A Premiership Rake’s Progress

Not To Mention Those Clubs Lower in The Pecking Order

Liverpool  St.Helens/.....Readers of the sports pages of the  Times newspaper will have possibly been somewhat surprised by the revelations that at least a third of the Aviva Premiership clubs are up for sale or seeking investment to compensate for ever escalating losses.

Wages account for more than 65% of a club's turnover, a factor which contributed to the Premiership clubs losing a combined total of around £30 million last year. Many of the clubs have plans to raise funds in ways other than via fans through the turnstiles - hotels, retail complexes, conference sites and even casinos are being considered as means of creating the income needed to support the rugby. Hardly the ideal dreamed when the 15 a side code declared itself to be, if desired, a fully professional sport open to all of its member clubs.

The financial problems, albeit on a much smaller scale but just as relevant to the clubs involved, are highlighted in the lower leagues of the sport where a number of clubs are paying their players, often perhaps just five or six of the better performers, a sum of money handed out by a generous donor. And when the donor calls time on the loosening of the purse strings the club often goes hurtling down the minor leagues to obscurity. Look around you and you will soon note the sudden rise in standards at a particular club as it races through one or two leagues and then comes racing down again when the source of the money dries up.

We at Liverpool St.Helens FC endured such a procedure and only now have come to terms with the priorities of an amateur rugby union club - a provision on the field for players and teams of all standards, an ambition supported by sensible and affordable financing, and the provision of a camaraderie and happy social life within the club for all of its members. Whatever the standard of the League in which a club is competing the players within that club must be capable of realising the demands of the league, be they high or low, and enjoy themselves accordingly.

When I hear of the size of some of the players' seasonal salaries - £350,000 plus a year and more - currently being paid out in the Aviva Premiership - I really do believe that many of the most fashionable clubs are heading for difficult times. Let us hope that the clubs in the lower divisions, to their detriment, having been tempted to pay players in the past, now realise that simply enjoying a game of rugby and spending an hour or two in a vibrant clubhouse with good company is  valueable in itself. If there is a "few bob" to spare then spend it on the players' welfare and their social activities. Not on the wages of a few.

Any sport must have its elite players and clubs to promote itself to the general public, and money must be raised and sought to maintain such a hierarchy. But at lesser levels there should be no reason for any club to put itself in financial difficulties on account of the misuse of its income.  

Ray French

September 2017