York City Knights chairman Jon Flatman last night said the club’s positive experience in the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup should serve as a reminder of how “valuable” League 1 truly is.
The North Yorkshire outfit won plenty of admirers for its efforts on and off the field during Sunday’s 34-22 defeat against Super League strugglers Catalans Dragons.
James Ford’s part-timers produced some thrilling rugby and were well in the hunt to inflict a huge shock until the French side finally pulled clear late on.
However, York also attracted a crowd of more than 3,000 to Bootham Crescent, creating a buzzing atmosphere to illustrate once more the potential they have to advance in the sport.
Furthermore, viewers tuned in from all over the UK as the BBC live streamed the event.
In the corridors of power this year, though, there has been talk from some Super League owners about cutting the central funds and making the third tier an amateur competition.
When you talk about what York can contribute to the sport – what League 1 contributes to the sport – then League 1 clearly adds value.Jon Flatman
But Flatman told The Yorkshire Post: “In the context of Sunday’s game, everything about it just proved how valuable it (League 1) is and how all the different facets of the game can come together to deliver something magical.
“Everything from the players’ magnificent, full-blooded effort – their skill and commitment – contributed to the experience provided.
“In addition, the volunteers, the small number of staff and then the supporters of the club – whether commercial or fanatics – all played their part in turning what some people would say isn’t a good draw into a huge positive.
“The benefits from Sunday would not have been half as strong without all of that.
“When you talk about what York can contribute to the sport – what League 1 contributes to the sport – then League 1 clearly adds value.
“To the sum of its parts, for the level of investment that comes from the centre – be it media rights or general support – the League 1 clubs contribute a tremendous return on investment.
“As a club, we receive £75,000 from central funds. We don’t ask for any more and are extremely thankful for every pound we receive. It’s a fantastic competition. It genuinely is. It’s competitive, it has its own characters on and off the field and it believes in itself. Long may that continue.
“But some people are worried about the slice of the pie rather than thinking about the size of the pie. Let’s grow it collectively and build on what we’ve got.”
York, after years dogged by financial troubles, have made real progress since Flatman’s consortium took over in 2016 and plan to move into a new 8,000 capacity community stadium next season.
Ford, meanwhile, is rated one of the brightest young coaches outside of Super League while their squad includes a potent mix of former Super League stars, gnarled Championship veterans and some promising young talent from the local amateur game.
Flatman added: “We have some key challenges at York which are around improving the quality of the playing squad so we’re producing on the pitch which is ultimately our main product.
“We want it to be enjoyable, competitive and to make sure it’s fun. We feel we’re doing that.
“We’re growing steadily at a rate we’re happy with and that’s not being extravagant or skinflints either.
“It was great to see so many fans down on Sunday but we’re not going to live on the ‘hope factor’; we need to make sure the experience they have is good enough that they want to come back.”
It will be interesting to see if York do see many new fans return for this Sunday’s home game against West Wales Crusaders.
That, of course, is the club’s bread and butter; they are joint-top with Doncaster and Bradford Bulls, seeking promotion.
Flatman said: “Two teams are going to go up. The Challenge Cup is vanity but League 1 is sanity.
“We were so proud to be a part of what happened on Sunday but League 1 is what we’re about this year. We hope to be in that mix come the end.”
Ford, too, is an avid fan of what is happening in the third tier.
He said: “There are some good clubs and players in League One.
“Bradford Bulls are potentially an enormous club again and I like to think that York has potential as well as teams like Doncaster.
“This is the best the division and the Championship has ever been; outside the Super League, the game is thriving.”