London falling, it’s a faraway town …

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It’s the clash; the clash of paradigms. It seems one is either an expansionist or a parochialite ™ . The RFL, which traditionally veers between the two extremes effectively admitted yesterday that they are throwing the towel-in on any hopes of expanding the sport of British rugby league outside its becobbled boundaries.


Rugby It’s the only conclusion I can reasonably come to after reading the following RFl statement, which was part of a press release justifying their decision to base a neutral-venue semi-final game 5 miles away from – and within the borough boundaries of – one of the participants.

Given the size of London’s current fan base and their historical levels of travelling support, the view was taken that Leigh Sports Village provides the best opportunity to present a major televised sporting spectacle to attendees and TV viewers in the most positive light whilst maximising the financial return for the two competing clubs who share 100 per cent of the receipts generated”– an RFL spokesperson stated.

Coupled with the RFL’s decision to contract the Super League and, likely, to resume the distinctly non-Super promotion and relegation merry-go-round, this action seems to signal the start of a return to the 70s.

These steps are all consistent with the disappointing decision to take the imaginitive if flawed expansionist vision of Magic Weekend, show-casing live rugby in far-off and exotic locations, and turn it into a squirm-inducingly pointless Manchester house party.

So, is the writing on the wall for top-flight rugby league in London? Parochialites will be dancing in the streets if it is.

The London Broncos are bottom of Superleague and a similar bottom-two finish next year will see them relegated, likely signalling the end of the resilient club.

Already the knives are out; Expansionists are running for cover as the Parochialites rise, baying for Broncos blood. No doubt those same fans are ready to flock to fill the grounds at erstwhile legendary clubs such as Oldham, Rochdale, Hunslet, Leigh, Whitehaven and the like, whichever their local league club is.

Yet with the Broncos facing their most important game for a very long time against Wigan in this weekends Challenge Cup semi-final, Broncos CEO Tony Rae is on the front foot at the moment, calling for fair treatement in determining the ‘two-for-the-chop‘: http://bbc.in/1bHWsIq.

But even his own team captain, Tony Clubb admits he’s tired of losing: http://bit.ly/12JjpTT

It is frustrating because no one knows what is going on,” Clubb said.”The club’s telling us nothing, Tony is telling us nothing.”We haven’t got a ground yet, we are losing 12 players and it’s pretty daunting. We need it out in the open.”

As for the RFL, it is staring down the barrel of its own ass and has finally (implicitly) admitted their error in expanding Super League to 14 teams.

However that error is directly attributable to their inability to make the tough choices in the first place; especially in adding bloatware by caving-in and throwing an ‘and-one-of-you-lot-too’ sop to the Championship teams whenever a new area is being considered.

The half-hearted franchise system doesn’t help either with an ineffective due-dilligence process and a failure to secure adequate financial guarantees from (then) prospective (Crusaders) and existing franchises (Bulls).

For expansionists geographical expansion is vital in securing the long-term future of the sport. Yet whilst commercially essentially, it may prove – in the short term – to be sustainable only on a ‘plus-one‘ basis, because of the drain it places upon the existing national player-pool.

However, once the player pool from the new area begins to produce local talent then … … well we’ve barely got that far yet with London, although the quality of players emerging from the City now means that their demise would be doubly-ironic. But in theory each new area would be developing fresh local talent, feeding into the wider national player-pool.

Parochialites will point to the need for a strong heartlands.For not neglecting the traditional areas. And they are right to do so. A balance is essential.

But before those parochialites get too giddy. Let them ponder the 5,000 attendance at the table-topping birthplace-of-rugby-league Huddersfield Giants for their Super League clash with another heartlands stalwart, Castleford last week.

It compares with the attendance of 5,788 announced at RL’s Caribbean Cup game between Canada v Jamaica in Toronto. A game that doesn’t happen without expansion.

No one said taking our sport from colliery-side mainstay to metropolitan centre-stage was going to be easy. And the lack of leadership, the mixed-messages and botched decisions from Red Hall are certainly not helping; but without that transition a great game will wither on the vine.

Want to know my vision for how to appease Parochialites whilst giving Expansionists a pistol-packing feeling too? Keep reading this blog … it’s coming up later this week.

Now, move over Stepho … I’m digging-out my old Trilby and brushing up on pidgin Northern dialects.

 

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