Friday, 9 November 2012

Top 10: Less sociably responsible sponsors for Bradford

Having been trailed for a couple of days, Bradford made a big splash with their new shirt sponsorship deal. Provident Financial Group are they, one of those 'payday lenders', a term which has usurped terms like 'usurer' and 'loan shark' in the modern lexicon. What does that say about the perception of the demographic of the club and the sport that they're willing to commit to a relatively long deal for relatively good money? What on earth will they want in return? It's also very odd how the RFL deliberately shied away from alcohol and betting companies when trying to find a title sponsor for Super League, but this is hailed as A Good Thing.
The outcry when Newcastle United got into bed with a competitor of Provident was long and loud. We await similar emanating from environs of Bradford and the game as a whole.
Here, though, are ten sponsors they could have come up with that would, arguably, be even more socially irresponsible:
10. Ratners
9. Michael Barrymore pool cleaning services
8. Jimmy Savile child-minders
7. Starbucks
6. The Daily Mail
5. Importers of Danish ash trees
4. G4S
3. News International
2. Royal Bank of Scotland

Thursday, 18 October 2012


Satire in Rugby League, b Aug 29 1895, d 18 Oct 2012.
Satire in Rugby League died peacefully in it's sleep on the morning of Thursday October 18 2012, when total, utter failure of a coach Rob Powell, erstwhile of the London Broncos and off the back of a terrible season where he was replaced in order that the club didn't finish last, was appointed defence coach for Cardiff RU.
Satire in Rugby League is survived by Satire in rugby union which is thought to be in rude health.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Accentuating the positive

News of Paul Wood's misfortune in the Grand Final has gone mainstream. All the dailies are carrying the story with the general air of awe and sympathy matched by Wood's own stoicism. But alongside that, there's a nasty undercurrent, the general gist being "if that was a footballer, he'd never have played on".

Has it come to this where the Rugby League public is so unsure of itself that it needs to exploit one man's testicular misfortune to make a petty point about... who knows what at the expense of players in a totally different code?

Yes, diving in football and feigning injury to gain an advantage are the hot topics du nos jour, but to suggest that footballers would act any differently to Wood is specious nonsense. It also paints fans of the thirteen-man game as the stereotype would have it; with a chip on both shoulders. It does the game no favours. Football has it's problems, but attempting to jump on those and seek to exploit them with a straw man argument about someone losing a part of their anatomy is downright bizarre.

It happened during the Olympics too, with athletes lauded for, ostensibly, not being footballers. It's difficult to know why or what point was trying to be made. The point is that footballers are under far more scrutiny than any other sportspeople. Their on-field and off-field conduct is pored over in excruciating detail in all the national dailies and while there are a number of deeply unpleasant characters in that game, so there are in others. By the same token, there are a much greater number of characters that aren't deeply unpleasant. Moreover, to laud an athlete from a different game simply for not being a footballer is an infantile argument that also undermines the actual achievement that one would be seeking to praise.

As far as Rugby League goes, talking up the positives is absolutely fine and Paul Wood's is a story that has universal appeal. While we're not as big a sport as football, we can get away with pushing that line rather than Ben Blackmore getting convicted of assaulting Father Christmas being the major talking point of the week. In football, both would be big news spread across a number of back pages. With limited room for Rugby League, it's lucky that Wood's misfortune, courage and good humour have bumped what would otherwise be an embarrassment to one side.

By all means, seek to push the good side of our game. There is much to celebrate. But having a needless and cheap shot at a different sport while doing so undermines the point and comes across badly. And neither should we ignore those issues that aren't so positive and get all uptight when they're reported. We can't have it both ways

Anyway, Phil Babb (from ages ago) and Lukas Piszczek (from last weekend) reckon anyone attempting to make a ludicrous point about footballers not carrying on after suffering a hugely painful blow is dead wrong.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Take two

Awarded a penalty, the questions arises: to kick for goal or not to kick for goal?

Regular readers (welcome, both) may not be surprised to know that I've got a theory about this and it runs thus: kicking for goal is almost always the wrong thing to do.

There's a similar adage in cricket where someone old and wise said 'nine out of ten times you opt to bat first. The tenth time, you think about putting them in and then ddecide to bat first". The classic example came in the first Ashes Test of the 2002/3 series. After winning the toss, Nasser Hussain said "we'll have a bowl" to the astonishment of everybody. A day and a half, 130 overs and 492 runs later, it looked a colossal mistake. It's not quite that extreme in the case of kicking at goal, but a lot of things have to be in play to convince me that the shot is worth taking. Allow me to elaborate.

The fundament of my thesis is a belief in that it's always better to do what your opponent would least like you to do. At any stage of any game, high on that list will be defending another set while very low down it will be the opportunity to spend a minute and a bit getting some much-needed oxygen into the lungs while not getting pounded by another wave of attacks. Working from that standpoint, the list of occasions where that is not top of the list becomes tiny.

There are also occasions where your own interests trump inflicting misery on your opponents such as stretching the lead beyond six or taking time out of a game. The Huddersfield v Leeds game at the Kirklees Stadium threw up a good example. After being reduced to twelve players and leading 22-4 early in the second half, Huddersfield were twice awarded penalties in kickable range. In those circumstances, the need to preserve energy combined with stretching the lead to outweigh forcing Leeds into defence as the best option.

Any other time, just don't do it. Doing the thing the opposition would prefer you to do gives them a boost, as could the admission on your own part that you don't reckon you break them down. Neither does the notion that you get the ball back hold much water. Anyone who has seen more than half a dozen games has seen enough fluffed restarts or short kick-offs regained. A potential two-point gain can quickly and easily become a four-point loss. The other side of that coin is that you could easily knock on early in a set after putting the ball in touch, but I'd counter that by pointing out that you'd still be turning the ball over at the far end from your own line. Arguments about percentages fall apart.

Kicking for goal is the weak, negative option in almost every circumstance. The sight of experienced coaches waggling two fingers about in circumstances that don't require a shot at goal is a depressing one. Lets hope that the new wave that recently have been or shortly will be appointed to head coaching jobs are a little more progressive and we get back to an attacking, positive ethos.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

James Graham and National Poetry Day

A flame-haired prop forward called James
Went to Aus with the dutiful aims
To play with no fear,
But he bit Slater's ear
And he'll sit on his arse for twelve games.

Top 10: Stupid things to get arrested for

It transpires that Huddersfield's new signing Ben Blackmore has been a naughty boy. He'd not informed the club that he, along with former team-mate Richard Owen, was due in court to answer charges of affray, charges that were brought after he was caught brawling with Father Christmas.
He has been spared jail - he received a six-month suspended sentence and was ordered to do 120 hours community service - but will start his Giants career with a written warning on his file.
The main point coming out of all this though is: who brawls with Father Christmas? We know Rugby League players are generally big daft lads, but that is low.
Here, though, are ten things lower:

10. Shooting Bambi's mum

9. Burgling the seven dwarves house while they're off down the mine

8. Using an artificial wind machine to blow the first two little pig's houses over

7. Blowing the third one up with gelignite

6. Trolling the three billy goats gruff on Twitter

5. Pushing Jack and Jill down the hill

4. Giving conflicting military advice to the Grand Old Duke of York

3. Spitting (or worse) into bear porridge

2. Making chops out of Mary's little lamb

1. Mugging the tooth fairy

Friday, 28 September 2012

Refereeing and being careful with wishes

The new American Football season kicked off three weeks ago and the constant theme of these early stages has all been about referees. So far, so familiar to fans of Rugby League, but that's where the similarities end.

It's difficult to think of a game that has gone by this last Super League season - and at levels below - without a heap of opprobrium and vitriol being dumped on the referee. Fans, players, coaches and club officials have all been at it, pissing and moaning about decisions made, often hours after the event and with views that the referee could never have had. There are conspiracies, we are told. The same is true in Australia where the addition of a second on-field referee hasn't much helped calm the criticism.

American Football takes the concept of multiple officials to the nth degree. It's a fascinatingly complex game, of course, with discrete pockets of intense action needing many pairs of eyes on it to see what's going on. The breaks in play built into the game also lend themselves to review and, where necessary, correction. It's a system that works well, in the main.

So why the complaints? The regular referees were frozen out by the league over an industrial dispute. The league, basically, wanted to remove a guarantee of 15 games-worth of employment in the NFL's compressed 16-round (plus play-offs) season and switch them from a guaranteed income pension scheme to one that offered no certainty - a typical modern-day grab for reduced terms and conditions. This was a move designed to save $3.3m per year. The league's total revenue last year was more than $9bn.

