Keighley Cougars put out incredible statement on sacking of Matt Foster and what went on ‘behind the scenes’

KEIGHLEY COUGARS have made the unprecedented step of revealing everything that went on behind the scenes to lead to head coach Matt Foster’s sacking.

Foster, who took charge towards the back end of last year, has so far steered the Cougars to joint top in League One.

However, the Australian was unceremoniously sacked by the West Yorkshire club last night, leading a whole host of people to question why.

In response, co-owners Ryan O’Neill and Kaue Garcia have decided to ‘spill the beans’ on their version of events that led to Foster’s dismissal.

The statement reads: “We have been following comments on social media, as well as direct communications to the club from supporters.

“We are dismayed with the level of hostility received. This club is run, and has been since 2019, with every decision being in the best interests of Keighley Cougars. No man is bigger than this club, and if it was to become so, as has happened in the past, the club will fail.

“In 2023 we parted ways with the previous coach. We kept the reasons why private and put out a generic statement of it being ‘results based’. We took a lot of heat for this, with fans understandably questioning why. We can tell you now, that in firing a coach means dealing with a human who deserves to be protected so he can rebuild his career. We therefore kept back the various reasons why. The then coach was causing levels of disruption behind the scenes that no employer would tolerate. We regret we kept it under wraps, as the coach got a free-pass and the club suffered for that.

“We have just made the same mistake again. Putting out a generic statement, which has caused fans anger, and open hostility to the people who run, pay and keep professional rugby league alive in this town.

“The level of hostility in the last few hours has crossed a line, and we are no longer willing to take this level of abuse. So, we will explain further why we took the decision to part with Matt, and hopefully you will see there is more to running a club than what is seen on the surface.

“To begin with we want to stress our thanks to Matt and Debs for moving to the UK to coach Cougars last year. Matt was given a generous package to move including housing, car, flights, bills, and salary. Matt has been fiercely loyal to the club which no one can decry, and his heritage at the club makes this so much harder.

“In the close-season Matt returned to Australia and recruitment was left to Jake Webster who worked hard to build us a great squad within budget.

“On returning to the UK, there was a level of hostility to Jake from Matt about signings he had made.

“Matt disagreed strongly with signing Brandon Pickersgill, and this caused significant internal tension between Jake and Matt.

“Jake agreed terms with other Championship players, which Matt refused to engage with, and the club lost out as a result.

“This reached a crescendo in May when Jake proposed signing George Flanagan. Matt refused to engage with it. Jake came to us asking for permission to overrule the coach and sign George. We agreed with Jake that George would be a massive benefit to the club. Jake advised Matt that the board had given him permission to sign George, at which stage Matt threatened to resign if the signing happened. We signed George, and after his first game Matt agreed we had a star and he would eat ‘humble pie’.

“Jake negotiated to sign Mitch Revell for the club. Matt did not engage, and it took 3 months to get Mitch to the club, only because Jake, at the end-of-his-tether sought board approval to overrule Matt’s reluctance to engage with Mitch.

“The attitude to Championship players Jake proposed to bring to Cougars continued to be rejected out of hand by Matt. We were frustrated that as a board, the refusal to engage with top-quality players negotiated by Jake and Steve, were being blocked by the coach.

“Any coach’s dream should be to sign top players. Disengagement from that rang alarm bells.

“Clearly things were not going well, so we held a meeting with Jake, Steve and Matt. We advised Matt that Jake was Director of Rugby and was to be respected and responsible for recruitment. Matt accepted he had not understood the roles fully, and that he would work more closely with Jake.

“We therefore appointed Jake and Steve to the board to formalise their positions and set out that Jake was the ultimate boss in everything rugby related.

“We hoped things would improve. They didn’t. Jake would call us to complain he was getting no communication from the Head Coach. Jake requested training schedules so he could check on deliverables, these were never provided. Jake requested a plan for progression of the season, these were never provided.

“Jake would meet with senior players and assistant coaches, in his role as Director of Rugby, to get feedback on how things were going for them at the club, and if there’s anything we as a club can do to make their time here better. Matt took strong objection to this, causing further issues.

“We were becoming more concerned about performances. We lost to Hunslet at home; we should have lost to Midlands as they had a try disallowed which likely was a try; we struggled to put a decent score in against Cornwall; we almost lost against Rochdale away; and on Sunday we drew against Rochdale at home. Had these results gone the other way, which they could have done by the bounce of a ball, then we would be mid-table now worrying about being in the playoffs.

“On Sunday, we were dismayed to see George Flanagan was kept off for the first half of the game, and Dan Parker on the bench.

“After the game, Matt advised us that he could no longer work with Jake, and gave an ultimatum that either Jake goes or he goes.

“We spent the rest of the evening asking opinions from senior players and staff, the feedback was that training was poor, strategy was lacking, and that a change in head coach might be necessary.

“Therefore on Monday we had a board meeting where we had to face the reality that things were not right, and that things were getting worse. We knew it would be controversial, but as we have the best interests of this club at heart, we agreed we had to part with Matt.

“This is a very difficult statement to put out, and we regret having to do so, but there have been some things that have happened over the last 2 hours that has given us no option, and some things we will not tolerate:

“- Attacks on Jake Webster. This man has been the best thing to happen to Keighley Cougars for decades. He works 14 hour days. Makes things happen that no one else involved in this club could. He has been a staunch ally from the day he took the plunge to join the club. If the fans turn on Jake Webster, then we as a collective have lost faith in Keighley Cougars.
Steve Watkinson who is essentially CEO of the club has worked harder by a million miles than anyone we have had previously in the role. He has brought in sponsors, professionalised all our operations, and is a support to every off-field staff. He deserves thanks for what he does, not abuse.

“- Homophobia against us – which has come from our own fans today, which we have never had before. We have given blood, sweat, tears and money to this club. We do what we do to give this town a club that aims to be the best. If this is how you feel about us, then we are done.

“- Threats to boycott the club. If you believe one man is bigger than the club, then this club is in jeopardy. You either back this club 100% like we do, or you can walk away, and eventually everything is lost.

“We hope you can consider what we have to deal with behind the scenes. If the fans want a club that is mid-table League One, then we can deliver that – it will be much less stressful and significantly less expensive. We personally want better. It’s time for you all to decide what you want for this club.

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