The Derek Beaumont Column – 4th February 2018

This article first appeared in the match day programme at the Leigh Centurions Vs Toronto Wolfpack game on 4th February 2018.

It’s Round One already- you got to be kidding me! How time flies from the end of one season to the other! Or does it? In that short space of time that seems an absolute age and drag to most of our fans so much has happened. I have been to the Maldives, Australia and South Africa, England reached the final of the World Cup, I celebrated my 11th Anniversary, my son’s 8th birthday, Father Christmas left a mess in my front room, Big Nigel left the RFL, Marwan left Salford, the one and only Micky Higham hung up his boots, Frank Taylor turned 70 and oh we got relegated and had to build a team, get through two fierce friendlies and discover the sad passing of life-long fans and five of our former players, not least the record breaking legend Mick Martyn. Did all this really happen in just four short months? Well the serious answer is it did and it puts into perspective how valuable time is especially when thinking of those we lost during that period.

Here I will take a look in more detail at some of these events and I apologise in advance to those that have previously moaned at the length of my article but this is going to be a long one so forward to page 9 now if you want to save yourself the trouble. As a Club we value very highly our history and those that created and contributed to it. Ultimately we will all become part of it, so it is important that we respect those before us as we would wish to be respected in the future. One of the first involvements for some of our new team was to realise the value of that when we all attended Mick Martyn’s funeral service. It was very touching to hear Mike Latham and Andy Burnham’s respective eulogies on Mick and it will have been interesting to our new players to learn of our values and respect for our past and its great servants. I won’t mention too much here about the sad losses the Club has encountered as Mike Latham pays tribute in this issue and then further issues to those loved ones and he does it far better than me. For me my thoughts are with the families and friends of all those sadly departed in the close season and I echo the great words of Mike Latham in the respective obituaries.

So where shall we start? Well, where it left off seems a sensible place. The endurance and aftermath of the Million Pound Game. I was asked why was I so calm after the game. Simple answer: preparation. I saw it coming. Catalans were a very good squad of players that individually had everything but weren’t clicking as a team and there was always the danger in a cup final mentality, playing for your future that would happen. We were a bit battered and bruised and started with eight first team players missing including two that I spent on to change things in Morts and Sami.

It’s not making excuses, it’s stating facts and we didn’t help ourselves in the game with our discipline and completing our sets. For me, it was about how we came out of it as a Club that was important. I couldn’t control the result but I could control how we would react. I set the stall out at the beginning of the week and told the lads that if we won we stayed humble, no celebrations, just compassion for the losers and that if we lost to just get home to their families. We did the post match presentations to the sponsors pre match so we were covered if the worst happened. In the end I had a plan for both outcomes. I had spent time with Keiron and Neil planning our recruitment under each eventuality so was clear on what the future held.

Personally that was the toughest two weeks of my life, the emotions of cutting people’s contracts and dealing with the issues surrounding that and it took its toll. In the end what got me through it was the decisions were in the best interests of the Club, irrespective of how tough they were and the Club has been around longer than any human being and will always be what is most important. Ultimately we all have to take accountability for our actions and what was happening wasn’t unexpected, it was the known consequence to all the players from the beginning of the season and they were masters of their own destiny. Without being disrespectful to anyone, having got through it and come out the other side with the staff and players we now have, the Club will achieve its goals of getting where it wants to be quicker for the experience. That said, I would like to thank all the players and staff no longer with us for their service and efforts.

So do I hate the MPG? And what of this parachute payment that is getting so much criticism, perhaps understandably from some of my fellow club owners? Well firstly the MPG exists, if not in name, in any competition where promotion and relegation exists. At some point there will be a game that determines you are relegated so whilst it doesn’t have the hype surrounding it, the game is still there.

Personally, I think the format works and has worked and we have benefited from it and this Club wouldn’t be where it is today but for the foresight and drive of Nigel Wood getting it over the line, as I would never have bought into and invested into Leigh with no chance of promotion. Having got up via a grand final in 2004 after beating Whitehaven, unable to recruit and experienced promotion through this structure where you already need to be competitive to gain promotion I can tell you there’s only one way that works. Of course it’s not perfect and the issue is not knowing all your fixtures which affects season ticket sales and there is a serious flaw in a game where injuries are an everyday occurrence that you can finish ninth and end up relegated. Even so, I don’t think it needs to spell the death of it. The other issue is the termination of contracts but with a parachute payment this clause could be removed to deal with that although if the club didn’t get straight back the problem would simply have been delayed a year.

Every solution raises a different issue as I know from discussing it at length over numerous Super League meetings. For me Nigel should and will go with his head held high, having given the game everything he has and he will no doubt look back on his tenure and have mixed feelings on it but he shouldn’t be criticised for what he was paid or any private agreement to exit irrespective of its value. During my time in Rugby League I have found him helpful, critical and supportive and he genuinely has the best interests of the game at heart. These may not be popular words in some circles but they are true to my beliefs. Perhaps the time has been right as everything runs its course but we reached the final of the World Cup last year and again saw the new structure he implemented bring promotion and perhaps one of his proud moments he saw our opponents today, Toronto, evolve and go from strength to strength, gaining promotion to the Championship and I dare say he will be quietly hoping they do well today.