In place of the regular referees, the league had to bring in replacements. Referees in the top tiers of college football - effectively American Football's lower leagues - refused to break the strike, so those from lower down the college and high-school structure, the semi-pro leagues and even the Lingerie Football League (a real thing, sadly) were brought in. They proved to be hopeless. Casinos in Vegas pushed the spread on total points scored further and further out as scores ballooned, but the real turning point came with a disputed last-minute call which turned a game between Seattle and Green Bay. On the back of this, the players association said enough was enough and a hasty resolution has been reached with the referees. They'll be back for the next round of matches.

There are things Rugby League can learn from this. The first is that good officials are very valuable and need backing. You undermine them at your peril. Secondly, the more complex the game, the more officials you need to control it fully. Australia have taken steps in this direction and if the prospect of multiple on-field officials is abhorrent, or in the case of the RFL unaffordable, then steps need to be taken to simplify the code.

The final thing is for the fans. Next time you get in a righteous funk about a pass that may or may not have drifted forwards depending on your angle, replace that referee in your mind's eye with someone taken straight from tag rugby. Happy now?

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Balance of probabilities

The RFL list nine people under the full-time match officials section on their website. All of them have come in for varying levels of opprobrium in recent weeks from large sections of the rugby league public, from spectators to coaches and administrators. Some of the wilder accusations are of particular referees having a vendetta against certain clubs to the RFL conspiring to keep clubs out of it's showpiece events. But the more general chatter is simply a background hum of whining about how they're all rubbish and the standard of refereeing is at an all-time low.

But can this be right? It sounds preposterous. What likelihood is there that nine separated individuals are all just bad at their job, especially when few complaints were made less than twelve months ago? The principle of Occam's razor says that the explanation which makes fewest assumptions is most likely the correct one and suggesting conspiracies or a group of nine people suddenly failing to do things they were doing well until recently does not fit that maxim. There has to be a simpler explanation stemming from something consistent to every aspect of the debate.

The item that's common in all these arguments is the rules. Every year, we get a series of tweaks to the rules and directives on certain aspects. Consequently, the current code has a haphazard look about it with vast swathes of rules open to the interpretation of the referee rather than a black and white, this is OK, that isn't approach. For example, rules about whether there's an intention to play at a ball when judging knock-ons and whose scrum it is are almost impossible to police, as are ball steal/loose carry decisions or judgments regarding intent. Without seeing into the mind of the player in question, it's an impossible task and when rules become that hard to police, then it's not the fault of the policeman trying to enforce it. And when so much of the game is down to interpretation, consistency goes out of the window and that's where the frustration comes from. Moreover, where there's obvious confusion over the application of a particular rule, it adds scope for players to push the boundaries, use obfuscation and downright duplicity to con penalties and give us the unedifying sight of umpteen players all trying to referee the game at the same time. That's something that's been noticeably increasing as the rulebook has evolved.

So, short of appointing Derren Brown to referee all Super League games, what can be done? The rules need clarifying and a complete review is required - start with a blank piece of paper and a debate about what we want the game to look like and go from there. Rugby league's unique selling point used to be it's simplicity, but the endless debates over minutiae of every decision shows that to not be the case any more. What the final outcome of such a review would produce is almost secondary - whether the defensive line remains at ten metres or goes back to five isn't as important as coming up with something coherent, unified, straightforward and, most crucially, easily policed. It doesn't need to be too complex - go back to the mark, play it with your foot, don't smack anyone round the chops and don't swear at the officials. Start with that and maybe that background hum of whinging about it will drop off and be replaced by coaches, administrators and fans having to explain why their team has lost without turning into a great conspiracy theorist.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012


Acronym: Super-Annuated Antipodean Pensioner. The sort of player clogging up squads in the lower half of the Super League table.

How journalism works

And our example for today's lesson is this article in today's Star, titled "Angry Cats' Quit Threat".

Lesson one. Make the headline unusually dramatic.
Forget, if you can for a moment, the erroneous use of the word "cats" in the headline of an article about the Dragons. Instead, focus on the words "Angry" and "threat". Dramatic, eh? That got your attention.

Lesson two. Don't worry about the headline and body matching up.
Scour the copy below the angry, threatening headline. Do you see anyone actually saying that the Dragons are about to quit Super League? Of course you don't.

Lesson three. Sensationalise!
Note the line "Around 500 fans walked out during their last home game in protest at a video referee ruling." Given that the ruling came in the last minute, the only surprise here is that they don't say that 9,000 fans walked out. Also, "There is a belief around the club that the RFL don’t want ­fourth-placed Dragons to reach the Grand Final because it may affect crowd numbers." Quite a claim, again not backed up.

And that's basically it. All that's missing here is a liberal sprinkling of the word 'EXCLUSIVE' and it's a full house.

As far as the Dragons (not Cats; not now, not ever) are concerned, their focus is a little off. All through this season, there have been some bizarre calls and, yes, the Dragons have got the rough end of some of those. Instead of railing against referees and refereeing standards though, the spotlight should really be turned on those in charge of the rules - the lawmakers rather than the policemen if you like.

Rugby League's USP ought to be it's simplicity, but years of tinkering have produced a set of rules with vast grey areas between the black and the white. Think how you'd describe a game to a new spectator. How many times do you think you'd describe an incident as "well it looked like x to me, but the ref's obviously seen it as y"? I do it all the time on radio commentary. A series of minor tweaks over the years has left a lot of what happens down to interpretation rather than one thing being OK and another not and that breeds inconsistency which breeds frustration and anger in fans, players, coaches and club officials. Currently, that frustration and anger is being vented at the referees. It needs channeling to the rulemakers.

Regarding the Dragons, then it's to be hoped that Trent Robinson's comments are an attempt to deflect crticism from his players at a crucial point of the season. Rather than worry about 50/50 decisions that go against his team, he'd be better controlling the things he can control, such as ensuring his scrum-half doesn't gob off at the referee giving penalties away while in possession and allowing the opposition to score cheap tries against his side. Just a suggestion.

As for the claim that there's a conspiracy afoot to deny the Dragons a shot at Old Trafford glory, that has to be filed away with the rantings of David Icke and Kevin Pietersen, the great conspiracy theorists of the age. If we thought the powers that be in the game had a Machiavellian plan to bar a side from big finals, we'd stop watching altogether. Besides, if a plot existed, it would convey rather more competence and planning from top bods inside the game that we flatly refuse to believe exist.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Top 10: Players who never played for the Catalan Dragons

League Weekly? League Weakly more like, yeah? YEAH?
A colleague brought the trade papers in yesterday in order to go through them on our radio show. It's Huddersfield-based, so the main topic was the Giants' Super League game at home to the Catalan Dragons. The key phrase in the report was this: "Former Dragon Jason Chan..." Tiny misunderstanding there which less than 30 seconds on Wikipedia could have avoided. Jason, the Papuan international and former Crusader, merely shares a surname with Dragons Hall of Famer Alex, the former New Zealand international and five-season NRL veteran.
Now we're helpful types here, so to help League Weekly avoid any future misunderstanding, here are ten other people who have never played for the Catalan Dragons

10. Casey Jones

9. Anita Dobson

8. Gillian Anderson

7. Arthur Mullard

6. Vincent Price

5. Danny McGuire

4. Ian Bell

3. Menzies Campbell

2. Jackie Chan

1. Charlie Chan

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Superleague Bulls

A solution, of sorts, to the Bradford saga with Super League tabling an offer for the club.

In the absence of another deal in the offing that would satisfy the RFL's criteria, it's difficult to see why this won't go through. The failure of other bids seems to hinge on the interpretation of the word 'unconditional'. Two previous bids seemed to be under the misapprehension that the first syllable was optional.

The move makes sense. The RFL have been acting as ersatz owners for a while now, covering wages and other costs for some months and buying the lease on Odsal Stadium at the start of the year, so formalising that with a Super League - a subtly different organisation to the RFL, but with the same chief executive - buy-out enables them to put the whole thing on a commercial basis rather than month-to-month payments and ever-increasing administrators fees.

