A view from the touchline in Hull, by Malc S
Early in 2017 I wrote an article on the Hull & District League. I suggested it was ‘at a crossroads’ and used a quote from Charles Dickens to illustrate the dilemma: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
A Hull team had appeared in the Yorkshire cup final. Competitive ends to both divisions. A newly formed team had won a trophy in their first year. A cracking BOCM final. And after that article was written you can also add a tremendous Council cup final.
But there was another storyline being played out. Running parallel to that was the fight to prevent the drain to summer rugby, a shrinking league, and unfulfilled fixtures.
This time I’m writing the article that launches the start of the Hull & District 2017/18 winter league. A new season that calls for a new quote. And what better than those words often attributed to Mark Twain: “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”
Don’t get me wrong I’m not going to suggest that winter rugby no longer faces those challenges I talked about. Of course it does, and that’s well recognised by the League’s Committee, the clubs and players alike. But the path of Rugby League has never been an easy one, either at professional level or at amateur. So why would we expect anything different?
It’s about resilience, tradition, and most of all, across all levels of the sport, a love for the game. Coaches, players and administrators alike who give everything for the amateur game. Keeping the show on the road with their commitment, time and effort.
And it’s that resilience and determination that will bring us back once again to the touchlines. The prospect of those hard fought battles on the pitch, the comradeship in the clubhouse after.
The start of the 2017/18 campaign promises much. It’s a season to look forward to, and one that brings with it an irresistible mix of blood, sweat, and occasional beers….
A view from the Committee
So, what does the 2017/18 season look like? I asked Emma Shepherd, Registration Secretary for the Hull & District League, about the season ahead. She said: “We lost a few clubs in the last winter season and that’s an issue the Committee have been discussing over the summer. We would certainly like to bring clubs back into the league and we will continue to look at ways of doing that. As I talk there are still ongoing discussions taking place with one club. To be honest though this isn’t just an issue for our league but losing numbers is something that is wider across Rugby League.
“There were some real positives last season and I don’t think we should forget that. We had some fabulous finals in the cup competitions and the Boxing Day and New Year fixtures were really well attended. The support from Hull City Council and the GMB for the final at Craven Park was outstanding. Both teams put on a show that night and played in the spirit that the game’s meant to be played in. Let’s also not forget some great league games during the season, and the deserved title winners.
“As a Committee we’ve been looking at how we can help clubs and funding issues. This season where clubs fulfil all allocated fixtures, league and cup, we will be looking to give them a percentage of the insurance back. In addition we’ll be paying all BARLA and Yorkshire Cup entry fees as well.”
Shepherd continued: “We have given a lot of thought this year to the league structure and have discussed this with the club secretaries. The proposal is to start the 2017/18 season as one league with a view to all teams playing each other once, before splitting the league into two divisions. It’s important, as with any league structure, that it remains a competitive competition, but also that all clubs are given the opportunity to develop in a way that’s best for them.
“We’re also making a few changes this year around social media which hopefully will be welcomed by clubs and players. We will be more active on social media and there will be a greater emphasis on publicising the league through things like Facebook and Twitter, making sure we get fixtures, results and news out quickly.
“At the moment I’m just pulling together the registration forms sent in by the clubs, the bits behind the scenes which are not always seen but are important to get the league underway. It’s about getting the lads out onto the field. The other thing which is really important to say is that as the season gets underway we will continue to talk to clubs and do everything possible to help them make this a successful season.”
A view from the Clubs
And of course, importantly, the view from the clubs themselves on the season ahead. Here’s what they had to say when I talked to them.
Ground – Eastmount Recreation Centre
Club colours – Dark blue/Light blue
Gareth Williams said: “Reckitts has been in existence for 106 years, having been formed in 1911, and as a club it’s got some great Rugby League history and tradition. As always we’re looking forward to the new season. In recent years the end of the summer conference and Yorkshire League means squads are often assembled a little later than you would ideally like. We’ve been training and at the moment we’re looking at a squad of around 20. Perhaps a bit less than I would like at the moment but we’ve got a great nucleus of players.
