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What is the World Cup telling us about UK Rugby League?

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As a Londoner who has been watching Rugby League for many years, I've been asking throughout why does it ignore its heartlands in pursuing expansion. I have only though been watching the game since I moved into a League town. For the first 24 years of my life, it didn't register. London has no interest in it. Nor, looking at the attendance in Neath for Wales v Cook Islands, does South Wales. I was at the half full Millennium for the opening games. It wasn't exactly busting with Welsh folk either.

 

The crowds at Halifax, Leigh, Workington, Avignon have all shown that there is still an appetite for the game in its traditional yet unsupported homes that does not exist today in London and South Wales. Last season only five SL clubs had average gates that exceeded those in Halifax and Leigh this week. Yet today the focus remains on the need to continue to have development that rapes our game of money it cannot afford, whilst not defending in its core business. 

 

Other examples are cited in support: The NFL is interested in investing in London. Yes it is, but not at the expense of say Cincinnati. Aussie Rules has clubs outside Melbourne. Yes it does, but in addition to, not in place of its home market. It is a myth is that our game is played in small regional towns that cannot sustain the game. Whilst not forgetting West Cumbria, collectively the M62 corridor is the second largest urbanisation in the whole UK, much like Melbourne is in Australia. It's true that the AFL has a Sydney club, but it wouldn't die without it. 

 

The model is clear. Add to what you have. If it works great, incorporate it. If it doesn't, shelve it.

 

Let's have a bigger top division rewarding local interest. If in time a London club like Skolars evolves and is worthy of a place, that's wonderful. But let's not kill the goose in trying to artificially make it happen. As for the excuse that there isn't enough quality to sustain more SL clubs, well, look at this World Cup. There's quality everywhere. It just hasn't been invested in!

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The crowds at Halifax, Leigh, Workington, Avignon have all shown that there is still an appetite for the game in its traditional yet unsupported homes that does not exist today in London and South Wales. Last season only five SL clubs had average gates that exceeded those in Halifax and Leigh this week. Yet today the focus remains on the need to continue to have development that rapes our game of money it cannot afford, whilst not defending in its core business.

Mr. Hughes supports London who are the only club in non-traditional area in SL with Sheffield being the only non trad club in the Championship. Any money/time the RFL have spend supporting development is apparently the London Academy which has fed players on to northern clubs.

If you look at the gates for halifax and leigh when they were in Superleague Halifax's was 3,000 before they were relgated and leigh 4,500 before they were relegated. Halifax and leigh would struggle for money to compete as do several SL clubs.

I think with respect you confuse the public's appetite for top of the range international World Cup RL with a much lesser appetite for bottom of the Superleague failure to compete - two different things.That London have had a 5,000 average in SL, that Paris and Crusdaers got five figure crowds for opening games and that tens of thousands of people outside the north have attended world cup games means the sporting public are interested, but the game doesn't have the resources to provide them with the product.

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Different markets.

 

Many of the people who went to the games in Halifax or Rochdale or wherever were not regular RL fans. They attended because it was (or felt like) a big event that was well promoted, in advance. Hopefully it will result in a few more people attending regular league games.

 

 

And anyway, doesn't big crowds for the WC indicate we should be moving away from the small town mentality and embracing all who want to get involved?

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Bottom of the Superleague, failure to compete could apply to Salford, and their fixture was not a sellout like many of the others. I've always been in favour of organic expansion. But expansion is a big problem. There is a phenomenon in RL that's always puzzled me almost from the time I started to follow the game. The game is strong along the M62 corridor, there's been a team in York since 1895, Wigan are 10/15 miles north of the M62, but the interest in the game abruptly stops at Widnes, and there are no teams in Lancashire north of Wigan - East Lancs is a pro RL desert. I remember Liverpool City and was puzzled as a kid why a big city like Liverpool couldn't fund a top club - it never occurred to me that there was no interest. Same to a lesser extent goes for Donny. Why isn't there a club in Barnsley? Wakefield is only 12 miles up the road, but there isn't. I recall when Trinity were in their pomp in the sixties seeing buses at Belle Vue with "Brierley Supporters" and "Cudworth Supporters" - you can't get more Barnsley than Cudworth - it's where Michael Parkinson is from. But the game never took root there. It's a puzzle. Sheffield have made brave attempts and on the field they are the best, but not off it - and it's not through lack of effort. You'd think fans would come to support a successful side like the Eagles, but they don't - at least not in the numbers you'd think they would. The game is strong in Hull, but just across the river are two large towns where the game is virtually unknown. It's as though we're in ghetto with invisible walls.

