Well its July and the structure for the RFU North West Leagues is still somewhat “up in the air”.
If you’re from Cumbria you’ll blame Lancashire and latterly Cheshire for the situation.
If you’re from Lancashire you’ll state the issue lies firmly North of Carnforth and West of Warrington.
Cheshire after fence sitting so long they need surgery to remove a mass of splinters were one the 1st people to lodge an appeal when the RFU North Competitions Committee delivered its final draft of the proposed re-structure minus the 19 exiting Lancashire Club who all resigned from the RFU Leagues was posted. Why were Cheshire upset? Well a couple, more precisely ONE of their Clubs had to potentially travel North up the M6 past Lancaster god forbid. A few other Cheshire Clubs were also destined to travel from the Wirral to shock horror 40 miles across to Lancashire in search of a game of Rugby. Not happening Cheshire put the foot down or was it in their mouths?
So faced with angry Cumbrians, bewildered Lancastrians and confused Cestrians the RFU did what only the RFU could do and take the powers vested in the local organising committee away on a temporary basis and draft their version and run it by the Governance Department so that it was water tight and then deliver it in quick time with the promise to look in to the matter and re-visit it at the end of next season. Joy, problem solved…………………except, not sure they realised what the issue was.
If you think Brexit is complex you should try to negotiate Level 7 and below rugby in the North West.
Lets rewind, for several years some Lancashire Clubs complained bitterly about having to travel up to Cumbria 5, 6 sometimes 7 times a season. Yes costs came in to it, even the RFU travel funding only helped toward the cost of Bus it never quite paid for it! The biggest issue was time. Clubs like Aldwinians, Oldham and Littleborough would be face with having to leave somewhere between 10am and 11am to get up to Cumbria for a 2.30pm Kick off. Assuming you weren’t delayed by some of the busiest motorway networks in the UK (M62/M60/M61/M6) and you only had one minimal stopover on route it still took you the best part of 3 hours plus to get to your destination. You played a game against it has to be said a more than useful opponent (there is no such thing as an easy game in Cumbria) and if you were lucky you set off back with a hard earned win under you belt. In the good old days you might stop off at Newby Bridge for a pint on the way back from Vickers/Furness or maybe a stop in Penrith when you had negotiated the A66 on the way back from Workington, Whitehaven or St.Benedicts. Sadly society and to be more aptly Rugby has changed. As someone who spent most of my 1st XV career at Tyldesley playing in the North Lancashire & Cumbria league I can vouch how in the early years (late 90s) a trip up the M6 was eagerly anticipated as we visited some superb Clubs with some super people who would spend 80 minutes trying to separate your head from the rest of your body and then spend the next 80 minutes throwing Jennings Bitter down your neck. Fantastic, what rugby was all about, met some terrific people, Alan at Keswick, Roger at Upper Eden, big Jim Steele (RIP) at Vickers/Hawcoat Park the list goes on. However one thing that use to crop up was “Cumbriaitice” a malaise which usually became prevalent about 8pm on a Friday or 1st thing on a Saturday morning. Quite sure it was a rare for the 18 players picked on Tuesday where the same 18 that travelled on the Saturday. Indeed, one season I played 15 1st XV League games 9 away, 6 of them in Cumbria, was I best option in the Front Row that day? Probably not. What’s different now compared to say 20 years ago? In a word “options”, it would be fair to say other than the Nuclear industry & a bit of Shipbuilding Cumbria is pretty rural in terms of employment and work commitments, I can remember giving an Upper Eden side a good hiding a few weeks after losing by a point to them, because they were about 5 players missing due to the “lambing season”, not something we have an issue with in the Manchester area.
The options for most players now are many, work, family and other sports all jockey to be the top option in the 48 hour window we call the weekend. Lads I played with who loved nothing better than a game, a beer and good old natter at the club are now working Saturday’s and Sunday’s and the younger current 1st XV rugby players are no different. Go back to the time issue I mentioned above involving in say Winnies or Oldham leaving for a game early on a Saturday morning, as a 21 year old you may well have been tripping the light fantastic in Manchester until 2am on a Friday/Saturday. Having six hours sleep and then being dragged out of your bed to spend 3 hours on a Bus running a round for 80 minutes and then spend another 3 hours getting back looks like a poor option when your mates slept in until midday and are about to repeat Friday’s antics whilst you are playing Brag with a sweaty 40 year old Prop whilst stuck in traffic at the M55/M6 Junction at 9pm on a Saturday evening. Playing Level 7 rugby should be about enjoyment and to be frank being as amateur as you can be, yard of ale, card schools the lot. However by expecting players to travel further and longer then some of the Semi-Professionals higher up the RFU Leagues you end up taking the enjoyment out of it. Next option to discuss is fairness or if you like RFU buzz words “equity”. North Lancashire & Cumbria, Cumbria is fairly easy to identify what about North Lancashire, where is it? What geographical rule of thumb do you use? As I’ve said Tyldesley use to be in the North Lancashire & Cumbria league for many years, after a couple of promotions and relegations/level transfers “Bongs” were, up to the formation of the Lancashire County Leagues in South Lancashire & Cheshire 1.
Now I attended a meeting a while back where someone complained that Tyldesley shouldn’t be in SLC1, I asked why? “Because your closer to Cumbria…….” Great logic……..except Tyldesley is 2.2 miles from the Cheshire Border, how South Lancashire can you be in a South Lancashire & Cheshire League………… well in the case of some other Clubs in the old NLC you can actually be in Cheshire!
Yep, for example Heaton Moor like many other Clubs part of Lancashire prior to the 1974 Local Government Act and a long standing member of Lancashire County RFU have had to travel up North despite having clubs to the west, east and literally down the road from them never, ever having to travel more than 50 miles for a game because they are a Cheshire Club. There is the crux for me, if Cheshire Clubs had helped to share the burden maybe the current state of affairs could have been avoided who knows?
However back to options, Lancashire as a County tried to deal with the request to sort out the issue of NLC for over six years. Each time the Lancashire Reps on the North brought it up, the Cumbria Reps pushed to keep the status quo, supported by the other 5 Northern Counties and Cumbria kept exercising that option to protect their Clubs. Again a noble and fair view to have, the thing is Lancashire are duty bound to follow exactly the same ethos, so when several Clubs said that they would resign from the RFU Leagues if it wasn’t sorted Lancashire had no choice but to support those Clubs. The thing is the RFU North West structure is a house of cards, soon as 1 Club leaves it takes a good bit of thinking about to paper over the crack, when as in this case 19 clubs leave you are left with a pile of rubble. It turned in to a game of Chicken with Lancashire telling both Cumbria and Cheshire that it was going to happen, neither Cumbria or Cheshire seemed to flinch thinking it was all filibuster and posturing from Lancashire. It wasn’t and so in the end 19 Clubs went their own way. What was left is best described as an uneven playing field but to blame Lancashire and its Clubs solely for the situation is rather ludicrous given it takes two to tango or in this case three.
For my sins I was asked to organise the Management Group on behalf of the County to ensure the Lancashire County Leagues were a viable competition ready for the start of the season. At the moment we are the only competition ready to rock and whilst we feel for every Club still waiting to hear how the landscape looks next season we can only concentrate on our competition, one we didn’t really want to have but ultimately unless people are at least prepared to look at the options available one that had inevitably had to come to fruition. Good luck to everyone next season it’s going to be interesting season no matter what.
Updated 11:18 - 4 Jul 2018 by TRUFC Admin
LCRUL Competition Secretary