DAVE DOWNES, who has had a major impact since joining his local amateur club Featherstone Lions, has one simple, overriding aim.
“I want the Lions to be amateur in status but professional in attitude,” is his goal after having introduced on-field improvements as a ground-breaking wrestling coach, and a host of off-field innovations that should sustain Featherstone for many years.
Downes, 62, was a professional player whose career ended at Bramley before joining the fondly remembered Jubilee – who, with the Miners Welfare and Travellers, merged 20 years ago to form Featherstone Lions – picking up a BARLA National Cup winner’s medal when West Hull were beaten 26-10 in the 1984-85 final.
Downes became coach when Barry Limb stepped down but he’s quick to reveal a sombre aspect of his past which put his Rugby League coaching career on hold even if, in the long-term, it actually put him in good stead.
“I was working as a bouncer, in fact I employed quite a few blokes, and got into a few scraps, that’s the nature of the business,” he recalls.
“An accumulation of incidents, none of them too serious in themselves, led to me serving a seven-year term in gaol.
“The experience gave me a lot of time for reflection and I have to say that I learned a lot about myself in prison.”
On his release, and having honed skills in Aikido and martial arts, he was asked by then-Featherstone Rovers coach Steve Martin, with current chairman Mark Campbell also using his powers of persuasion, to take over the role of conditioner, subsequently working under David Hobbs.
He explains: “I’d realised that we could use transfer some of the skills in Aikido and martial arts to rugby, and we were utilising those skills at Featherstone Rovers two years before anyone else in Rugby League.
“I was down at the ground one day and the community team had some young offenders in.
“I asked if I could help – I warned them that I’d been `inside’ – and it went well, in fact I was in a good position to pass on the lessons of my own experiences.”
Downes, who was asked to put together an anger management course, continues: “I put a package together called `Tackling Temper’ and while I was at Rovers two senior police officers, Bob Bowman and Martin Atkinson, came to visit.
“They got me onto pupil referrals and it snowballed, in fact I did it for eight years.”
Word quickly spread throughout the game of what Dave Downes had to offer and he has worked for the likes of Leeds Rhinos, Wakefield Trinity, Castleford Tiers, Salford Red Devils, Hull FC and Toronto Wolfpack. “My connections with rugby have brought me to the foundations at Castleford and Featherstone, and I’ve put together programmes for the police,” Downes continues, “and I’m now on the committee at my home town amateur club Featherstone Lions.
“I’m determined to make it as professional here as I can.
“I’ve worked with some of the best coaches around, for example Daryl Powell, Brian Noble, Richard Agar and David Ward, while David Argyle at Toronto has given me tremendous support. He’s particularly keen on getting under- privileged kids into Rugby League, while Martin Vickers and Nobby are very supportive of our work in the community.
“There are many fantastic people, with a similar outlook, at Featherstone Lions and I really enjoy being around them.
“My aim is for every age group to be as strong as it possibly can be; I want our players to turn professional and, if not, to stay with us and help make our open age teams successful.
“All our coaches, at every age group, will work to one remit.”
Off the field, he revealed: “We’re putting a café up in the car park here at the Millpond. It will be for community use and not-for-profit in these times of austerity, and one great aspect is that it will help enable kids to mix with older people.
“I’m particularly keen on supporting Women’s and Girls’ Rugby League. The adult side – the Lionesses – is going very well, and I’m helping Les Blackburn and Alan Widdowson with the Girls team.
“At Featherstone Lions, we’re trying to put an event on for each age group. We’ve a massive advantage over many other clubs as we’ve not only got several pitches, but indoor facilities as well.
“We’re trying to make it a family thing, with players’ parents and other family members using the clubhouse, and we’re building a new bar.
“A coaching structure is being put in place and the first team will, I’m sure, get stronger; we will strive to be one of the best teams in the National Conference League.
“And we’re forging closer links with Featherstone Rovers. I’m involved with projects such as `knife crime in Bradford’ and `guns, gangs and knives’ and I hope that foundations such as those at Castleford Tigers, Rovers and Wakefield Trinity can come together, pooling resources and avoiding duplication.
“I believe I can help with that as I’ve got strong links with a lot of clubs.”
He concluded: “We’ve got to attract more people back into the game. A big part of it, for me, is working with kids, turning them round and getting them into school.
“We look after them at Featherstone Lions and we don’t put in for massive funding; most of our work, in fact, is self-funded.
“And, on the wider front, Leeds Rhinos’ Foundation is the best in the game; if Castleford, Featherstone and Wakefield can work together, we can match them.”