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Tides Of History

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  1. Thanks mate - Delighted to make the long list. No RL book has ever won the award so obviously it would be great if it does but its a pretty strong field this year. As ever my thanks go to people like @marklaspalmasand @John Drakefor their insights when i was researching and writing on here!! It is now in the hands of a six person panel - BUT...you can vote for it to be the best cover of the year. If people wish to I would really appreciate their support - voting via the link below https://news.williamhill.com/judge-a-book-by-its-cover/
  2. Thanks for the kind words - it is much appreciated and glad so many people agree that this really was a fascinating era for the game I think administrators in the 1980s were desperate to move away from the negative image the game had - the sport of Eddie Waring, the wippets and flat caps and the idea that players weren't athletes as many assumed at the time. They wanted to project an image of the game that was modern and dynamic, hence why figures such as Ellery Hanley and Martin Offiah became the central planks of the new image. The desire to expand to the south came through the commercial opportunities it would have provided and media exposure - and the fact that the game had never really tried to expand in the south. Today I don't think there is anyone in the game who believes that we can cut through in the south - 40 years of trying and we are in a weaker position that we were in the first season that Fulham played. The optimism that league can become a national game has diminished - and perhaps there is a realisation too that just taking the product alone to a new area is not enough to bring new people on board. In the 1980s there was a genuine belief that all we had to do was spread the word wide enough and people would come on board.
  3. Thanks MOK. Kangaroo tours were critically important. Its hard to imagine what the story would have looked like if we didn't have that rivalry which we have subsequently lost. Here is a piece - expanded for Forty 20 this month - which outlines some of my motivations for looking at this era: Back to the Future? How the 1980s made modern rugby league. It was the Spring of 1996 and the RFL Chief Executive Maurice Lindsay was in a combative mood. Still reeling from the civil war that was prompted by his proposal to merge clubs together, Lindsay was adamant that the new competition would change the trajectory of the game: “Super League will represent a dramatic sea change in approach, a quantum leap in thinking. Life is changing. We have to change with it. You can’t stop history developing”. At the centre of the Super League vision was the idea that rugby league was going to expand beyond its traditional areas. “We are moving toward a city/large town league”, Lindsay declared, with Newcastle, Bristol, the Midlands, and London viewed as essential areas for growth. Almost thirty years have passed since we switched from winter to summer and the dreams of league becoming a truly national game have all but diminished. Since the financial crash of 2008, the aim of the sport has been survival in the face of declining television deals and sponsorship interest. The arrival of IMG to ‘reimagine’ the sport for the next century is an acknowledgement that we have fallen way behind our competitors in football, cricket, darts, and rugby union in attracting commercial revenue. In many ways the arrival of Super League was the ‘reimagining’ of the game for the 21st century. For many years people had sat around pubs and clubs of the north and debated what would happen if rugby league had the resources, television coverage and media profile that it had always desired. Super League was to be the platform to finally turn dreams into reality. Although the initial announcement of Super League in 1995 was a swift one, arranged hastily in a crazy 24 hours that is impinged on the memory of any journalist that covered it, the journey to that moment began fifteen years earlier. The 1970s had been a tough period for the game. From declining attendances to tabloid campaigns to have its “violence” banned from television, even glamour club Wigan were on life support. And when the Australian Kangaroos humiliated Great Britain on the 1982 Invincible tour, the game was at the point of no return. What happened to the game in the 1980s and early 90s is the central question I seek to address in my new book Hope and Glory: Rugby League in Thatcher’s Britain which will be published this August. In the popular imagination of the country, the 1980s have been mythologised as the decade when everything went wrong for rugby league towns. The traditional working class - of the mines, factories, and cotton mills - were the hapless victims of Thatcherite economic policies. But