COLUMN: Keighley Cougars dispel reserve myths

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GARETH WALKER hears how Keighley Cougars buck the trend by running a successful and cost-effective second string team..

Reserve teams can cost virtually nothing to run, and should be made mandatory across the professional game.

So says Keighley Cougars Chairman Gary Fawcett, whose club has remained steadfastly dedicated to developing their own players by running a second-tier side, while most around them have stopped.

Last week the Cougars took on Halifax – a club with the same stance – in a midweek reserve match that makes a mockery of claims by some significantly better-funded clubs who say the measure is too costly.

Keighley and Fax continue with their belief despite fewer clubs making the same commitment, leading the current set-up to be described as sporadic at best. So why do the Cougars still run a reserve team?

“I would turn it around and say why doesn’t every other professional club run one,” Fawcett responded. “I believe it should be mandatory to run a reserves team, and there are two main reasons.

“It helps to develop the sport – you get increased participation from younger people, who may either go back into the amateur game or progress into a first team. Then you have a production line of players from the reserves who are not as expensive as having to buy players for your team from other areas.

“We have always been committed to running reserves alongside our scholarship, which we have from under-16s to 18s. We have 10 to 15 players at the moment and hope to have 20 to 30 affiliated with the club next season, alongside around 30 signed up for the reserves.

“Because of this we have a history of developing our own players, certainly since I became the Chairman in 2009. Roughly half the first-team squad has always been developed through the reserves mechanism.”

Fawcett concedes that the current situation does not make it easy at times, but he maintains a positive outlook on each issue that arises.

“We have to go and play Super League reserve teams, but while we might get the odd hammering, I’ve always told the lads to look upon that as a learning experienced,” he explained. “We’ve had some really decent games against Halifax and played them midweek last week.

“Sometimes there is travelling involved, such as taking on South Wales, but then we look for sponsors to help out, or we use the club minibuses, which most clubs will have.

“The community tends to muck in quite nicely to help the reserves. We don’t find it difficult – we find it beneficial. Virtually all the backroom staff are volunteers who do it for the love of the sport, so it doesn’t really cost us any money.”

So to the all-important finances – the most common reason heard elsewhere for not running a second team. Fawcett describes that stance as “lazy”.

“I would say it’s almost cost neutral to run our reserves,” he said. “We receive income from the games themselves, and we’re clever about getting sponsorship to fund the things that the reserve team needs.

“For off-field kit every reserve player has got a sponsor, and the on-field kit is fully sponsored. We also don’t make any payments to players. What we say to them is that this is an opportunity to get into the first team, where you do get paid.

“They have the chance to use the facilities and coaches in a professional set-up. So the cost is already low and is offset by the income from sponsorship and gate money.

“We gradually changed the model to make it break even. I think people using cost as an excuse for not running a reserve team are lazy.”

Keighley have 12 members of their current first-team squad that have come through their own system, including three graduates from the reserves this season alone. Fawcett would now like to see other clubs at all levels follow the Cougars’ lead.

“We remain committed to it, and we’re hopeful that other clubs are too. There has been a little bit of discussion around some clubs wanting to re-enter but I’ll wait and see what happens. I don’t understand why clubs wouldn’t want to run a reserves team.

“It allows you to get first-teamers back to fitness and enables you to develop young players in the way that your club plays. I was astounded when it got taken away as a mandatory requirement.”