RORY'S RAMBLINGS - An Occasional Column from the Antipodes

Rory's Ramblings

No. 23, 13 August, 1996
by Rory Gordon

Loyalty. It's an interesting concept, but what does it actually mean?

Over the last 12 months or so in Australia, loyalty has been a much-discussed issue. Well, to be fair, a sub-issue in some parts of Australia.

There are two main codes of football in Australia. In some States, Australian Rules football rules (sorry, but I couldn't resist the temptation). In New South Wales and in Queensland, the main code of football is Rugby League.

League, as it is known, has been expanding from its main base in Sydney (the capital city of New South Wales), and now has teams in New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia. This expansion has not been sudden, and it has not been without its birching pains. However, what used to be known as the New South Wales Rugby League is now known as the Australian Rugby League (AL).

As I said, there have been some birching pains to bring the AL to gestation. Before the expansion, all the clubs were basically based in Sydney. Today, some of those clubs have disappeared from the competition, while others are in serious financial trouble. Broadly, VERY broadly, speaking, the newer clubs have done reasonably well financially, although some of them have not done as well on the playing field.

Depending on your point-of-view, what happened about a year ago was either a giant step forward or an act of the highest treason. Almost out of the blue, a new competition was announced, to compete with the ARL. This new competition was to be known as Super League (SL), and was to be made up of some ARL clubs and some brand-new clubs.

I suppose that it was very similar to the World Series Cricket against the Australian Cricket Board battle of 20 years ago. One slight difference was that the rebel in the cricket situation was one Kerry Packer (one of Australia's richest men), and in the League situation, he was one of the people who stuck with the ARL. (I could also suggest that the ARL/SL split was similar to the NFL/AFL split in the USA, but I know so little about that situation that I would prefer not to draw any comparisons.)

As you might imagine, the ARL bureaucracy screamed from the roof-tops. SL, in the meantime, was spouting forth about opportunities for the clubs, the coaches, the players and the spectators. The media went into a total frenzy, and the families of supporters "were split".

Inevitably, the lawyers got involved and SL was not allowed to start this season. The matter comes up before the courts later this year. (By the way, can you yet tell which side of the fence I am on?)

In some of the clubs, the whole organisation decided which way to go, which made it fairly easy for those of us who were trying to work out the whole thing.

In other clubs, some people went one way, and other people went the other way. Into the midst of all this, the ARL started talking about "loyalty". Loyalty of the clubs to the competition, and loyalty of the players to the clubs - except where the club had gone to SL, where it became a matter of loyalty to the competition.

I found this fascinating. The ARL (or the NSWRL, as it was then) had no problem with dumping at least one club from the competition when it suited them. And this was a club that had been in the competition from the very beginning. Loyalty?

Even more fascinating was one particular former player, now a commentator, who came down firmly on the side of the ARL, and made a little noise about loyalty. This person played for many years for one particular club, making it to the heights of representing Australia in Test matches. Towards the end of his career, the club effectively "dumped" him - actually, they offered him a playing fee that was so low that he took it as an insult and went to another club for his last couple of seasons. Loyalty? (I should point out that he still remains an ardent devotee of his old club which, co-incidentally, stayed with the ARL.)

So what is loyalty?

Think back a few F1 seasons and one of the teams was having a few troubles with their engines. Because of the "sensitivity", the cars never had an engine failure. There was one famous story, perhaps apocryphal, about an engineer on the team being asked if the latest failure of one of their cars to finish a race was due to engine failure. "Oh, no," came the reply, "it was the alternator." And then he added quietly, "The conrod came through the side of the engine and smashed the alternator." (Or something like that.) Loyalty?

And what about Michael Schumacher in 1996? After Schumacher had said that Ferrari didn't really expect any decent results in 1996 until around Canada, and after the debacles for the team at Canada and France, there were rumors circulating that Schumacher had signed with Ferrari for another, third, year. And he was publicly defending the team. Loyalty?

Sorry to say, but I can see one thread that is common in all these, admittedly selective, cases. Money, and bundles of it.

In the League case, it all boiled down to one TV network not being able to get the rights to league, and so starting up their own competition. The ARL fought back with, it seems, the assistance of the TV network that then owned the TV rights.

In the case of the infamous engine, the team was getting the engines for free, and didn't want to jeopardise the deal ... so the engines never blew, just alternators and so on.

And in Schumacher's case? Well, how much money is he getting from Ferrari?

But that's just me.

Rory Gordon
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