No one can be in any doubt 2020 has been a difficult year for sport and Rugby League has been hit harder than most.
But 2021 offers the sport of Rugby League, particularly the game in England with a huge opportunity to reset and rebuild thanks to the much-anticipated 2021 Rugby League World Cup.
Our vision here at the All Golds is to capture the pioneering spirit of the original 1907-08 All Golds, which gave birth to International Rugby League when those pioneers came and played a test series against the ‘Northern Union,’ with the decider famously played in south west England.
Our suggestion to the 2021 Rugby League World Cup organisers and the Rugby Football League is to form a ‘Southern Union’- a South of England XIII, made up from Rugby League players born in the south of the country built into a representative side to play a warm up fixture against one of the Rugby League World Cup Finalists, with the game played here in Bristol.
We hope that Southern born players would buy into this concept and put themselves forward to play in this groundbreaking idea.
The team can draw from the current Southern Based professional clubs, London Broncos, London Skolars and Coventry Bears. The team could be given a robust ‘spine’ by being supplemented by an impressive talent pool of players based in the North of England, such as Louie McCarthy Scarsbrook (St Helens), Dan Sarginson (Salford Red Devils), George Griffin & Mike McMeeken (Castleford Tigers), Josh Griffin (Hull FC), Tony Clubb (Wigan Warriors) amongst others.
Other players would also become available, using retired players such as Leroy Rivett, Mark Calderwood and most famously, Martin Offiah as examples, all of whom were born in the South of England, such an example is current player Richard Lepori, who was born in St Albans. There will be other current players who were born ‘down south’ who we would hope to become available for representative Rugby League.
Who would this South of England team play?
There is a myriad of teams the South of England XIII could play which are attractive and marketable.
Jamaica – Bristol is unique in that it is the only major Town or City in the UK where the black African/Caribbean population is larger than those of Asian ethnicity. Within that Caribbean population, there is a high proportion of people of Jamaican descent.
Wales– Given the close physical proximity of Bristol to Wales, again there is good marketing as well as logistical reasons to select this as a potential fixture.
Cook Islands– The ‘Cookies’ played in Bristol in the 2013 Rugby League World Cup in front of over 7,000 people and left a fabulous impression.
New Zealand – In a nod to those original pioneers, a ‘Southern Union’ team playing against the Kiwis makes historical and emotional sense.
Bristol and the wider West of England has a population in excess of 1,000,000 people. Bristol alone has a population of 463,400. It is one of the United Kingdom’s 10 core cities with a larger population than Cardiff, Newcastle and Sheffield for example. The city is home to a vibrant sporting scene and has a strong spectator sport culture with Bristol Rovers and Bristol City in Association Football, Bristol Bears in Rugby Union (Current European Rugby Challenge Cup Holders) as well as 1st class Cricket hosting Gloucestershire County Cricket amongst others.
Bristol successfully hosted a fixture in the 2013 Rugby League World Cup and has a Rugby League presence on some level for several years. The new impetus of the Bristol All Golds with an on the ground development team in place, links with major educational establishments such as the South Gloucestershire & Stroud College and the University of Gloucestershire the basic infrastructure is already in place for the successful delivery of a high profile warm up game.
The All Golds have made no secret of their desire to return to the professional ranks and this game would definitely help in that process.
Bristol is blessed with several top-class sporting venues, including the All Golds home ground, the SGS College Stoke Gifford Stadium at the impressive SGS College. Although a relatively small capacity of 1500, with 300 seats, the facility has hosted several international squads, including the Kenyan team for the 2012 London Olympics and Tongan Rugby Union side for the 2015 Rugby Union World Cup.
If the SGS College Stoke Gifford Stadium isn’t considered suitable there is a whole host of venues which can be used to host this unique game.
Why a South of England Team?
The opportunity to play representative Rugby League in the UK is restricted at a professional level to World Cups and major tournaments. The chance to represent a region was lost with the demise of the County Championships.
Given the perception still that Rugby League is a ‘Northern’ game for ‘Northern’ folk. This potential fixture is a chance to exhibit the genuine talent that exists within the game and gives Southern players the chance to showcase their talents. It also adds a player progression pathway for young up and coming Southern players to show they can gain Representative honours. The phrase ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’ applies to Rugby League players as it does everyone else. A South of England Team would give Southern based players and enthusiasts the role and aspirational models we all crave.
If you would like to support our idea and get behind a South of England XIII or join the All Golds with a desire to drive the game forward in the South of England please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org