Questions arise, as they always will. Firstly, Super League is made up of it's member clubs so there's a potential conflict of interest issue there. What are Super League's intentions? If it's to get things back on an even keel and streamline the failing (failed) business while seeking new buyers, then fine. Even if they run it until the business is turned round and then seek to sell, fine. There are clearly local businesses/businesspeople interested in taking a stake in the club, but on the proviso it remains a Super League club, so if it can be first stabilised and then brought to a position where it will lilely fulfil license criteria, then there's investment to be tapped into. However, if it drags out into a longer-term arrangement, then people will start getting twitchy.

Or should that be twitchier? One valid question is where were Super League during previous insolvency events? What makes this so different and what precedent does it set? One line in the SLE statement says that without this there is "the tangible prospect that we could lose one of our most famous clubs". Are future decisions to be made on the fame of the club involved and does that explain why the clubs weren't willing to save Crusaders? What weighting is there on the fact that the RFL own the lease on the ground and that, were Bradford to fold, they'd be left with a worthless piece of paper?

Questions, questions, questions - that's all this whole saga ever seems to produce. But for the short-to-medium term at least, it looks like we'll still have a Bradford. There's still a lot more to come from this though. This isn't the end.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

A modest proposal

Stobart are ending their title sponsorship of Super League two years early. One of the more self-serving press releases you're likely to read accompanied the announcement, spinning club unity (outright untruth) and the increased visibility (which we've addressed previously) and profile (unmeasurable, bordering on specious). The key phrase lies here:

Super League ... need to realise the next objective of monetising the competition’s title sponsorship.
Yes, that's right - the Stobart deal brought in no money.

Let me therefore make this modest proposal.

I will carry Super League logos on 50%* of the vehicles in what I call my fleet, far greater than the 4.5% of vehicles in the Stobart fleet. For this, I will pay the princely sum of five English pounds per year for three years.

This will achieve similar visibility on the road network as was achieved with the Stobart deal and enable Super League to report an infinity percent increase in the sale of naming rights over the previous year. Even the Premier League can't boast of figures like that.

I also promise to show at least as much outward enthusiasm for the deal and for the game as has come from Stobart over the last six months.

In exchange, the Little Grubbers web address should be displayed on post pads, corner flags and a billboard behind the posts at all Super League grounds.

Don't let me down here, Super League. I await your response.

* - I'd have said 100%, but I don't think the wife would appreciate it

Friday, 8 June 2012

Pre-empting the next few weeks

I don't make predictions and I never will - Paul Gascoigne

I'm not a predictions man either, but I have a feeling that the rugby league fan with access to the modern day equivalent of a green pen - the internet - will shortly be organising with letter-writing campaigns and perhaps even a petition. And I predict the reasoning is thus:

Waah waah waah, no rugby got mentioned on the tellynews.

It's been noticeable that the coverage of rugby league in the national dailies has diminished, often to the point where even agency copy of a brief match report is seen as a big deal. This has been an ongoing process as newsrooms slim down in the face of their parent companies inability to make giving all their journalism away for nothing on the internet pay the bills.

Similarly, TV newsrooms have been going the same way. I could make a political point about the current government's ideological opposition to the BBC, but it doesn't feel like the right forum. What is undeniable though is that the license fee has been frozen while the BBC are expected to do more. Something had to give. Consequently, the potential outlets for rugby league news have become more limited.

But during major international tournaments, of which we have two in quick succession, those outlets become even more restricted. Rugby league and plenty of other sports have to shout very loudly to be heard above the noise and, frankly, an England game against a made-up entity that doesn't actually mean anything isn't shouting all that loudly. Simply put, the next three weeks is about football. You may not care about football, but thousands - millions - do. After this, there are the Olympics where a month is occupied by sports that nobody really cares about for the other 47 months of the Olympic cycle dominate the headlines.

What it isn't is a conspiracy. It's just a prioritisation of effort towards the most likely revenue-generating content. However passionate you are about rugby league, a modicum of self-awareness will tell you that. Football is not out to destroy everything in it's path, however much it tries to make it look like that. It's simply dominant in the marketplace. Join in if you like. Play the office sweepstake, go for a beer down the pub in front of the humdinger that Germany v Netherlands promises to be. Paint your face if you want to take it way too far. Or ignore it (difficult though that may be). Just spare me the incessant whinging about how football had nine pages in this morning's paper and rugby league only had a couple of column inches.

Monday, 21 May 2012

A brief history of promotion and relegation

There is nothing more British than promotion and relegation in sport.  Just like those cucumber sandwiches we are always eating, it is an intrinsic part of our national identity.  Now Andy Burnham has repeated the claim, and as a former secretary of state for sport he must surely know what he is talking about.  In the Guardian he is quoted as saying "I don't think the closed shop approach that we have in rugby league at the moment is consistent with the British way of doing things.  The dream factor is the lifeblood of any sport – it keeps hope alive within the club and it keeps fans going through the turnstiles."

But when even football's famed pyramid system only came into being 25 years ago, it does make you wonder how so many sports have survived without any lifeblood.

There are 14 different top-flight leagues for professional team sports or which are regularly televised in the UK.  Only half of these have promotion and relegation, of those four are the home nation football competitions.  Outside of football, the longest current example of promotion and relegation only dates back to 1984.

In England, rugby union has had promotion and relegation since the RFU first accepted the concept of leagues in 1984.  While it still retains this for its Premiership, it is regularly accompanied by  discussion as to its suitability.

The first official Scottish league system in rugby union was introduced in 1973, while in Wales it took until 1990.  But in 2003 the Celtic League replaced those as the top domestic competition in both nations and Ireland.  A closed shop where the only admittance is by invitation.

Cricket's first class counties, another closed shop, split into divisions for the first time in 1999.  Initially with the limited overs National League, then the following year in the County Championship.  The turnstiles probably did not notice.  Changes to the first class game were neither to keep hopes alive or attract fans, but to provide a better development environment for England test players.

Meanwhile, competition from the new Twenty20 format, which uses regional divisions, saw attendances at domestic one-day matches decline.  After ten seasons the divisional competition was scrapped and a new 40-over competition replaced it and the knock-out trophy.  This swapped the system of promotion and relegation for a random draw, each season the 18 first class counties and three invited representative teams placed into separate pools.

Following the second world war, ice hockey had struggles in Britain.  In 1982 the British Hockey League was founded, and four years later added a second division with promotion and relegation.  This lasted for ten years until the top division was replaced by the Ice Hockey Superleague.  Like its successor, the Elite League, this was another closed shop where admission was by invitation.

A similar history exists for basketball, which was first organized into a league in 1972 and added a second division three years later.  But after 13 years of promotion and relegation the top division of the National Basketball League was replaced by the British Basketball League, a franchised closed shop.

Although still an amateur sport, netball's Superleague has been televised by Sky Sports for several seasons.  This, like its predecessor the 2001 Super Cup, is a franchised closed shop with teams created for it.

Finally, speedway has a tumultuous history of leagues breaking away and merging but it was not until 1991 that promotion and relegation was introduced between the top two British League divisions.  At least until being lost to further restructuring in 1995.  In 2008 the Elite League introduced a promotion playoff, however no Premier League side has ever won this.  Despite that, teams have still switched between leagues through resignation and election, as they did when it was a closed shop.

Say what you will about licensing or the way the RFL administer it, as many do, regularly, but the idea that Britain has a strong tradition of open and automatic promotion and relegation is a myth.  Even those sports which do employ this system require promoted teams to meet minimum standards to ensure they will also be viable as a business.

Beyond football, no other sport has the money or depth to provide a suitably graduated system between its top tier and those behind it.  If there is a British tradition, it is leagues constantly reinventing themselves as they struggle to find sustainable structures.  Only football and rugby union have continuously maintained promotion and relegation between professional and semi-professional levels. And this only for the last 25 years in England, although the Scottish Football League has combined the two for longer.

Burnham is correct in saying the closed shop approach of rugby league is inconsistent with the British way.  If it were it would mean Super League only allowing teams to join through invitation.  For as long as the RFL continue to guarantee a place to qualifying Championship clubs the game will be decidedly un-British.

Follow the author on the twitter, @emijy

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

The Little Grubbers Exiles XIII

With Nathan Brown getting tetchy about what people look like and how they sound, we're pretty sure that he's going to start pontificating about the Exiles squad soon, perhaps even as early as this Friday's game with Wigan.

In an attempt to head him off at the pass, we're going to come up with a side that will meet his exacting standards, by which if you're going to pick a team called the Exiles, then they'd better look and sound like actual exiles and not people who are choosing to do a job of work in a different country to their own.

