BISSA: The unsung heroes behind Batley Bulldogs' run to Championship Grand Final
There are unsung heroes behind every club, from the unseen volunteers to the silent backers.
Batley Bulldogs are just one of the clubs that benefit from funding generated by a supporters' group that is ringfenced for squad improvements.
BISSA, the Batley Independent Supporters' Squadbuilder Association, has been lending a helping hand since 2003, contributing to more than 150 signings and playing a small but not insignificant role in the club's run to the Championship Grand Final last year.
The fundraising group helped the club retain the services of Luke Hooley, Ben White, Tom Gilmore and Alistair Leek, the spine of Craig Lingard's team in 2022.
After Hooley and Gilmore moved on at the end of last season, BISSA were on hand to help the Bulldogs sign Wigan Warriors academy product Josh Woods.
For association chairman and lifelong fan Colin Bottomley, there is no greater feeling than watching BISSA-backed players flourish.
"The quality of players has improved as the years have gone by, culminating in an unbelievable year last year," he told The Yorkshire Post. "I'm not just blowing BISSA's trumpet because it's the club as a collective.
"The money can only be used for squad strengthening; it can't buy a new television or put in a new boiler.
"What it does is allow the club to have their playing budget and if it comes to the point where it's becoming empty, they'll ask if BISSA has X amount for a player and we hand over the money.
"It does work and we saw that last year. We put quite a hefty sum of money towards four players. If you look at the year, those four were key in every way.
"It's really worthwhile when you help sign a player and see at the end of the season that he has made a significant contribution.
"From just before the Northern Rail Cup win in 2010, you can actually see how the club have improved the quality of players. We're a small part of that."
Through monthly membership donations, annual payments and fundraising events, more than £200,000 has been raised to boost Batley's Championship prospects.
The success of BISSA and other such initiatives has not gone unnoticed, with Bradford Bulls setting up their own version in recent times.
BBSBA, the Bradford Bulls Squad Booster Association, played an important role in the recruitment of former Leeds Rhinos pair Jack Walker and Bodene Thompson, two players who will help spearhead the club's promotion push in 2023.
BISSA were happy to help their Bradford counterparts get the initiative off the ground, even if it meant strengthening a rival.
"We gave them a bit of advice and on the back of that, they've set up the Bulls fund," added Bottomley.
"That's how BISSA started all those years ago. At the time, Hunslet and Featherstone were the two local squad builder funds.
"BISSA had help from those two clubs and, in turn, we help other clubs. We helped Dewsbury when they were setting something similar up.
"You help one another because at the end of the day, we survive off one another."
That the Bulldogs continue to punch above their weight is in no small part down to BISSA's contribution.
It is a relationship that Batley chief executive Paul Harrison values highly.
"On behalf of the club, we're delighted with the work they do and all the effort they put in," he said.
"The money they raise is tremendous and much needed. Every penny counts where we are.
"It's a lifeline for the club and we love the work they do. They all do it on a volunteer basis. It's absolutely fantastic for us that these people keep getting behind the club.
"It's an association that we're very proud of and work very closely with. Long may it continue."
There is little chance of Lingard's team being underestimated at the start of 2023 after defying the odds to overpower Featherstone Rovers in the battle for a Grand Final spot last season.
The Bulldogs begin their Championship season with a trip to London Broncos before welcoming Swinton Lions to Mount Pleasant in round two.
Batley will be hoping for a bumper crowd after slashing ticket prices amid the cost of living crisis. Fans can pick up a season ticket for just £110 or pay £10 per game, while children go free.
BISSA committee members will be on the terraces and, as ever, ready to help compensate for the shortfall.
"That came out of the blue for every supporter of the club," said Bottomley.
"We couldn't believe it. Where else could you go for that? If that won't get people there after the season we've had, I don't know what will.
"It's a bit of a gamble and they know that – but I admire the club for doing it."