“We’ve done a bit of publicity around recruitment on Facebook this year and had some response. It’s also good to see we’ve attracted some younger players into the squad, and youth development is important for all clubs. Last season I felt we were able to compete, putting up some good performances, and did well in the Yorkshire Cup.
“I’m not a big goal setter to be honest, this season it’s about competing and enjoying the wins that I know will come from that. We’ve got a good set of lads down here, players that are loyal and have stood by the club. It will be great to bring some younger players through and if we expand the squad a bit I think we can push on. At this stage we’ll have to see how the league structure goes, and there’s talk of the league splitting into two after a few fixtures. Whatever the result of that I know the players will give everything.
“As a club we’ve got a lot of ex-players who help us with sponsorship, and we get good support from Groundwork and JPS cleaning. We’ve also got some good backing from Saltshouse Tavern which is invaluable. All of that is really appreciated.
“Last season the players gave everything, week in week out, and I’ve no doubt they’ll do the same this time around. They’re very committed, and as I said earlier, this season is about looking to add to that squad and being competitive throughout the season.”
Ground – Beecroft Street, St George’s Road
Club colours – Black and White
Rich Brown said: “We’ve had a good build-up to the season and there’s been a lot of interest from new players. We started training early and we’ve had good numbers down to the sessions. We’re assembling a good squad for this season, with about 30 signed on so far. What’s great to see is we have about 90 per cent of the lads from last season back with us again. There’s also been interest from some younger players wanting to play this year and it would be good to see them competing for places as the season goes on.
“Last season was such a fantastic achievement by everyone involved in the club. Everyone played their part, coaching staff, players, all the way through to the support from my dad at Brownies bar. We’ve built a real spirit around the club, a really friendly atmosphere which is important. And that’s something we are determined to take into this season and beyond.
“As a club we’re always looking to develop and to challenge ourselves. We won trophies last year, in our first season. That was great but we also recognised the step up that’s required when competing with the top teams. If the league splits this year we want to be competing in that top split. We haven’t set a target as such. We want to be a lot higher this year and we’ll be setting our stall out to compete in that top four.
“We’ve got a few sponsors supporting us which is brilliant and that really helps us. Our main sponsor is Beerhouse Self Drive who we’ve got on the front of the shirt with CNN Electrical on the back. Minerva are providing the hoodies and we’ve also got the clothing shop on Princes Avenue, Era, as well. Oh, and of course, not to forget the Brownies Bar!
“So all in all we’re looking forward to a good season. The lads have been working hard and they’re ready for the competition. There is a good feeling around the club. We’ve got a few jokers but that’s good for a team, and everyone’s got their head screwed on and knows when to buckle down. There are no groups down here, just one squad, and it’s fantastic to see.”
Ground – Winifred Holtby school
Club Colours – Red and black
Craig Cook said: “Pre-season has been good. Bit of a different approach this season, we’ve cut pre-season down and no friendlies this time. Last season in the league we started well but tailed off a little.
“The boys have worked hard at training and have been down in decent numbers. I don’t expect miracles in the first few weeks but as a team I’m confident we will progress as the season goes on.”
“We’ve got around 90 per cent of the squad back for this season. A couple have retired and a couple have taken a bit of time out. We’ve added a few 18/19 year olds this time and that’s important because we need the youth coming through in this league. There’s about 22/23 trained so far and I’m looking to bring in two or three from the Conference as well.
“I was overjoyed with last season, it was a huge, huge success. It was a great finish to the season in the Cup Final at Craven Park where we had a good dig against one of the best sides in the league. We also finished third in our league behind two very good teams. Overall a huge success and something we’re looking to build on.
“At this moment in time I have no prediction for this season. I have made them in the past but this year it’s about improvement from each individual player and the team will improve. If you coach players to improve their skills, the team performance will look after itself. As I’ve said the first four weeks or so may be a settling-in period but after that it will be about steady improvement.