With that in mind then:

Dalai Lama (Tibet). Exiled in: India. Exiled for: Chinese political expediency. Position: Coach.

Idi Amin (Uganda). Exiled in: Saudi Arabia. Exiled for: Systematic corruption, killing of political opponents, general dictatorly shenanigans. Position: Nutrionist.

Napoleon (France). Exiled in: Elba, St Helena. Exiled for: The French got fed up of his increasingly bizarre Empirical behaviour. Position: Full-back.

Umberto II (Italy). Exiled in: Portugal. Exiled for: Being the king of Italy when the revolution came. Position: Wing.

Karl Lowenstein (Germany). Exiled in: USA. Exiled for: Critical of the rise of Nazism in 1930s Germany. Position: Centre.

Bohumil Laušman (Czech Republic). Exiled in: UK. Exiled for: Member of Czechoslovak government-in-exile post WWII. Position: Centre.

Cicero (Rome). Exiled in: Ancient Greece. Exiled for: Conducting extrajudicial executions. Position: Wing.

Bartolomé Calvo (Colombia). Exiled in: Puerto Rico. Exiled for: Ousted as President of the Granadine Confederation in Colombia after a coup. Position: Stand-off.

Jhonny Haikella Hakaye (Namibia). Exiled in: Angola, Zambia, Uzbekistan. Exiled for: Demanding freedom for Namibia, socialism. Position: Scrum-half.

Raphaël Alibert (France). Exiled in: Belgium. Exiled for: Royalist tendencies. Position: Prop.

Bernardo O'Higgins (Chile). Exiled in: Peru. Exiled for: Deposed dictator of Chile. Position: Hooker.

Stanisław Thugutt (Poland). Exiled in: Sweden. Exiled for: Ousted as Minister for Internal Affairs after Nazi invasion of Poland. Position: Prop.

Yilmaz Güney (Turkey). Exiled in: France. Exiled for: Making films while being Kurdish. Position: Second row.

José Sisto (USA). Exiled in: The Phillippines. Exiled for: Seizing power in Guam, embezzlement. Position: Second row.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (Russia). Exiled in: West Germany. Exiled for: Dissident writing. Position: Loose forward.

Teodoro Picado Michalski (Costa Rica). Exiled in: Nicaragua. Exiled for: Being in charge when the military decided to take over. Position: Replacement.

Paul Magloire (Haiti). Exiled in: USA. Exiled for: Organising two military coups, embezzling relief money after Hurricane Hazel. Position: Replacement.

Abdulrahman al-Nuaimi (Bahrain). Exiled in: Syria. Exiled for: Organising political opposition. Position: Replacement.

Kurmanbek Bakiyev (Kyrgyzstan). Exiled in: Belarus. Exiled for: Autocratic ruler that brought his country to ruin leading to popular uprising that overthrew his givernment. Position: Replacement.

And we'd very much like to see Nathan Brown argue with that.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Hooker duck: Brown, Henderson and aquatic fowl

It must be the time of year, the dawning of spring (eventually) heralded by serial whinging about Rugby League international selection criteria.

"If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it's a duck isn't it?" postulated Nathan Brown in relation to the selection of Ian Henderson in the England squad for the upcoming Exiles games, seemingly suggesting that he can deduce someone's nationality by looking at them and listening to them. Clumsy he may have been with his phraseology, but his comments have struck a chord with many in the Rugby League fraternity.

The thing is that people - including Brown - are railing against different things at the same time and as such, the argument is incoherent. Brown's contention is that Henderson is Australian and therefore has no business playing for England. This is plain wrong. Brown went on to criticise the selection of Rangi Chase - possibly more fairly - but again he's clumsy in his reasoning, saying "Chase says 'bro' and has Maori tattoos". If we're barring people with Maori tattoos from representing England, we're not going to get thirteen players on the field, but that's obviously not the point he's attempting to make.

To get to a resolution, the argument needs breaking down into it's constituent parts:
  • Nationality
  • Rugby League's international selection criteria
  • Switching allegiances

Nationality is not and never has been the same as being eligible to play for a given country. It's an element, sure, and back in the day was tantamount to the same thing as global travel and the opportunity to settle away from the country of your birth were not as easy. The chances of people being able to claim multiple nationality has also never been higher. Neither is residency the same as nationality. Nobody is claiming that Rangi Chase is English and until such time as he takes citizenship, nobody will. He is, however, domiciled here and, by all accounts, planning to settle here in the long-term. The two things are subtly different. The argument about nationality has become one of 'if you were born there, that's who you can play for', but nationality isn't as simple as the place you happen to have first drawn breath and it never has been.

For now, residency of three years is enough for you to become eligible to play international Rugby League for a given country. So is having one grandparent from a given country, a passport or citizenship of that country. If these definitions are too loose for you, then by all means argue that point. The English cricket team has recently been bolstered by a number of South African ex-pats and in response to concerns about that - from the English and South African game - the ECB upped the residency requirement from four years to seven, a move which if implemented seven years ago would have seen Kevin Pietersen ineligible for the 2005 Ashes. Again, if this is the issue, then by all means compain about it.

The one that raises a lot of hackles - perhaps more than any other - is that of people playing for more than one nation. This is a by-product of two things: the difference between the top three (maybe four) and the rest and the scrapping of Great Britain. Henderson has played for Scotland, as indeed has Danny Brough, and previously could have played in GB teams without a bother and go back to Scotland for the World Cup. Now, they are not afforded that opportunity. If a player wants opportunities to play against Australia and New Zealand more than a maximum of twice every four years, then they've no option than to declare for England and the goalposts were shifted from when they first made a decision about international rugby. There are rules on switching allegiance and many don't think they're strong enough, or should even exist. But to deny someone an opportunity under the systems in place now that weren't in place at the start of their careers hardly seems fair and it's never as simple as saying 'how can someone be Scottish and then be English?' as both are nebulous concepts that one person's interpretation of and significance placed in are quite different to the next. To reform this properly would need every Rugby League nation to be on an equal footing which simply isn't the case. If you introduced a rule that says if you've played a competitive game for a country, that's who you're with throughout, what would happen to the Cook Islands, Lebanon, Tonga, Samoa, Ireland, Scotland, even Wales? Rather than strengthen those, the consequence is equally as likely to be that few will declare for those countries - at least until they're much older - and end up retracting the world game rather than expand it.

Given those three areas, a fourth enters the equation. Whatever your thoughts are on each individual area, the rules laid down in those areas are clear. Is it not incumbent upon the head coach of England to select the best possible side from players eligible for England under those various rules? It is perfectly possible to argue for change to those rules while accepting the situation the rules have created. I was in Ireland during the 1994 football World Cup where Jack Charlton's Irish side did extremely well, including beating Italy in New York. Talking to people in the pubs where I was staying, there was a general acceptance that there's little about John Aldridge and Ray Houghton to call Irish and maybe it'd be nice for an all Irish-born side to be playing, but these were the best players available to the country. If Chris Heighington is the best second-row available to Steve McNamara and he can pick him, why wouldn't he? Ditto Chase, Henderson, Danny Brough or Maurie Fa'asavalu.

Too often, all the separate threads of this whole area get mixed together which makes it very difficult to reach a consensus on how to reform things should reform be needed, especially when unhelpful language akin to that of Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu (he used the duck analogy in describing Iran, but added that the Islamic Republic is "a nuclear duck") is used. But while that argument is being had, can we just agree to allow a coach to pick what he sees is his best side? it would save us all having to fall out.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Derby days and measuring manhood

It's Good Friday at time of writing. Earlier today, Hull FC beat Hull KR and Wigan went to St Helens and beat them. Warrington beat Widnes last night, Wakefield take on Cas and Bradford play Leeds later on. Down the divisions, there are derbies up in Cumbria, the Heavy Woollen district and in Wales. This has seen an incredible amount of action on twitter as fans compare dick size and even the official Super League website claiming that a debate as to which constitutes the biggest derby in the game is raging.

It doesn't rage though. What it does is rumble on incessantly in the background ahead of the traditional Easter programme and the contrivance of the Magic Weekend. We are, in the main, a game entrenched within certain regions. The result is having a lot of clubs near to one another and, inevitably, playing one another on a regular basis. This has been going on for ages, these clubs have been playing each other for ages and whether you've played each other 200 times or 198 doesn't really matter a great deal.

