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What now for Wakefield?

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George Riley George Riley | 17:29 UK time, Friday, 18 February 2011

One of rugby league's most famous clubs inched closer to the brink than ever before this week. Wakefield Trinity's plunge into administration resulted in stalled takeovers, multiple player sales and wholesale staff redundancies, not to mention real fears that a famous 137-year sporting history could be over.

But then came Thursday's news that they had been taken over by local businessman Andrew Glover, a move that has given fresh hope to the club's fans.

I had received numerous calls on Wednesday amid frenzied speculation that Wakefield's coach, John Kear, and entire playing staff had been laid off. There were also rumours that the club would be wound up the next day.

My immediate thoughts drifted back to 2005, when staff at the London Broncos were laid off and immediately reappointed when the club reformed as Harlequins RL. Could this be a similar story for Wakefield?

In some ways, yes.

A new company - Spirit of 1873 - now owns Wakefield after paying a nominal fee to the administrators, O'Hara and Company, and a two-man board of Glover and chief executive James Elston now runs the club with general manager Davide Longo.

As expected, all but five or six members of the 32-strong administration that were laid off have been taken back at the now debt-free club.

Kear texted me after Wakefield's future had been secured, telling me it had been a "tough time" but everything was "positive now".

But are Wakefield's problems really over?

Not really. With Super League licences up for renewal this year and Wakefield looking the most vulnerable of the existing top-flight franchises, the recent troubles have only increased their fragility.

Wakefield may have survived but only after losing three key players in as many days as administrators sold assets to pay off creditors.

I contacted halfback Sam Obst, back row-forward Dale Ferguson and centre Darryl Millard after their sales this week. None were keen to say much until the dust had settled but Ferguson did call me for a chat about his transfer to Huddersfield when the takeover was eventually confirmed.

And I could not help but feel for a player who is Wakefield through and through but now an unwitting casualty of the club's disastrous financial collapse.

Wakefield concede a try to Castleford at the Millennium Stadium in their opening game of the new Super League season. Pic: Getty

Wakefield concede a try to Castleford at the Millennium Stadium in their opening game of the new Super League season. Pic: Getty

"It's been some week," said Ferguson, who scored two tries for Wakefield in the derby defeat to Castleford at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday, just days before his sudden transfer to the Giants.

"I was training at Wakefield on Monday, went home and got a call from my agent late that night saying he wanted to meet me. He and Huddersfield managing director Richard Thewlis then came to my house and told me I had been sold by the administrators of Wakefield. They told me the terms I had been offered. I just agreed and joined the Giants. It was all a real shock.

"I knew Huddersfield had been speaking to Aaron Murphy about him leaving Wakefield and then it came out at training that Obst had left to join Hull but no-one said anything about me going anywhere. I was shell-shocked and didn't know what was going on."

Huddersfield had been keen on the 22-year-old Ferguson for some time but the player himself did not want to go. "I was gutted," he said. "I love Wakey and didn't want to leave. I have been there for 10 years. But I have to think about my Super League future and if a club is giving me a chance I have to take it."

According to Ferguson, Wakefield's players had thought the club's future had been guaranteed before they took to the field in Cardiff on Saturday, with Glover's takeover believed to have been wrapped up the day before.

"It has been really tough for the players with all the uncertainty but we thought it was all sorted," said Ferguson. "In Cardiff, Glover came down and introduced himself, so we all thought all the problems had been knocked on the head.

"Travelling back, the boys were pretty pleased as it looked like Wakefield had a future again. Then on Monday, we were shell-shocked. Obst had gone, then I'd gone.

"I spoke to Aaron Murphy and asked him what he was going to do. He just wanted to keep playing and said he didn't know what he would do. I spoke to him the next day and told him I had taken the offer at Huddersfield. He told me he hadn't. My manager told me to be grateful for what Wakefield had done for my career but that I had to look after myself now it looked so bleak for them."

Ferguson sympathises with Wildcats coach Kear, who has guided the team through adversity on and off the field in recent seasons.

"I don't think he really knew what was going on," said Ferguson. "Then when I told him I'd been sold to Huddersfield, he was really shocked. But this is a club that has got used to dealing with adversity. No one ever fancies us and we are always fighting. I'm still a Wakefield fan and think they will be OK now."

