Talking Grass Roots: United We Stand

Sport England’s ‘Uniting the Movement’ initiative, which was announced last week, is undoubtedly to be welcomed.

The ten-year ‘vision’, it seems to me, is pretty much exactly what it states on the tin – a vision, rather than an actual plan. But it’s perhaps no worse for that.

The aim is clearly to improve the physical and mental well-being of everyone in the land, regardless of age, colour, gender, creed and, also importantly social status. And few if any in a civilised society would, I imagine, argue with such a goal.

How this will be achieved remains to be seen. Sport England point out that top-down solutions to problems rarely work and that, conversely, localised strategies invariably fail to translate to the national arena.

So although there’s no hard detail, at least as far as I can ascertain, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the vision will become reality. While in some ways it has the hallmarks of a blueprint conjured up by someone with time on their hands the will is certainly there, which is the most important thing, and the Rugby Football League (which, in a separate initiative, is offering counselling to adult players who are suffering mentally during the lockdown in another welcome move) is rightly buying into the project, blank sheet as it is.

Our sport can only benefit, given that’s it’s mostly played in areas deemed to be deprived.

In another highly positive development, and on a similar theme, grant funding of up to £100,000 will be made available to grass roots Rugby League organisations through the scheduled 2021 World Cup, with Assura plc announced as the official Community Health partner of RLWC2021.

I seem to be called upon to write about these excellent developments almost each and every week, which is good for my own mental health, that’s for sure. The great news about the World Cup continues to flood in – it’s getting to the stage where the players and coaches will be under pressure to match, on the pitch, what has taken place over the preceding couple of years. I imagine that many clubs will be submitting applications to Assura from this very day.

Meanwhile, I was sorry to hear late last week that the Welsh player Louise Telford has had to quit playing through illness, as reported elsewhere, although ‘Sparks’ has served evidence of the size of her heart by indicating that she hopes to return to the field of play. Her teammates have wasted no time in launching a ‘Just Giving’ page; hopefully League Express readers will give the lass their backing if they can at

Still on the subject of Women’s Rugby League, there’s been a great deal of fuss on social media recently over a special moment in a match between England and Australia back in 2019, and rightly so.

It’s a truism of Rugby League that for all the focus on tremendous tries and perfect passes, terrific tackles attract as much attention as anything.

That’s certainly been the case with Kelsey Gentle’s cover tackle against Australia in the World Nines, a stunning effort which thwarted a certain score, even though the Jillaroos crossed in the next play.

It took me back to a memorable game I was delighted to attend way back in the 1980s, before what was possibly the biggest crowd to attend a Women’s match, at least in this country.

It was a fixture between Lancashire and Yorkshire, and it took place at Old Trafford between the Division One and Division Two Premiership Finals (what great occasions they always were, incidentally).

It was the first Women’s match I had ever seen and, like everyone else in Manchester United’s ground that day, I was very impressed – especially by a text-book tackle made by one of Lancashire’s centres.

I’ve touched on that incident before in this column; I wonder whether anyone could step forward with that player’s identity – she deserves, albeit belatedly, the accolades so justifiably accorded to Gentles.

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