Cougars still face uncertain future

The survival of Keighley Cougars is back in the balance following the departure of general manager Steve Gill to Featherstone Rovers.

Coach Craig Lingard remains, but has warned that January 8 is a potential day-of-reckoning for Rugby League’s crisis club.

Unpaid aid players wages may have been paid, says Lingard, but he is still owed seven months’ money, and believes the RFL must remove the special measures they have imposed on Keighley by then.

The presence of former Castleford Tigers chief executive Gill, who has become Featherstone’s general manager, was considered key to that happening under the current Cougars ownership. And although League Express understands there is at least one consortium interested in taking over the ailing League 1 club, amid calls for the involvement of a supporters’ trust, time is of the essence.

If special measures aren’t removed, the coach will have to call a halt to pre-season training because the limited number of players at his disposal won’t have insurance cover against injury. The Cougars are already playing catch-up in every area of preparation for a campaign that begins in less than seven weeks.

As Lingard explained: “Because the club is in special measures, we can only register players on a trial basis, and that can’t run beyond four weeks, which takes us to January 8. After that we wouldn’t be able to train because of the insurance issue, and if we can’t even train, how could we ever be ready for the season?

“It’s not just the training, which is bad enough, but we are also well behind other clubs in terms of putting a squad together, arranging pre-season games, selling season-tickets and even getting a kit sorted out. There are so many things that must be done in a period of time that is getting shorter and shorter. We really do need some decisive action by the RFL.”

In another twist, it is believed that the Cougars have sounded out Keighley RUFC about playing matches at their Skipton Road ground, which has an artificial pitch.

The club’s plight has reached Parliament, with Keighley MP John Grogan calling on the RFL to take “firm action”. In an address to the Commons, he criticised recent ownership changes and said it was “incumbent” upon the game’s governing body to act.

All Party Parliamentary Rugby League Group member Grogan said that the problems arose in the summer, when the club was taken over by Austria Holdings.

“The controlling force was a Mr Shane Spencer,” Parliament was told by Grogan. “The RFL did not judge him to be a fit and proper person to run Keighley Cougars, so someone else held the licence.

“On December 11, Austria Holdings gave up control of Keighley Cougars (2010) Limited. According to Companies House, Mrs Claire Auty took 75 per cent control.

“The following day, there were bankruptcy proceedings against Mr Spencer at Wakefield Court, which have been adjourned until January 4.

“I have called upon Mr Spencer to stand aside,” Grogan said. “We do not know who Mrs Auty is, and she has made no statement so far as I am aware, about what she intends to do with Keighley Cougars.”