while people are naturally drawn to the hardship, the story of rugby league shows there is a richer, more nuanced, and complex story to tell. It was a period of change that was more dramatic and eventful than anything that has come before or since. Watching a game from 1980 and another from 1995 is like watching two sports from different planets. Central to that was the rise of the professional ‘celebrity’ player and the speed at which the game changed. This was the era of bold expansion into new areas such as London and Sheffield, as well as Kent, Carlisle, and Nottingham. But it was also about the resilience and revival of traditional teams such as Featherstone, Widnes and Keighley. Innovation was found in some of the most unlikely places. Long before Netflix’s Sunderland till I Die came along, for example, unfashionable clubs like Doncaster opened their changing rooms to filmmakers to shoot award-winning documentaries. In an age before social media, people such as Harry Edgar developed Open Rugby to give players, writers, and administrators the space to engage in the battle for ideas. Out of those debates came the physical reshaping of rugby league's image, from how the pundits talked about it and how the cameras filmed it, to how the advertising agencies made posters about it. Hope and Glory reminds us that nothing is set in stone. The book is about an attitude and a philosophy that rugby league should not be constrained by the limits that outsiders and institutionalised ways of thinking places upon it. As IMG hope to ‘reimagine’ the game for the next century, the future of Super League remains uncertain. By going back to the very beginning of this story, we can begin to understand what it was all really about.
  4. Thanks Man of Kent - glad you are enjoying it!! The book is available now - and able to order online or to your local store Here is a little promo of the book for anyone who has not seen yet - filmed on location in gloriously sunny Featherstone... https://twitter.com/labour_history/status/1691381597298139137?s=20 Will be getting out and about to lots of clubs - feel free to DM me for any appearances or more information on it!!
  5. It’s a question that comes back again and again. When I heard that IMG were considering a revival I looked at what went wrong last time. https://www.loverugbyleague.com/post/british-state-of-origin-failed-but-should-img-revive-it Here was my conclusion “What would the purpose of the War of the Roses be? If it is a trial for potential England selection, would there be enough interest from supporters to sustain it and build it each season? Would coaches ensure that players were made available? Would players be motivated without the financial rewards that are available in Australia? Would it attract a new sponsor that wasn’t already invested in the game? The market suggests, as it has done since the 1980s, that the number of people interested in any mid-season international – whether it is France, British Origin, the Exiles or the All Stars – is between 6 and 10,000. Do IMG have ambitions to move beyond that? Would they be satisfied if the ‘War of the Roses’ achieved the same attendance as the England v France game at Warrington this year? The debate around the revival of British State of Origin, in whatever format it takes place, throws up as many questions as it does solutions to the games problems. And if the ‘War of the Roses’ is to become a permanent fixture in the rugby league calendar, it will need something that we have never been able to implement before: a long term strategy for growth”.
  6. Done - sounds like a really worthwhile experiment for the game.
  7. Interesting that you should mention that game. A few days later the Super League ran this advert in the press
  8. I was very kindly invited onto the Rugby League Digest podcast this month to discuss what was happening in the 1997 Super League season. While doing my research it was apparent that 1997 was a critical year in the development of the Super League. Bradford were on the verge of Bull-Mania, the WCC was on the horizon, and Richard Branson had snapped up London Broncos. Commercially a range of Super League branded products such as sticker books and milk started to appear in the supermarkets. Cash rich - we even employed M&C Saatchi to run promotional adverts around the theme of "Moving Up. Moving On". There was even the first RL PC game produced to coincide with the new season - which was launched in the West End of London. And then the WCC emphasized just how big the gap was between the UK and the Aus clubs..... The discussion got us thinking about what had changed in the intervening years? Was 1997 the year that we blew it? Or did it come later? Was it ever possible for the Super League to live up to the heady expectations that Lindsay and Sky promised? Would love to hear people's thoughts and memories of the period!!
