Earlier this week it was announced that Leigh Miners fourth round Challenge Cup tie against League One opponents Oxford would be moved from their home of Twist Lane to the Leigh Sports Village, home of local professional side Leigh Centurions.
The decision was made after Oxford raised concerns about Twist Lane hosting the game, complaints the RFL agreed with. There have been similar circumstances with Featherstone Lions and Normanton Knights who were drawn at ‘home’ however will now play their fixtures at the Big Fellas Stadium (Featherstone) and Rapid Solicitors Stadium (Wakefield), respectively.
It has not been made clear what these complaints are however it is hard to see what they could be. Twist Lane has a good tidy pitch as well as having a fantastic club and bar and would have no problem hosting a larger crowd than usual.
This move has led to a very frosty reception from both Leigh Miners and the amateur Rugby League community as a whole. Both see no reason as to why the fixture cannot be played at the Miners actual home ground. This is something that has become more and more common over recent times with Challenge Cup games often being moved to local professional team venues. In recent years Blackbrook, Milford and Hull Dockers have all been forced to move their games. In 2013 West Hull played a home tie at Wilderspool in Warrington! It looks as if the RFL want to take away ‘home advantage’ for the amateur sides in favour of their established clubs, if you can count Oxford as ‘established’.
Leigh Miners now have to pay £3000 to host the game at the LSV on Sunday. This has led to the formation of the 100 club by Leigh Miners which has seen locals and local business’ chip in to help them reach this target (A true insight into the Rugby League community). Twitter has been the source of backlash were many locals and Rugby League fans are disgruntled and disappointed with the RFL’s choice.
Surely with decisions like this the RFL has to look at themselves and wonder what has made them make such a poor judgement. By moving the game to the LSV it takes away a huge opportunity for Leigh Miners to bring in some revenue and in the long run improve facilities such as their home, the original issue here. Instead they now have to fork out £3000 in order to play in a competition which is meant to the be the most prestigious domestic trophy in Rugby League. £3000 to play a ‘home’ game against a semi-pro side which for any National Conference club is a big opportunity.
It was only last season when Wigan St Patricks came up against Leigh Centurions in the third round at the LSV. After the game St Pats reported they made just a grand total sum of £68 from their participation in the third round of the Challenge Cup. This led one of the most famous amateur clubs around to not participate in the competition for the first time in years. Yet it seems the RFL never batted an eyelid.
If there’s one thing I really hate doing it’s comparing Rugby League to Football however in this scenario surely we have to look at our sporting counterpart for inspiration. The FA Cup, the oldest and most famous domestic Football trophy in the world, and is it a wonder why. The competition invites teams from all over England, amateur and professional, to compete against one another and if a somewhat lesser amateur club is drawn at home, they play at home. For example in this years first round Warrington Town, from the eighth tier, hosted Exeter City in a huge televised game which brought substantial finance and time in the public eye to the club. Surprisingly Warrington also won which I’m sure playing at home in front of a large boisterous crowd helped towards.
Yes, while the gulf in class between amateur and professional may be less in Football than Rugby League surely the premise is the same.
Whilst the amount of clubs entering the Challenge Cup has remained steady with issues like this arising every year and the competition offering no financial or social benefits to amateur clubs it seems only a matter of time until we see more and more go the way of St Pats. And can you blame them?
It really is saddening to see the RFL go to these lengths just to keep there semi-pro and professional sides happy and neglecting the amateur sides – the sides who really keep British Rugby League going. The sides who produce the next stars, who give people Rugby to watch on a Saturday afternoon, and who bring communities and towns together.
While this decision is now, seemingly, set in stone I, for one, certainly hope the RFL look at how they have gone about this decision and rectify it in future years by allowing amateur sides to stage their ‘home’ games and allow them to bring in some revenue and build for the future. As for the game itself I’m sure many in the amateur Rugby League world, myself included, would love to see Miners pull off an upset, a feat not achieved since Siddal beat Doncaster in 2010.