As an passionate Wakefield Trinity fan studying and living in York for the last 3 years, I have taken a keen interest in the progress of rugby league in York over the last couple of years. Therefore it was saddening for me to hear Thursday night’s news about the club’s existence in a time where the on-field team had manoeuvred their way into a good position to bid for promotion to the second tier of English rugby league.
In the past, York City Knights have given chances to many future Super League players and have been key to the development of all of these players. These players include past England internationals Danny Brough and Peter Fox, Warrington winger Tom Lineham, and future star for Wakefield Trinity, Jordan Crowther. They also gave a first coaching opportunity to France coach Richard Agar.
In recent years, York have seemingly been the nearly men of their division. Since being relegated to League One in 2014, they have finished in the top 4 on all three occasions and hence gave themselves a chance of promotion in the respective year’s playoffs on each occasion. They also managed to make the final of the 2016 iPro Sport Cup, losing out to Keighley Cougars.
On the field, the issue had seemingly been a failure to loan young players from top teams whilst other teams organised these deals purely for the promotion playoffs. For an example of this, see Hunslet Hawks in 2014. As York City Knights stuck with the status quo of their squad after finishing top of the league in the regular season , Hunslet Hawks arranged deals to loan players such as Richard Moore and Luke Briscoe and these signings helped them grab promotion to the Championship.
Off the field, the club has seemed to hang by a thread for many years with many of the club’s issues centering around a stadium debacle that has many similarities to the issues faced by my own club, Wakefield Trinity.
For those of you that don’t know, York City Knights played at Huntington Stadium until 2014, with the plan being to move out of this ground temporarily whilst developments were being done in order to turn this stadium into a multi-purpose Community Stadium that would provide a home for both York City Knights and York City FC. However, the result of this has been that York City Knights have had no ground of their own for the past 2 years with no start in sight for the building developments. The blame for this has been laid squarely on the door of York City Council in the same way that Wakefield Council has been blamed for the issues of no new community stadium in the Newmarket area of Wakefield.
Since 2015, York City Knights have attempted to bridge their differences with York City FC and have attempted to use Bootham Crescent whilst waiting for the new Community Stadium to be built. However, this has been far from easy and resulted in York City Knights playing home games in Featherstone, Doncaster and at Heworth ARLFC (a ground that, with respect, is not suitable for League One rugby league games) in 2015. The first part of this year had been a little more smooth on the stadium front as home games were played at Bootham Crescent , with this only becoming an issue in the last few weeks with York City FC not allowing important Super 8s games to be played on their pitch due to the effects of having two games in as many days on the same pitch.
The issue with pitch use ended up being the final straw for the York City Knights board and meant that the decision was made to end the fight for existence, with financial issues over the past few years being unearthed to be also contributing to the decision.
Reports of other lower league clubs struggling are also prevalent and hence it may be time to ask if there are reasons for this within the game and if this means the RFL need to reconsider their plans for the game at this level. I display some of the potential issues about the league in this article.
In fact, these issues have not been exclusive to lower league clubs as we have seen with past financial issues at clubs such as Wakefield, Bradford and Crusaders; all of which were Super League clubs whilst in the spotlight of headlines about their stability. This also asks questions of the sport as a whole and it may be time to shake up the game as a whole despite the teams at the top getting a lot more support than the clubs at the League One level that I will talk about.
From an outside point of view, League One has seemed to be a strange league this year, with a lot of the information I find out being more to do with me searching for it rather than it being freely available.
First of all, League One has a strange makeup of teams. It contains mainly expansionist teams with York, Doncaster, Rochdale, Hunslet and Barrow thrown in as the established names. This means a lack of local rivalries in the league (where Super League has Wakefield vs Castleford, Hull FC vs Hull KR, St Helens vs Wigan and others and the Championship has Batley vs Dewsbury, Workington vs Whitehaven amongst others) and hence less instantly attractive games to supporters.
It also a lot of travelling has to be done for the players and fans to get to their away games. As most of the players playing in this league are part time players, this can cause issues in getting time off work to travel to Toulouse and Toronto (both teams which have to be given credit for their efforts despite the issues they may cause by being in the English league structure). It also means surely means big travel expenses for the clubs themselves and puts a further squeeze on the small budgets that they have.
Secondly, the league has 15 teams yet only has a regular league season 14 games long meaning that teams only get to play each opposition once and that leaves the league unbalanced as judgement must be made pre-season to decide which teams that each teams gets to play at home or play away against. This could be especially unbalanced when you think of the squad that each team can use when travelling to Toronto in comparison to playing Toronto at home.
Some teams are also deprived of big crowd revenues and big home fixtures by the luck of the draw with example of this being that York did not get to play either of Doncaster or Toulouse (2 of their biggest promotion rivals) at home in the regular season.
Having so little games and so many noncompetitive sides also means that the top of the league is too tight and it is hard to say that there is much difference between the teams in the league (the clubs finishing 3rd-9th in the league finishing within 6 points of each other). Although this makes a lot of games be important, it also makes you question the integrity of finishing each position in the league.
Thirdly, there is a lack of information portrayed on the league structure of this league. In order to find out about how promotion works in League One, I (a switched on rugby league supporter) had to ask on the York City Knights Facebook page only two weeks ago as I had not seen any information anywhere on rugby league websites and social media sites. If someone as obsessed with rugby league as me did not know the league structure despite searching on the internet then how can you expect other fans who do not already go to games to understand the importance of certain games?
Could a better league structure, more help for the smaller teams and better information on the leagues for less avid supporters mean a better league with less teams going the way of York City Knights? Write in the comments your opinions on this matter.