The Demand For Fourteen Team Leagues below National Level
They are the most unlikely group of revolutionaries but there is mounting anger and frustration amongst junior clubs, those below the National Leagues, throughout the north of England over the apparent lack of concern and understanding by the RFU Tournaments and Competitions Director Terry Burwell over the number of games played by clubs from North One down.
The group spearheaded by former Liverpool St.Helens President John Robertson and Millers Homes League Chairman Fred Swarbick* from Vale of Lune believes that the RFU are dragging their feet over over the issue.
"The structured season is 35 weeks long but from level five (North One) downwards the RFU provide just 22 league fixtures, yet National One has 28 with Two and Three enjoying 26. Why is there this difference?" Roberston questions.
Robertson does have a point. Even including a cup game, and fifty percent of sides go out in the first round, that would give a maximum of 12 home games per season, hardly a successful recipe for running a rugby club who rely to a large extent on bar takings and the sponsorship of matches to survive and, at a time when rumours are strong that the RFU is considering cutting funding, the lack of anything positive emanating from RFU is nothing short of a disgrace.
In a letter from the RFU to the group Burwell* states: "when we have sorted out the top end of the game we'll then look at levels 5 and below but until then you will just have to be patient."
Patronising if nothing else!
"The RFU Competitions Committee seems unable to act on behalf of the community game it is supposed to represent without hiding behind the excuse of what is taking place in the Premiership and the National Leagues over which they virtually have no control whatsoever, " Robertson added.
In a survey carried out throughout the north by the Action Group who contacted club secretaries directly, there was wholesale demand for more matches and, supported by Lancashire RFU., this was forwarded to the North Divsional Committee yet this committee's representative to the RFU claimed that there was no wish for more matches. This is not the first time this has happened with regional and county representatives voting against the directives of their own constituent bodies they are supposed to be representing.
With the fixture list as it is and even accounting for cup competitions, only 8 clubs were still involved after the first week in December, there remain 12 free Saturdays, far more than necessary to meet postponements.
"All this is surely a shocking waste of playing time as well as club house usage," Robertson pointed out. "No matches on a regular basis and players drift to other pursuits, spectators lose interest and bar takings suffer and the RFU appear to be so intent on the top end of the game at the expense of the grass roots."
If the RFU acted now there could be an increase in the size of the leagues for next season. If they don't act then the danger is that the grass roots will wither which in the end will effect the top end of the game but by then it may well be too late.
Reproduced by kind permission of Geoff Lightfoot (Liverpool Daily Post)
* Since the above report was published (early March) Terry Burwell - after a long period of intense lobbying, and canvassing throughout all English regions (vigorously driven by Fred Swarbrick) - has undergone a change of heart and now supports the early introduction of 14 team leagues in the upper levels of the Regions; possibly on a trial basis in the North for next season. However, a number of hoops have still to be jumped through at Twickenham.