29/04/20 | General

The Need for Change! – Part 1

Author: Simon Plumb


This week the Exec received a questionnaire from the RFU about payment of players and the response will be sent in the next 7 days. This will be used this as a vehicle to give the Club’s view.

Historically, as a club, we have always stuck firm to our belief that Lymm RFC will not pay players to play, and there are many reasons for this. Over the next few days the website will carry  a new feature entitled ‘The Need for Change!’ and include articles and views from journalists and commentators such as the Telegraph’s Brian Moore and the BBC’s Ray French, as well as our own members, to argue the case.

If you would like to contribute please drop a line to simon@spa-group.co.uk and add your views to the discussion.

To launch ‘The Need for Change!’ this first article is from Ray French, honorary president of Liverpool St Helens RUFC and former BBC Rugby League commentator, who wrote this prescient piece back in the early 2000’s. Even then he argued for regional amateur leagues in rugby union to ensure a level playing field.

For the old gits amongst us who remember these times, and for current players alike, his foresight will resonate and is a cautionary tale.


When I started playing rugby union in St Helens in the late 1950s and early ‘60s and coached there – illegally – in the ‘70s, the clubs we played were essentially local. There were occasional trips to Yorkshire, but 80% of the fixture list was in South West Lancashire.

Because of that, we developed a rapport with those clubs, their teams, their officials and supporters, and built up a great spirit. When I was invited to be president of Liverpool St Helens about six years ago, we were then in national 3 and I got quite a shock when I saw how much travelling the teams were doing. We were playing the likes of Tynedale, Blaydon, Darlington and Darlington Mowden Park in the North East and going as far South as the Leicester Lions in the Midlands.

I wondered why a bunch of lads were getting on a coach at nine o’clock on a Saturday morning and travelling for three or four hours – which was costing the club about £750 a trip – when we could be playing closer to home against the likes of Fylde, Preston Grasshoppers and Broughton Park.

At Liverpool St Helens we’ve developed a terrific team spirit and a lot of enthusiasm, having gone back to being a CASC (Community Amateur Sports Club) where people aren’t paid. That’s carried us through this season and enabled us to win promotion to North 1. In North 2 West we’ve been playing the likes of Broughton Park, Wilmslow, Winnington Park and Lymm, all cubs in close proximity with whom we’ve developed a good relationship.

The psyche of the modern player is different from what it was years ago. Nowadays, after a game the players will hang around until about six o’clock, but then they’re off as they want to be with their families or go out for a meal as there are so many other things they do. They don’t want to be sitting on a coach coming home from the Northeast at nine o’clock on a Saturday night.

Of course the players are competitive and want promotion, but there’s the cost factor and the player factor. The higher you go in rugby union, the more you come up against professionalism. In North 1 there are players who are paid, but as a CASC club we can’t. It’s very a difficult situation, but we still intend to compete.

Higher up in national three, you’re dealing with a part-time professional entity and you have to raise a lot of money. If you have a “sugar daddy” or land you can sell, the money only lasts so long – the only thing that keeps a club alive is its own money raising capability.

You’ve got to have gate-taking public, and around here there’s only one Sale. If you play a club from, say, the North East, there won’t be any away spectators and very little coming through the bar. However, if you play a club that is in close proximity, such as Lymm or Birkenhead Park, there will be. Basically, it’s not an open rugby scene it’s full of handicaps.

In rugby league things are quite different. You have one full-time professional league at the top, which is Super League, two part time national leagues and below that it’s totally amateur – and it has to be. If a club is found to be breaking the amateur rules they can be penalised by fines, docked points or relegation the following season. It is self-policing as players talk and know what is going on.

With BARLA (British Amateur Rugby League Association) there are national leagues and area leagues, and you can decide which one you want to be in. Around here we’ve got long established amateur teams like Blackbrook and Pilkington Recs who choose to be in area leagues, while another club, Thatto Heath is a national league member.

Quite a lot of the Cumbrian sides choose not to be in the national leagues because they find that their players can’t travel due to work commitments.  I think the way forward would be to organise rugby union on similar lines. You could have the fully professional Guinness Premiership at the top, then National League One and Two could be full or part-time. Beneath that there would be a series of amateur leagues based on areas.

So you could have, say, North West leagues (taking in Cumbria), North East leagues, and Midlands’ leagues and so on.  If you came top of North West 1 and felt your club was capable of adjusting to a professional environment, you could then apply for a national league franchise. There would be certain criteria you would have to fulfil including finance, facilities and infrastructure.

Also, if a club were struggling in the national leagues they could opt out, drop down become amateur. The basic decision would be down to that they wanted to be – full time, part-time, or whatever they wanted to be and that would apply to clubs, players and even referees. You can’t do that in rugby union at the moment because there’s a mix half way down where you have amateurs battling against semi-professional, and professional clubs against CASC clubs. It’s not a level playing field.

Ray French (2002)

It is 25 years (1995), since the RFU allowed the game to become professional, if clubs so desired and pay players. There was no thought given to how this would affect their bread and butter foundations in hundreds of community-based amateur clubs, their financial stability and the loss of players to the game.

We at Lymm have witnessed the demise of many clubs in our area, who went down the payment of players route with blinkers on and dreams of glory.

The Corvid 19 situation has put even more strain on all clubs. The RFU urgently needs to sort out the structure of our game with Levels 1 & 2 being Professional; Levels 3 and below, Strictly Amateur. If they don’t, more clubs and players will disappear.

Peter Cornelia


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