Rugby League: Lindsay turns tough face to accusers: Chief executive claims immunity from decision to expel three clubs from lower division and promotes idea of feeder league

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THE SPORTS administrator at bay after things have gone horribly wrong is becoming one of the recurring images of the sporting year. Where Maurice Lindsay has improved upon the performances of Ted Dexter and others is in striking the right balance between bravado and contrition.

The chief executive of the Rugby Football League faced his tormentors yesterday with a whole game in turmoil to be answered for, rather than just one failed tour. It was not meant to be like this.

The first of a series of monthly briefings - loosely based on the Westminster model - was planned before the furore broke over the League's latest change of direction and the distance Lindsay had - literally - put between himself and it.

It was scheduled for the first Monday of the month. Perhaps it says something about rugby league's current confusion that this turned out to be 29 March; perhaps the Ides of March would have been more appropriate.

To stage a convincing Julius Caesar, however, someone has to plunge in the knife and the emperor clearly believed that his toga was blade and bullet-proof. He emerged somewhat jostled by the mob but no worse than that.

Criticism of the former Wigan chairman since the plan for reverting to two divisions of 16 and expelling three clubs first saw the light of day has taken two forms. As chief executive, he is held responsible for the benighted decisions of the member clubs which threaten to drag the game back into the dark ages. He also stands accused of a far too convenient absence from the epicentre when the decision was made and he was missing again, at the races this time, when the after-shock took hold.

His plea of not guilty, with reservations, to both charges was pursued with his customary vigour. The clubs had made up their minds, even though he disagreed with some aspects of their decision. 'It would have made no difference if I had been there,' he said.

And the Cheltenham episode, including the opportunity it gave his critics to circulate pictures of him taking bets on the rails while they railed against injustice? 'I regret that Thursday, really. But I don't think it would have mattered a jot if it had not been at this sensitive phase of the game's history.'

He quoted with approval one writer's comment that he had become 'a convenient target for hatred'. That would no doubt be echoed by other correspondents whose language has been obscene and abusive in the extreme.

Lindsay believes that it was the emotive issue of the three expulsions that was responsible for that and some slightly better-balanced criticism. There were no crocodile tears from him yesterday for the doomed trio, however, only the very feint prospect that one of his two Big Ideas could be in place in time to save them.

Lindsay wants to see a feeder league - called the Conference or some such - to accommodate ambitious amateurs as well as any displaced persons from the professional ranks. As that depends on reaching an historic agreement with a suspicious amateur arm of the game, the chances of it being achieved this year are negligible.

The other Big Idea would involve the Rugby League Council signing away its decision-making powers to a smaller body, inevitably spearheaded by the chief executive. Lindsay believes the time is now ripe for this; the council's latest handiwork has persuaded many that it is over- ripe, but that is not to say that the council will feel like committing suicide.

But nor is Lindsay bowing under his share of the blame. 'When people are piling the s-h-i-t on you,' he spelt out coyly, 'you sometimes feel like going home and putting your feet up. But I won't do that; I'll tough it out.'

And had he any tip for the Grand National? 'No, but I can give you the odds.' We never found out exactly what they were, but the odds against Maurice Lindsay taking the loaded revolver his enemies have been offering him have lengthened considerably.

(Photograph omitted)

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