Talking Grass Roots: A Happy New Year?

I suspect that Kelly Barrett, the Rugby Football League’s Head of Delivery Community Game Competitions, will have quietly reflected to herself, when firing out yet another email to amateur clubs regarding the latest on the Covid-19 crisis (this one on New Year’s Eve) “good riddance to 2020.”

We’ll probably never know the answer to that – Barrett is too much the consummate professional to let on – but if that’s how she felt you could hardly blame her or, for that matter, her equally industrious colleagues.

Few people, if any, enter into sports administration with the aim of dealing with what those folk have had to address for these last nine months or so – indeed, the prospect would have been unthinkable, perhaps more in the realms of science fiction than sport.

But here we all are, wandering around the streets in masks (and having to enter banks and jewellers wearing them, for goodness sake – any time previously you’d have been pounced on unceremoniously by a security guard and banged up in the slammer!). It’s all eerily reminiscent of a cheap ‘B’ movie from the 1950s or 1960s, but sadly it is the new reality. And it seems that we cannot expect much improvement, at least as far as amateur Rugby League is concerned, anytime soon.

The sands of the coronavirus pandemic are shifting continuously, of course, and there’s the prospect of the vaccine on the near-horizon. Hopefully all, or at least most, of our amateur clubs will still be around by the time the thumbs up is given for action to resume, although the latter goal is becoming like one of those oases in the desert that turns out to be a mirage, and always in the distance. For now, as Kelly Barrett makes clear, restrictions are tighter than previously. That’s how it has to be of course, although it’s not at all what everyone involved in amateur Rugby League will have been hoping for as a New Year’s message.

I was saddened, meanwhile, to learn of the death on New Year’s Eve of the Saddleworth chairman and long-serving Rangers stalwart Shane ‘Jocky’ Wilson.

His old friend Roger Halstead has paid a heartfelt tribute to Jocky, who was so typical of the big-hearted characters Rugby League continually produces, in this week’s League Express. I’m sure readers will join me in extending their condolences to his family, friends and to Saddleworth Rangers themselves. I hope to be able to reveal funeral arrangements next week.

On a happier note another man with a very big heart, former Wath Brow Hornets player Gary McKee, is already garnering tremendous support for an astonishing challenge he has set himself.

McKee, who ran 100 marathons in 100 days a few years ago, is aiming to improve on that by completing 110 marathons in 110 days. Even though that’s not consecutive, it’s impressive – more than impressive, in fact.

Amateur clubs in Cumbria, which can be fiercely combative (at the right time and in the proper place – on the pitch, during games) come together magnificently when it matters, and have already backed Gary superbly in his bid to raise funds for, jointly, Macmillan and Hospice at Home West Cumbria.

Those are organisations worth supporting. Gary McKee will embark on his adventure at the beginning of next month. Get behind him if you possibly can.

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.