Club’s fans ‘disillusioned’ with rugby league ‘deserted in droves’ when promotion denied

James Gordon


The latest club to come out in opposition to IMG’s proposals to introduce a grading system to professional rugby league is another who suffered in the early years of Super League.

Hunslet were denied promotion to Super League back in 1999, despite winning the second tier Grand Final which normally leads to promotion.

Like Dewsbury in the years either side of them, it was determined that their home ground – the South Leeds Stadium – wasn’t suitable for Super League.

The club wrote: “Home attendances subsequently plummeted from an average of around 2,000 to 500 as supporters, disillusioned with Rugby League, deserted in droves.”

Memories of that denial have no doubt triggered a decision for Hunslet to say ‘no’ when clubs vote for the latest proposals at the John Smith’s Stadium in Huddersfield on Wednesday.

The fan-owned Parksiders held a consultation with supporters at a specially arranged event on Tuesday evening, where chairman Neil Hampshire presented information regarding the proposals, as well as feedback he had had from direct meetings with RFL and IMG representatives.

Not one fan in attendance voted in favour of the proposals, while there were two abstentions.

A major worry for clubs outside of Super League is that the Championship Grand Final winners are not guaranteed promotion, although Leeds chief executive Gary Hetherington has come out and said the chances of that happening are ‘very remote’.

Have clubs been afforded enough time to decide on IMG proposals?

One of the south Leeds outfit’s contentions, which is shared by others, is that the RFL, which has instructed clubs to decide, in a four-week consultation period, their stance (following some six months during which IMG collated its investigations) has so far declined to submit its internally-published booklet in which full details of IMG’s plans and proposals are contained.

Hunslet are therefore among those who do not feel able to rationally support an initiative into which they would be `voting blind’.

In addition, there are major concerns regarding what has actually been ascertained so far. IMG’s plans concern off-field matters, several of which Hunslet accept need to be addressed. But while the Parksiders, as a Betfred League 1 outfit, are not currently directly affected by a key aspect – that promotion from the Championship to Super League would not be solely dependent on winning the Championship Grand Final – that factor, it is felt, is not for the benefit of the sport as a whole. Nor, indeed, would it be for any spectator sport.

It was stressed, at the meeting, that clubs playing in a Championship Grand Final could quite feasibly go into the game aware that a side lower down the table had already secured the Super League berth through amassing more rating points in the Club Grading System, which relates to such as ground suitability and catchment area. “How,” asked one delegate, “do you explain to a potential new supporter that although your team is ten points clear at the head of the table, you might not get promoted through not having enough off-field points? It’s not designed to attract more fans, in my view, in fact it could drive them away.”

Minimum standards appear to be a driver in the proposals, though as Hunslet highlighted above, those standards have previously been in place.

Clubs losing fans as a result of bureaucracy or structure changes is also nothing new – and perhaps an element of concern for the sport. There are several examples of clubs who have averaged significantly higher attendances, before a perceived injustice that has for whatever reason denied them a place at the top table. That includes Gateshead, Sheffield, Toronto, Crusaders, Widnes, Keighley and others.

Vote set for green light

Despite there apparently being more opposition than previous, it is still expected that the IMG proposals will get the green light when clubs vote.

Super League side Wakefield, who had publicly said they were voting against the proposals at the weekend, have since done a u-turn and say they will vote in favour.

Keighley and Batley have been vociferous opponents to the plans, though many clubs have kept a close counsel when it comes to their vote.

There have been calls for the vote to be made public, so that fans are made aware of which way their club has voted.

The non-club votes, namely the seven that go to various organisations from the community game, are largely expected to be in favour. National Conference League chairman Trevor Hunt has come out in support of the proposals, as has the tier 4/5 representative from the North West Men’s League.

However, some community clubs are unhappy that their own views and opinions haven’t been sought during the process.

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