The curious case of Rochdale Hornets… from the journalist who found himself involved

What has unfolded at Rochdale Hornets this season in many ways reflects Rugby League as a whole.

An organisation that while small in number has managed to have warring factions within it, leading to missed opportunities to realise its true potential.

I wrangled with writing this piece for several days, mainly because of the amount of negative publicity my boyhood club has already had this season.

A match postponed after its 3pm kick-off, another game moved to an amateur ground just days before it was scheduled, and the recent issue when an admin error saw the club miss an important deadline to notify contracted players that their deals could be ended by relegation.

And that’s without getting to one of the worst seasons in Hornets’ history on the field.

But what has happened off it is arguably more important, and it’s a story that can be given a wider Rugby League context.

It started to unravel back in April when a members’ meeting was called as the supporter-owned club was down to a board of just two, Peter Rush and Ray Dutton, who had both been co-opted on rather than elected.

It needed more to fall under its own regulations, and after years of struggling for new directors, over 20 raised their hands in the room to form a temporary board, including myself.

That night was when the different factions first became apparent through the way people spoke to others in front of the room, and after a hastily organised vote where candidates were not able to put their credentials forward, a temporary board of 12 was elected including me.

That was done with a view to formally electing a new six person board at a proper AGM around three months later.

I quickly realised that being on the board would massively compromise my work as a journalist when an agent I deal with rang me about a club dispute with one of his clients the following morning, so I told the other directors that I wouldn’t be standing, while pledging to remain until the AGM.

During that time the club’s membership surged dramatically shortly before it closed for the election, and it emerged this was through the Hornets Past Players’ Association – who had seen little connection with the club in recent years – joining en masse, apparently all intending to vote in a certain way.

This understandably upset some others that were standing, and there was a move to reject the new members.

But in mine and others’ opinions it didn’t break any rules of the club, and my personal stance was that re-establishing a long lost link with what is a successful Past Players group would be beneficial to the club on several fronts.

A compromise was agreed by the temporary directors where nine board places would be available rather than six even though voting forms had already gone out by that stage.

And that’s where the trouble really started.

The AGM – which I was unable to attend due to covering a London Broncos game – apparently descended into farce when the move to nine board members was blocked by a show of hands and proxy votes in the room.

Issues became personal, some left the room in disgust and one message board poster described the meeting as “outrageous”.

It’s fair to say that if that hadn’t happened, events may not have unfolded as they have, but that doesn’t excuse everything that was to follow.

Following the AGM, a group called 100% Hornets – which included a number of people that had been unsuccessful in the amended election – changed the colours of their organisation from the club’s red, white and blue to its original black and amber “in protest to the lack of democracy within the club… until such time as we feel proper fan’s representation is restored to the boardroom.”

That overlooked the fact that the majority of the new board were also long-term fans alongside their other considerable credentials, but perhaps in their eyes they weren’t the right fans or were only 99% Hornets.

The board was then informed of a vote of no confidence that had been signed by 24 of the group, who later met with directors to push for the resignations of Rush and Dutton specifically.

Although the board stood united that evening, days later the pair did step down, which immediately led to the club losing two signifiant sponsors and a key link to the town’s council.

Then on Tuesday, the remaining four board members – Denise Dawson, Martin Hall, Mark Harris and Gavin Reynolds gave their notice to stand down too, which will leave the club with no directors.

They presented a detailed insight into Hornets’ current situation to members on Tuesday, with the split in the club’s support base a major reason for their decision, along with a number of financial issues which had emerged that they asked members to keep confidential.

There was annoyance in the room that a relatively small group had such an influence on the board’s decision, one message board poster said the 24 “should be bloody ashamed of themselves” and the organisation’s own group chat also had criticism of what had unfolded in a message forwarded to me.

So what now?

Perhaps people so keen to decide who is on the club’s board will step forward and help construct a group of directors that has the same combination of contact with local authorities, are business owners in the town and have the vast Rugby League experience that Hall has, to take the club forward.

Perhaps they will also rebuild much-needed links with the Past Players organisation that can enrich the club, or with the hugely admirable Rochdale Mayfield, one of the best run amateur clubs in the country and a source of pride for the town.

Perhaps some will be feeling they have now won.

But in my eyes, nobody has won, least of all Rochdale Hornets.

There are some good people involved in 100% Hornets who are very passionate about the club.

But there are people just as passionate that have not had their voices heard, after the election results have effectively been rendered null and void due to actions since.

And what could have been a time of great potential could be lost through in-fighting.

Which in many ways that is Rugby League in a nutshell.