25 years on – London Skolars founder Hector McNeil explains why he’s stepping away

London Skolars’ departing CEO Hector McNeil has said the time was right for him to step away from the club he helped found 25 years ago.

It was announced last week that McNeil and Skolars Chairman Terry Browne were both moving on from their roles with the club to dedicate more time to their families.

In McNeil’s case he will also focus on other business ventures, which he says may facilitate a return to the club in the future.

“If I’m honest I thought stepping away was going to be a harder decision to make than it actually was,” admitted McNeil.

“It has been a long time coming and I have spent the last three years mulling it over.

“Both my sons – Cameron and Ethan – have been playing at the club for many years, but the eldest is off to university this year, and the other is going the following year, so they’re coming to the end with the club as well.

“In a way that had kept me going for a few years.

“Then when the coronavirus came about everyone started thinking about the viability of what they were doing and for me, with a business that’s going very well, three teenage kids and the Skolars, it was adding up to 26 hours a day. Something had to give and it was quite an easy decision in the end.

“Part of me has fallen out of love with the game a little bit recently and I want to get that back. And maybe just being able to watch on as a fan will help me do that.

“I was also trying to envisage what the next 25 years was going to look like for the club, but all I could see was that if I continued to be the main financier behind it, we’d still be doing pretty much what we have been doing. A fresh approach is always good, so this will hopefully be a great move for the club.

“But what was great, though, was that there was a lot of other directors at the club, that didn’t want to let it go and are going to take it over and give it a crack themselves.

“There is a stable revenue base and a lot of tradition in what we do in the community. And we have Jermaine Coleman, who has been involved with the club as a player and a coach for 16 of the 25 years so there is a lot of DNA there to keep it going.

“Ironically, the situation in the game at the moment actually gives these guys a bit of breathing space. They have time now to have a think about their plans and get things in place, rather than taking it on in the middle of the heat of the battle.

“I will never say never though and if I can concentrate on my business now it has the potential to be worth a lot more money. Then when I am a bit older and have a bit more time on my hands I might be able to come back bugger and stronger and have another real crack at it.

“I’ll help keep the Capital Challenge going every year, which is the major income source each year. But they’ll come in with new ideas and a new approach is always good so these changes will be very good for the club in the long term and it’s exciting to see what they’ll do.”

Browne is selling his shares in the club to his son Colin, who will swap his role of director of operations to become the new chief executive, while existing director Adrian Fraine will move into the role of Chairman following the double departure.

McNeil has yet to decide what will happen to his shares, but he has promised that whatever he decides will be in the best interests of the club.

“My shares are spread out among my family, and I think my dad will keep his, but I’ll be selling the rest,” added McNeil.

“I have not decided yet how I’ll do that, but it will probably be for a minimal amount to whatever I feel is the best party. Whether that’s a supporters’ trust or the current shareholders and directors I don’t know.

“I was never in this for the money and we never really came close to making big amounts. But I was always going to reinvest anything we did make into the club, so the shares will go to people who really care about the club.”

One thing for sure is that McNeil is stepping away full of pride over everything he has achieved with the club in the last quarter of a century. And he believes he is stepping away at a time when Rugby League in the capital is in rude health.

“There is so much I am proud of from the last 25 years,” continued McNeil.

“Getting into the league and sustaining ourselves is one example and beating some fantastic, long-established teams both home and away.

“But we have often seen non-traditional area clubs come and go, so the fact we’re still around after 25 shows we have some persistence and a formula that means we can survive within our means.

“Then there are the things like winning the York 9s, when that was around, and touring Kazan in Russia – we were the first team to go there.

“But on the flip side of that it’s also great to see how many of the Skolars old boys have gone on to do great things in Rugby League that people don’t necessarily know about. One set up Norwegian Rugby League, Swedish Rugby League and Danish Rugby League. My wife and I set up Ghana Rugby league and I was a founder of Scotland Rugby League with John Risman back in 1992.

“A big factor in the game down here is the Broncos Academy. Although it’s more a London Academy because everyone buys into it, even though the Broncos are the custodians of it. With a lot of the Skolars players coming through it and lots of over clubs down here with a junior set-up getting involved.

“That has offered a really good pathway and production line to both Broncos and Skolars, as well as other players in the game such as Mike McMeeken at Castleford and other London-born guys in Super League.

“As a club we often put 13 or 14 London-produced lads out in out 17, which is probably even better than teams like Leeds and Wigan.

“So that’s a legacy we’re setting and there are a lot of dedicated and committed people down here who do a lot of good things for the game down here. The game in London is on par with any other area in the country.

“The impact we have been able to have on so many young kids in the North London area, who have gone on to bigger and greater things. Many have gone on to get a part-time or full-time career in the game and they wouldn’t have been able to do without this club.

“We’re in a high crime and high poverty area of London as well so we have given some life chances to hundreds of kids, who probably have had that if the Skolars wasn’t around.

“I was there on day one and if you cut me in half I’d have Skolars written in the middle of me, which is amazing. And I’d like to think that in 100 years from now there’ll be a little picture of me up in the club.”