The founder of a demised community rugby league club says the amateur game should be given back to BARLA if the RFL aren’t going to prioritise it.
Funding cuts saw the end of the RFL’s Regional Development Managers, which has affected a number of clubs, particularly those outside the traditional heartlands.
Up and down the country, games are being called off due to a lack of players or facilities.
Even in traditional heartlands, such as Widnes, playing numbers are down even down to junior levels.
Some have attributed the fall in participation to the switch to summer rugby league, saying that players have other things to do in the summer months, such as holidays, family events and other entertainment.
However, it is also the lack of financial and operational support that is putting an end to clubs in growth areas.
Two of those clubs, Aberdeen Warriors and Cambridge Lions, have folded in the last month, both citing a lack of support as a key reason for their demise.
The founder of Cambridge Lions was Scott Jackson, a relocated Bradfordian who also acted as captain and chairman.
He said: “The RFL need to wake up and re-prioritise. Either that or give it back to BARLA.
“In our first year we were awarded certain leeway by the RFL such as not having to pay insurance to help establish the club. We were also helped with finding sponsors, a ground to play at and most importantly advertising and finding players.
“Our first two years were rather successful, making a grand final in our first year and the semis in the second but then things started to go downhill slightly.
“At the start of the 2015 season Darren Pugsley’s position as our regional development manager was done away with by the RFL and effectively, so was our support network.
“With no appointed development manager Rob Ashton of Bedford Tigers stepped up and has been running the division since then. He has done a stellar job but is doing this all off his own back through a pure love of Rugby League, without any kind of acknowledgement or reward from the RFL.
“With this lack of support the Lions began to struggle.
“In a city that has three good quality rugby union sides all with at least three teams at each you would think that the Lions would have the pick of the players.
“That would be wrong.
“You would also think given the number of sides that the Lions would have a good central ground to use.
“That would be wrong.
“What do these have to do with the RFL being at fault for your demise you might ask?
“Well the truth is with Darren on board we had more firepower and the right connections to engage with these clubs, to promote properly to attract these players and to attract crowds who would put money behind the bar of these clubs.
“We are rugby players not marketers. This isn’t something we can easily do without help and advice and since our support channel had now been cut, we began to falter.
“In the 2017 season the Lions have managed three games and have had to forfeit another three. We then received an email from the RFL reminding us we had not paid up on our insurance premiums (£350). With myself having paid this from my own pocket for the last two years (along with some of the other costs) I was unwilling to do so this year unless I could get commitment from the playing squad to the remaining fixtures of the campaign. This didn’t happen.
“The committee met to discuss our options and asked the RFL for some leeway on these payments, either in the form of a monthly payment or a reduction in the hope we could make it to the end of the season and then look to push even harder (if possible) for new players.
“They were unwilling to help and shut down any options we had remaining within ten minutes of receiving our request for support.
“This left us with nowhere to go. We had to fold.
“You may read this and think that the main problem was a lack of players and commitment and you’d be correct. However, how do you fix that?
“There is only so much a few guys can do.
“We are rugby players, we are not marketers, we’re not recruiters, we are not PR gurus.
“These experts lie in Red Hall and we used to have direct access to them through our regional development manager until they were deemed unnecessary. Look how that has worked out.
“Last year the 2013 and 2014 double winners the North Herts Crusaders nearly folded.
“In 2015 the MK Wolves (2016 Champions) also nearly folded.
“2017 has seen the rebirth of Luton Vipers but do you know why? Rob Ashton has helped them. This man works harder than anybody in the RFL for this league and it makes such a difference.
“Without him this region would really struggle.
“We need help down here and we need it now before another club folds.”