An email conversation with Kath Hetherington

'Rugby league is my lifeblood but clubs should be run as a business'
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The Independent Online

Can you explain your background in rugby league and how you come to be so heavily involved in it? I was born into the game. Three of my four brothers played pro and the eldest, Gary, played with Don Fox in the 1968 Watersplash final. Being from Featherstone, rugby league was a big part of the community so everyone took an interest in Rovers. I used to go to the games with my Aunt May. She was 4ft 10in, thin as a rail and quiet as a mouse, but when she got to matches she had a hatred for referees that brought out a stream of abuse that probably scarred me for life. The passion that people had for the team was unwavering – something that rugby league seems to bring out in people. My brother, Gary, had a huge influence on my learning the finer points of the game. He was ahead of his time with his vision of the game and I soaked this up as a child. I was interested in other sports as I grew up, but rugby league has always been my lifeblood.

Do you think that British successes in Beijing will have any knock-on benefits for other sports in this country? I think the Olympic success we have had is fantastic. I admire what the medal winners have accomplished and look forward to it kick-starting success in other sports. It would be interesting to have an in-depth look at what cycling and rowing have done to reach such dizzy heights from practically nowhere a few years ago.

Would success in the rugby league World Cup have a big effect on the domestic game? To win the World Cup would give the game a tremendous boost, raise its profile nationally and attract more people into playing. We aren't the favourites, but we are in with a shout and I can't wait for it to start.

You were the first woman chairman in rugby league – did you encounter much resistance and do you still? I did encounter some resistance at first but I am part of the furniture now. Women are far more easily accepted in both sport and business these days – not before time.

How do you look back now on what was achieved at Sheffield Eagles and do you take an interest in how they fare these days? What Gary [husband Gary Hetherington] and I achieved at Sheffield was remarkable, with no money and no assistance from the governing body at the time. We were young, keen and naïve and had a passion for the game that drove us on during some difficult times. I don't believe what we did at Sheffield would be possible today as you would have to have a lot more money than the £13,000, earned from me selling double glazing, with which we bought the entire team.

Since then, you have guided Hull and Gary has done the same for Leeds. What do you say to those who feel that the Hetherington family controls just a little too much of Super League? I realise that there are some people who have animosity towards Gary and me, but they don't understand what passion we both have for the game. It is our lives. We both feel that clubs should be run as a business, as that is the only way the game can survive in this day and age. I am at Hull FC and Gary at Leeds Rhinos – those are our jobs and we both try to do our best for our respective clubs.

Will it be a relief that the two of you are not on opposite sides on Saturday, as you were for the 2005 Challenge Cup final? I'm glad we [Hull FC] are there and I'm not bothered who isn't there. My two daughters are Rhinos and they were disappointed but they'll get over it.

Nobody fancies Hull in this final so tell us: can they win it? Nobody fancied us in 2005. Nobody fancied Sheffield in 1998 and nobody fancied Featherstone when they beat Hull in the 1993 final. We have had a very disrupted season, mainly due to injuries, but hopefully by 2.30 on Saturday we will have our strongest side of the season on the field. Richard Agar will have them fully prepared, so don't write anybody off in a final, certainly not Hull FC.

What will the impact be on Hull's two Super League clubs of Hull City being in the Premier League? Any sporting success can only be good for a city. We've already benefited from some improvements at the KC Stadium. It is up to us to make sure we don't take our eye off the ball and improve both off and on the field.

Hull effectively swallowed Gateshead after one season in Super League – did it have to be that way? The merger between Hull and Gateshead was the only way forward at that time.

Would you still like to have Paul Cooke in your side for Wembley? No.


*3 May 1952 Born Featherstone. Four older brothers all played rugby league.

*1976 Married Gary, much travelled hooker and founder of the players' trade union.

*1984 Founded Sheffield Eagles with Gary and guided them into the old First Division in 1989. Left in 1997.

*1984 First woman elected to Rugby League Council.

*1995 First female president of the Rugby Football League.

*1999 Joint founder of Gates-head Thunder but oversaw controversial merger of Thunder with Hull in November 1999 after one season in Super League.

*2000 Became chairman of Hull FC.

*2005 Hull chairman when they beat Gary's Leeds in 2005 Challenge Cup final.