When I played at Askeans (about the middle of the last century – no kidding actually) it was the amateur era. Having said that, there would have been absolutely no danger of me getting a stipend even if it hadn’t been! We paid to play each week and didn’t even get subsidised beer – not that it restricted our drinking too much, (or indeed at all).
The blokes in charge of the game, like the RFU, were a pretty liberal bunch – wanting any union player who pitched up to a rugby league trial (much less a proper game) or wrote an autobiography, to be hung, drawn and quartered (and probably thought that was too good for them).
To be fair there was no hypocrisy at the RFU and they probably hated having to fly first class round the world and be entertained royally at matches without having to pay for tickets. And, to their credit they even gave players something like a 2/6d daily allowance out of the hundreds of thousands of pounds they raked in (and spent on themselves).
The Unions (which is what the players really needed) waged a war against rugby league – or would have done if the blokes (t’up north) had been arsed enough to take any notice of them
There were high profile ‘transfers’ to league clubs – Dai Watkins, Jonathan Davies, Scott (Gibbs and Quinell) , Alan Tait, Keith Fielding, Martin Offiah, Bryan West and John Gallagher (former Askean) to name a few. There were none that I can recall coming the other way – players on wages seemingly a bit reluctant to go down mines or carry a hod for the pleasure of being bullied by Twickenham or Cardiff (strange eh?).
At Askeans we did however benefit from being coached by two former league players – Rod Turner and Bryan West – the RFU sanctioned this heresy on the basis that they were now teachers (me either). Bryan did actually turn out for us a number of times – I think he was M. Mouse in the programme. I imagine the statute of limitations will save those of us who lined up with him from being sent to Coventry (even worse Wigan or Hull).
Since the union game went professional – a move which the RFU embraced with the good grace of inviting a suicide bomber to lunch – the traffic between the two codes has reversed. Lote Tuquiri, Wendell Sailor, Jason Robinson, Sonny Bill, Andy Farrell, Chris Ashton, Iestyn Harris being some of the biggest names. Now we have Sam Burgess about to join Bath and Sam Tomkins thinking about making the switch.
Naturally, rugby league bosses are a bit miffed about this and the Salford boss, Marwan (lots of cash) Koukash is fighting to add a ‘marquee player’ rule to the salary cap (something which already exists in the Aviva premiership). He has also stated that he will recruit union players (including British Lions) to his club. The first name being touted (at least in the press) is Manu Tuilagi – others who might be of interest to Mr Koukash would be George North, Jamie Heaslip, the Vunipolas; Sam Warburton, Jamie Roberts, Peter O’Mahony and Sean O’Brien.
The problem he will have is that these guys are already well paid – and with the new TV contracts being negotiated, the clubs are going to have a lot more dosh to play with. There’s no salary cap in France and Saracens boss, Nigel Wray is now lobbying for it to be dropped in the Premiership. Since a number of Welsh players have declined to leave the province for the warmth of Toulon – they are hardly likely to be attracted to the delights of Salford.
If you wanted to play with only 13 on your side – there are better places. Rugby League is massive (as are the players) in Australia where the State of Origin attracts a huge following (for the uninitiated, it’s the equivalent of Yorkshire v the Home Counties) – the wage packets are similarly big and the climate is better down under – again Salford v Sydney?
In the UK the profile, money, sponsorship and TV revenues in union are better than league – so good luck with your recruitment mate.
When I played it was for the love of the game and the camaraderie (that’s craic if you’re Irish) – being and laughing with mates, drinking and taking the piss were what I loved about it. Would I have liked to have been paid? Of course you idiot – think of how much more beer I could have gulped down, spilled down my front or thrown over blokes like Paddy and Locks. Obviously I wouldn’t have risked chucking it at the forwards even if it was free!