“It will be an interesting season particularly as the league will split into two after a number of games. Of course as a coach I want my team to be challenged every week but as coaches it’s also about recognising and respecting the differences at the top and the bottom. We need to make sure we help clubs complete games, and that’s in everyone’s interests.
“On the sponsorship front our main sponsor is APS who will be on the front of our shirts. We also get good backing from Victoria MOT garage, Sutton Cars and Lee Brayshaw. As a team there’s no doubt that we’re up for a good season. The lads are turning up to training on cold nights and they’re working hard. In the end it’s about those competitive games though and leaving the training pitch behind. We’ve talked as a group about what we achieved last year and that we go on and build on it. And I’m confident we can do just that.”
NORTH HULL KNIGHTS
Ground – Shaw Park, Orchard Park
Club Colours – Black, Red, Blue
Steve Farlow said: “The build-up has been a little strange really, we went from winter to summer and now back to winter again. The guys have been training but they haven’t had much of a break. In terms of preparation we’ve started with some light sessions and attendance has been good. I’ve no doubt that we’ll be competitive this year and some of the guys who couldn’t play summer are now available for winter.
“The winter league has changed a lot over recent years, the number of teams have reduced, as well as the number of players. There’s many reasons for that but just as one example the relationship lads have with a lot of employers is now very different and they find they can no longer risk that injury from playing. “One of the consequences of the reduction in teams playing last winter was the number of repetitive games which meant we wanted to test ourselves in the Yorkshire Men’s League. In the end the Yorkshire Men’s League wasn’t going to happen for us and the fairest thing to do was to bring us out.
“This season it’s about hitting the ground running. It’s about targeting the league and the cups. We got to the final of the BOCM last year but in a way we didn’t do ourselves justice and we want to be back challenging and filling that trophy cabinet up again. We’ve done a bit of restructuring in the club as well and with Craig Montague stepping down. Nicky Ellis is now Assistant Coach to Liam Welham. Nicky will certainly be bringing something to that role and our focus will be to pick up where we left off.
“We’re still doing well on the sponsorship front with a number of sponsors helping the club. These include Magic Garden Landscapes, Resin Co and Funky Fish on Beverley Road. So, we’ve a lot to be positive about as we head in to the new season.
“There’s a good set of lads down here and good numbers are returning from last season, with three or four others coming back as well, including players like Darren Jones, which will give us a lift.
“The summer league attracted some younger players and it will be great to take them through a winter season. As a club one of our priorities is to get that balance right, that mix of the more experienced and younger players. As always we need to encourage people on to the playing register and I’m confident that can happen. So, even though there’s not been much of a break both the club and the players are focused and ready to go again.”
Ground – Beecroft Street, St George’s Road
Club Colours – Maroon and Black
Jamie Hartley said: “The build up to the winter season has been slightly different this year. Not what you would call an old fashioned pre-season. A lot of the lads have been at Norland Sharks for the summer league so we’ve effectively used that as a bit of a long pre-season. Mixed in with that, we’ve got a few new faces. You can’t play a tough summer season without getting a few knocks on the way, but I’m sure we’ll definitely be game ready and match fit.
“As a club we’re passionate about the league. We started as GW Horners then moved to Three Tuns and that’s been really good for us. Last year we won some big cups and we were only narrowly beaten in the Yorkshire Cup final, which was a tremendous achievement. I couldn’t have asked for more from the players. We got big numbers down at training and there was a good team bond, a real togetherness. Everyone slotted in and that was a big part of winning trophies.”
“This season player retention is good, with I’d say about 85 per cent returning from last year. We’ve got a couple who have semi-retired, but if we’re short we know they’ll be there for us. We’ve also got some exciting players coming down as well.”
“I set a target every year. First year we finished second and won one cup. The target was then the league and everything would fall around that. We also achieved a good run in the Yorkshire Cup. This time it’s about getting stuck into the league title and defending it, and also having another good run in the cups, particularly the Yorkshire Cup.