Ferguson still refers to Wakefield as "we" and returned to the club on Thursday to say his goodbyes. But is he right to think they are now safe? Or is it just a temporary reprieve before the Super League licences are handed out in July?

"I don't really know if this is the nail in the coffin," he said. "The boys will rip in and show their worth. Hopefully that will be enough. I don't think any more players will leave."

What about the fans? Ferguson thinks they have been kept in the dark and says it must have been horrible for them to find out the truth from the media.

And what about Ferguson? Well, he appears to have a long and promising Super League career ahead of him. He only hopes Wakefield are in the top flight, too.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    You dont really need a crystal ball to see what is going to happen to Wakefield.....the RFL have already made it clear that one side will not have their licence renewed and in all honesty which other clubs are in quite such a difficult situation as the Wildcats ? There is no way on earth that the RFL would allow any of their pet projects (Catalans,Quins,Crusaders) to fail, which would leave the only other realistic candidates to be Salford and Castleford, both seem to have sorted their new stadiums out and have a half decent player roster to draw on.....im afraid that nothing short of a miricle will save Wakefield from a life outside Super League, not that it should be the end of the world for them, but im sure it will be possibly a longer road back than simply one three year licence period.

  • Comment number 2.

    Hopefully with what looks like 3 years in the Championship Wakefield can get their troubles sorted out and a stadium approved to apply for 2015.

  • Comment number 3.

    As a Wakefield fan of 25 years, but more so a rugby league fan, I can't help but feel this latest episode is an opportunity missed. Good luck to Mr Glover and the 'new' Wakefield club but I just can't look past the lessons of the last 20 years and think that this district can't support three professional rugby league teams.

    This was the perfect time for Wakefield, Castleford, & Featherstone to come together and apply for a Super League license under the umbrella of a newly formed club. The Rugby League should've been encouraging it, Wakefield council should've been encouraging it, and any fan of the great game should've been backing it.

    Whilst ever the pool of players, the pool of supporters, the pool of sponsors, and the council's pool of resources is being split between three teams in the area, all any one team can hope to do is make up the numbers.

    However, a new club, playing at a new stadium near Normanton on the M62 in front of 10,000 fans, pulling in the players of great amateur clubs like Lock Lane, Oulton, Normanton, Eastmoor, Stanley, Sharlston etc, backed by the rugby league, and backed by the local council would be more than a match for the likes of Wigan, Leeds, or Hull's of this world.

    It would be good for the area, and good for the game, but sadly all I see, and I hope I'm wrong for the sake of rugby league, is Wakefield, Castleford, & Featherstone lurching from one financial crisis to another whilst clinging to the notions of times past.

  • Comment number 4.

    Congrats to croque-monsieur for his forward-thinking approach, despite being a Wakey fan. I've always said that a Wakey-Cas merger makes sense given the RL log jam in West Yorks and in many ways I see it as an inevitability at some point. I understand the emotion involved in abandoning the past but sometimes you have to look to the future and the most important thing, ultimately, is having a league composed of teams who can all compete at the top end. RL has been very brave in moving to franchising and salary-capping and I for one have enjoyed the last few seasons much more because of it. The old promotion/relegation system just created a football-esque 2 or 3 tier league hierarchy snoozeathon.
    As a Hull KR fan I'm not immune to the spectre of "merger" talk either. My stance has always been that I favour having the 2 Hull teams but only on the basis that both are viable as competitive entities. Fortunately we both get good gates so there's little (if any) merger worry but hand on heart if the options were 2 sides struggling to meet SL criteria or 1 able to do so and compete with the top boys then I'd take the latter option and support a merged club, if with a slightly heavy heart. I think Wakey and Cas fans probably have to come around to this way of thinking - a joint effort would surely be better than 1 being cast aside and there's a great opportunity to somehow attempt to fuse the past history of both outfits into the new club. It'll be painful but ultimately necessary and I would think a huge success with the next generation of fans, who are ultimately at least as important to the success of the league as a whole as are the current fans.
    This happens a lot in American sports (moves rather than mergers) and you get the same very emotional debates there too. Ultimately though it's a necessary evil in order to keep a sport competitive, the alternative being European domestic football leagues with vertical structures which only a small number of clubs can now ever win.

