Harlequins RL yesterday announced a year on year uplift in ticket sales for the season to date, and with further high profile home fixtures remaining it is hoped this will continue.
The news comes as a welcome relief for many Quins fans on the back of long standing sniping criticism from the fans of many M62 corridor clubs about the level of support for London based clubs. Rugby league is a sport infamous for the parochial agenda of some fans who resent the expansion of the game beyond its traditional “heartlands” in the northern counties of England, despite the financial reality that modern professional sports need to be progressive in their outlook if they are to remain healthy. It was Sky Sports, the sport’s major paymaster, who facilitated the elevation of London Broncos to the inaugural Super League competition realising that a club in the British capital was crucial to establishing a higher profile for their investment and whilst all the clubs were happy to take the money on offer not all fans were happy with progress.
The status of Quins RL and its earlier incarnations as British rugby league’s most significant expansion club has attracted criticism of special treatment from the game’s administration, sometimes credible and sometimes based more on mythology than any substance (particularly in the case of the London Broncos holding company which was forced into liquidation by the Inland Revenue in 2005). Whilst it is true that Quins have been given special exemption from the player quota for several years, the quota has increasingly become a paper tiger due to the loopholes allowed by EU employment law, whilst flexibility with the laws of the game has never been a feature unique to the treatment of London based clubs.
The movement of the club from base to base over the past 27 years has undoubtedly hindered the development of the club, at each stop off the club has attempted to build-up a local presence only to see it abandoned with the next move. A firm settlement as Quins RL, at a modern stadium like The Twickenham Stoop which offers much needed facilities for hospitality, with solid management from the likes of Ian Lenagan will hopefully finally allow the club to develop the strength and depth it needs to become a serious challenger to the M62 clubs.
It’s also good to see the announcement that there are now 15,000 school children covered by the Quins development programme headed up by Kurt Pittman, the flow of players coming through the development system in the last couple of years has been a major bonus for the club and has removed the reliance on overseas players. With the Super League looking to reduce the number of imports and the club itself seeing the end of any advantage the quota may have once given, the development programme offers the chance to compete on a more even basis with the M62 clubs when it comes to tapping into the young player pool. There is massive potential in the South East of England and the growing improvement in the academy system and grass roots development is beginning to attract envious glances from some in the traditional heartlands.
Whilst there is a long way to go for Quins RL to truly establish itself as a serious threat to clubs such as St Helens, Bradford and Leeds improved ticket sales and promising youth development are positive steps in the right direction.