Dave Craven: Hunslet supporters following in footsteps of Rochdale pioneers

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What would you do if you owned your favourite rugby league club?

Bust the bank to sign the best players around, design the kit yourself to meet your every whim or perhaps take an added interest in the whole selection process for its cheerleading team?

The potential list of possibilities is endless and it is probably every fan’s dream to take control of their pride and joy.

There would certainly be no more haranguing of an under-fire chairman or bemoaning the tactics of a struggling coach from the terraces.

You would be the person at the top.

But, whatever your ideology or beliefs about how a club should be run, undoubtedly, one thing would remain constant – you would look to serve in the best possible manner.

As a supporter, there would be no incentive to do anything which would jeopardise its future.

There are obvious exceptions to the rule.

Certainly, Leeds United fans eagerly awaiting the appointment of a new manager will point to Peter Ridsdale’s reign and suggest being a supporter is not always a good policy when it comes to making significant decisions.

However, on the whole, you would imagine fans have a club’s best interests at heart.

All of which brings me to Hunslet Hawks and the news this week that the Hunslet Independent Supporters’ Trust has taken over the running of the once mighty club.

After months of hard work and dedication, it is a move which has been welcomed by all involved with the famous myrtle and flame.

Grahame Liles – who has done so much over the last 30 years to keep the club afloat amid some turbulent times – and Sean Cluderay have now stepped down as directors to usher the new regime in and it could be a sign of things to come elsewhere particularly during this period of austerity.

Of course, Hunslet are not the first. Rochdale Hornets were the pioneers in this process when they became the first professional supporter-owned rugby league club in 2009, while Whitehaven have members of their own trust on its board.

Other Championship clubs have set up supporters’ trusts as well and it is easy to understand why some rugby league people are keen to see more of the same.

In particular, speaking to Hunslet Hawks coach Barry Eaton at the Northern Rail Cup launch yesterday, was particularly enlightening.

As someone who has suffered at the hands of so many clubs which have fallen into financial problems – most recently the abysmal Crusaders fiasco – the former Batley scrum-half made some pertinent points.

Firstly, he reckons any club run by its own fans would not risk ruin by spending money it has not got.

It would not be as foolish or brash to believe it can spend its way to success and will, instead, live within its means.

Secondly, Eaton could never envisage a supporter-owned club walking out on promises already made.

Unfortunately, he is speaking from experience; as a player, Eaton witnessed Doncaster, Dewsbury and Keighley descend into administration and chaos.

That run of misfortune then followed him into Super League when his spell as assistant at Crusaders last year ended in those acrimonious scenes in Wrexham.

Eaton needs some good luck and, with Hunslet now moving forward in their new guise, he will be more at ease than perhaps in the past.

The question is ‘will others follow suit?’ There have been similar deals in football with Exeter City, Brentford and AFC Wimbledon while supporters own 20 per cent of Premier League club Swansea City. In Sweden, there is no other form of ownership.

When, I wonder, will we see a supporter-owned club in Super League? Perhaps sooner than some would think.

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