Dave Craven: ‘Expert’ report deserves to be consigned into the abyss

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IT will be a relief to get to Headingley Carnegie tonight and actually make sure there is a game of rugby league going ahead.

The way a couple of people had it earlier this week, you would not be surprised to see the grand old lady demolished, flattened and being readied for some generic supermarket development.

Such drastic action would, of course, be required to help avoid the stricken sport nose-diving into the apparent financial “abyss” it is teetering on.

Never mind making his debut for Hull FC, is that Gaz Ellis who was spotted at Humberside Airport desperately seeking flights back to Sydney – the latest victim of the plug being pulled on the sport in this country?

Or Brian Barwick driving into Red Hall’s car park and, just as swiftly, heading straight back out again, ashen-faced at the true horror of all the countless problems he suddenly realised he would encounter?

All of which is general nonsense but – and I hate giving them extra publicity – the BBC Inside Out team almost lived up to their title with the programme which predicted so much doom and gloom descending on rugby league.

Admittedly, the game has some problems and it is quite alarming that Super League starts its 18th season this evening without a title sponsor for the first time in its history.

But let us all calm down a little. The game is far from on its knees and, comparatively speaking, that 11 of the 14 top-flight clubs have a combined debt of £68.5m, is nothing earth-shattering at all.

Let us throw some other figures around to go up against that number that Sheffield Hallam’s sports finance ‘expert’ arrived at for the purposes of the BBC ‘investigation.’

Using the same formula and thinking as he did with rugby league, other sports should certainly be far more agitated given these distressing and fraught conclusions.

Premiership rugby union clubs, for instance, have “debts” of more than double that.

They are faced owing £150m, while county cricket clubs are worse off still with debts of £208m.

However, neither of these sports are “facing an abyss” or being put under the microscope for their problematic issues.

There are no comparable figures for football as the market-leading Deloitte Football Finance Report sensibly uses net assets/liabilities to consider the health of balance sheets.

If Deloitte’s method was used by Super League clubs, it would reveal that they have net liabilities of just £1.8m. In contrast, those Premiership rugby union clubs would record net liabilities of £9.5m while, interestingly, county cricket clubs have net assets of £60.5m.

How do the famously lavish football outfits compare?

A snapshot here shows just what some are facing when it comes to net liabilities: Chelsea £617m, Fulham £177m, Wigan Athletic £65m, Middlesbrough £72m, Hull City £40m and Nottingham Forest £68m.

You would have thought, perhaps, that Inside Out may have used Deloitte themselves for their own data...

Regardless, the new season is upon us and Headingley will be as charged and vibrant as always this evening. Ellis is back in Super League and Barwick is just the sort of well-connected Rugby Football League leader who might catapult the sport towards fresh audiences.

He could also facilitate some bold decision-making required for significant improvements to the game as a whole.

The sight yesterday of multi-millionaire Marwan Koukash beaming as the new owner of Salford City Reds, vowing to pay every penny of that club’s debts, is further proof that the game is taking a step in the right direction.

So, as this crucial World Cup year gets underway, let us just gorge on the rugby league 
rather than stressing ourselves about overblown, worthless concerns.