An unfortunate side-effect of the ongoing wrangle over the proposed switch of the grassroots game to summer is that it leads folk, sadly but almost inevitably, into adopting entrenched but often opinionated positions.

There is a tendency for some people to denigrate those who prefer their Rugby League in `winter’ as being dinosaurs or Luddites; an accusation which is, frankly, both ignorant and insulting.

By the same token, it’s easy to find characters from the other side of the fence who will scoff at what they reckon are the poor standards prevalent in the summer game.

I think it’s exactly the same kind of bigot who is in each camp, in the same way as the passionate advocate of amateurism in rugby union was, invariably, the exact `twin’ of his counterpart in Rugby League.

The truth is that those who want to stay in winter have perfectly honourable, and I would say overwhelmingly compelling, arguments to back their case. And it’s also true to say that there are many fine players in the Co-operative Rugby League Conference which, despite the high number of `24-0’ results highlighted by my old friend Peter Wilson, formerly of the Daily Star, in last week’s issue, remains one of the great success stories in our game of the last couple of decades.

That, in fact, is what I want to focus on this week, as I put the `Great Debate’ on the back burner.

It’s true that standards in some, indeed many, matches can be lower than the discerning observer would like. But isn’t that equally true of much of the football played in BARLA’s Regional League, particularly in the lower divisions, and even on occasion in the Hatton’s Solicitors National Conference League?

Surely that’s bound to be the case, given that the players are, after all, amateurs.

It is, in fact, perfectly natural in any sport, or to be more precise any team sport, for those enjoying themselves at the lower levels to be, frankly, often not too good.

That, simply, is how it is, but it doesn’t make the exercise less worthwhile. Nor, for that matter, does it mean that the lads who are taking part are any less passionate than their `betters’, at least while they’re on the field.

I’ve no doubt that blokes who played in fixtures in, say, the South East Regional League on Saturday will forever carry, stored in the corners of their minds, memories of good tackles made (or, maybe, feeble attempts offered ) or of tries scored (or missed) for the rest of their lives.

In the end that’s what it’s pretty much all about, and the overall standard, at least at Open Age level, is not really too relevant.

Not that anyone doesn’t want standards to be as high as they can, especially in the top divisions, and there are certainly some very good lads around.

One such, obviously, is hooker Jimmy Bardgett, who is currently in South Africa with the Great Britain Community Lions.

Bardgett, and many others, is of high quality and while some may be northern ex-pats there is no doubt that many are playing our sport purely because of the existence of the Co-operative Rugby League Conference; and, yes, probably only because it’s summer-based, as their initial commitment would invariably have been to rugby union.

The Rugby League Conference is a fabulous competition, even if some aspects could be improved.

I’m troubled, for example, by the fact that the Conference National – the flagship of the RLC – is almost entirely northern-based.

At some stage, around the turn of the century, the Rugby League Conference quietly and without any announcement changed from being purely a valuable development competition into one that encroached into what we once called the heartlands; and one that began to have a debilitating effect on existing competitions.

Rugby League bosses scoffed with what seemed to be genuine bemusement, in the late 1990s, at accusations that the RLC was about to move seriously into Cumbria, Lancashire and Yorkshire; but that has, in fact, now come to pass. It needs to be addressed and, as regular readers of this column will be aware, my own league at Castleford & Featherstone has stipulated that, to help safeguard the future health of the grassroots in our area, all new summer-based sides should be directed to us for vetting and approval by existing clubs, in the time-honoured manner.

There are, too, issues among existing RLC clubs over what some see as expectations centrally, in terms of travel, that are onerous. This is a difficult aspect, when teams are not grouped in geographical clusters as they tend to be in the north, because they obviously have to be sorted somehow. I know, though, that there is dismay at some clubs who are called upon to travel further than they would like, with inevitable consequences when players subsequently fail to show on Saturday morning.

Hopefully these issues, which can be seen as teething troubles in what is, after all, still a fledgling competition, will be resolved.

Meanwhile, semantics (the exact meaning of words in context, I’d say, although I suppose that interpretation is itself a matter of semantics) have been on my mind over the last few days. I touched, in last week’s column, on what “unlikely” means, as used in the RFL’s statement that a switch to a March-November season would be “unlikely” to take place before 2012 when pledges had been made previously that it simply wouldn’t. The belief of an RFL official, emphatically put, is that “unlikely” means “won’t”, so that’s ok then, as far as it goes.

There’s been a similar discussion this week over the use of the word “invited”, as used in an article by me last week in which I stated that the Pennine League has invited six teams, who have been members of the CMS Yorkshire League for years, to join up in 2010/11. This, again, is a matter of semantics, not helped in this instance though by the habit of the Pennine League of not replying to emails or phone calls (something that will happily now be rectified following two or three very constructive conversations with the Pennine’s experienced and far-seeing chairman David Ingham, with whom I’ll happily speak on a regular basis).

It’s common to state, for example by the Hatton’s Solicitors National Conference League, that teams have been “invited” into the competition, by which administrators simply mean that applications, to the management and to existing clubs, have been successful. The word “invited” is, I suppose, used in a courteous sense, which is the manner in which the six new Pennine teams had been given the nod.

Semantics, too, can come into the wordings of constitutions and league rules. I’ve not yet seen the minutes of the Pennine League’s last meeting but David Ingham assures me that he and his management committee acted entirely properly in vetting and accepting the six Yorkshire League teams (and turning down two others) themselves; that will be made clear to any disgruntled delegates, I’m sure, at this evening’s agm.

Article Courtesy of Phil Hodgson of the Rugby Leaguer and League Express

This article are the views of the author

Steve Manning
BARLA Media Manager

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