Heros or villains?

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Back when Sir Alex Ferguson took over as manager at Manchester United, it was widely reported that there was a drinking culture rife throughout the club.

Fergie decided to put a stop to this and slowly but surely he weeded out those who were overly fond of a few pints no matter what time of day, and began to instil his own methods of discipline in the way the players trained and rested. Fergie walked into a drinking culture at United and chief culprits allegedly were fan favourites Whiteside and McGrath. It was unpopular but to cleanse the squad and prove his iron fist selling the pair was a vital early decision.  The drinking school Fergie discovered on his arrival allegedly featured Captain Marvel. Though Whiteside and McGrath were sent packing, Robson’s commitment and performances never wavered despite off-field partying. Fergie stuck by his skipper and Robbo remained a key figure.

Now, back in the late 80’s, going out and getting mullered was seen as a manly thing to do as a sportsman, even Bobby Moore advertised a visit to your local. Fast forward to the present day, and it’s very much the opposite unless you happen to be a rugby league player.

Last year’s World Cup. England, all together as a squad with high hopes of reaching the final. Gareth Hock ignoring the coach and not only going out for a drink, but taking other unnamed players with him and he lost the chance to represent his country on the biggest stage possible for the sport, and this was AFTER his rehabilitation from a two year ban after testing positive for cocaine! Another who was due to shine was Zak Hardaker, sent home for “personal reasons” only to be fined after a Leeds Rhinos club investigation and who has been back in the news for a different reason lately. Zak made a stupid comment in the heat of a TV game that was caught on camera. Who hasn’t said something stupid in the heat of the moment? Only we’re not professional sportsmen and we didn’t have a camera on us at the time. There were even people who wanted him banned for life! Now, you go and ask anyone in the LGBT community what they think and they will tell you he’s a d**k head who made a mistake.

And things have altered a lot this season. Gareth has been in sensational form for Salford and no one hears about his off field antics, which is great, but there are others who seem to think that every Monday is Mad Monday, or that it’s OK to drink drive because you’re a local hero, or try certain substances because they are offered to you on a plate for free, because of your job.

I appreciate that players need to let off steam after a game, but the advent of social media (mainly twitter) means that everyone gets to see your indiscretions as soon as you make them.

In the past week, the Cronulla Sharks have fired Todd Carney for posting a “lewd” photo of himself and Hull KR have fired Wayne Ulugia for “repeated breaches of club discipline”. He was two months into an 18 month contract, and you’re telling me the bright lights of Hull sent him off the rails?

Come on, don’t be so naïve.

Hull KR have had their fair share of players who liked a drink and then wanted to drive home, or lash out at someone after too many pints of scotch on a Sunday night just as all clubs have. I grew up in East Hull, and the rumour mill on a Monday was always alive with who drunk what or slept with another of the local bikes after having had too many, but I’m sure other clubs were just as bad, just better at either keeping out of the papers, or had fans with a little more discretion.

I really thought those days were long gone, until 2011 and Ben Cockayne. He allegedly posted the racist remark “p*** c***” on his friend’s Facebook Wall. Ben is another who has really turned a corner in both his private life and on the field. Another from the Hull stable of bad lads turned good is Paul Cooke. In October 2006, he was convicted of assault occasioning actual bodily harm following an altercation in Pozition nightclub in Hull, and then in 2008 a conviction for drink driving. Again, Paul has turned things around and is doing a great job at Doncaster, Josh Charnley, posting a nude photo of himself on what must have been a very, very cold day (Sorry Josh) was lucky. He just had people rib him about it. Another player who has spent time working in East Hull…

But why do rugby league players seem to think that it’s still OK to act like an idiot?

Todd Carney is claiming his mate’s brother lost his phone which led to “that” photo going viral and him being fired from his au$650,000 a year job. Whatever the reason for it getting out there, the fact is that players need to wise up when they are out socialising, and it’s up to the clubs who employ them to make certain that players coming through academies and those already on top contracts get taught what’s right and what’s wrong.

Journalists will always follow the story and when you’re an athlete in a sport as community centric as rugby league, you can bet your bottom dollar that any whiff of scandal will be plastered all over the news. Not to try and damage you, or your club, but to garner more views or sell more copies in a dog eat dog world. That’s just the way it is. Remember Gazza and the kebab night out with Danny Baker and Chris Evans? Just before a tournament, and he’s daft enough to be led astray, the golden boy of English Football as he was at the time.

Be it Hull, Leeds, Castleford, Wigan or Sydney, players will have to learn that there is no one who won’t sell their story or photo to a local paper if the money is right. Money talks and morals walk. I pride myself on keeping a confidence, and even as a journalist, I wouldn’t wilfully post a rumour that would hurt either a club or a player without checking all my facts first, or I risk losing the confidence of players, coaches and media mangers and then my job is pointless.

There has to be a sea change at club level as well. It’s OK having suites of people who look after your clubs media image, and who proudly claim to be a media manger, but who teaches the kids in the academy how to handle the press, or some of those players who may not be as tech savvy as others? Clubs need to act now to ensure that players and staff at all levels are not just aware of their responsibilities where social media is concerned, but also teach them how to use it properly, after all, it’s another tool in their bag to showcase themselves and connect with fans worldwide.

I’m very pleased to say that those I’ve mentioned here are the minority and they have all returned to the game reformed characters. You never hear of Jamie Peacock rolling out of a nightclub drunk, or Sonny Bill Williams lashing out at someone. Hell, Sonny is playing the next month without breaking his strict religious views as its Ramadan. He should be on the front pages of every paper for putting his body on the line like that. No food or fluids after 7am? Rather him than me…

Let’s celebrate the fact that on the whole, our superstars are actually decent, hardworking people who thrill us week in and week out with their skills, rather than focusing on the minority who give the rest a bad name.

