30 April 2016

Brian's BackChat #2

On last week's show (get it HERE if still available) we talked about the addition of the Toronto side to League 1 in 2017, ahead of the Wolfpack's official unveiling on Wednesday 27 April.

We gave both sides of the coin on this move, with Tom showing excitement and Mark adding the hesitance on whether this will be a success or not. That got Wakey fan Brian thinking again, and he put down his views on expansion both in the UK and beyond to us, which we've shared in full below. We'll cover some of this off in Episode 98 of SLP so look out for that at the end of the bank holiday.

Expansion is a difficult subject for rugby league. Because each club is a private entity and the RFL does not have financial reserves that run to many, many millions of pounds, the RFL are damned no matter what they do.

Any support for a particular cub is seen as unfair. Treating all clubs equal is seen as a lack of vision and leadership. 

It is clearly more expensive for London to put a competitive team together than it is for say Leigh or Bradford, due to things like the cost of living and ease of attracting fringe players not wanted by SL clubs. The RFL lack both the support from other clubs and the financial clout to financially support London, so they are left to sink or swim, and what could have been built in 10 years, could take 50.

League people say they want a competitive sport where you rise and fall due to your own performance, yet when a new club joins on the bottom rung, it's wrong, either because they will be too competitive for the bottom tier, or because they might succeed and become better than one of the teams currently at the top. If they are put in the top flight and protected from relegation, then that is seen as unfair as they replace the worst historic club at that level, that has probably failed constantly for the past 50 years.

The world has changed since 1895 and many of the economic centres in the north at that time and through to the 1960s no longer have the financial clout they once did. A top SL club needs to be a multi million pound business. There simply isn't the wealth around Wakefield, Castleford, Featherstone, Dewsbury and Batley to support five top notch pro rugby league clubs. There may not be enough money to support even one.

Clubs in places like Toronto, Toulouse, Perpignan and London, give the game access to money and playing markets that the historic clubs have constantly failed to reach. There are several players playing for northern clubs who started playing league in France or the south. That shows how much untapped playing talent there is out there, if only it is given the chance.

A friend of mine who plays in League 1 can't wait for next season, especially if Toulouse don't get promoted. 

Arguments that we should prioritise the historic clubs over Toronto, or focus expansion closer to home are nonsense. The money to set up this new team is only coming in to the game because the guy wants to have a team in Toronto. He doesn't want to live in chuffin' Wakey or Fev. If it goes tits up, so what? He's lost a load of money, a few people have had some fun whilst it lasted and we move on. It's not money that would have otherwise been available to the game, so it's difficult to see how the game can lose out of this.


Brian's BackChat #1

Each week on SLP we make calls or go on rants that show us to be the ill-informed or hot-headed prats that we are. Every now and then, we get pulled up for it, and often this is done by one of our most interesting and learned listeners, Brian 'full-Bri' Davies.

A couple of week's ago, Mark had a bit of a blast at former RFL Chairman Richard Lewis, remembering the back end of his tenure particularly, feeling it seemed more about positioning himself for life after rugby league and not taking an active role for the betterment of the sport at that time.

Brian hit back in Lewis' defence, highlighting the achievements of his stewardship as a whole, rather than Mark's more narrow assessment. 

If you want to listen to that show (and if it's still available) get it HERE. But this is more about Brian's input, reproduced in full below:

Couldn't let Mark's comment that Richard Lewis had "his own interests in mind" during his tenure of the RFL go without response. Lewis was chairman from 2002 to 2012.

When he took charge, the RFL had debts of £1.9m, the international game was on its knees. The previous autumn's Kangaroo tour almost got cancelled, after the Aussies used 9/11 as an excuse to get out of a tour they couldn't be arsed to make. The 2001 Grand Final between the Bulls & Wigan was watched by only 60,174.

The whole of the pro game below Super League in 2002 was in one division, the Northern Ford Premiership.

Lewis brought in the new league structure in 2003, which brought teams from outside the North into the new National Leagues. He brought all parts of the game, SL, championship clubs, BARLA together, he created the RLEF, he made playing for England the pinnacle of the sport, rather than a chore. He introduced the Magic weekend.

Lewis was a quiet administrator, who led the RFL superbly. He recognised that the only way for the game to grow was through a strong international game. He was continually hampered in his efforts by the parochial attitude of most pro clubs, many of their supporters, and the insular mentality of many media pundits (the Jack Deardon and Garry Schofield types).

A true mark of his excellent leadership,of the game, is that he has been gone for four years and people mostly take for granted the things that he helped implement.

The player pathways for kids through to super league, the fact that most people in the UK have a rugby league club somewhere close to them, the fact that the RFL has made a profit every year since 2004, the fact that we know there will be an international programme every autumn for lots of countries. The fact that probably the best coach in rugby league history wants to coach our national side for the next two years and our best players talk about wanting to make the squad.

Those of us who remember the shambles the game was in when Chris Caisley (Bulls), Maurice Lindsay (Wigan) & Gary Hetherington (Leeds) bitched amongst themselves and ran the game for their own benefit shudder at the memory. I remember Wakey being fined £10k by the Lindsay influenced SL for making an illegal approach to Jason Robinson when he said he was leaving for Union. The then Wakey chief exec John Pearman (who later fled the country) told Robinson's agent that if Robinson wasn't going to stay at Wigan, Wakey would be interested. Basically a headline grabbing stunt!

The state of the game is far, far from perfect, but it's probably never been in a better state to survive and grow in the face of the challenges that the modern world brings. Lewis was an excellent choice as chairman of the RFL for that period. He has helped the game move on, so we need a different type of leader at Super League than Richard Lewis now, but let's not slag the bloke who rebuilt the foundations the current game is build on.