“Off the field we get some good backing from our main sponsor Kingstonian Storage, who also help us with the kit every week and on match days. That help in running things is really important to us. And as a club we do a lot of fundraising and the lads need a pat on the back for that as well. There’s a good spirit down here and we’ll be taking that again into the new season. As always I’m excited by the challenge. I know the lads will give everything and we’re looking forward to having another good season.”
HULL WYKE ACADEMY
Ground – Cropton Road
Club Colours – Light and Dark Blue
Karl Hutchinson said: “This year the plan is to bring a more youthful team to the winter league. We’re looking at bringing through our younger players with some experience dropped in as well. We’ve got a lot of 16/18s graduating and a lot of those lads will have played summer rugby. For that reason we can’t really have a pre-season as such and some of the players are still playing on in their competitions until October. So the reality is it’s not a pre-season that you can plan too hard for.
“I’m sure that mixture of youth with some experience will bring us a good squad this time around. The last winter season was a little disappointing, with a number of teams dropping out, resulting in what was a bit of a short season. Having said that, we did really well in the league, winning the First Division title. We also got through to the Tom Beautiman final as well but were beaten on that occasion. In the end of course winning leagues and trophies is important but it’s also about recognising the importance of development, both for individual players and for the club as a whole.
“Were not looking to set goals this season. It’s a chance to blood new players, and we’ll wait to see how the suggestion of splitting the league table will work out. We want to create a pathway for younger players to come through to Open Age so that we don’t lose them. We’ve had a good couple of seasons of summer rugby now so in terms of players moving between the two I’m not sure there’ll be a vast amount of cross over this season.
“It’s been great to return to our ground at Cropton Road and the facilities down here at fantastic. We’re getting good support from our sponsors Endike Landscapes and Rooms4Improvement, which is helping the club to move forward. The pitch is looking good as well and is draining nicely, so everything’s shaping up nicely down at Cropton Road for a good season of rugby.”
Ground – Eastmount Recreation Centre
Club Colours – Blue, Red and White
Gary Wiles said: “We’re looking to bring together a squad of around 25/30 players for the winter season. That will be a figure similar to last year’s. We’ve started training and we’re getting good core numbers down but there’s about eight or nine players working nights, and some away, so it can sometimes be difficult. We have one or two young lads we’re looking to bring through, and we’re expecting a lot of players to return from last year.
“Last season was a bit disappointing really, matches petered out a bit and the season finished early. But I’m not sure you can go too much by that when you’re thinking about this season. We had a pretty good start to the season last year but then we had a few weeks where the weather really interrupted us and we didn’t really get going again.
“This season we won’t be setting specific targets. What’s important is building up the team and it’s good that we’ve got some 17/18 year olds coming down this year as well. As far as sponsorship goes that something we are actively seeking. Some of our own fund raising in recent years, doing coaches to games in Manchester, hasn’t been possible so we’re on the lookout for a kit sponsor this season.
“We aren’t going to say we’re going to win the league but what I am sure of is that we’ll get a decent team back together again for this season. Even with 25 or 30 you can still struggle with players being unavailable so as always we will continue to look at recruiting.
“In the end we know that we’ve got a committed set of lads who will give everything and turn out for the club. As I’ve already said we’ve got some on nights and some who are only able to make Saturday’s but they turn up and pull the shirt on which is great. That’s the reality sometimes and it’s something that we understand.
“We’ll continue to prepare for the season ahead and I know the players will be going out there to compete, and to win. Last season we won the Jack Daddy Cup Final against Cottingham Tigers. It’s always nice to pick up a bit of silverware and it would be great if we could go on and build on that.”
WEST HULL RAIDERS
Ground – West Hull Community Park, North Road
Club Colours – Green and Gold
Fiona Everson said: “Last year was the first year as a club that we didn’t enter a team in the winter league. We’ve decided this year to get some lads back into the competition. Glynn Jones and Matt Wilson will be coaching the Raiders which will be a mixture of young players, some new players, and others who wish to play some winter rugby after summer.
“We’ve had a few training sessions so far and things are shaping up nicely. In Glynn and Matt we’ve got a good couple of experienced coaches who know what’s needed on the pitch and the lads are enjoying it.
