Rugby League journalist Phil Hodgson accepted an invitation to become Hunslet’s press officer several months ago.
It’s a decision he’s had no cause to regret, even though there’s no on-field action or selection news to currently report on because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The crisis has given him the opportunity to witness at first-hand the quality of Hunslet’s board – and gain an insight into fine work being conducted on behalf of the sport as a whole by the Rugby Football League.
He says: “It’s been my privilege, and something of an eye-opener, to have been invited as an observer to several of Hunslet’s recent `conference call’ board meetings.
“One thing above all has stood out to me; the well-honed and complementary professional skills of the people involved, underpinned by a clear and abiding love for Hunslet as the board grapples with the complexities of circumventing the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The Parksiders, largely because of that professionalism and commitment, are well-placed to negotiate the many hurdles that they, in common with all other professional sports clubs, will face in the coming months. And I suspect that other Betfred League 1 clubs, not to mention Championship and Super League outfits, are similarly blessed.
“Crucially the Rugby Football League, with Chief Executive Ralph Rimmer, Chief Operating Officer Tony Sutton and Chief Regulatory Officer Karen Moorhouse at the forefront, quickly adopted a pro-active approach in engaging with the government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, and in holding regular teleconferences with all clubs, putting Rugby League at the forefront of handling the crisis as effectively as possible in very difficult and challenging circumstances.
“Those close links, and continuing consultation, have been key factors in informing Hunslet’s planning.”
Hodgson continued: “The Parksiders’ chairman is Kenny Sykes, who accepted the role earlier this year when Neil Hampshire stepped down. A former player – indeed, a member of the club’s Hall of Fame – Kenny’s calm leadership has been forged over several decades as a key figure at leading National Conference League club Heworth.
“He worked in Leeds in the early 1970s (coinciding with the launch of his playing career with Hunslet) where he was a manager at the Employment Exchange in Eastgate. He spent over 31 years in the Civil Service, and a further 13 years in local government. Very pertinently, he operated at a senior level in the Civil Service and in local government and was instrumental, during his working career, in producing and interpreting complex government legislation.
“That vast experience is being brought to bear as the board attend to the minutiae of protecting the interests of their employees, including players.
“Neil Hampshire may have stepped down as chairman, but he has possibly never been busier. An Assistant Director for Strategy and Change Management at HMRC until taking early retirement last year after 43 years’ service, his knowledge of the taxation systems is, without question, priceless and, as Hunslet’s representative at the RFL’s recent meetings, his ability to provide concise summaries and analysis to the rest of the board is hugely impressive.
“Hampshire is working closely, in particular, with my namesake Phil Hodgson, who recently retired, in his mid-50s, as a management accountant with Northern Powergrid and who is bringing his long experience to the cause in attending, very professionally and tirelessly, to budgetary projections.
“Another former chairman, Ian Johnson (Hampshire’s predecessor) has been highly active for more seasons than he may care to remember in a host of capacities on behalf of Hunslet. As a former human resources manager with BT, for whom he worked in a range of roles for 46 years – before, over the last two or three years, owning a successful restaurant – Ian also brings a great deal to the table, including ten years’ service as a scout leader.
“Peter Jarvis recently stepped down as heritage director but has continued to be very active as a vice-president. `Jarvo’ spent a memorable playing career with Hunslet, Bramley, Halifax and Huddersfield before – after successful stints coaching Leeds University, Belle Isle, Milford and, at professional level, Bramley – guiding Hunslet, alongside David Ward, to the Division One title in 1986-87. The former prop forward brings a wealth of pragmatic knowledge of the game to the cause, while his long experience as a publican has been invaluable in the club’s dealings with suppliers.
“Peter Todd, who stepped forward as voluntary manager following the recent departure of the hard-working Darren Williams, had previously occupied that role. The former teacher has ensured that the transition has been seamless and that Hunslet continue to go about their day-to-day business in a thoroughly professional manner.
“Damian Irvine, meanwhile, joined the club as a non-executive director, together with the very supportive Jason Peterkin, late last year.
“The Australian, who was for a time chairman of Cronulla Sharks, has plenty of experience at soccer clubs in England and recently joined Kent outfit Ebbsfleet AFC as chief executive. That link-up has already been of great benefit to Hunslet as Irvine, whose forte is assessing and addressing often complex organisational issues, has been able to contribute practical knowledge gained with Ebbsfleet to discussions.
“Gary Thornton is also very impressive in meetings. Hunslet’s head coach, who has an excellent relationship with his players, is a manager with BT and adds valuable contributions beyond playing matters, utilising his experience gained coaching at some excellent Championship and League 1 clubs to the full.”
Hodgson concluded: “Hunslet have, in addition to an active and very professional board, a strong supporting cast of enthusiastic and dedicated volunteers. The club may currently be in League 1, from which they are targeting promotion, but those running the organisation are, it seems to me, of Super League quality. Happily for Rugby League as a whole, I’m sure that the same can be said of other clubs that are also currently outside the top flight.”