The League 1 Scene – York’s game of brinkmanship

Rugby league’s newest competition got underway last weekend, and all roads lead to Blackpool…

The iPro Sport Cup, so-called following a new sponsorship deal announced late last week, features the 14 League One clubs plus National Conference League and Cup winning teams East Leeds and West Hull, who were invited to make up the numbers for a straight knock-out competition. Think of football’s Johnstone’s Paint Trophy and you’ll soon get the idea.

While the first three rounds are all before the League fun kicks off next month, the final will be held as part of the Championship Summer Bash in May, giving two League 1 clubs the opportunity to have a fun weekend of winning some silverware before a celebratory ice cream and a ride on the donkeys. Its nice to see another trophy up for grabs! 

West Hull had the honour of hosting the first ever game in the new competition, going down 36-10 to North Wales Crusaders on Saturday afternoon, and the newly re-branded Newcastle Thunder celebrated their very own new era in fine form by beating Oxford 56-20.

Sunday’s action saw some lopsided performances as five of the six games were settled by convincing margins, with only Barrow’s 16-14 win over Gloucestershire All Golds proving remotely competitive.

League One new boys Coventry Bears, rugby league’s newest semi-professional club, went down 42-6 at Oldham.

Keighley, Rochdale and Swinton all nilled their opponents, East Leeds, South Wales and Hemel Stags respectively, while York City Knights put a turbulent (and thats putting it lightly) pre-season behind them by comprehensively thrashing London Skolars 78-10 in the capital.

The Knights have endured a torrid few months with nowhere to train or play while Chairman John Guildford continued to play hardball with the local council over the proposed move in to a brand new community stadium, via a short stay at Bootham Crescent with the football club.

This game of brinkmanship backfired spectacularly when the council decided that they had enough of Guildford’s games and sensationally announced that they would no longer deal with the ballsy and brash builder.

This move saw the club hastily put together a new board of directors at the end of January to try and keep the Knights’ involvement in the project on track, however all that the four local businessmen have achieved so far is a meeting to confirm another meeting. Lovely stuff.

During the same timescale the Knights Independent Supporters Society (KISS) have managed to arrange a public forum with the council, where the local authority went on record with what appears to be a fantastic deal for the club.

This meeting irked Guildford so much so that he no longer recognises KISS as anything to do with the Knights and subsequently blocked the society from following the club on twitter, along with a number of lifelong supporters and sponsors. A spectacular @RLMeltdown if ever I’ve seen one!

In another interesting twist to the tale (rugby league clubs and new stadium projects make such good bedfellows, don’t they?) Jason McGill, the owner of York City FC has offered to buy York City Knights and run the club under the same parent company, but with their own dedicated board and sharing staff and best practices, a la Doncaster RLFC & FC. And they seem to be doing pretty well at the Keepmoat, am I right?

McGill has done a good job steering City back in to the football league and counts a certain Wigan Chairman Ian Lenegan as a personal friend, amongst others in his sporting black book. McGill believes that the club could be self sufficient if it was run right and the right people were in the right places, and he is willing to spent the necessary money to first get York up there.

He feels that the Knights in a new community stadium has the potential to reach Super League on the same money he’s spending on York City FC every year, and just a quarter of that money would get the Knights in to the top 4 of the Championship.

Such is the seriousness of his interest, even a chief executive who’s currently at a Super League club has been earmarked to take control of proceedings.

At the time of writing however, Guildford has insisted that while he was not surprised McGill wants to takeover no such offer has been made, instead pleading ‘media tactics’ to try and force his hand. What happens next? Stay tuned to find out…

On the field however, York’s fortunes are certainly looking up after their first competitive game of the season. Yesterday’s resounding 10-78 victory included 14 tries, 7 of which were scored by debutants in the team. Former Castleford, Sheffield and Widnes try scoring machine James Ford has made the switch from player/assistant coach to head coach, replacing the award winning Gary Thornton in a move that initially raised eyebrows but could soon prove to be very astute.

Ford has put together a young but very hungry squad that will be looking to win this division for a second consecutive season, despite the presence of no less than 5 relegated teams.

“We want to pride ourselves on being ruthless, with everyone knowing what they need to be doing at all times.” Ford said after his maiden victory as head coach.

“But it was mixed. There are one or two areas we will be looking at that we’ll need to do better.

“In this division you don’t want to be conceding tries here and there. Our standards are high because that’s what you have to have in a good environment.”

The draw for the second round of the iPro Sport Cup took place live from Barrow’s Craven Park last night by Gary Broadbent and Louise Scarr, and it saw York drawn at ‘home’ to Newcastle Thunder. The tie is set to be played in two week’s time (March 14/15).

As for where that tie will be played and the club’s homelessness, Ford speaking to the York Press said: “The administrators of the club will deal with that.

“I’m sure they’re working hard and I’m convinced they’ve got the club’s best interests at heart. I think everyone in York has, maybe people are just coming at things from different angles.

“I’m just concentrating on coaching and the players are concentrating on training and playing.”

(Since this column was written York lost 24-38 in front of just 360 people at Clifton Park, home of the amateur York Rugby Union club)

John Guildford has been the majority shareholder at York ever since they became the City Knights back in 2003, and he and his family have put a lot of time and effort in to the club and that should not go unnoticed.

Running a rugby league club – especially in the lower divisions – is a constant uphill battle so for one man to do it for 13 years is undoubtedly impressive.

It is looking increasingly likely though that the time may have come for a new direction for North Yorkshire’s only professional club, one that hopefully leads in to a shiny new stadium and the realistic ambition of Super League rugby in the not too distant future.

Never a dull moment eh!

@GavWilson #League1Scene


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