These are all spectacles in their own way. They attract big crowds, the atmosphere can be genuinely breath-taking at times. It all feels like it matters. Celebrate that. Enjoy it. Why ruin it by saying "yes, this is both amazing and great, but not as both amazing and great as something else that is also both amazing and great"? What the hell is wrong with you? It's a curiously rugby league thing to do to play down the things that make the game special and other. We should be shouting about how we've got some great derby games that bring out the crowds and put on some spectacular rugby. The finish by Kirk Yeaman in the FC v KR game today was on the end of some spectacular rugby, but today it just felt like it meant more.

Frankly, the need to waggle ones manhood about and claim it's bigger than someone else's smacks of insecurity. Anyway, the answer is Dewsbury v Batley, with London v Catalans a close second.

From our London correspondent: Rob Powell must go

Chris Plume argues that, if London Broncos have any hope of off-pitch survival (not to mention securing a place in the next round of franchising) the first step is firing Head Coach Rob Powell.
‘lacking in ideas’
‘listless and unimaginative’
‘Powell is a total loser with no presence about him’
All the above are comments on the RLFANS London Broncos forum, in the aftermath of the Broncos’ “big derby” defeat to arch-rivals Catalan Dragons at The Stoop on Thursday April 5. It marked an eighth defeat in the opening ten rounds for the Capital club, in front of a recorded home attendance of 1,829.
It sums up the Broncos’ travails this campaign. In the run-up to the season, we were seduced with talk of a “new era” at the club, with the re-brand from Harlequins RL back to London Broncos (a move that divided fans but that the club insisted was vital if we were to make progress). New signings were much trumpeted – big, shiny transfers of genuine pedigree, such as two-time NRL winners Michael Robertson and Shane Rodney, and one-time Australia skipper and former Rugby Union star Craig Gower. We were told that the top eight was in our sights. There was a move of cautious optimism.
And it was all quite nice. For a while. Nearly 5,000 spectators attended the season’s opener, a 34-24 home defeat to St Helens, and there some encouraging signs in the performance to suggest we would compete. Unfortunately, it has proven to be a completely false dawn. And ultimately, the blame must rest with one man. Rob Powell.

I have given Powell time. Throughout a pretty painful 2011 season, where we won just three of our home games (and won just two matches after March 11), we consoled ourselves with the fact that Powell was dealing with the weakest London squad since the infamous “Great Escape” season of 2004 under Tony Rea. We told ourselves “well, at least we’re shot of Brian McDermott”. We gave Powell the benefit of the doubt that, the following season, with a better team at his disposal, we would see the improvement.
How wrong we were. Not only has Powell proved utterly deficient in guiding this group of players, but McDermott gave us a look at exactly what we’d let leave by winning the Grand Final with Leeds. One gets the sense Mac, for all his faults, would get a damn sight more out of this team than Powell ever will.
A third of the way through the season, the problems are many and varied. The team simply cannot defend, particularly out wide; The halfback combination isn’t working; With ball in hand, we are repetitive and predictable (we don’t seem to be capable of employing dummy runners); we suffer devastating lapses in concentration which opponents ruthlessly exploit – conceding four tries in ten minutes to the Dragons a perfect illustration; Players like Luke Dorn seem to have lost all their skill and composure, and their confidence looks shot as a result.
Our problems off the pitch are well documented, and I don’t wish to address them here. But what I will say is this: One of the main reasons our crowds are terrible is because our performances are, so often, terrible. You can have the greatest marketing guru in the world ensconced in TW2, but they would not get very far if the product is awful. Beyond a hardcore of around 1100 season ticket holders, we are unable to attract or retain supporters because the team is hopeless and as a result, the matchday experience is flat and uninspiring.
Catastrophic away defeats to Salford and Widnes have been the nadir of the 2012 season, but if Powell is allowed to continue I cannot say we will not sink further.  He has shown himself to be completely unable to extract even a modicum of consistency and competence from a group of players that, on paper, mix excitement, nous, youth and experience. More worrying is the message that the club is sending by retaining the services of this man: That this is a club that tolerates complete incompetence, that rewards failure, that accepts mediocrity.
I want to stress it is nothing personal; Powell is a nice bloke I’m sure, and has done good things for London Rugby League with South London Storm. But it is clear as day that, as a man who never played the game professionally and is younger than a significant number of our players, he is utterly out of his depth. There are better coaches available (Royce Simmons immediately springs to mind) and they must be utilised.
The club is making losses, we have no media profile, no sponsors, and we have not made the play-offs since 2005. Our future, and our licensing prospects, are hanging by a thread. This state of affairs cannot be allowed to continue. Powell must go, and a coach must be brought in who can inspire this talented group of players to achieve better, win more matches and make this club one that people actually want to go and watch. When gnarled old veterans of the London rugby league following are saying that they cannot remember a London club playing so poorly, that is not simple bluster. That is an indication of the beginning of the end.
David Hughes, Gus Mackay – please act now. There is no time to lose.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

St Helens, Barcelona and identity

In an interview with the local paper, interim coach at St Helens Mike Rush liken the club to football clubs Ajax of Amsterdam and FC Barcelona. Both those clubs are renowned the world over for the work they do in terms of youth development - Rush's remit at the club and the role he'll return to when Nathan Brown takes the head coaching job next year - and St Helens have an enviable record in that department. But Rush also likens his club to the footballing giants in terms of them having a style, a method of playing the game that sets them out as other and that's a comparison worth investigating to see if it holds water.

Ajax became famous for their 'Total Football', a system - for want of a better phrase - where players were encouraged to interchange. It was coach Rinus Michels's method of getting the best out of his mercurial, maverick superstar Johann Cruyff. Nominally, Cruyff was a centre-forward, but he'd pop up pretty much anywhere he fancied. If he wasn't getting joy through the middle, he'd drop deep or out wide in search of possession, Michels reckoning - not without good reason - that getting the undoubted star of his generation on the ball was A Good Thing. Not that the rest of the side was too shabby and they'd rotate to accomodate Cruyff, filling in the gaps he left elsewhere. Johan Neeskens, Arie Haan and Ruud Krol, for example, were great players in their own right and fitted Michels's plan perfectly. 1971 was the team's zenith, culminating in a European Cup win under Michels before he left the club.

Michels left to go to Barcelona. Ajax won more European glory in 1972, but for the 1972/3 season Cruyff left and linked up with his mentor in Catalonia. There, they set about instilling the Ajax philosophy. Michels left in 1974 to take over the Dutch national team, but his methods remained both with Barcelona and with Cruyff who, after his retirement in 1984 became manager of Ajax and, three years later, Barcelona. There, he oversaw a period of unprecedented (at the time) glory for the club as it began to emerge from the shadow of big rivals Real Madrid. The club had lost it's way after Cruyff the player departed, but the Dutch master imbued it with a renewed sense of identity. A lot of that was based around the home-grown midfield star Josep 'Pep' Guardiola, a man who wore his Catalan pride on his sleeve. Cruyff's tenure peaked with a European Cup win - Barcelona's first - in 1992.

The side broke up after being dismantled by a rampant AC Milan in another European Cup final a couple of years later and, again, they lost their way slightly. Another Dutchman and Ajax product, Frank Rijkaard, was brought in and he got them going on the track back to those glory days. Guardiola, meanwhile, was in charge of Barcelona B working with a crop of players now very familiar to the football public. Rijkaard's first-team was largely made up of imports - Dutchmen Patrick Kluivert, Gio van Bronkhorst and Mark van Bommel, Brazilians Ronaldinho and Edmilson, Frenchman Ludovic Giuly and Portuguese Deco - but moves were afoot to restore the Catalan identity. In 2008 Guardiola moved from B team to A team with a crop of locally produced talent - Xavi, Andrés Iniesta, Lionel Messi and many others - supplemented by signings from elsewhere that would fit his vision, the vision of Michels and Cruyff. In 2009, Guardiola's team scooped all six competitions they entered. Playing a style universally known as tiki-taka - initially an insulting term coined by Javier Clementé whose teams played anything but - they became the very embodiment of the modern football side.

Michels wasn't the innovator. In the early part of the 20th century, Ajax had a manager called Jack Reynolds. The Mancunian laid the template for Michels's 'total football'; Michels refined it to fit with his star player. Cruyff did likewise with his and Guardiola in turn has done it with his star pupil Lionel Messi. Reynolds was a pioneer who also influenced his contemporary Jimmy Hogan who took the theories to Austria. Ernst Happel, an Austrian, is widely credited with taking the philosophy to Holland and so to Michels, to Cruyff and Guardiola. This was revolutionary stuff in the 1910s and still remains the benchmark.

