Whirlwind deal is talk of the toon

Click to follow
The Independent Online
The pioneering deal which has effectively turned Newcastle Gosforth - under the new title of Newcastle Rugby Football Club Ltd - into a fully professional offshoot of Newcastle United Football Club was done in just eight days once the International Rugby Board had abandoned amateurism.

For once it would not be an exaggeration to state that the change in the status of the Second Division club, coupled with the huge infusion of cash which will enable the purchase of an entire team, has sent shock waves through rugby - both north and south of the border.

Already Scottish rugby, especially in the Borders, is bracing itself for a raiding-party from Newcastle, and David Campbell, the Scot who conducted the negotiations with Newcastle United's board (chairman: Sir John Hall) as Newcastle Gosforth's chairman of rugby, would have been perfectly happy if that were the case.

"The first step will be as soon as possible to appoint a professional rugby administrator charged with attracting the best possible players," Campbell said. "The squad we have are enthusiastic about the possibilities but obviously some are going to fall by the wayside and we need to strengthen the positions where we know the weaknesses are."

This is more or less what every ambitious club says at the start of every season. The difference is that Newcastle will have the financial clout to put Campbell's words into action. Given rugby's new dispensation, they would be likely, if necessary, to challenge in the courts any restrictions such as the Rugby Football Union's 120-day qualification rule for transferring players or any moratorium on club professionalism.

There has already been contact between the club and the RFU. "We want to do this in conjunction with the governing body, because we want our players to be used as rugby development officers. Sir John himself has made it clear to me that the game has to be addressed at the grass roots."

Campbell, a former second row who captained Gosforth in the 1961-62 season, was appointed chairman of rugby two months ago and had already been drawing up proposals even before the fateful IRB meeting 10 days ago. He made a presentation to the club's board of management the next day.

There followed a breathless and confidential sequence of events. On Tuesday of last week, Campbell arranged to see Sir John's son, Douglas, and Freddie Shepherd, another director. This meeting took place last Wednesday and by the time Newcastle Gosforth played West Hartlepool last Saturday the football club's solicitors had drawn up heads-of-agreement. The rugby club's board of management met again on Monday.

"There was another long discussion which took us to midnight before I was given carte blanche by the board of management without needing to have a vote," Campbell said. So, subject to contract, the new set-up is a fait accompli - without even, according to Campbell, the need for a special general meeting of members.

"We have had the constitution of the club combed with a fine toothcomb and we believe the board of management has the power to progress this, though obviously we have to keep the members aware of what is happening."

Financial details have not been disclosed but, though the cash injection is small change compared with what Kevin Keegan has spent to rebuild Newcastle United, it will be a fortune in the context of rugby. "It is a multi-million agreement," Campbell said, "rather than the multi-multi-million agreement it would be in soccer."

Comments