to Sheffield for their next season, and ended up as a regular.”
Fast forward to 2016, and Battye’s dream of becoming a full-time player came true with his move to ambitious London Broncos who have bounced from the Championship to Super League ever since.
“There was a bit of trepidation about moving down, but so far it’s paid off,” adds Battye, whose current contract runs until the end of next season.