Schoey springs a surprise for BARLA

Talking Grass Roots with League Express grassroots correspondent Phil Hodgson

Cometh the hour, cometh the man.

Six words that certainly summed up Garry Schofield in his playing days, especially for Great Britain.

Schofield was one of a golden generation that lit up the international scene in the 1980s and 1990s, even if we were unable to quite lift the World Cup or retrieve the Ashes. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that if we had had thirteen Garry Schofields on the pitch we’d have carried all before us – and that’s no disrespect to any of his team-mates of the era.

Garry is perhaps best known these days, to younger readers at least, for his perceptive column in League Express. And he may perhaps soon be also renowned as Chairman of the British Amateur Rugby League Association.

Yes, I’ll go over that again, for readers whose Monday breakfast marmalade has dropped off their forks. Garry Schofield wants to take over the helm at BARLA from long-standing incumbent Sue Taylor.

This is more than an interesting one! Schofield has, to the best of my knowledge, no experience of chairmanship. On the other hand he has long been inordinately proud to have represented BARLA at Youth level – indeed he was very keen to attain amateur international honours before signing professional with Hull.

So he would bring an enthusiastic players’ perspective to the cause, which is perhaps no bad thing. And when it boils down to it, does a chairman need administrative experience? The answer is, in my opinion, not really. The only role a chairman of any organisation has to formally fulfil is chairing meetings, which in essence is simply following the agenda and making sure people don’t talk over each other. And Garry Schofield can perhaps take some heart in that respect from Ronnie Teeman who – as far as I know – had never chaired anything before taking the helm, very memorably, at New Hunslet in the 1970s. Quite why Ronnie should come into my thoughts right now I’m not sure, but hey-ho.

Schofield’s currently establishing the procedures he needs to follow to set about seeking to fulfil his ambitions. It’ll be exciting monitoring his progress.

You may ask why he wants to be involved. Well, as I wrote last week, BARLA has been very quiet, publicly anyway (it may well be the case that its very experienced and very capable current chair Sue Taylor is conducting behind-the-scenes negotiations) on the spat involving the RFL’s proposal to impose membership fees on amateur players (and on other matters, indeed I’m still awaiting a response to a recent email). Garry Schofield is as upset as anyone about the membership fees issue and wants to take the bull by the horns and, well, take on the RFL. This promises to be as exciting a contest as any of Garry Schofield’s matches as a player (only joking, but you get my drift I think).

The million dollar (or more accurately £700,000) question is: is the RFL correct to charge fees? As reported elsewhere today, it’s just about a done deal that players will be charged £25 (open age) per annum from next year, with fees also reduced for youth and juniors. The game’s governing body insists it has no alternative other than to impose those charges, and that they are much lower than those that apply in other sports. And they also insist that their central administration offers value for money at £700,000.

Some folk at the grassroots demur (that’s my polite take on what in many instances is anger, pure and simple), which is where Garry Schofield wants to come in. Some reflect that when competitions were run solely by volunteers there was no cost to the game, although BARLA had full-time staff back in those days of course. The RFL is stressing, too, that talk of membership fees goes back a decade or so; in that case the notion may predate what is I believe a fairly recent change of stance by Sport England, which aims to primarily fund more divergent areas of sport, as I understand it, rather than long-established sections such as open age men’s Rugby League.

And I’m unsure that, given that the RFL has pledged to help players who are unable to meet their fees, much cash will be brought in anyway. The RFL has cited England Boxing as an example of a success story in achieving increased participation despite collecting fees direct; I’m awaiting confirmation that England Boxing actually also registered increased income, as it’s possible that many boxers would also have sought assistance. It may turn out, however, that a major sore point at grassroots level – that the RFL is to go direct to players for fees – could be resolved by clubs being asked to take on the task of collection.

Meanwhile the notion of a public meeting, broached by me and others, appears to be a non-starter, the RFL having spoken already to a number of leagues. That’s a shame as I’m hearing that there are moves bubbling away behind the scenes that could turn out to be explosive.

Phew! It’s a pity that I’m having to focus on politics in today’s issue as I’d planned to highlight what should be paramount – the return to action of the amateur game, and with crowds allowed back.

Many regional leagues kicked off last week, of course, and the National Conference League opened on Saturday with a match between Clock Face Miners and Saddleworth Rangers. But this weekend marks a full-blast return and I’m excited by it, particularly as regards the NCL.

I think Conference bosses have come up with a winner with the decision to operate on a regional basis this year, with seven Regional Leagues being contested. It’s true that there will be a disparity in standards in most if not all sections but the NCL’s think-tank has gone some way to alleviating that aspect by arranging end-of season knockout competitions for those teams that don’t make the championship play-offs. That means that there will be real light at the end of what could otherwise be a grim tunnel for sides that struggle in the league – and it may be, in any event, that the fact that there will be no relegation will mean that coaches will be more inclined to give squad members more run-outs than they would normally get. To use a cliché, it’s mouth-watering – League Express will be following the action every step of the way, together with the roller-coaster rides in the many other leagues that will, equally, be delighted to be back into action.

The above content is also available in the regular weekly edition of League Express, on newsstands every Monday in the UK and as a digital download. Click here for more details.