  9. Its always good to have a dream. And as the book will outline, Kent Invicta were miles ahead of other clubs within the British game in terms of marketing, publicity and "razzmatazz"....long before Wigan, Keighley and Bradford twigged on
  10. You are correct Segovia. Faires was heavily profiled in the media when he arrived on the scene as the future of rugby league. Huge profiles with sports editors in The Times, The Guardian and other places framed him as a new kind of rugby league chairman that could carry the game into the 21st century and develop the game into the South. You will have to pick up the book to see what happened next....
  11. Indeed, Fulham were seen as the great success story of the early part of the decade and were a key plank in the beginning of the revival for the sport as sports editors and London based writers took notice of the sport for the first time. Having Colin Welland on board gave the club a direct line into the media...
  12. Kent were actually seen as a glamour club and hoped to tap into the young professional, aspirational middle class people in areas such as Maidstone for support. When they made their application to the sport one of their arguments was that they would be playing in an area of low unemployment with access to greater corporate sponsorship. Within one game however, it was evident that their target of 10,000 supporters was not going to be fulfilled....
  13. Well spotted @Man of Kent - yes i can confirm this book will be published this summer. And you will be pleased to know that the story of Kent Invitca is covered in great detail. Spoiler alert: they did actually have some radical ideas that were later copied by other clubs.... Its the complex story of a British rugby league revival and there will be a Total RL feel to the book after @marklaspalmas helped me with the story of Featherstone in the miners strike and John Drake gave me some brilliant insight into the rise of the RLSA in the mid 1990s. I'll be out and about across the country promoting it and happy to come and chat at history/supporter groups, please DM to discuss it further and I'd be delighted to chat. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Hope-Glory-League-Thatchers-Britain/dp/1801504555
  14. Its hard to understate how popular Oxley was around the game. To have been at the top for 18 years is an incredible achievement - whilst also instigating huge changes I put together a piece on his time for loverugbyleague and it was a real pleasure to read back over his quotes. One of the most pressing i found were his words in 1974 as he embarked on the job "“No game can live on memories alone. Whilst honouring the past, we must consolidate the present, plan for an imaginative future and, above all, learn to be ourselves once more”. He also wasn’t afraid to listen to those who had different views to him. A telling quote came after the 1982 Kangaroo tour when everybody within the game had an opinion about what needed to be done. “The time to worry,” he argued, “will come when people no longer think deeply about rugby league or bother to argue its issues: for then no one will care”. As the game embarks on another period of uncertainty, this time with the arrival of IMG, perhaps the most fitting tribute to David Oxley would be for the game to foster the spirit of debate, renewal and ideas again. https://www.loverugbyleague.com/post/david-oxley-the-outsider-who-changed-the-face-of-british-rugby-league/
  15. Thanks for all the contributions so far - there is clearly a lot of expertise and knowledge in this area. I hope we find new ways of debating this within the game. There is no major problem having some association with a bookmaker - although you do need to acknowledge that there are trade offs with doing so. It is deeply alarming however that in a home World Cup, where we have the potential to reach a new audience, we have had to rely on Mr Done. The rise of Betfred speaks to that deeper question of sponsorship in the game which appears to have fallen off a cliff in recent years. As for those who think that this is some sort of left-wing agenda, i urge you to look at the people who are calling for a reversal of the Gambling Act. Iain Duncan Smith is leading the campaign with Labour's Carolyn Harris, which emphasises that this is an issue that is cutting across those divides. Labour's last manifesto called for a ban on shirt sponsorship. There is little to suggest that they will u-turn on that. It seems strange, when these debates are happening, to take a punt on Betfred in a World Cup year. What i would like to see the game work on is what story we telling to corporate sponsors to get them involved. Are there different ways of selling the sport that can move us beyond Betfred? Are there better ways we can treat them once they are on board to maximise their benefits. The alternative is to to take Ralph, Derek and Shaun at face value and accept that we are never going to attract other major sponsors - so lets just take the money from Fred and be grateful. It probably depends on your world view whether we begin to challenge that more.
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