Talking Grassroots: Lighting up the gloom

It’s rather rare, currently, to come across unadulterated good news in these troubled coronavirus-dominated times, but two such stories popped my way last week – relating to events that occurred just in time, prior to the Government imposing a further lockdown.

The Rugby Football League’s pilot fixtures at Open Age amateur level was something of a success, even if most clubs opted, for entirely understandable reasons, not to take part.

A few others, though – and, again, with total justification – did embrace the concept and nine matches, as revealed in this week’s issue of League Express, were played over the last two Saturdays of October.

Two of those (in Wigan) and a couple more in the south of England (both involving Medway Dragons, as reported in last week’s issue) took place when the pilot programme kicked in. And it was invigorating to learn that of the five fixtures on Halloween two involved relaunched clubs.

Ackworth Jaguars hosted Upton to get back up and running again after the best part of a decade, and over in Hull it was great to see the name of Bilton once more (although the Braves are actually a new club, rather than a reincarnation of Bilton Sully’s, but I suspect it feels in many ways like something of a relaunch).

It’s tremendous to see two ‘new’ clubs on the scene, with Ackworth’s reformation stemming from a fund-raising match, sadly aborted because of Covid-19, which had been arranged to support their former coach, Rob Burrow.

As can be the way with these things, simply training and getting back together with their old team-mates reignited the appetite of the veterans for Rugby League. I’m sure both Ackworth Jaguars and Bilton Braves, who deserve huge plaudits for getting up and running again in these very uncertain times, will eventually prosper in the Pennine and Yorkshire Men’s Leagues respectively. They certainly deserve to – their enterprise and commitment is impressive and, I’ve no doubt, inspirational to others.

No sooner had Ackworth and Bilton – together with eight other teams – played, though, than a further lockdown was imposed by the Government (again, understandably, although I appreciate that not everyone feels that way).

The Rugby Football League, whose staff may be growing weary of having to work out updates on complex matters, has sent out the strong message that no action can take place (other than in schools – I’m not sure why the government sees the educational arena differently, and I doubt anyway that any schools are actually playing – and in respect of training camps for the England Women’s and England Wheelchair squads, which can also continue). And they’ve also stressed very firmly that if and when training again takes place from early December, all clubs, players, coaches and administrators must abide by any regulations that are imposed by the Government and, by extension, the sport’s ruling body.

It seems that such strictures, while respected by the majority, haven’t quite been universally abided by – the RFL has sent out a strong message that misbehaviour by a few could have strong negative repercussions for the many, both in terms of giving the nod to future training and playing and perhaps, reading between the lines, regarding central funding from Sport England, the Government and possibly other bodies.

No one can say they haven’t been warned – and the RFL has offered other options for training, ramming home the message that they would much prefer clubs to use its ‘Virtual RL’ online programme. Coaches and players certainly have, in all the circumstances, a meaningful alternative.

Finally, more good news. The Physical Disability Rugby League World Cup has been confirmed for next November, with all games taking place in Warrington, and with England taking part. More heart-warming stuff, and I’m looking forward to being able to report, hopefully in the near future, on the announcement of the backroom staff and coaches.

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