Monday 8 August 2011

Crusaders - will lessons be learned?

There has been a great deal of speculation regarding the reasons for Crusaders' shock decision to withdraw their Super League Licence application. Poor results and attendances, commonly cited by pundits, must have been deciding factors. However, I believe the main reason the Licence application was withdrawn was because the owners did not see Crusaders as a viable business proposition. The current owners were, I believe, 'bounced' into purchasing the club at the beginning of 2010. I got the very strong feeling, during the seven months I worked there, that buying Crusaders was seen as an opportunity to protect the Racecourse Ground and Wrexham Football Club. I do not think that either of those motives for purchasing Crusaders was wrong, in fact I believe that three objectives could have been achieved with a sensible business plan and some understanding of rugby league by the owners. The Ground could have been protected, Wrexham Football Club would have continued to operate, and Crusaders could have developed into a strong Super League club.

North Wales is the right place to develop a professional club. The area is starved of professional sport and rugby union does not have the stranglehold it enjoys in the south of the country. The RFL should continue to invest in North Wales but needs to concentrate on putting a proper infrastructure in place. The setting up of a North Wales Scholarship and Academy should have happened in 2010, but it is not too late to start that process if Crusaders is to be a Championship outfit in 2012.

The 2010 season was a big success on the field because of top quality coaching and a very committed group of players. Unfortunately, many mistakes were made off the field and opportunities were missed, resulting in development structures not being set up and attendances declining. The two games played in South Wales and some big gaps between home fixtures meant that the initial interest and enthusiasm was not sustained. The situation could have been very different. Naivety both by the RFL and the club owners have, in my opinion, caused the current problems.

The RFL was naive because it did not insist that the club had experienced 'off field' staff in post when the 2010 fixtures began. Presumably the RFL thought that, because the new owners were also running a soccer club, they would know how to run a rugby league club. Perhaps the RFL also thought that it should not interfere in the day to day running of a business. However, if it had become strategically involved, not just sending the odd consultant in for a few weeks, but ensuring the club had proper staffing structures, Crusaders could have built solidly on the on field success.

The owners were naive in thinking that all that was needed for the club to be successful was a winning team on the field. Such naivety can be illustrated by the fact that when, in January 2010, I asked why the club did not have a kit man, I was told it did not need one. Fortunately, commonsense prevailed and a kit man was eventually appointed but only after things got in a mess. Does this example of reacting only when things are in turmoil indicate the way in which the Crusaders move to North Wales was handled at national and local level? If so will lessons be learned for the development of the game in the future?

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