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The facts are and always will be that Leauge is a Northern based game and whatever Union thinks there Southern based with at least over half of there top teams based in London and surrounds and west country. Develop where your most strongest where the fan base is.

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Bottom of the Superleague, failure to compete could apply to Salford, and their fixture was not a sellout like many of the others. I've always been in favour of organic expansion. But expansion is a big problem. There is a phenomenon in RL that's always puzzled me almost from the time I started to follow the game. The game is strong along the M62 corridor, there's been a team in York since 1895, Wigan are 10/15 miles north of the M62, but the interest in the game abruptly stops at Widnes, and there are no teams in Lancashire north of Wigan - East Lancs is a pro RL desert. I remember Liverpool City and was puzzled as a kid why a big city like Liverpool couldn't fund a top club - it never occurred to me that there was no interest. Same to a lesser extent goes for Donny. Why isn't there a club in Barnsley? Wakefield is only 12 miles up the road, but there isn't. I recall when Trinity were in their pomp in the sixties seeing buses at Belle Vue with "Brierley Supporters" and "Cudworth Supporters" - you can't get more Barnsley than Cudworth - it's where Michael Parkinson is from. But the game never took root there. It's a puzzle. Sheffield have made brave attempts and on the field they are the best, but not off it - and it's not through lack of effort. You'd think fans would come to support a successful side like the Eagles, but they don't - at least not in the numbers you'd think they would. The game is strong in Hull, but just across the river are two large towns where the game is virtually unknown. It's as though we're in ghetto with invisible walls.

The answer to that is mainly football.

 

That and short sightedness.

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Club game is very parochial in UK. International game is how we attract more money, more interest and more people to the game. That will gradually filter down to the club game.

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Bottom of the Superleague, failure to compete could apply to Salford, and their fixture was not a sellout like many of the others. I've always been in favour of organic expansion. But expansion is a big problem. There is a phenomenon in RL that's always puzzled me almost from the time I started to follow the game. The game is strong along the M62 corridor, there's been a team in York since 1895, Wigan are 10/15 miles north of the M62, but the interest in the game abruptly stops at Widnes, and there are no teams in Lancashire north of Wigan - East Lancs is a pro RL desert. I remember Liverpool City and was puzzled as a kid why a big city like Liverpool couldn't fund a top club - it never occurred to me that there was no interest. Same to a lesser extent goes for Donny. Why isn't there a club in Barnsley? Wakefield is only 12 miles up the road, but there isn't. I recall when Trinity were in their pomp in the sixties seeing buses at Belle Vue with "Brierley Supporters" and "Cudworth Supporters" - you can't get more Barnsley than Cudworth - it's where Michael Parkinson is from. But the game never took root there. It's a puzzle. Sheffield have made brave attempts and on the field they are the best, but not off it - and it's not through lack of effort. You'd think fans would come to support a successful side like the Eagles, but they don't - at least not in the numbers you'd think they would. The game is strong in Hull, but just across the river are two large towns where the game is virtually unknown. It's as though we're in ghetto with invisible walls.

 

You touch on a lot of interesting points and it is interesting to read about the development of the rival football codes in the north of England in the late 1800s. And why you have the divides/ ghettos between Association Football (AF) and Rugby Football (RF) in Lancs and Yorks.

 

I've no clear idea why it was the mill towns of East Lancs preferred the round ball, maybe working in mills led to different physical attributes to working in the mines, and the mill worker was better suited in this regard for a less physical sport? It is really interesting to look up the original members of the FA and see how many were from the Lancashire mill towns. Maybe Barnsley went for soccer as it had a closer relationship with Sheffield which obviously was at the heart of roundball?

