Rugby League: Bigger issues behind expulsion vote

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The Independent Online
The turbulent relationship between Super League clubs and the rest could reach its turning point - and perhaps its breaking point - at Salford today.

The fate of Keighley and Workington is the catalyst that could start a chain reaction within the game when the Rugby League Council votes this afternoon on a recommendation to expel them both.

That recommendation comes from the League's board of directors. Opposition will be marshalled by the First and Second Division Clubs' Association - but the issues go a lot deeper than the future of two clubs.

No one, least of all Fasda, would claim that Workington and Keighley have been well-run operations. Both have been in administration, with heavy debts, for over a year and Fasda is party to a League policy of getting tough with basket cases.

There was a Fasda representative at the board meeting that recommended expulsion, but the Association speaks for many outside the two towns affected when it argues against giving them the chop.

If clubs are to be cast out for the sin of being broke, where is it to stop? By coincidence, a report from the accountants, KPMG, this week reveals that, on the latest available figures, only two Super League clubs are making a profit and several are technically insolvent.

Fasda clubs also fear the motives of their bigger brethren. The Super League chairman, Chris Caisley, has this week denied urging the expulsions in order to divert the two clubs' Sky money to Super League.

That is true as far as it goes, but Caisley has put down a marker suggesting, if they do go out of business, "we would hope that those funds would become available to promote... Super League". At the very least, we have the unhealthy situation where some clubs have a vested interest in others folding.

Keighley have the additional conviction that the League, and its chief executive, Maurice Lindsay, in particular, have a "down" on them.

Whatever the truth of that, it has been conveniently forgotten that, whatever their faults, few clubs have brought as many new fans into the game. The Keighley supporters who will no doubt turn out in force at The Willows today will be a reminder of that.

The smaller clubs are also concerned about mathematics. Axing two of their number brings closer the day when Super League clubs would have enough votes to cut off their funding completely, should they so wish. Soothing voices might say that would never happen, but the minnows hear the hawks within Super League and wonder.

Not that Fasda will fight every hopeless case. Prescot, terminally useless for years, will quietly die today, without a voice raised in protest.

Likewise, there is a general acceptance in the lower divisions that the principle of automatic promotion to Super League is doomed.

But when it comes to killing off the best-supported club outside Super League, plus the biggest club in one of only three counties where rugby league is truly a part of the landscape, alarm bells start to ring.

It will take four clubs from outside Super League to vote for expulsions to give the board its way. If not, the little men will have defied them - and are braced for the backlash.

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