Forty-20 Column: The promotion and relegation debate

In the first of a regular series, Phil Caplan and Tony Hannan of Forty-20 magazine debate the big issues. To kick us off – promotion and relegation…

It’s the nightmare scenario and, after the first few rounds – barring further points deductions – it could come true; Catalan and London relegated from Super League and all three Cumbrian sides banished to the wastelands outside the “two twelves”.

Never would the sport be perceived as being so geographically restricted, which is why,  in the world we now inhabit – where sport is business and exploiting expandable strategic markets key – promotion and relegation has to come with conditions attached. 

Let’s get one thing straight – there was potential movement under licensing. The door wasn’t closed but after Leigh’s 2005 debacle when they, as much as the top flight, were damaged, it was right to put in safeguards.

Whether they were ever properly administered is another question.

If the principle of licensing had a fault is was that it should have been over a two year period and not three.

Rugby League is an intensely democratic and egalitarian sport, so much so that, most often, the tail has wagged the dog and we have played to the lowest common denominator.

We are also hostages to a cultural history where the assets of tight-knit working class communities based around traditional industries, local schools and social networks such as pubs and clubs no longer exist.

That is the gritty realism, we cannot survive as just a northern sport and we certainly cannot prosper, the interest of sponsors and broadcast partners immediately diminishes.

We also have to acknowledge that if there are more Koukash disciples out there, they will want to invest in city teams with untapped potential – and the brighter the spotlight on a widespread elite, the likelier a greater trickle-down effect, so all benefit.

So it’s not about bringing back promotion and relegation, watch rugby union raise the drawbridge on their Premiership in the near future, but what do we want League to be; a big minority sport or a small major one?

For the players’ sake, it has to be the latter.

The RFL have just appointed a new Marketing Director, Mark Foster. If he’s looking for a strap-line for the game, how about: “Rugby League – as big today as it’s always been.”



Control freaks: those with an obsessive need to exercise control over themselves and others, and to take command of any situation.

Also: a defining characteristic of Rugby league.

What is it with this unscratchable itch we have to micromanage every eventuality? To flatten every bump in the road? To yearn relentlessly for the tediousness of perfection – were such an absolute even possible?

Licensing – a system with a fair bit going for it, if ultimately fatally flawed – was but one such manifestation of our fear of the unpredictable.

The ups and downs – literally in the case of promotion and relegation – that make British sporting culture so captivating were far too random for us.

P & R all made for good theatre, true, but it enticed clubs into boom and bust. It saw them fail in player development duties and anyway didn’t really put much – if anything – on crowd figures. In fact, it might even damage them.

In other words, what actually happened out there on the pitch – the pleasure and pain of victory and loss, the bounce of a ball, the blood, sweat and tears taken in achieving a long aimed for goal, basic sporting principles like that – were downright inconvenient. All that sporting drama just got in the way.

In identifying control freaks, psychologists have a checklist of signs.

Among them: a belief that if only you could change someone in one or two ways they would be happier. Pressuring others to fit in with your own – often unrealistic – expectations. Imperfection phobia.

Control freaks also have a tendency to present worse case scenarios in an attempt to get their own way. Sound familiar?

Promotion and relegation isn’t perfect, nothing is. Not even that passion killer, Super League licensing.

But then no relationship is fun when it lacks spontaneity, is it?        


Forty-20 – the alternative voice of Rugby League – is available on the 13th day of every month from WH Smiths, ASDA and local shops. Or subscribe at

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