 

I do recall reading somewhere that one of the reasons given for the popularity of AF in the north was that in the 1880's/ early 1890's AF was much more proactive in organising competitive fixtures, especially the FA cup knock outs. You also have to remember that the FA were much more pragmatic about payments to players which I guess boosted participation and competition, at a time when Twickenham was insisting on the amateur purity of RF participants. I think some of the northern RF clubs told the RFU they needed a knock out comp to help compete with AF, but the RFU weren't interested.

 

Basically it seems that the reason for football's popularity, certainly in the north of England, is due to the RFU's backward and hypocritical stance at the time on the development of the code which allowed soccer to get momentum which it never surrendered.

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Another way of looking at this is simply in international terms. For the first time, we could really grasp the nettle and have the resources to follow the path trodden by other sports. Let the international game drive everything. Let's come back in 2021 and see where we are. My bet is that if we back the international game to the hilt our prospects of expansion will increase massively.

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Rugby league is dieing in the UK, Canetman and DSK have informed me so.

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This world cup has clearly shown that the only effective way to expand the game and generate a wider interest is through international games.

 

If rugby league want to grow it need to expand it's international calendar.....easier said than done but that's what we need.

 

Looking at Union i know loads of people who claim they love the game who solely follow England and have no real interest in any union clubs.

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Mr. Hughes supports London who are the only club in non-traditional area in SL with Sheffield being the only non trad club in the Championship. Any money/time the RFL have spend supporting development is apparently the London Academy which has fed players on to northern clubs.

If you look at the gates for halifax and leigh when they were in Superleague Halifax's was 3,000 before they were relgated and leigh 4,500 before they were relegated. Halifax and leigh would struggle for money to compete as do several SL clubs.

I think with respect you confuse the public's appetite for top of the range international World Cup RL with a much lesser appetite for bottom of the Superleague failure to compete - two different things.That London have had a 5,000 average in SL, that Paris and Crusdaers got five figure crowds for opening games and that tens of thousands of people outside the north have attended world cup games means the sporting public are interested, but the game doesn't have the resources to provide them with the product.

 

Hi Parky, I realise you keep quoting this figure but it was 4700 and didn't include corporate (I was involved at the time btw) with a true figure at 5k. We didn't give 1 ticket away all year and were torn before a ball was passed, due to lack of players available and two down - one thought at the time was to save the money and  recruit a team for the following year to go straight back up stronger. Oh and we also returned a profit despite everything else I wont go into  - what a business eh!!!!

Don't you think a Leigh team in SL based at the LSV would have much more potential? 7k average imo at full prices

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If rugby league want to grow it need to expand it's international calendar.....easier said than done but that's what we need.

 

 

RU has all kinds of issues with the international schedule and the competition for players between club and country. What they do show is that for the most part the international game bankrolls the club/ provincial game and weaker RU nations (and I include Australia in that).

 

Given that the two principal RL comps are played at the same time and finish pretty much at the same time, I think RL is actually in a perfect position for expansion of the international calendar. The window is there, it is just a case of how to fill it in a meaningful and coherent way. Thankfully it seems the new ARL commission understands the need to sort it out and I think we should start to see a proper international calendar being put forward sooner rather than later. I hope!

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Oh and we also returned a profit despite everything else I wont go into  - what a business eh!!!!

 

I'm no financial expert but is profit the sole marker of a successful business/club in Super League? Surely turnover is arguably as if not more important? I.e. an amateur club could post a yearly profit, but their turnover is so low that the could never compete in SL. Sorry for going off topic a bit.

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London has no interest in it. Nor, looking at the attendance in Neath for Wales v Cook Islands, does South Wales.

 

 

Don't talk daft..

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Hi Parky, I realise you keep quoting this figure but it was 4700 and didn't include corporate (I was involved at the time btw) with a true figure at 5k. We didn't give 1 ticket away all year and were torn before a ball was passed, due to lack of players available and two down - one thought at the time was to save the money and  recruit a team for the following year to go straight back up stronger. Oh and we also returned a profit despite everything else I wont go into  - what a business eh!!!!

Don't you think a Leigh team in SL based at the LSV would have much more potential? 7k average imo at full prices

 

The official figure for Leigh's SL season was actually 4,750.