What's the point of telling you all that? Well it's not as easy to just claim your rugby league side is the Barcelona of the sport. First off, what is your identity? Are you associated with a particular style of play? Can you trace that heritage back to the formative years of the club?

Saints have long been styled 'the entertainers' and it's often the case that they do like to chuck the ball about, but is that so very different from their contemporaries? Leeds are a joy to watch in full, attacking flow and the Catalans are becoming very handy at grabbing thrilling, late match-winning scores of the sub-legendary 'Wide to West' try that did for Bradford as well as playing in the fabled old-timey French style of running rugby. Huddersfield are starting to put plenty of points on sides with some terrific home-grown youngsters, especially out wide, and Warrington look full of tries from all across the park. That's before we even consider Australian and New Zealand sides.

What St Helens and Barcelona do share is the presence of a rival that has outshone them throughout their history, but a recent history that's seen a certain amount of balance redressed. For Barcelona, it is Real Madrid and their nine European Cups. For St Helens, it is Wigan and eras of dominance through the late '40s/early '50s and late '80s/early '90s. If only Wigan had the patronage of the royal family and the backing of a fascist dictator for 36 years, that analogy would be complete. If St Helens were responsible for introducing a new style of play - something we've discussed before - then the comparison with Ajax would stand up, but it doesn't. Having a reputation for entertaining football isn't the same as having a clearly identifiable philosophy.

Of course, it may also be a canny excuse for some excellent SEO (search engine optimisation) on the part of the St Helens Reporter, especially as the headline appears to have a direct quote in it rather than something Rush didn't actually say. Put the term 'Barcelona' in any article title - yes, like we've done here; it's all part of the lesson we're teaching today - and hits will rocket. In which case job done and ignore the self-indulgent football history lesson above.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012


1. Someone transported from their native land, normally for political reasons be they an annoyance to the current regime or paying for crimes when previously in charge.

2. Tax ~. To remove oneself from ones home country and claim residence in a low-tax regime in order to keep more of ones income.

3. Not someone who chooses freely to work abroad for a living.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Hair dye

1. Performance-debilitating drug.

2. Unnecessary distraction. "I'm afraid you've failed your driving test as the pretty lady crossing the road proved to be a right old hair dye and you ended up ploughing into the back of that school bus".

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Questions the RFL and Bradford need to answer

The more you look at it, the more the situation at Odsal looks a complete and utter mess. The willingness of supporters to chip in and raise the funds is understandable and almost admirable. However, there are some serious questions that need satisfactory answers before any significant amount of money is simply handed over to the existing board.

For Bradford:

What is the value of the club? Given that the major asset - the stadium - no longer belongs to the club, what are the assets and what is the value of those assets?

If an individual came in with a million pounds, what percentage of the club would they own and would they get a seat on the board? If a group of individuals did the same through a Trust arrangement with elected representatives, would they be afforded the same shareholding and board rights? If not, why not? How much would an individual - or organised group of individuals - have to be willing to pay into the club in order to examine the books?

Was it not obvious that no longer owning the stadium would impact on the ability if the club to borrow money?

Why was it necessary to sell the ground? What parts of the operation of the stadium still fall into the club's remit? Did anyone consider the number of insolvencies in football stemming from separation of club and ground?

In January 2012, we were told that the sale of the ground would see the club on a secure financial footing. What changed between January and March? What else is lurking around the corner?

How long has the board known about this? Ten days seems an awfully short time to raise half a million quid. Surely the board must have been aware of this being even a potential problem before that. If so, why wait? Is it a calculated move to panic fans into coughing up without organising together or asking difficult questions?

The sale of Odsal was sold to the public as raising money to sort out a one-off difficulty and all would be fine after the deal was done. That was clearly bunk. Why should anyone believe that another one-off injection of capital will be different this time? Why should anyone believe what the board tell them any more? How can anyone believe that the current board are the best custodians of Bradford Bulls given events of the past six months?

For the RFL:

How were the monies owed that prompted the RFL to buy Odsal accrued? What due diligence was done to verify the claims that this one-off deal would secure the future of Bradford Bulls, at least to be able to fulfil their fixtures for the 2012 season?

What happened to Bradford between the awarding of a Super League license - when they will presumably have had to prove at least their medium-term viability - and the purchase of Odsal?

Wakefield, London, Crusaders and now Bradford have all gone through major financial upheaval in the last couple of years. How are the RFL monitoring the financial position of member clubs? What does this say about licensing? What plans are there to examine the system?

When was the 50% of turnover element of the salary cap removed and what was the rationale behind that? Has that rationale been justified?

This is not an exhaustive list, but it'd be a good starting point to get answers to these.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Throwing good money after bad

Oh, Bradford.

Let me make one thing clear - I have no axe to grind against Bradford Bulls. They're a fine club and it's generally a fine place to visit (i.e. when the Odsal microclimate behaves itself). But oh what a mess.

How they ended up in this situation is one for the forensic accountants. What happens next is of greater interest.

Licensing and salary capping were both introduced with the spiel that they would offer stability and protect clubs from financially inviable short-termism - chasing the dream in order to stop up in the top division with inevitable consequences when the bills had to be paid. One of the key tenets of the salary cap was that the amount to be spent on wages was either £1.7m pa or 50% of turnover, whichever was the lower. The 50% rule was quietly - very quietly - dropped a couple of years ago. It's quite a tricky rule to police, especially with the change to a 'live' system after a series of breaches that were punished only the season after - or later - the offence took place and was therefore deemed to be unfair to clubs that played by the rules. It's not a huge leap to suggest that that change in rules could well be a factor in Bradford's current plight. The RFL would do well to study the effects of their rule change, take a step back and see whether there's anything they could have done to prevent this or whether they've been duped.

The Bradford board are currently on a fund-raising drive, the idea that 10,000 season ticket holders contribute £100. The theory is that they were beneficiaries of cheap ticket deals and coughing up another hundred quid still makes the season ticket a competitive deal and that simple maths means that would raise the £1m they apparently require to make all their problems disappear. That's fine in theory, but there are a couple of things I'd want raising before coughing up.

Odsal was sold to the RFL earlier in the year. This was reported at the time as helping to secure the ground as a result of predatory approachers by dastardly developers. Today, it transpires that the RFL were owed monies by Bradford and the sale of the ground covered that. What happened to create that debt? Is it a structural thing that a one-off deal like that cleared for good or is it a case of ongoing losses and mounting debts that this only wiped out temporarily?

Similar questions need raising over this appeal for funds from the board. What reason could they possibly give that any money coming in from people who bought tickets in good faith not that long ago isn't going to disappear down a black hole? What assurances can be given that Peter Hood's claims that raising a million quid will see this problem off for good are actually true?

Fundamentally, why would you hand money over without any assurances? What strikes me as a better idea is to raise the money, but hold it in an Independent Supporters Trust and inject the money into the club that way with fan representation on the board to allow the people who are coughing up these funds some level of oversight into how it's being spent. A cynic might say that the board's claims that they need half a million in little over a week is designed to ensure that this scenario doesn't happen simply on grounds of lack of time.

Fan ownership is tough, but it can be done. Chesterfield and Exeter City football clubs are good examples, as are AFC Wimbledon, FC United of Manchester and Chester FC. There is no reason why it can't work in rugby league. It doesn't strike me as a good idea to hand money to a guy promising to rebuild your house when he's the one that tore it down in the first place. If the Bradford support can organise quickly and go down the IST route, then at least they can hold the prospective house rebuilder to account.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Top 10: Things more disreputable than Wigan's team selection

Regular readers (welcome, both of you) may have noticed a Top 10 feature every month in venerable organ Forty20 magazine. Well it's written by us and we reserve the right to post interim Top 10s here that don't fit the publishing schedule of aforementioned monthly periodical. So here goes...