“This season isn’t about setting targets. Having said that the club has a long tradition of winning things and that desire will be no different for this team. Home games will be down at the West Hull Community Park and the team’s sponsorship falls under the partnership with the University that goes right throughout the club.
“So far we’ve got a squad of around 24 assembled. Some will have played a bit of winter rugby and others, depending on age, only summer rugby. The core of the players are from within the club, plus one or two returning. We’ve got a lot of players at the club who have been here many years, having started at a very young age, and it’s great to see them develop and come through but we always continue to look for new players to join us.
“We’re certainly looking forward to the winter season ahead. Obviously as a new team we don’t bring a form book with us but if the league does divide into two we’d hope to make it into the top league. That’s just part of the Green and Gold way. They’re a good bunch of lads here, they’ll work hard for each other and I’m sure it’s going to be a good season ahead.”
Ground – Eastmount Recreation Centre
Club Colours – Green, Black and White
Russ Bowering said: “We’ve got a new Head Coach this year, Luke Foster. Luke had a couple of seasons here at Lambwath and has been at Skirlaugh. Pre-season training has been going very well and we’ve had lots of new players down. So this season we’re looking at a mixture of old heads and some new lads.
“We’ve got a good number of players returning this season, I’d say about 10-15 lads, they’re training hard and things are going well. We’ve just switched our training facilities from Liberty Green to Archbishop Sentamu so we’re under the floodlights now a couple of nights a week.
“Last year was a difficult time for the club. Charlie Redfern sadly passed away and it knocked us all back. Over the years he was the backbone of the club. His contribution was outstanding and he was a great servant to the club. You could always rely on him, come rain or shine, and he was a great influence on all the lads down here, particularly the Open Age lads.
“We did get to a final last year and won a trophy. From a personal point of view I think it’s about building on that and being more successful. Luke has brought some fresh ideas to the club and is having a different look at things. We’ve entered the Yorkshire Cup and it would be good to get a decent run in that as well as a push on the league.
“Neil Lowthorpe, our head coach, has stood down this year and he’s been outstanding, and like me will still be around to pitch in if required.
“I guess in a way it’s like a new start and that’s exciting. Towards the end of last season we got some good sponsors on board, like PBS and Eggleston Ceramics, which is good for the club. As a set of players there’s a good bond down here. The team has really come together, good friends, and there’s a cracking team spirit. They’ll stick together, on and off the pitch. As I said earlier things are going well.”
Ground – Roy Waudby Centre, Hill Top, Cottingham
Club Colours – Black and Amber
Chico Jackson said: “The club are currently in the process of seeking a Head Coach for the 2017/18 season, and for that reason our fixtures are likely to kick in slightly later.
“I’d have to say there’s a great opportunity waiting here at Cottingham to build and work with an Open Age side. It’s a fantastic club, great facilities, and we would welcome applications from coaches, or players wishing to start out on their coaching career.
“Last season was very much the start of the rebuilding process for the club after a couple of years of being in the wilderness. Trying to take the Under 18s team through into Open Age is a challenge though, as they often move on to other things. “Our ambition is to build a strong team, this may be a mixture of experience and youth, the important thing being that we build a squad that sees Cottingham Tigers continue to play its full part in the league.
“We’ve got a fantastic set up at Hill Top with some very good facilities which can only be good for an incoming coach. The club structure is there to support coaches and there are plenty of people around to help make sure the new person can focus on building up the playing side.
“Our aim is to build a pathway to progress through from under 16s, 17s and 18s. That’s not always easy to do but it is achievable and building a sustainable structure is really important to us.
“Below Open Age the club successfully runs a number of younger teams and we have some great sponsors like DB Engineering and Dennis Butler, whose contribution goes across all groups and would also cover this team.
“So in a way it’s a bit of a different start to the season this time around. But as a club we are confident that we can attract a coach who’s committed and enthusiastic about taking an open age side successfully through the 2017/18 season and beyond.”