 

That is the figure that should be used for comparisons.

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Hi Parky, I realise you keep quoting this figure but it was 4700 and didn't include corporate (I was involved at the time btw) with a true figure at 5k. We didn't give 1 ticket away all year and were torn before a ball was passed, due to lack of players available and two down - one thought at the time was to save the money and  recruit a team for the following year to go straight back up stronger. Oh and we also returned a profit despite everything else I wont go into  - what a business eh!!!!

Don't you think a Leigh team in SL based at the LSV would have much more potential? 7k average imo at full prices

I hope that comes true for you.

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I'm no financial expert but is profit the sole marker of a successful business/club in Super League? Surely turnover is arguably as if not more important?

To manage to just have a toehold in SL you need £3.2M (ref:CKN) The bigger and more successful the club the more they turn over.

Clubs aren't real businesses in the sense they crave profit for shareholders. They spend all their profit on trying to climb the league, and their bigger shareholders tend to gift the clubs money by the £Million.

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Don't talk daft..

 

I agree with that; London may actually have the largest attendance of the entire tournament if Wembley sales keep going well; plenty of Welsh people at Cardiff too, which was actually fairly sparse of more traditional accents attributed to this great game from my experience.

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I've no clear idea why it was the mill towns of East Lancs preferred the round ball, maybe working in mills led to different physical attributes to working in the mines, and the mill worker was better suited in this regard for a less physical sport? It is really interesting to look up the original members of the FA and see how many were from the Lancashire mill towns. Maybe Barnsley went for soccer as it had a closer relationship with Sheffield which obviously was at the heart of roundball?

 

 

Rugby league's birth was in the mill towns of Lancashire and Yorkshire (and Cheshire in the case of Stockport.

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I'd actually like to buck the general trend of this thread. I think the World Cup has shone the UK teams need to concentrate on some of the basic skills more. Some of the tackling by ALL the home nations and France has been poor (how many do we see tackle around the legs?) and some of the passing skills have been very very poor...

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The greatest thing about this tournament has been that it has been structured around making it inclusive - giving every team a chance, however little the odds. New fans and lapsed ones, myself included, have been pulled in.


The 'big 3' countries have barely flexed a muscle yet, but the smaller nations have been captivating.


Yet there's an odds on chance that at the end of it the British domestic competition is going to return to being exclusive, the preserve of the chairmen with the biggest pockets and fewest scruples.


It would be great if the legacy of the tournament here was to unite the game so it can be structured in a similar way to the World Cup and give the smaller sides the chance to dream once again. It doesn't even have to be promotion and relegation, but there must be some structure that can give the smaller clubs a chance to emulate what USA, Scotland, etc, have achieved in the last two weeks. Towns like Rochdale, Workington, Leigh and even Bristol have shown how they can respond and others would follow.


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As a Londoner who has been watching Rugby League for many years, I've been asking throughout why does it ignore its heartlands in pursuing expansion. I have only though been watching the game since I moved into a League town. For the first 24 years of my life, it didn't register. London has no interest in it. Nor, looking at the attendance in Neath for Wales v Cook Islands, does South Wales. I was at the half full Millennium for the opening games. It wasn't exactly busting with Welsh folk either.

 

The crowds at Halifax, Leigh, Workington, Avignon have all shown that there is still an appetite for the game in its traditional yet unsupported homes that does not exist today in London and South Wales. Last season only five SL clubs had average gates that exceeded those in Halifax and Leigh this week. Yet today the focus remains on the need to continue to have development that rapes our game of money it cannot afford, whilst not defending in its core business. 

 

Other examples are cited in support: The NFL is interested in investing in London. Yes it is, but not at the expense of say Cincinnati. Aussie Rules has clubs outside Melbourne. Yes it does, but in addition to, not in place of its home market. It is a myth is that our game is played in small regional towns that cannot sustain the game. Whilst not forgetting West Cumbria, collectively the M62 corridor is the second largest urbanisation in the whole UK, much like Melbourne is in Australia. It's true that the AFL has a Sydney club, but it wouldn't die without it. 

 

The model is clear. Add to what you have. If it works great, incorporate it. If it doesn't, shelve it.