Faux-outrage was all the.. err.. rage after Wigan were beaten by Widnes last weekend. Not by the result itself, but the temerity of Wigan to select who they chose for their gameday 17 from their 29-man squad, a squad that was named well in advance of the season and therefore held no surprises. "Waah, waah" went the prevailing narrative, with added notions of bringing the game into disrepute and disrespecting their opponents.
Here are ten things that bring the game into disrepute more than naming a team from a known and published squad:

10. Players signing for rugby union clubs and saying they're going "for the challenge".

9. Fans bleating about referees rather than examining the deficiencies of their team.

8. The band at Headingley.

7. Margin Meter.

6. The Crusaders debacle.

5. Issac Luke's tackling technique.

4. Paying super-annuated Antipodean pensioners a king's ransom to facilitate their end-of-career jaunt round the fleshpots of Europe.

3. Declaring your intention to play international rugby for 'whoever wants me this month'.

2. A governing body that hangs one player out to dry when systematic doping is uncovered at one of it's member clubs.

1. Losing to Widnes.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Winter set to shift to summer

Popular season Winter has told us that it is considering a switch to summer, potentially affecting all levels of rugby league in the UK.

A spokesman for Winter said in a statement that "our client (Winter) is fed up of being associated with darkness, cold and dying pensioners. Having had a taste of slightly more clement prevailing weather conditions over the last few days, our client is contemplating moving to the middle of the year when it's a bit nicer".

Having switched the entire game to a summer season, this leaves the RFL in something of a quandary, but their meteorological department told us that "we'll be keeping a very close eye on developments. If Winter does move and adopts the same policies as the incumbent season for those months it intends to occupy, then we have no issue. But if there's a major seasonal reshuffle, then we have to take a look at it".

Winter, through an interpreter, said that "having weighed up my options, this time of year seems very much the right time for Winter to move into spring or maybe even summer. We'll just have to see what comes of negotiations". After putting to Winter the difficulties the RFL may face as a consequence, it retorted "look, you people have been making me warmer for years and then whining on about travel chaos when I'm just doing my job. It's about time I had a nice break in the Seychelles or somewhere while you decide whether you even want me around any more", before adding "and what the hell is rugby league anyway?"

A decision on any proposed move from Winter is expected by March 21.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

The Justin Murphy Memorial Staircase

Wigan v Catalans Dragons is the big game this week in Super League, and it's a time where we all take a moment and pay tribute to the Justin Murphy Memorial Staircase:

And he played on!

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Formations and philosophies

I watch a lot of football. I mean, a lot, from the top European and South American leagues down to non-league. By the end of this season, I'll have sampled the atmosphere of the San Mamés in Bilbao as well as the tea at Seel Park, Mossley in Evostik division 1. Given that there are eleven players per side and one of those rooted to his goal, there are a bewildering array of ways that coaches will arrange those ten outfield players.

The W-M formation was blown out of the water by the 1950s Hungarian side. 3-4-3 dominates Italy at the moment, 4-4-2 is the now-traditional English system. Five at the back with wing-backs, lone front man, wide strikers, false 9s, false 10s, false 10s playing as real 9s - there are so many ways to play the game. Nobody is necessaily right, nobody is necessarily wrong. It's all about philosophy and how your vision of how the game should be played fits with the players you have at your disposal. In rugby league however, despite the two additional players over the round ball game, the game has resolutely stuck to what would be described in football as a 1-4-2-3-2-1 formation.

In some ways, the numbering system and roles associated with those numbers could be stifling to innovation, but we've had squad numbers for some time and little has changed. Deviation from the norm only comes with playing an extra front-rower or half-back at loose forward to either add size or creativity or swapping centres and second-rows around with the only difference being where they stand in the defensive line.

More recently some coaches are trying new things. Last night, the Catalan Dragons went to St Helens and won in dramatic circumstances. With new signing Leon Pryce on board in the halves, Trent Robinson has named Thomas Bosc at full-back with regular full-back Clint Greenshields pushed out to the wing. They don't play like that though. Effectively, the Dragons play with two full-backs, one defending either side of the field, a tactic developed perhaps in response to the excellent 40/20 rule. Huddersfield have moved Scott Grix into the half-back role, but in truth he was playing there last season anyway. Nathan Brown is also on a one-man mission to change the roles of all his forwards into mobile, running players, presumably with the aim of running bigger sides off their feet. It's early days yet, but it might just be crazy enough to work.

This is to be encouraged. Innovation drives the game forward and when the rules are tinkered with, it allows for clever coaches to exploit that or force them to defend against it. So bring on the false 7, the extra 13 and the double full-back. Bring on the pub bores (like the author of this piece) harping on about it endlessly and why coach x is a dinosaur for not adapting and coach y is a visionary for doing something outlandish and daring. I want to see the rugby league equivalents of Marcelo Bielsa, Arrigo Sacchi, Rinus Michels and Jurgen Klopp emerge. Versatility of players has been a key issue for some time already. Now let's have versatility of thought. For whoever comes up with that innovation nobody else sees, there's is the world and everything that's in it.

Buzzer beaters

Last night saw one of the more dramatic finishes to a game of rugby league you're likely to see. Catalans Dragons are four down to St Helens, the hooter has already sounded, it's all over right? Not a bit of it:

Was it the best buzzer beater of all time? Well it's up there, but we reckon there are two better. Firstly, it's those Catalans again. In the big derby at Stade Gilbert Brutus, scores are level with seconds remaining when an iffy tackle gives the Dragons one last shot at the Quins' line. Take it away Rodolphe Pires and impartiality be damned:

But the daddy is from those Saints. "Long fancies it. It's wide to West. It's wide to West, Dwayne West..." You know the rest, but it's still worth watching:

Brilliant unless you're on the wrong end of it.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Super League and Stobart - some maths

We all saw the announcements about the new title sponsor of Super League. Eddie Stobart haulage branded up 100 wagons with Super League related imagery for no exchange of money. It's a bold move and I come not to crticise. With belt-tightening ongoing and the UK economy only not in recession by dint of semantics, it's an interesting, innovative solution.

Times RL journalist Chris Irvine asked on his Twitter today whether anyone had seen one of the branded trucks yet on the back of him having done a fair few miles up and down the RL Motorway (formerly the M62) and not having done so. Out came a calculator and a web browser with some pertinent Google searches...

Stobart have a fleet of - at last approximation - 838. It sounds reasonable, so let's go with that. 100 of these, as mentioned, have been painted up in Super League livery. Stobart's big marketing claim is that you'll see one of their trucks every four and a half minutes spent on Britain's major roads. Based on that, you will encounter 320 Stobart trucks for every 24 hours spent on major roads or 38% of the fleet (I'm discounting repeat sightings of the same truck, just because it's unquantifiable and therefore difficult).

100 of the 838 represents 11% of the fleet and 11% of the 38% gives us 3.5 sightings of SL branded trucks for every 24 hours. In turn, that tells us that for every sighting of a Super League branded Stobart wagon, you can expect to be on the road for 6.85 hours, or 6 hours and 51 minutes.

I have no idea what this tells us. I have no idea how that translates to the estimate that the sponsorship being worth £2.5m per year. I draw no conclusions as to whether this means the sponsorship is good or bad. It was just a fun* exercise which diverted me for a few moments.

* - fun for me, not necessarily for you

EDIT: It was brought to my attention in the comments below that the Stobart fleet is 2250, not 838. Which means that you can expect to be driving for 18 hours and 22 minutes for each sighting of a Super League branded truck.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Rugby League and Twitter

A new season and, two days in advance, a launch. The flagship no-money-down sponsorship with Stobart saw a convoy head up to Salford where those people in the media who aren't either in the UAE for the cricket, exhausted from transfer deadline day or covering the build up to a minor European international rugby union tournament could see what's on offer. Artificial pitches, rule tinkering, granting independence to the state of Exilia and Monday Night Football were all on the agenda.

Super League also tried to get to grips with Twitter. Chances are that if you're reading this, you're already au fait with it's charms. Super League aren't. They seek to instruct people on the use of hashtags, seemingly oblivious to many aspects. For a start, Bradford and Wigan chat will get lost among conversations between wearers of hairpieces and discourses on women's underwear. Good luck Dragons fans as you get lost among cats playing pianos. These things arise because people use them, not because people are instructed to use them. For example, Dragons fans have happily been using #lescatalans to discuss their team under and it's worked very well. It's unlikely that a well-paid marketing executive's word is going to change that.

