Batley’s Craig Lingard sees the bigger picture

Batley Bulldogs coach Craig Lingard is wrestling with the problems caused by the coronavirus shutdown just like everyone else and is realistic about the wider impact.

There is a bigger picture here. The whole world is reeling from the Coronavirus outbreak.

It’s hitting everybody hard. But in some ways, there is a comfort in shared suffering.

It’s much easier to watch your Rugby League team lose when you’ve got thousands of others around you sharing your pain than it is when you’re sat at home watching on the box.

The uncertainty is what’s really disconcerting at the moment. And so, just as everyone else in the Rugby League community is looking for answers that just aren’t there, so are Batley Bulldogs.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty and a lot of questions that need answering,” said Bulldogs Head Coach Craig Lingard.

“It’s not a Rugby League thing, it’s not a Batley Bulldogs thing, it’s national, it’s international and it’s industry wide.

“We’re only a part-time club and for pretty much all of our players, it’s their second income so it’s not as crucial as some full-time players. We’ve had conversations and said we can pay you what we can pay you and when the club has the money, they will pay you but we don’t know when it’s going to come.”
And that is the reality that millions are facing in this country all at once.

“The players understand that the club can’t give them money they’ve not got,” Lingard continued. “It’s better to take that pay cut now and eventually get it back when everything is sorted out. The players are sensible and have seen the bigger picture. The security of the club and the game is the most important thing. If it means you’re not getting paid for a few months but we come out of the other side then they’ll do that.

“Every household is going to struggle, some more than others. Once we come through the other side, the clubs that will struggle will be the part time clubs but the money will hopefully filter down but it depends how much does eventually.

“As a game, we’ve got to try and do what communities are doing. It’s not just one club, one league, it’s about the game as a whole. We can filter things down to where they are needed to look after everybody.

“Like most industries, they’re run with a couple of months worth of income stream to survive on. We can’t bring any money in because there is no business and product to sell.

“We would struggle if we played games behind closed doors unless there was some sort of compensation for the money you’d lose. For clubs in the part-time game, a lot of their revenue will be dictated on game day and whether they can generate on that day.”

So with no realistic end in sight to the current situation and restrictions likely to tighten in the coming weeks, it will be increasingly difficult for players to maintain their fitness with a view to continuing the season at a later date.

“There are a lot of unanswered questions as to when we’ll be allowed back into playing,” Lingard added.

“If we’ve been off for ten to 12 weeks without training or playing, we need some form of mini pre-season where the players start training again. To get back into a physical condition, you’d need at least two or three weeks.

“We’ll take it day by day and week by week. We’re going to make some good and bad decisions but because it’s never happened before, we’ll see what falls out of it. We’ve sent programmes out to players to keep them active and with gyms closed down, they have to do stuff from home. If the country goes into a lockdown, then you can’t go out for certain things.

“Then it’s fitting the games in. Do you play a shorter season? Do you go Sunday-Wednesday-Sunday but then there is a player welfare impact on that. Until we can get some sort of idea of when the season will restart, it’s difficult for clubs to put plans in place.

“To get all the games in, you’d have to extend the season and therefore extend player’s contracts. What’s the last possible point we could play games? Are we expecting players to cancel holidays they’ve paid for? I feel for the people making the decisions. Clubs, fans and everyone want answers to questions they can’t get.”

Meanwhile, for Lingard personally, a man who is reliant on Rugby League and the country’s education system to provide for his family, he’s got plenty to keep him busy over the next few months.

“The two jobs that I’ve got are both not paying at the minute but everyone is in it together. I have got four kids and a missus at home so I’ll be fine. All these jobs in the garden and the house that I’ve not got enough time for will get done. I’m sure there’ll be something to do.”

Lingard is just like anyone else. Within this bigger picture, there are individuals who are having to think on their feet and make the best of the situation that has presented itself. There are challenges ahead for each and every one of us but we can hope that when we come out of the other end, Lingard, the Bulldogs and the rest of the Rugby League family will be there to entertain us again.

This feature was first published in Rugby League World, Issue 468, April 2020