  • Comment number 5.

    Mergers are funny things, nobody is quite sure how they will turn out.

    As a warning to those who want the merger, look at the mess it made of Welsh Rugby Union. Only strong marketing has meant that the Ospreys are finally seeing attendances greater than either Swansea or Neath individually used to, never mind combined. The Scarlets have lurched from one financial crisis to another and both Cardiff and Newport have failed to attract any interest from outside their previous incarnations fan base, in fact in many ways they have lost.

    Of course the regions had to happen for a competition standpoint, but the fans lost to the game have still not returned.

  • Comment number 6.

    As someone living in Castleford, but more a football fan having been a Leeds season ticket holder for years, I can't believe the work merger is mentioned. Yes, it sounds great on paper. The tigers and wildcats would have a team hopefully to challenge on a regular basis.

    But, who would attend the games? Speaking to Cas fans who are I believe some of the best in the league, would not travel to Wakefield to watch a joint team. Castleford have got a approval for a new ground so would Wakey fans travel to Glashoughton? I notice the Wakefield fan thinks they should play at Normanton. Is this the ground they cannot get planning permission for as it's partly on Leeds City land. Would he travel to Glashoughton?

    If he is willing for a merger, maybe it would have been best for Wakefield to have been wound-up so there fans could watch rugby at the other two teams he mentioned. No. Thought not.

    Unfortunately, if licences were to be handed out now though can be only one result.

  • Comment number 7.

    Is it me or does it seem that, for clubs like Wakefield, the salary cap can actually be a bad thing? I honestly think they pay too much in wages as they try to emulate other clubs in getting too close to the maximum wages allowed per club. They need young players coming through & older players near the end of their careers who they can afford. Not buy who balances the books as close to maximum spending as possible.

  • Comment number 8.

    @ sheepdog68

    As I said, I'm less a Wakey fan and more a lover of rugby league, so if I thought Wakefield folding and Cas getting the Superleague license was going to be good for the game I wouldn't have a problem. I'll go watch top quality rugby league wherever it's closest.

    However, the facts are that a town of 35,000 is never going to compete with clubs/cities the size of Leeds, Hull or Wigan which all draw on populations, and therefore the resources, of >300,000 people, and the only thing that keeps sport alive is competition.....Wakefield, Cas, or Featherstone have not come close to winning anything for 20 years.

    Wakefield District has a population of 300,000, so if a new club could be formed that draws on the best of the existing clubs in the area, and I'm not saying it's easy, but if....it would stand a real chance of being competitive.

    And regarding travel...and take Junction 31 of the M62 (Normanton) as a benchmark...it's 4 miles from Cas town centre, and 6 miles from Wakey city centre...so hardly the ends of the earth...10-15 minutes on the bus.

    None of this is easy...but this game's not survived 115 years without a bit of radical thinking now and again.

  • Comment number 9.

    In March Widnes will be announced as the NL1 club joining $uper League in 2012.

    In July Wakefield will be announced as the SL club not granted a "licence" for 2012-2014 and will thus join NL1.

  • Comment number 10.

    Mergers dont work and i doubt they ever will,not in the British game anyway...The Hull/Gateshead merger, really close to each other those sides were..... and what an impact it made on the future of Rugby League in the North East, Hull took the money and Gateshead rotted ! Huddersfield/Sheffield....Huddersfield took the Money and Sheffield`s Super League existance was over....i could never see Wakefield and Castleford surviving hand in hand.....in a very short space of time, one side would emerge as a Super League club again and the other would be lower division outfit, probably for a good number of years, you cant kill a centuary or more of history simply by re-naming two sides via a shotgun wedding, i sorry, but i think Castlefield Wild Tigers is not a sustainable proposition.

  • Comment number 11.

    Simple choice really, a SL club from the Cas-Wakey-Fev merger that others have suggested, unite the fans through a new club name (Pits-burg?) and their jealousy (hatred?) of the Rhinos;

    or

    independent lives, but in NL1 or lower.

    There is no half way house solution.

  • Comment number 12.

    As a loyal cas fan I would never support a merged club I would rsther see cas in nl2 we and I'm gutted wakey didn'get wound up I woild have laughed

  • Comment number 13.

    That must be a spoof message from craggufowler right?

 

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