Thursday 13 April 1995
From Mr G Austin,
Sir: At this time of year, talk of traitorous Judases and 30 pieces of silver is often rife. In this momentous year it is perhaps more relevant them ever before. The accusers are supporters of certain rugby league teams, the betrayed are the teams who are being urged to merge with near rivals, and the accused is the chief executive of the Rugby Football League.
If Maurice Lindsay has his way, the famous Rugby League team of Widnes will be no more, Yes, the chief executive of the RFL aims to merge Widnes with its geographical neighbours Warrington into a leaner, meaner superteam called Cheshire.
The fact is, geography represents the only close relationship Warrington and Widnes have ever enjoyed. There has always been a certain animosity between fans of the rival teams which has frequently boiled over into violence over the last few years.
Although rugby league is known as the man's game for all the family where opposite supporters can watch a match in perfect harmony, tribal hatred can rear its ugly head. Have the proponents of this ill-fated merger considered the downside? Even assuming good behaviour from the fans, there are other sad consequences of these proposals.
The words leaner and meaner can only apply by drastic decommissioning of staff. There are two of each position from chairman to charlady, full- back to forward, captain to cleaner, and one will have to go.
If the redundant players cannot be found positions in other clubs then they will be forced to join the dole queue. Imagine losing one of Karle Hammond, Iestyn Harris, David Hulme, Francis Maloney, Anthony Singleton, Greg Mackey ... They can't all be in the new set-up and other Super League clubs will have their own selection headaches.
But what of losing a whole team that has brought joy to millions of people over the years? The recent history of top-flight rugby league highlights this.
Yes, we know the game has to move forward, and there is no room for tradition in the money magnet of modern sport, but history is important. From the early days of rugby league in the late nineteenth century, Wigan dominated the game. In the modem era, from the late Eighties to the present day, Wigan are the prime team. However, the cherry-and-whites had been relegated to the Second Division in 1980.
From the mid-Seventies until the beginning of the next decade, Widnes were known as the cup kings. Indeed, in 1979 they won everything apart from the League (which they won the previous year). Their dominance resumed nine years later and at arguably the pinnacle of their history, they beat Canberra Raiders at Old Trafford to become Great Britain's first world club champions.
They are not the force they once were but this is not an obituary. I think Widnes can make it in the Super League as a team in their own right.
From Mr R A Bradford
Sir: If the latest emissions from rugby union's International Board concerning the replacement of prop forwards in matches have been correctly reported, they are yet another example of the muddled thinking that is typical of rugby's heirarchy.
While it is reasonable to replace an uninjured player to enable a specialist prop to take the field, it is laughable to permit a side without such a specialist to elect to have uncontested serums. There is not a smidgen of evidence that coaches will "play the game" and not take advantage.
If a side feels it is unable to contest scrums it should be entitled to make an irrevocable election, when it has no specialist prop available, not to scrummage. That side would effectively be refusing to form a scrummage and a free-kick should be awarded to the non-offending side instead.
R A BRADFORD
Market Rasen, Lincs
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