The parachute payment was suggested in the early summer months along with the suggestions of a new structure. I won’t go on about it too much but it is important I make a few points. At the time we were looking as a group to get the game towards fourteen teams. Two clubs I won’t name stated that if relegated they felt it would be the death of them. Clearly that wasn’t desirable. Furthermore it was envisaged KR would have issues of maintaining their challenge if they didn’t succeed at the first attempt. For the record I stated I would invest my money and Leigh would keep fighting. Maybe not the wisest words if you believe the save Catalan conspiracy theories! Anyway well before it was known who was in the MPG it was agreed there would be a parachute between £500k and £800k, the exact amount and conditions to be decided at a later date and that this money would be under-pinned by the Super League clubs. That amount was decided as £500k and the conditions that the whole of the central funding had to be spent on players so £1.25m. I was very grateful of this situation and had no issue with the caveat. Now people have criticised that this money should have removed the clause on the players’ contracts but the reality is that it couldn’t as it was still £500k short of Super League funding, add to that sponsorship and gate receipts and a club could still be brought down without the clause.

I fully understand other clubs’ feelings on this but the money is from the clubs of Super League, not the RFL, so in simple terms if they all want to sponsor another club it’s not really anyone else’s business and that’s what we have in principle. There is no way would Super League put more money into the Championship to be shared by all the clubs; the purpose was to keep the relegated club a Super League club in readiness for expansion of that was the decided route which is still unknown. I should also point out that as part of the termination clause players who hadn’t signed elsewhere were entitled to be paid three months’ notice, meaning I had to pay a new squad in December and a large number of my old squad which itself ate into the parachute. I would also bring to people’s attention that whilst we get more money this year, in 2016 when we got promoted we got £450k compared to London’s £500k, Halifax’s £787k and Bradford’s £788k by using my own money so it is possible to achieve promotion with a lower central funding. As I say I have empathy with the other clubs but what they should be thinking is there are four places up for grabs so it isn’t just Leigh they are competing with for a Super League place. This competition is going to be very hot indeed and I believe there is a good chance more than one team will make Super League at the end of it.

For us to have the best chance of that we had to recruit well and Keiron has done a fantastic job in my opinion and that has been supported by the performances against Wigan and Saints where we competed really well against strongly selected first grade sides. We have a new culture at the club, it is completely different. We had never been full-time until the change in structure and made the leap without any of the coaches having been full-time Super League coaches. What we have now is a class set-up, completely different and one akin to what international players are used to.

My concern was that with so many changes we would struggle to get a team spirit but I couldn’t have been further off the mark and again this was evidenced in the warm up games. Wigan were brutal, very strong and tough as you get from a Shaun Wane team. Two tries from beautiful kicks and a piece of beautiful footwork from Tomkins were the tries conceded that many teams would concede. But the last try that decided the game was one we won’t want to be conceding again. It was very physical and I thought Jamie Acton set his stall out for the mark he wants to make this year. I was pleased with everyone but Jordon Thompson was class.

The short turnaround to face a side I fancy to be in the Grand Final concerned me after such a physical encounter and I feared the worst after Ben Barba’s first two involvements with an assist and a try, but we showed what we have within to gather ourselves and come back to take the lead. I thought Justin Holbrook’s comments were very honourable about us, at the same time as pleasing to hear he felt we were a Super League team playing in the Championship, because we make no secret of that is what we have set out to create.

The Wigan game saw Micky take to the field for the last time and I was proud to be part of his special day. He has been a class individual, a real pro and a great servant to the game. You don’t let people like that slip through your fingers and Micky will be part of this Club as we build it for the future. I know he had mixed feelings on the day but he will be able to look back on it with pride. He is like a bar of rock; cut him in half and he says Leigh right through.

Micky is certainly an individual who can walk in the town knowing that not 99.9% of people are supportive of him but also the massive 0.1% as well! Micky will still bring his leadership qualities and passion to the team, carrying on messages and water. I even reckon he could push my mate Lee Briers for most minutes spent on a pitch as a non player.

I would like to say congratulations to Simon Toon and the LSV team for securing bringing Lionel Richie to Leigh. I will be in Toulouse so will miss it, but it’s a great event to showcase a fantastic facility even if it does mean covering the best pitch in Rugby League.

Last year saw us have an inaugural season of games against clubs in the LSV and the first game this season sees another first at the LSV with the arrival of the Toronto Wolfpack. There has been a lot of coverage about my position on the filming of the game which I addressed in a release. I have always maintained that I want the Canadian people to see the game and I reinforced that when I had it brought to my attention the game was being streamed live and that people can bypass the blocking. In the end if people want to go to those lengths there’s not a lot you can do and it wouldn’t be fair to deprive honest people to prevent a few dishonest ones. In the end it’s a price worth paying for the Canadian people to see what I am sure will be a very physical and entertaining game of Rugby League and I hope that creates a desire amongst those people to spread the word of the greatest game of all. I wish all those supporting Toronto, whether ex-pats or travelling Canadians a very warm welcome to Leigh Sports Village where I hope they will feel welcome and safe and can enjoy the great atmosphere, irrespective of how the game goes for either side. There will be more than one winner as the game as a whole wins and in the end that’s bigger than either club!

Enjoy the game!

Derek.

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