The late Mike Morrissey is a largely forgotten figure. This is despite the fact that only fourteen years have passed since his innovative ideas on Rugby League were introduced and now underpin some of the current policies and procedures in the sport.
Mike and I worked closely together for a number of months prior to our election to the senior positions in the British Amateur Rugby League Association (BARLA). In June 1997, at the Annual General Meeting of the Association, Mike was elected as Chairman and I was elected as Vice Chairman. During our months of planning in 1997 we agreed that if we were elected we would seek to radically change the way in which BARLA operated. We aimed to remove some of the obstacles that prevented Amateur Rugby League from building on its strength in the communities it served and from developing into a National sport that could be accessed by all. In our opinion there had been too much political infighting within BARLA and also with the Rugby Football League, the governing body of the professional section of the sport.
Mike was an ideas man who had a clear vision of the future of Rugby League and the force of personality to get things done. The creation of the Rugby League Service Areas, a fundamental part of the development structure of the sport, was an idea that came from Mike. He lived in Manchester, over fifty miles from my home town, so in those days it was telephone conversations and the fax machine that we used to develop our ideas. On the evening that Service Areas were invented Mike telephoned me to say that he had put a plan together and would I read the fax he was sending and ring him back. The fax arrived with detail on a very straightforward structure that Mike thought should be based on local areas delivering coach and player-centred development programmes, and that those areas could be called Service Areas. The plans were worked on by Mike and I and Tom O'Donovan, the Rugby Football League's Development Director. Over the next few years Service Areas became an integral part of the way in which Rugby League development was structured. As with any new initiative implementation has produced changes and many developments, Mike always saw this as the natural way for an idea to move forward.
Sadly Mike died in 2000, at the age of fifty. He did not live to see the impact that one of his ideas had on the way the sport is structured. The Service Area concept is only one example of the many creative ideas that Mike put forward during our turbulent term of office, beginning at that AGM in 1997 and ending in September 1998 with a vote of no confidence initiated by BARLA members who couldn't handle the pace of change. The vote of no confidence had a massive impact on Mike and for nearly two years he had no involvement with the sport, only returning to junior coaching shortly before his death. One of the most disappointing aspects of what happened following our time in office is that Mike's contribution to Rugby League has never been recognised. I read a short history of the development of BARLA written a year or so after Mike and I were removed from office and found that there was no mention of what happened in 1997 and 1998. Mike was 'airbrushed' from history, even though many of his ideas had started an irreversible process that has lead to the current structure of Rugby League governance and development. Had Mike been involved, one might speculate that the structure would have been more progressive and probably more effective.
Mike was a Rugby League man who believed passionately that sport could change people's lives. He was a larger than life character who was not afraid to challenge ideas and conventions. He made an outstanding contribution to Rugby League that should be recognised.