 

 

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What is wrong with the clowns at Red Hall?

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Is a question often asked by fans of the game. It’s now a question being asked more often, and with a louder voice by the administrators and owners of the clubs as well, and not just Dr Marwan Koukash over at Salford, but in the games heartlands as well. And it’s not just Nigel Wood that has irked the men who in more cases than we would like to be reminded of keep our clubs afloat…
Recently, Hull KR chair Neil Hudgell was fined £1000 for comments made about the disciplinary panel, or more specifically, the match review panel. You can read the excellent piece on both Adam Pearson and Neil Hudgell by the Hull Daily Mail’s James Smailes in this month’s edition of Forty-20 magazine, although I notice that the RFL are consistent in their inconsistency, not fining Pearson, but fining Hudgell, but I want to ask another question of those idiots at Red Hall.

Why schedule Magic Weekend for the same date as the FA Cup final?

OK, what no one could have foreseen was that both Wigan Athletic and Hull City were in with a chance of actually making it to Wembley for the final, but what was wrong with holding it on the Bank Holiday Weekend like in 2013? Better weather, bigger crowds all means more money in the pockets of Red Hall.
If like me, you are a Hull KR fan who also follows City and happens to also have a Son who is a Wigan Athletic supporter (It’s his Mothers fault. Don’t ask!) What should I do if Wigan make it to Wembley? I can’t send him on his own. And if Hull make it, do we both go and miss the only day of Rugby that’s worth watching this year?
Someone at the RFL should have looked at the sporting calendar and realised what a huge mistake they were making. Only a moron wouldn’t realise that the sporting press would rather be in London than Manchester for the day!
Is this just a case of the RFL not actually thinking before doing, or were there other factors? Either way, as the RFL is such a secretive pain in the arse, we as fans will never know, but I bet the FA are laughing their socks off at Rugby League trying to stage one of its biggest events on the same day as the FA Cup final. And they wonder why those both within and without of the game think that Red Hall is a joke. The left hand is too ignorant to even acknowledge that the right exists where other sports and the fans are concerned. The fans are little more than revenue machines to be fleeced whenever possible.
A few years ago, I was at Headingly for a World Club Challenge game. The RFL had taken over the catering and the prices had all been raised. Why? No one was willing to say, but I was told at the time that it was nothing to do with the club.
Personally, I won’t make it to either as an old friend is being enthroned in her new church in West Kirkby that day, and I made a promise that I would be there to watch, as neither the FA nor the RFL were willing to move their games…
Trust me, I asked!

Is the honeymoon over?

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It wouldn’t be the start of a season without a crisis somewhere. Yet again, it’s Bradford Bulls. As a Hull KR fan, I know all about watching your club live on the edge of disappearing. Neil Hudgell has wrought miracles keeping the club afloat, and with a new board member John Keable putting his financial clout in to the mix, hopefully, the days of week by week worry are behind them.
Bradford just seem to lurch from one crisis to another at the moment though. After all the money the fans pumped in to save the club (twice), they are now one game away from being on zero after the six points they were docked for entering administration and looking like (two players jumping ship aside) a team with real purpose. I can’t blame those players who left. After all, they have mortgages to pay, bills will become due and good will only goes so far. All credit to Francis Cummins. He has been a rod of iron during this latest crisis.
Is it about time the RFL just allowed a club to go under? It matters not that the club is one of the oldest in the competition, it would hopefully serve as a reminder that the pot of money in our game is not as deep as we would like to either hope or believe it is. Even the “new” Sky deal only slowed down the need of a few clubs to avoid calling in the administrators if rumours are to be believed.
In an ideal world, every club would have a Mr Keable or a Dr Koukash, but life just isn’t that fair. Sometimes the herd needs to be thinned out.
If the fans got together and as was suggested by Rod Studd, either bought the club or started a new one like FC United of Manchester, who knows? If the RFL gave grass roots clubs the sort of support they need, then perhaps in the new world of promotion and relegation, we may well see either a reborn Bulls or even a Bradford Northern once again grace the top flight of the game in the UK, and challenging for honours.

Talking of Dr Koukash…
After a fantastic first forty minutes against Wakefield on day one of Super League, Salford have been brought back down to earth with a bit of a bump.
The mauling handed to them in front of their home crowd by Saint Helens prompted the charismatic owner, Dr Marwan Koukash to tell fans that the team would not play like that again. In the intervening period before last night’s Widnes game, I’ve heard people (some of whom should know better) that Brian Noble was out of top flight coaching for too long, and had become little more than a media darling with his work at Premier Sports and in the printed press.
Rubbish!
If any coach has had a close up look at modern day tactics, it’s Nobby. He attended almost as many RLWC games as were possible, and from his media eyrie, and with the access to the players and coaches he will have had, you can guarantee he was making more than a mental note of what plays were working and how they were put together.
I do believe that Salford as a team need a couple of things.
A week without a player being side-lined for a month would be nice, and any club that brings in 13 new players will take time to gel on the field of play.
I can see the owner’s frustration, and can to a great degree share it, being a season ticket holder, but I’m also a realist. You don’t become a bad coach overnight, just as you can’t build a great team overnight, especially in a sport as reliant on communication between players as ours is.
At the shirt presentation, Dr Koukash said his relationship with Brian Noble was more than the usual coach/owner one you will find in sport. I hope that Brian is given time to make this squad into the team they have the potential to become, because if not, Phil Clarke will look a right idiot backing them to win everything this season!