Talking Grass Roots: Getting the sums right

Talking Grass Roots with League Express amateur rugby league correspondent Phil Hodgson

I touched, last week, on an issue that’s baffled me for some time; namely, how it could be possible for the Rugby Football League to insist that it is in profit while a leading figure at the grassroots, who happens to be an accountant and therefore obviously knows his onions, declares otherwise.

I closed my article reflecting that either Sandy Lindsay, the chair of the RFL’s Community Board, or West Hull’s chair Terry Everson, could end up with egg on their face.

With the complexities of financial matters in mind I’d also stated (this was Hodgson hedging his bets!) that figures can be read in different ways.

And that’s how it’s turned out. Happily, in the sense that I really didn’t want either Lindsay or Everson to experience the embarrassment of being wrong – and so very publicly – I’m delighted to provide an explanation (as supplied by a very patient RFL employee, given that I’m very much a layman in these matters).

The chap was keen to verify that Terry Everson has indeed been correct in stating that the RFL had an accumulated deficit of £3,243,009 for the year ended 31 December 2019 (a fact that is very much in the public domain anyway).

There is, however, a bigger and altogether more satisfactory picture. As I understand it the Rugby Football League Ltd, which carries that deficit (and which, incidentally, announced a profit in last week’s League Express of £25,000 for 2020, following on a £75,000 surplus the previous year) is part of a much larger `umbrella’ organisation, the RFL Governing Body Ltd, which is in rude financial health and into which, for example, has been pumped the proceeds from the sale of Red Hall.

So, in financial terms, matters are nowhere near as bad as they have perhaps appeared, if indeed, they are bad at all. My own analogy, which League Express readers may appreciate, is that although a club’s Under 14s section, say, may have run at a loss, that doesn’t mean that the club as a whole has.

Another analogy, provided by the man at the RFL, is that he himself has two bank accounts and if one should ever run into the red he could switch some cash across from the other, as required.

Hopefully that settles that particular matter for our readers – although it may, for all that, be something of a red herring as regards the RFL’s membership fees issue itself. We’ll have to wait and see on that one, perhaps. But at least neither Sandy Lindsay nor Terry Everson will have to watch out for flying eggs this morning.

Away from politics and finances, though, to football. I was taken by an article in the Times of nine days ago, in Patrick Kidd’s always engrossing `The Tailender’ column (although I’d enjoy such columns far more if columnists with a ranging remit touched on Rugby League from time to time, but I digress). Kidd, who is a cricket lover – as am I – reflected on an article written by former Hampshire cricketer Harold Day back in 1961. That was 60 years ago, of course, but what Day penned still holds true today, for all sports including Rugby League.

Day’s piece focussed on his captain of four decades earlier at Hampshire, the Hon Lionel Tennyson. Tennyson, wrote Day, “played with the firm conviction that the principal object was to enjoy oneself. If only present players would realise that it matters enormously who is going to win (but) it doesn’t not matter a hoot in hell who has won.”

That’s a passage that every sportsman or women should allow to seep into his or her consciousness. In fact, when I think about it, it nicely sums up the ethos that has always underpinned amateur Rugby League’s flagship competition, the National Conference League (a philosophy which, I’m delighted to say, has percolated through to most if not all competitions at the grass roots over the last 30 or 40 years).

Yes, go all out to win (and, I’d say, even take things to the very edge sometimes – this is Rugby League, after all, how many of us would want it any other way?). But once the final whistle has blown put the match and the result to one side and embrace the fellowship of like-minded folk. That’s a stance which I’ve been delighted to experience on countless occasions in the National Conference League in particular and, happily, in other competitions. And it’s an approach that, perhaps, has never been more relevant than now, as we (hopefully) emerge from the coronavirus pandemic.

Finally, congratulations to Cambridge University, who ended a run of eleven successive defeats in the Varsity match by defeating Oxford 14-8 on Friday evening – that triumph must have led to some lively celebrations! And hearty thanks to Dave Stockdale for submitting a report, while former Cambridge man Mark Ramsdale, who ensured for many years that the Varsity match not only survived but thrived through his simply Herculean efforts, will have been tremendously boosted by the Light Blues’ success as he recovers from Covid – as will Cambridge stand-off Elliott Stockdale, who I understand has been a real driving force in ensuring that the 2021 game took place at all.

Further north, meanwhile, Leeds University Rugby League club is celebrating 55 years, I think, since their courageous launch (and it really was just that, given establishment intransigence and sheer antipathy back then). One of the guiding lights behind the brave venture, the legendary Cec Thompson, who I was lucky to call a friend, sadly passed away a few years ago. Another, the indefatigable Andrew Cudbertson, is still going strong and I’m sure had a heady time at the reunion. Great stuff, Andrew!

Phil Hodgson’s ‘Talking Grass Roots’ column can be read in League Express every Monday morning, or Sunday evenings for digital subscribers. You can take out a subscription here.