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Special date for York sport
York rugby league fans pack into Huntington Stadium’s bar for the crisis meeting, ten years ago today, in the wake of York Wasps’ demise, which was the springboard for the club to be re-formed as the Knights
TEN years ago this very day. March 24, 2002. It’s a pretty special date in York sporting history. It was the day that dawned the resurrection of York Rugby League Club in its guise as the Knights.
It was the day, according to Knights supporters’ club chairman Gary Hall, that proved there was still a thriving market for a professional rugby league club in this great historic city, despite the imminent demise of York Wasps after 134 years of existence.
As long-standing fans will know, Hall was the man who set up the crisis meeting – held on this day a decade ago – without which pro rugby league in York would most probably have ceased to be.
Club chiefs had announced five days earlier that they were to close the club as they couldn’t afford to pay the growing debts. There remained hope that a buyer would step in and save the day but, come March 26, that was declared a no-go and York RL – be it named York, Ryedale-York or Wasps – was dead.
However, the crisis meeting set up by Hall led to its resurrection.
The full, rollercoaster, emotional story featured in the 2012 pre-season pull-out – a special tenth anniversary edition – published by The Press. (This article, comprehensively detailing “the most important victory in York RL history”, can still be found at thepress.co.uk)
Hall remembers that week well.
“The club announced it at about 7.30pm on the Tuesday. I found out on the Wednesday and went straight to the stadium, booked the bar and got wheels in motion for this meeting,” he recalled, ahead of tonight’s special tenth anniversary sportsman’s dinner, staged by the supporters’ club and the Knights, at Huntington Stadium.
“I was absolutely gutted. I organised that meeting basically to prove there was a market for professional rugby league in York, to prove to somebody there was sufficient support for a club.
“I was amazed with how many people packed into that bar, and it all snowballed after that.
“When people started putting money into buckets and making donations, we had to do something with it, so we formed that working party, with myself, Roger Dixon and Mike Miller, and Jim Bone came along.
“We then had Steve Ferres get involved and the rest as they say is history.
“One person that needs praise, though, is John Guildford (who came in as majority shareholder, later becoming chairman). Without him we would not have achieved anything like what we have achieved. I’m not even sure we would’ve got past that first season.”
The new-look club had to forego that 2002 season but – after a thrilling race to bring in enough funds to meet the Rugby Football League deadline for admittance the following season, which memorably went down to the wire and a deal with John Smith’s Brewery brokered by The Press – the Knights were all go for 2003.
So was it all worthwhile? “You’re joking, without a doubt it was,” says Hall, who has now been watching York rugby league for half a century – ten years more than otherwise might have been the case.
Hall is one of those fans who’d turn up win, lose or draw. Indeed, he is the match-day DJ at Huntington Stadium. Rugby on a Sunday to Hall and his ilk is a way of life. Following your club, to some, is about more than the result; it goes deeper than that.
But Hall points out this last decade has been pretty eventful nonetheless.
“I’ve been watching York rugby league for 50 years and we’ve had almost as much success in these ten years as the Knights as we had in the previous 40 years,” he says.
To back up that statement, Hall recalled the Challenge Cup quarter-finals of 1963 and 1972 and semi-final of 1984, the Yorkshire Cup final appearance of 1978, and the promotions of 1978, 1981 and 1985 (each to the old top tier and each followed by immediate relegation).
The Knights, by comparison, have had a Challenge Cup quarter-final in 2004, a Northern Rail Cup (then Arriva Trains Cup) semi-final in the same year, two National League Two/Championship One grand finals, in 2004 and 2010, and two promotions, in 2005, as champions, and 2010.
Is he disappointed, then, that average gates have been on the wane since the honeymoon highs of 2004 and 2005?
“One of the main reasons for that I think is the state of the economy – nobody’s got any money,” he says.
“Winning does make a difference, and I think it makes a difference if York City are winning and the rugby are not, or vice versa.
“There’s a floating support that might go to one or the other. If City are winning and the Knights aren’t, that floating support goes to the football. People can’t afford to do both.
“Every club at our level has got the same problems, though. On Sunday, we had the second highest attendance in all the Champion-ships, behind only Barrow.
“It’s a difficult one. Some people do come up with excuses. Some say they used to go to Clarence Street but not any more. People can also get their fix of rugby league on TV or watching it in the pub. There’s probably a few people in York who support Leeds Rhinos as well and don’t know where Headingley is.
“But if we play as well as we did last Sunday every week, I think the crowds will start to pick up again.”
THAT match last Sunday saw the Knights pipped at the death 24-18 by Halifax.
The Press’ man of the match was player-boss Chris Thorman, who duly picks up three points for his Press Player of the Year tally and rises to the top of the leaderboard.
Also picking up points for their Player of the Year scores are Dave Sutton (2pts), who is seeing off the boo-boys if his last two performances are anything to go by, and Jordan Tansey (1pt), who gave arguably his most confident show of the season, in his preferred position at full-back.
Press Player of the Year standings: Thorman 6pts, Clarke 5, Bush 4, Aldous 3, King 3, Garside 3, Lee 3, Hellewell 3, Sullivan 3, Sutton 3, Tansey 1, Ford 1.
If any person or company wants to sponsor the Press Player of the Year competition, please email email@example.com or phone 01904 567137.
DON’T forget to vote for your Player of the Month for March after tomorrow’s cup tie against Hull Dockers.
The games it covers are the Northern Rail Cup defeat at Sheffield, the Championship losses to Dewsbury and Halifax, and tomorrow’s cup tie.
To vote, follow the related link to the player of the month page, or directly email firstname.lastname@example.org. The deadline for votes is noon on Wednesday.
Also, feel free to tweet man of the match suggestions to @PeterFMartini on twitter, or leave comments on match reports on The Press’ website.