A secret worth keeping

The photo above, also appearing in the pages of this week’s League Express of young players enjoying their first taste of amateur Rugby League for several months is, I’m sure all readers will wholeheartedly agree, immensely heart-warming.

To the credit of the Rugby Football League, which has worked hard, in tandem with other national governing bodies, to successfully convince the Government of the importance in so many ways of grassroots sport, a host of matches took place around the land on Saturday and Sunday, and more are scheduled to follow this week.

I’d planned to publicise those fixtures but, having had a chat with the RFL on Friday, have agreed not to do so.

That stance flies in the face of long-accepted practice. Fixtures have been a staple of the pages of League Express for many years and, in fact, half a page was devoted to the weekend’s programme (with the caveat that many of the listed matches could be subject to change) in last Monday’s issue.

However, many of the folk who run amateur Rugby League clubs are understandably and rightly worried that, after having spent so many months with nothing other than Betfred Super League and Coral Challenge Cup games to enjoy, many fans could flock to their games in unmanageable numbers.

Such influxes would be difficult – possibly impossible – to handle, given the necessarily rigid Covid-19 protocols in place, including the stipulation that only one parent of any junior player can be present at matches.

So, while games are not exactly being played in secret, neither are they being publicised – for very good reasons.

We fully accept and support those reasons at League Express and therefore will not, for the time being, publish fixtures. We will, however, be delighted to field results and, where appropriate, match reports, especially if and when open age pilot matches commence at the end of this month, as envisaged.

More than delighted, in fact; it seems an eternity since we last did so in this section of League Express.

Meanwhile the welcome return to action at youth and junior level has brought with it one or two spats here and there (who would have thought it, in Rugby League?).

An issue that’s been bubbling under the surface in recent weeks – hidden in plain sight, in truth – is an ongoing dispute involving the RFL and the administrators, and some clubs, of the North West Junior League.

The root of the difference of opinion is the decision of the Rugby Football League to instruct the Foundations of one or two Betfred Super League clubs (Warrington and St Helens, I gather) to organise youth and junior fixtures, rather than leave it to the leagues themselves, although the latter were asked for input.

That does seem, on the face of it, to be an odd development. Why, one speculates, should people who have done a job for many years, without too many problems if any, be required to step back, with those tasks being passed to people who, as far as I know, have little if any appropriate experience? It reminds me of the diverting episode a year or two ago in which the Government minister Chris Grayling handed a ferry contract, ahead of Brexit, to a newly-formed company that was new to the business and which didn’t even have any boats.

Maybe that’s an unfair analogy, and to date the worthies at Super League clubs who are dealing with North West Junior fixtures are making, as far as I know, a decent fist of it.

The arrangement is only temporary, anyway, with volunteers set to resume their duties, as things stand, in the spring, so I’m told. The background, it seems, is that the Government is insisting that everything goes through the RFL, which is perhaps fair enough in the circumstances as it’s a stance that’s presumably being taken with all sports. And perhaps a need to keep club employees in work is also in there somewhere – but that’s pure speculation on my part.

It’s funny how things develop in Rugby League though. A few years back the North West Youth and Junior Leagues didn’t want anything to do with the British Amateur Rugby League Association any more, and seemed to be very eager to come under the jurisdiction of the Rugby Football League. Now, for some of those involved anyway, the relationship appears to have gone a touch sour in what is something of a recurring theme at the grassroots in general. Maybe the fact that Rugby League is a highly attritional sport, and therefore attracts folk of a combative nature, might have something to do with it. Just a thought…

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