Junior clubs appeal for unity

Sunday's dissenters are not seeking a schism, reports David Llewellyn
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The Independent Online
There are faint sounds of unity emerging from beneath the rubble of Sunday's Special General Meeting of the Rugby Football Union in Birmingham, which left the game in apparent disarray and in very real danger of being split wide open on the professionalism debate.

Delegates ended up neither debating nor voting on the RFU Commission report into professionalism, and there is now a possibility of the top clubs - a minority in the RFU - setting off down their own path to the paid ranks and leaving the rest - the majority of clubs - to fend for themselves on the bumpy road of amateurism.

But last night there was a plea to the senior clubs from a schoolteacher, Dave Hiles. He is a lifelong member of the National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers and it was his intervention which forced the RFU to reconvene the SGM within six weeks to discuss the Commission Report.

Hiles, who has been secretary of Pinner and Grammarians (Middlesex Two) for 19 years, said: "I would say to the senior clubs that the meeting was not conclusive, we did not have time to debate the 40 points of the commission's report. So don't give a knee-jerk reaction to it and go your own way in the next four or five weeks. Wait and see what the next meeting decides."

Hiles, who typifies the grassroots of the game by still playing rugby at the age of 57, explained: "I fear a schism and I do not want the tail, the junior clubs, wagging the dog, the senior clubs. Anyway, there is no reversing the way they have gone. But after yesterday's meeting it was suggested to me that, since the senior clubs have their own organisation, then the junior clubs ought to have their own as well. But that to me would be the end of everything. A schism would be devastating for the game.

"I back professionalism. I think the game has to move forward and we have to accept it. But we have to have the RFU back in the driving seat, making the initiatives rather than responding to them when they come from elsewhere."

Vic Jenkins, secretary of Ivel Barbarians, who play in Somerset Two, echoed Hiles: "I wouldn't say there is a strong feeling about amateurism and professionalism in our club, but this is the biggest thing that has happened to rugby in the last 100 years, and we all feel that clubs should be allowed to vote on the recommendations contained in the report.

"I do not foresee a schism in the game. I believe there will be professionals and amateurs under the same umbrella. The meeting was not about professionalism, it was simply about democracy. About clubs being allowed to vote and having a say in their game. There are things in the commission report that people have to be careful about. There is a lot of money coming into the game and the grassroots of rugby must ensure that it is looked after."

There is no anger or indignation in Tunbridge Wells, either, where club chairman David Corry - father of the Bristol back-row, Martin - said: "It would appear that there are two camps, that there would seem to be a groundswell for people who don't want things to change. Yet clearly at the top things have already changed and we at Tunbridge Wells certainly think it is wrong to put any brake on it at this stage. People have suggested we go back to how things were, but as far as I am concerned we don't have anything to go back to."

Despite his impressions after the meeting, Corry is optimistic about the outcome. "I would hope that both camps could be united, because as far as the future of the game is concerned I would firmly be of the view that the game has to be administered by one body and one body only."