9th November 2018, 09:42 | ncl
One of the most demanding dilemmas of running a Community game league such as the Kingstone Press National Conference League must be the conflict between helping those existing clubs within the competition to continue to play a key role, at the same time as convincing new applicants that there is no 'closed shop' and every member is considered on merit.
Certainly, that would seem to be the case this year where five current member clubs are undergoing assessment to see whether they will be able to sustain not only a competitive challenge for 2019, but also be able to be financially viable to such a degree that they can afford to fulfil their fixture travel obligations throughout the season.
It's a responsibility that the NCL doesn't take lightly, as NCL President, Peter Moran of Wigan explains: "We want to ensure that all our existing clubs are not going to put so much pressure on themselves that they cannot fulfil their fixtures, and therefore risk not only heavy fines because of their predicament, but also their very existence as a viable club.
"In the vast majority of cases there is no issue. They have sufficient players through their reserve and Under 18 teams to adequately cover for the vagaries of injuries, holidays and whatever may impact upon the availability of players. And they are financially sound through being well run with a hardworking and vastly experienced committee.
"But when we see that clubs are struggling to field 17 players week on week, or that their reserves and under 18s teams are no longer active, we start to get concerned, especially if we also see that clubs are losing their junior set ups too.
"We appreciate there are fluctuations in playing strengths, and we allow for this, generally through a discussion with the clubs and a close working on their development strategy going forward.
"But when we start to feel that things are inherently wrong, and we start to lose confidence in the club to pull itself out of its nosedive, then we have to consider what is best for the long-term future of that club.
"Is it better for them to try and soldier on whilst each week they are struggling more and more to overcome the obstacles to their progress?
"Or is it better for them to take a step down to their regional league where the travel is not as demanding, finances can be rebuilt and player confidence can be boosted in a competition where a winning culture can hopefully be redeveloped?
"That is one part of the dilemma.
"The other is that we have clubs who look at the NCL Membership criteria and then put their plans in place to meet those criteria before submitting an application to join, those clubs have a strong playing strength including vibrant youth and junior set ups. They have good well-maintained club houses with hard working, experienced committees and tick all the boxes.
"Then we have to decide whether the League and its member clubs will be best served by retaining a struggling club that has let its standards fall dramatically, or do we replace them with a new but untested club that has shown already they have the capability to deliver what the League competition is all about, which in essence is competition at the highest standard both on and off the field.
"It's tough, and we are always intent in helping the existing members through the tough times if we can. But as Beverley, who returned in 2018 to win the Third division Championship, and Pilkington Recs and Woolston Rovers previously have proven, it is not always a bad thing to take a step away to rebuild and come again.
"We have some tough decisions to make with the guiding premise to be that we are charged by the NCL Membership to make the competition the best it can possibly be, both on and off the field."