INCREDULOUS Gary Hetherington has hit back at Sir Ian McGeechan, who blamed Leeds Rhinos staff as a reason for financially-crippled Yorkshire Carnegie’s plight, saying it is the British Lions legend who instead “failed” the club and walked away at its “darkest hour.”
McGeechan quit as Carnegie’s executive president in May when the Championship club was left on the brink after its main benefactor was unable to deliver promised funds.
Unfortunately, it is Sir Ian who has failed to deliver, and everyone connected with Yorkshire Carnegie has been disappointed with his performance.Gary Hetherington
Read more What got Rhinos chief so annoyed
Struggling Carnegie have managed to carry on but only after entering a CVA and reverting to part-time status; they have lost all 10 games this season and sit bottom of the Championship.
McGeechan had arrived in 2012 – a year after relegation from the Premiership – initially as Leeds Carnegie’s executive chairman with the aim of building much-needed relationships with businesses, sponsors and clubs across the county to help get them back in the game’s top flight.
However, they are, of course, still on the outside looking in and as far away from promotion as ever before.
Using his Daily Telegraph column, the 73-year-old McGeechan listed a raft of reasons for Carnegie’s woe, including their relationship with Rhinos.
He wrote about a “flawed business model” which saw the union side “effectively pay a management fee to Leeds Rhinos in return for 20 per cent of the league staff’s time.”
But he added: “The problem was that there was no incentive for the league staff to go out and look for union sponsors.”
McGeechan also wrote how he was against the idea of going part-time this season (he did not offer a solution on how to fund it full-time) but Rhinos chief executive and Carnegie board member Hetherington has now responded in an exclusive interview with The Yorkshire Post.
He said: “When Sir Ian McGeechan was appointed by the Board in 2012 to take charge, everyone believed he could lead the club back to the Premiership.
“A new ownership group had been formed and Ian was a well-paid executive with sole responsibility for the rugby operation and a role to attract corporate support and engage with the community clubs throughout the county.
“He had full control of all rugby matters and an annual rugby budget of £2.5m, twice that of most other Championship Clubs.
“The board never interfered with rugby matters and the staff of Leeds Rhinos have worked hard to deliver top-class facilities and services for the team and club.
“In the past three seasons, Yorkshire Carnegie have paid just £2,000 per week for those services, which include a training ground to base the club’s first team and academy, the use of Emerald Headingley Stadium and the use of Leeds Rhinos staff to assist the Championship rugby operation.
“This is a situation I think every other club in the division would jump at given the high overheads of professional rugby even in the second tier.
“Commercially, we have been able to use the power of a world-class facility at Emerald Headingley to attract sponsorship that would unlikely have been otherwise available to Yorkshire Carnegie.
“Our sponsorship with Provident and their Satsuma brand was worth £420,000, our current three-year deal with Crabbies is worth £195,000, whilst our ongoing relationship with Leeds Beckett University over 14 years has gained the club in excess of £10 m.
“Unfortunately, it is Sir Ian who has failed to deliver, and everyone connected with Yorkshire Carnegie has been disappointed with his performance.”
Hetherington became chief executive of Leeds Tykes in 1997 and saw the club promoted to the Premiership, twice compete in the Heineken Cup and win the Powergen Cup in 2005.
“We had some wonderful times and the rugby operation was built by Phil Davies, who did a great job and so did his successor, Stuart Lancaster,” he said.
“Clearly, in contrast, the past year has been the toughest period in the club’s history.
“We remain committed to Yorkshire Carnegie and trying to lift the club from its lowest point, which is why it is particularly disappointing to have to deal with comments from those who walked away from the club at its darkest hour.”
He said there was “no option but to re-structure the club” and added: “This was a step no-one took lightly and has led to a great deal of pain, especially for the players and staff who were most affected.
“It was left to me explain to the players the situation as clearly and as early as possible.
“In hindsight, that message should have come from the person who had run the rugby operation for so many years but Sir Ian would need to confirm why he felt he could or would not do that.
“At that time, we needed everyone to pull together but Ian’s response was to resign, initially via social media, and he is now using his media connections to campaign against those at the club who have remained committed which is not helpful.”