Kicking on: London’s Craig Gower clears Jamie Jones-Buchanan at the Stoop last June SWPix.com of marketing initiatives and there are some that work, but it makes it very difficult. We’ve looked at it and thought, ‘let’s not compete with union but be an alternative to football’.”
In taking games to Leyton Orient and Gillingham in 2012, the club saw how the land lied, both with new fans and a willing partner. “There are discussions ongoing with various venues and once we get into a position to communicate that, we will. We know we have to make a decision as soon as we possibly can.”
After the success of Gillingham, a permanent move to share their Priestfield stadium in Kent seemed a couple of signatures away from a done deal. It was the highest attendance of the season and a financial return second only to the game with Wigan. Yet - cue voices of disquiet - it’s not as simple as that.
“I have to get the balance right between taking the business forward in terms of exploring new markets, trying to find a genuine home and keeping our die-hard fans happy. It is a challenge, but we’re doing it for very valid reasons. East London is an area that does tick boxes. There’s good development at grass roots level round there and talent coming through, so we have to look at these alternatives.
“The next move has to be right but equally one away from the Stoop, to a new market with a willing partner to drive us forward. That will be a good opportunity to create our own foundations in a community that supports us.
“It’s a process. We’re on a journey that will take us to the next level. But we need to start by having a good 2013.”
and more alluring quantity ahead of a Capital Challenge fixture that holds intrigue as well as significance, due to the dual registration partnership deal struck between the two sides. That affords Skolars an opportunity to take five players on loan from Twickenham as well as share strength, conditioning and medical knowledge throughout the season.
Skolars head coach Joe Mbu, having played for Broncos in Super League before stepping out for their cousins from the North Circular, is well placed to assess rugby league’s status in London and he believes the dual registration system is a positive step for the sport here.
“It will definitely strengthen the game in London and all around the country,” he says, watching his men rip into training in anticipation of the January clash. “Broncos players who come to us will benefit from playing in a decent, more level competition. The young players will play against men. We’ll be getting good quality lads from a full-time environment who will bring talent and professionalism to the squad. It can only be good for all parties.”
In 2013, Championship One will be something of a hybrid with long-established Rochdale and Oldham facing relative new boys North and South Wales and a trio of
“Broncos players who come to us will benefit from playing in a decent more level competition...”
newcomers at this level; Oxford, University of Gloucestershire All Golds and Hemel Stags. For the first time ever, there is no Yorkshire team in a non-geographically restricted British rugby league comp.
It looks like pioneering stuff, with the Skolars and Gateshead no longer just makeweights.
But in any case, only the red rose Hornets and Roughyeds finished above the Skolars in 2012. Two points separated Mbu’s men from a maiden play-off spot after an encouraging campaign and the Londoners can realistically bid for promotion. To play in the Championship would realise their immediate aims but the fiercely competitive Mbu won’t be underestimating the size of the challenge ahead.
“I’m a very ambitious person,” he says, “and I want to win everything. Whether it’s Championship One, the Northern Rail Cup or the Challenge Cup, I set myself and the team very high standards. I’ll be taking nothing for granted. Nothing is guaranteed and all the teams have the potential to be promoted or make the play-offs. Until we start playing and get to see the standard of players involved we can’t really know what is possible.”
Mbu, not a man to argue with without substantive cause, is keen to foster a welcoming environment at the other end of White Hart Lane and explains how incoming talent is his focus in the lead-up to the new season.
“For me, the important players are the ones coming into the squad. I’m excited to see if they can force their way into the team. I say to everyone who signs that they start with a clean slate, or begin afresh and everyone’s got to fight for their position. Irrespective of how many games you’ve played, every season presents a new challenge and everyone’s got to fight for a shirt.”
At 29, Mbu is the youngest coach in the professional game. He admits to missing the buzz of playing every week but relishes his new role. “I would like to be out there on the field but I enjoy coaching. I’ve learnt a lot in terms of people skills and managing myself as well. I think it’s going well.”
With help from a few more experienced heads around the capital, such as Broncos supremo Tony Rea, it appears that the future of London’s smaller club is in safe hands.
January 2013 Forty-20 35