`This sport always belonged to the working man. Now it belongs to the businessmen'

. . . but Guy Hodgson finds the rank and file less than ecstatic about what the future holds for their game
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The Independent Online
As an exercise in crowd management, it could hardly have been bettered. At 2.44 the Tannoy sparked into life with a message: "Widnes have been accepted into the Super League". With that simple sentence the ugly mood evaporated into the sunny sky.

These are volatile times in rugby league, and it was in keeping with the accelerating speed of change that, as Naughton Park exhaled with relief, the Cricketer's Arms, a pub 100 yards from the ground, was seething with discontent. The Super League has distorted opinions nationwide but in the sport's heart, the north, they can barely believe what they have witnessed.

A Widnes supporter, for example, had seen the club's fate switch from merger most foul (with Warrington) to effective relegation from, and then acceptance into the Super League. This in the space of six days. No wonder there were leaflets being distributed outside the ground.

The ones circulating the Cricketer's Arms derive from Widnes' opponents yesterday, Warrington, and had the value of stemming from a club certain of Super League status. Unselfish it might have been, but moderate it was not.

"What you have to remember," it read under photographs of the two Super League architects, Maurice Lindsay and Rupert Murdoch, "is that these two jolly bedfellows are businessmen and as such are only interested in making money. The game we watch from the terraces is of secondary importance."

It was the perception that supporters had been ignored that hurt most in Widnes yesterday. "I woke up crying the morning after I heard we would be merging with Widnes," a woman wearing Warrington's colours called Tina said. To hear from a news broadcast that a club that has existed for 120 years would die was disgusting.

"I know Warrington are in the Super League but you can't forget other clubs like Castleford and Featherstone. I know what I felt when the worst appeared to be happening. For them having to merge must be horrible."

John, another Warrington supporter, said the most important question had not been addressed. "No one has said what will happen if Murdoch pulls out after five years. What are we left with? Clubs called Calder that no one really wants while great names in rugby league will have died. It's terrible what's happening. I know of no one who thinks it's a good idea."

A particularly large Widnes supporter could not be consoled even when he heard the death sentence on his club had been lifted. "It's broken my bond with the game," he said. "I've supported Widnes home and away for 20 years and I can't feel the same any more. This sport always belonged to the working man. Now it belongs to businessmen.

"This whole thing is to make Wigan the world champions. If Maurice Lindsay dared to show his face here he'd be lynched - except hanging would be too quick and not painful enough."