We're also being instructed on tags for individual matches. All this is likely to achieve is the fragmentation of conversation. Super League have grossly over-estimated the popularity of the sport. There simply isn't that number to warrant dividing chat down into a number of several brackets per weekend and especially since the #rugbyleague - note the use of 'rugby' rather than 'super' as well there - has been around for some time and works well. It's inclusive and it's clear. #SLCasSal may look great in a marketing PowerPoint presentation, but to the casual observer, it is gobbledegook. It makes the game look cliquey in the extreme and won't help attract new fans to the game.

The best way to get onto Twitter is to observe what's happening and worm your way into that, not do away with established practice and impose arbitrary rules and standards onto people who have embraced and been using it for a lot longer than Super League seems to have done. So rise up, people! Eschew this frippery! Stick to #rugbyleague and let's all stick together rather than go our separate ways.

Now, what hashtag should I use to promote this article? Any ideas, Super League?

When manipulation of social media goes wrong.

McDonalds and Wendy's are just two major corporations to have fallen foul of manufactured hashtag promotions, as detailed in the Independent here.
Tottenham Hotspur's whizzy new website automatically included comments from their Facebook page with hilarious consequences as noted by Football 365 (second item).
Point is, Twitter doesn't obey your rules. It does it's own thing and one of it's things that it does well is subverting obvious marketing bullshittery.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Stop Cheerleaders

Midway through last season, I came to a conclusion: cheerleaders in rugby league should go.

I posited this theory on twitter and got back roughly 3-to-1 against including a number of suggestions that I'm homosexual. Whether I am or not is, of course, irrelevant. What I'm railing against is twofold - the sheer pointlessness of it all and the fact it demeans us all.

The first point is entirely subjective. I've never been inspired to cheer by the on-field shenanigans of a group of no doubt lovely young ladies. Indeed, they always seem entirely reactive rather than proactive, as if encouraging my cheers after the event which has already elicited as much excitement as I'll allow myself to feel. There is nothing added in their presence. Moreover, we're in Britain. It's cold and wet. As such, prancing about in shorts looks damned uncomfortable. Far from cheering, I'm more likely to be torn between gratitude for the warm coat I'm wearing and offering said coat to one of the girls. I accept that this is possibly a factor of advancing years and the associated increased curmudgeonly status that goes alongside that.

Invariably, you also get a junior cheerleading squad where a group of very young children wave pom-poms in a barely co-ordinated fashion, often in ludicrously high numbers, instructed by a senior person on the sidelines, invariably someone with the word 'coach' written across the back of their shorts, who might as well be doing the routine themselves and cut out the middleman. This is just cringe-inducingly embarrassing for all who are watching on.

The second point is less subjective. Are we that shallow as a society that we men will only go to the rugby if there are dancing girls? Are we as a sport saying to women that the only way you can participate is with pom-poms? These lasses are put on display for us to judge, to objectify, to jump up and shake a tail-feather whenever the men do something that warrants it. The most common point made in support of cheerleaders to me during my completely unscientific twitter-based fact-finding mission was that 'it gives us something to look at'. If that's the best argument in support, then it's a wonder they were adopted by rugby league clubs at all, let alone that they've lasted so long. The same is true of women holding up boards denoting the round at boxing, of walking blokes to the oche at the darts, of holding up grid markers at grands prix and umbrellas at the speedway. It's window-dressing and sends out a message to any young girls watching that this is something - perhaps the best thing - that they'll ever achieve, that looking right is all that matters. There are better ways to involve women in the sport and money spent on cheer squads might be better spent on the women's game where players are having to fork out their own money to go on tour, for kit, for tackle bags.

Leeds announced today that they're completely revamping their cheer squad. Instead, they'll be having a group of street dancers. Now, I've seen this before when Crusaders did likewise. This involves a group of people who move about a bit, almost at the same time, to a tired mash-up of contemporary pop hits, their very existence the responsibility of the myriad TV talent and amateur dance contests that so occupy the minds of the nation and give the glimmer of fame to the deserving back-story. If that's the alternative, then I retract all of the above, but is the better option to just not bother?

We come for the rugby, men and women alike. Give us the rugby. A pie and a pint and some mini-league at half-time is all the enhancement it requires.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Five questions for 1eague3

There is power in a union and rugby league players are no exception to any other group of workers that they can further their rights collectively much better than if they stood alone. The trouble is, that theory falls apart when people don't stand alongside each other; multiple bodies allow those that would exploit the chance to divide and rule. With this in mind, there are some legitimate concerns over the motives and rationale underpinning the new union - as chronicled in less serious tones here previously - called 1eague3. We come not to criticise, but in an attempt to explore why the founders of this new organisation have done what they've done and where they intend going with it. Indeed, were there not already a union existing, we'd be all for this new one. However there is - the Rugby League Players Association run under the auspices of the GMB - hence the concerns.
Here are the five things we'd like 1eague3 to answer, the better to understand.

1. What is wrong with the current arrangement with the GMB's Rugby League Players Association to prompt this move?
The only possible reason for setting up your own union would be dissatisfaction with existing arrangements. What was the source of this dissatisfaction? Was it raised with the existing union officials and, if so, what were the outcomes of those discussions? What is it that you can do that the GMB currently cannot or will not? How are the aims of 1eague3 different and where are the GMB currently failing to support those same ideals?

2. Was there an approach to the Rugby League Players Association to get players overseeing the existing union?
The major point raised by the originators of this union is that by having players representing themselves, they come into line with other sports. This could have been raised within the existing framework, perhaps along the same lines as the PFA by having a shop steward at each club reporting directly to the executive or by any number of mechanisms. Was this explored? If so, what were the outcomes of those discussions and why were they unpalatable?

3. Why only Super League players?
Other unions for sports players, let's stick with the PFA as the logical and high-profile example, cover all professionals within that sport. Why is 1eague3 restricted to only the top flight? What rights do Super League players think are theirs which do not extend down rugby league's pyramid? Why do the voices of professionals lower down the tree count for less than those at the top? What happens to a member of the union should he drop down the divisions? Was any of this discussed when the idea for 1eague3 came about?

4. By what criteria were the chairman and management committee selected?
There's no doubt that chairman Jon Wilkin and committee members Jamie Peacock and Lee Briers know rugby league, but what else qualifies them to represent their fellow professionals? Was there an election, or perhaps a thorough search for candidates and an interview-based selection process? How was the chief executive selected, which companies were employed to conduct the search and what fees were paid by the organisation? What is the chief executive's salary? Who are the non-executive directors and, again, how were they recruited?

5. The Rugby League Players Association has publicly stated it's concerns over one-eague-three. How do the committee respond?
There are legitimate - on the face of it - concerns expressed by the GMB over the ability of one-eague-three to achieve it's aims. What is the financial state of 1eague3, the back-up and structures that the GMB claim aren't there? How confident can potential members be before leaving the RLPA and joining the new organisation?

We maintain that one-eague-three is a silly name (League13 my backside), but that's a minor point. The above points are the important ones. It's not an exhaustive list, there are probably other questions we'd want answering before coughing up our subs, but the above would be a good starting point.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Wilkin, Peacock and unionisation

Not every mention of the term union is bad. There is power in a union after all and rugby league players can, like workers in any sphere, benefit from collective bargaining and standing together in support of each other and their rights. This is something previously organised by the GMB, but some Super League players don't seem to want to stand alongside their brothers in other leagues and strike out (pun partially intended) with their own union. Jamie Peacock and Jon Wilkin are among the agitators attempting to set up a Super League players association and claim 75% of players in the top league are interested in joining. The GMB doubts their abilities to represent players interests properly and a war of words is beginning.

It's unclear what the agitators beef with the GMB is, but that will play out over the next few days, weeks and months. What the GMB and none of the news outlets reporting on this have seen fit to comment on the new organisation's name. 1eague3. One-eague-three. What the hell does that mean? Fine players Peacock and Wilkin may be, but brand consultants they are clearly not. It's something that might work on a Hungarian car registration plate, but not something that might trip off the tongue too easily. It's up there with maths and crime TV show Numb-three-rs, Brad Pitt/Kevin Spacey flick Se-seven-en and not-much-lamented boy band Five-ive in it's moronicity.

Unions are traditionally named after the sphere of employ of their employees until the point at which they all started merging to form things like Unison, Amicus and Unite. If you're trying to set up an association for Super League players, something along the lines of the Super League Players Association might seem appropriate. 1eague3 is stupid from it's nonsensical deployment of numbers, through the middle bit that isn't even a word to the whole that describes nothing. To judge their aims, we'll have to wait and see their constitution and dissect it, but it's not off to a great start.