 

Let's have a bigger top division rewarding local interest. If in time a London club like Skolars evolves and is worthy of a place, that's wonderful. But let's not kill the goose in trying to artificially make it happen. As for the excuse that there isn't enough quality to sustain more SL clubs, well, look at this World Cup. There's quality everywhere. It just hasn't been invested in!

If you define heartlands as those few towns in northern England where the game has traditionally been played, Rugby League certainly does not ignore its heartlands and never has. The vast majority of the funding goes into clubs in those towns and always has done. If the inaccurately named 'whole game solution' goes through the proportion of funding received by those traditional towns will actually increase. This isn't new. There have been times in the past when the game has tried to expand, got scared when the going got tough and scuttled back to its confort zone.

The games in Halifax, Leigh and Workington have been world cup games, internationals, special occasions that have been promoted well. Those clubs playing at the level they can sustain will not attract those sort of crowds, and it is pointless trying to pretend that every northern club can play at the top level. Rape is an inappropriate word and bears no resemblence to what happens. The game made a decision, on the back of increased funding from BSkyB, that it would organise an elite, full time competition for the first time. No one has been violated. Even then attempts at expanding the game have been half-hearted: Gateshead not being given their full allocation of TV funding, Paris rushed in meaning that their players often had to double up by playing for their home town clubs in the same weekend, London and Wales being placed in Super League without any real idea of what was needed for the game to become established

The sports you mention - NFL and AFL - are extremely successful in commercial terms, but even they have recognised that standing still means stagnation - they have no compunction in dropping traditional clubs that dont come up to the mark, or transferring them to expansion areas, and both governing bodies have done so. To actually retreat back to their respective heartlands would be unthinkable.

As has often been noted on here, rugby league clubs just don't evolve, certainly not by trading through playing rugby league. What evolution has the club you mention, London Skolars, been through since it entered the league? They may finish a few more places off the bottom, but that is because weaker clubs have been introduced (or, in the case of Gateshead, bigger clubs have largely collapsed). The only way Skolars will 'evolve' is if someone, whether the game's authorities, sponsors or financial backers, invests substantial amounts in order to yake them to another level (as happened when Brisbane acquired London and took them into Super League).

As we've seen in this world cup, rugby league is a fantastic sport; but it is just that: a sport. It needs to be available to everyone, just as it states in the Rugby Football League's constitution. That that duty has been neglected for most of the RFL's history is no justification for neglecting it now. The game is not the property of those few northern towns. It needs to sustain, if not increase, its expansion efforts if it is to maintain anything like a status of being a mainstream sport.

By the way, about the title and subtitle of this thread. Ireland, or at least the part where rugby league is played, is not in the United Kingdom.

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The greatest thing about this tournament has been that it has been structured around making it inclusive - giving every team a chance, however little the odds. New fans and lapsed ones, myself included, have been pulled in.

The 'big 3' countries have barely flexed a muscle yet, but the smaller nations have been captivating.

Yet there's an odds on chance that at the end of it the British domestic competition is going to return to being exclusive, the preserve of the chairmen with the biggest pockets and fewest scruples.

It would be great if the legacy of the tournament here was to unite the game so it can be structured in a similar way to the World Cup and give the smaller sides the chance to dream once again. It doesn't even have to be promotion and relegation, but there must be some structure that can give the smaller clubs a chance to emulate what USA, Scotland, etc, have achieved in the last two weeks. Towns like Rochdale, Workington, Leigh and even Bristol have shown how they can respond and others would follow.

 

 

The way the competition has been structured has contributed to its success, with teams playing at the appropriate level. My fear is that there's an odds on chance that at the end of it the game is going to return to being exclusive, the preserve of those traditional clubs from the few northern towns where the game exists. Why do we continue to hide the game from the wider world?

 

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Rugby league's birth was in the mill towns of Lancashire and Yorkshire (and Cheshire in the case of Stockport.

 

I suggest you re-read my post in which I was responding to the question about why there is no pro RL in East Lancs, so towns like towns like Burnley, Accrington and Blackburn, Bolton none of which are a million miles from Wigan. Why was it that in those Mill Towns that soccer was favoured over rugby?

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