Gareth Dyer's RU column

Former Preston Grasshoppers player and ex-director of rugby at Lightfoot Green writes every week for the Evening PostIt has been an less than glorious start to the season for the majority of the county's clubs.

Thursday, 22nd September 2016, 12:33 pm
Updated Tuesday, 4th October 2016, 1:51 pm
Gareth Dyer

A quick look at the various league tables sees few of them placed towards the top of their respective leagues after the opening three games.

Early days perhaps or already a sign of a difficult season ahead for the Red Rose clubs?

Hoppers’ disappointing reverse at bogey side Chester stifled the promise shown in the opening two weeks of the campaign, whilst other local sides such as Fylde and Vale of Lune have found positive results hard to come by in the opening three games.

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But one result that stood out for all the wrong reasons was Waterloo’s 99-7 reverse at the hands of North East side Billingham last Saturday.

For the once-mighty Waterloo to capitulate in such a way is depressing, not only for the club’s loyal supporters but also for those North West rugby watchers, who should be increasingly concerned by a lack of competitiveness from the region’s clubs.

Let’s not forget that when the league structure came into being in the late 1980s, Waterloo were deemed to be one of the 12 leading clubs in the country and formed part of what is now seen as the Premiership.

That they remained in the top two divisions for a significant period of time was also testament to their status.

But their fall has been severe, with a number of relegations in recent years.

After a period of stability, it has got so bad that they are now struggling to even field a second XV.

Some of the woes being experienced this season arise from unnecessary changes to the club’s rugby personnel in the off season.

Despite the club making steady progress after years of turmoil, some over-zealous club officials have mis-read this as underachieving when the opposite was probably a more accurate reflection of events. Some will not shed many tears for Waterloo and their current position. Sometimes when you are on your way down sympathy can be in short supply.

I must admit for a fleeting moment I was of the mind-set that you reap what you sow.

Certainly in the past, officials at Waterloo were not averse to throwing their weight around when their side were in the upper echelons and I know a number of smaller clubs – including my former club Blackburn – often felt there was a lack of respect in dealings between the two.

So it doesn’t surprise me now that in certain quarters the Waterloo club are getting short shrift with another drop in level likely.

However, I do have some sympathy for those trying to steady the ship at the club.

For they are real club members who are desperately trying to keep them going long after the big names have deserted them, having done untold damage to the club’s future.

Given the famous names that have graced Waterloo over the decades, I wonder how many are now actively supporting the club in its time of need.

My guess is probably none. Just like Orrell, Manchester and Liverpool St Helens before them, it has been left to those marginalised under the previous regimes to try and pick up the pieces and stop the slide into oblivion.

It is yet another desperate state of affairs for Lancashire senior club rugby.

When I was growing up the Lancashire Cup was a prestigious trophy that was as keenly contested as any.

A competition that had Orrell, Waterloo, Liverpool St Helens, Fylde, Hoppers, Manchester, Vale of Lune and Broughton Park at its core ensured a strong county competition.

It was underpinned by junior clubs such as Widnes, West Park, Blackburn and the soon-to-emerge Sedgley Park who, on their day, could be competitive with their bigger neighbours which ensured a robust competition.

That the senior Lancashire Cup has not been run for now several years tells its own 

For a county with such a rich playing history, this continued decline in its club base at the senior level is as worrying as it is depressing.

The reasons for this are many and varied.

Many will say it is purely down to money issues but this is only part of the problem.

Weak governance, delusions of grandeur, talent migration and abandoning the club concept would also feature highly in the list too.

The lack of a Championship club within the county, when our neighbours across the Pennines have three, further highlights the situation.

After all, if Rotherham and Doncaster are areas that can support Championship rugby then Lancashire really has little excuse, given that Liverpool, Manchester and Central Lancashire form part of the county’s rugby landscape.

But before we even lament the lack of a Tier-Two outfit in the area, attention should be drawn to the fact that with now just three National League clubs, continued participation at this level is in a parlous state.

With little likelihood that they will be joined by any other local clubs anytime soon, it is essential that Hoppers, Fylde and Sedgley Park maintain their current status.

For if they don’t, a great rugby county will be on it’s knees.