Rugby League: League votes for two divisions

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THE member clubs of the Rugby League yesterday voted three of their number into almost certain oblivion. The professional game will revert next season to two divisions of 16 clubs each, with the bottom three teams in this season's Third Division invited to join the competition for reserve sides.

That means the end of the road for three of the five clubs struggling at the foot of the table - Barrow, Blackpool Gladiators, Chorley, Highfield and Nottingham City.

Barrow, one of the great names of the past, voted in favour of the measure, clearly expecting to escape. Only Bramley and London Crusaders joined the other four threatened clubs in opposing it.

'It's disgusting,' Syd Secker, the Chorley director, said. 'We've only been in the League four years and we've had a struggle, but if we want to carry on, who are they to say we can't?'

Geoff Fletcher, the long-serving chairman of Highfield, said he would carry on the fight for survival 'on and off the field', while Allan Sherratt, the chairman of Blackpool, said that the decision 'runs counter to any natural sporting justice. It is the end of the expansion of the game. Who will put money into a new club when they know they can be voted out on a whim?'

Paul Tomlinson, the chairman of Nottingham, criticised the League for failing to support the game in the East Midlands.

The chairman of the League, Bob Ashby, was unapologetic about the decision. 'In some cases, it is a matter of saving people from themselves,' he said. 'By getting rid of teams that cannot perform as well as amateur sides, we will finish up with two strong, competitive divisions of 16.'

Also in the package voted through yesterday's meeting in Leeds was the abolition of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Cups, features of the game since its inception. However, clubs in an expanded First Division will face extra games next season, something that is seen by many as a backward step.

That is unlikely to be a major concern at the moment for clubs such as Hull KR and Leigh, who are spared the possibility of relegation by the decision to bring up two clubs and demote none in order to increase the First Division.

The game's board of directors will start discussing the mechanics of promotion and relegation in succeeding seasons next week, when the five clubs on the brink of the abyss are invited to talks about compensation or what future, if any, they might have in the game.