Interviews

Becoming a Director

Like most professional sports, Rugby League was struggling financially in the mid 1970s. Attendances were dropping off and as a result clubs were left with a crisis. For too long revenue from attendances had been looked on as a main source of income and by 1972 Rugby Football League had been forced to loan money to twenty five clubs, totalling £143,000.

A change of direction was needed and when David Oxley was appointed as the new General Secretary of the Rugby Football League in 1975, he set out to make sure that “no club will ever again pay its way through the turnstiles alone”. Commercial sponsorship was a revenue source of growing importance for many sports and the RFL had already begun to attract corporate interest. In 1971 a new competition was introduced which combined sponsorship from John Player with increased exposure from television coverage by the BBC. Rugby League had also been one of the first sports to be sponsored by breweries and, keen to develop their business on the other side of the Pennines, the Leeds based brewers Tetley’s began to sponsor the Lancashire Cup in 1971.

Nevertheless, by 1974 RFL income from sources other than gate receipts and TV fees amounted to just £4,000. But under Oxley’s direction things began to change. By the end of the 1976/77 season the RFL had raised £28,075 in sponsorship and related activities. Six years later this figure had grown to £413,350.

The Halifax Club was particularly hard hit by the financial situation in the late 1960s and 1970s. Fortunes on the pitch suffered as too often the club’s shortfall was met by selling players rather than looking to raise the money in other ways. An attempt was made to alleviate these financial troubles by arranging a concert at Thrum Hall in 1970. But unfortunately the ‘Halifax Pop and Blues Concert’ was not a success. Horrific weather conditions in the lead up to the event meant that the audience fell well short of the anticipated 35,000 people. Only around 3,000 arrived leaving a financial shortfall of £6,000. This added to the severe financial hangover which, despite victory in the inaugural John Player Trophy final in 1971-72, continued to plague the club for the next decade. It was finally lifted in 1983 by local businessman David Brook. He provided much needed investment in the club and eventually brought success back to Thrum Hall in the form of a championship title in 1986 and a Challenge Cup final victory in 1987.