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14 October 2023

Board thanks fans and volunteers & states significant challenges are ahead

The Board at Swinton Lions views with great sadness the decisions taken at London Skolars and Newcastle Thunder to withdraw from RFL ahead of the 2024 season.

Skolars and Thunders are two clubs with whom we have previously enjoyed a fantastic relationship, and who have always shown Swinton Lions nothing but respect and warm hospitality. We hope both clubs ultimately find a way forward which keeps rugby league alive in their communities.

Something clearly needs to be done to assist clubs in League 1, primarily by way of creating a meaningful and competitive competition. No doubt over the coming days various ideas will be put forward, and we are fully prepared to back whatever is ultimately overwhelmingly recommended as the best solution for the wider sport – whatever format that entails. But we also feel strongly that having worked incredibly hard to get out of League 1, and then worked incredibly hard again to stay in the Championship, it is not an unreasonable position to take to say that we feel we have earned the right to compete in the second tier.

Referring back to those recent club casualties, from our perspective, and from the perspective of many if not all of our club colleagues outside of Super League, the fate befalling Thunder and Skolars certainly helps us to refocus on our own present financial circumstances and future strategic plans.

Against a background of covid recovery, a cost of living crisis, rising costs, modest match day attendances, a cataclysmic reduction in central funding and other significant challenges, we at Swinton Lions have nevertheless managed to maintain steady progress. That said we also firmly believe that the Board and the club have not received the credit we deserve for this progress from some quarters.

Off the field too we have made incredible progress, and our Foundation is fast becoming one of the most respected across the sport. We are particularly proud of the emergence of our Talent Pathway Programme and our Lionesses, plus we have plans soon to launch a Lions Wheelchair Team. This aside from all the other fantastic development work taking part in our communities under Damian, Gareth, Mark, Dougie, Finn, Steve Thirkell and many others.

Commercially too we are making some great progress, as can be seen through the success of our monthly business networking meetings, many of which have included a fun element, as those of you attending our recent gathering at The Salford Rum Company will testify! Contact the club if you’d like to join us at future events.

On the field, following our relegation in 2021 we immediately gained promotion back to the Championship, and despite every bookmaker, and plenty of our own followers, predicting a swift and immediate return to League 1, we confounded everyone by finishing 10th off the back of nine victories – defeating Toulouse, Sheffield, Widnes, Batley and Halifax amongst others along the way.

Looking back over the past three years, as a Board we feel justified in claiming that on every single occasion when we have had to make a major strategic decision, we have been proven right. And the pressure is certainly greater when you’re in the position of having to make those decisions in the first place, rather than being sat on the outside offering keyboard advice, criticism, or abuse.

The sport of Rugby League is an important juncture in its history, but at Swinton Lions we are determined to maintain an optimistic outlook. In many respects the sport is having to re-set. It’s very early days for IMG and RL Commercial, but the responsibility for the future prosperity of the sport ultimately lies upon all of our shoulders, including fans of the sport. To that end, we as a club would urge all Lions fans to support the upcoming Test series against Tonga.

Sometimes as a Board we receive criticism which is fair and objective, and this was certainly apparent through the results of the recent supporter survey (details of which will be shared towards the end of this month). For example, we will certainly endeavour to improve on our communications, and also we are already bringing in help to assist with our social media output. On the flip side, as a Board we will not hesitate to distance ourselves from sarcasm and abuse. We are not here to be coconuts on a shy, we are to provide you with a rugby league club to follow, and to be as successful as we can possibly be.

But most of all we all need Swinton fans need to support the Lions by whatever means possible. The Board is busting a gut for this club, but without supporters we are wasting our time, and believe us there is no one queueing up behind to take over. For those who have bought a season ticket thank you, but that said our sales to date have been extremely disappointing. We have pinned prices to 2023 levels so there are now significant savings to be made against what will be increased match day admission prices. If you sponsored a player last season we will shortly be asking if you’d like to renew for 2024 – please do so if you can.

Hopefully you’ve been impressed with our player retention, and hopefully you’ll soon be further enthused by our brand new player announcements, which we will begin to release from later today.

In summary, Swinton Lions RLFC, especially given the turbulence of the last 32 years, is a fantastic story of love and hope and aspiration. A story of a famous old club’s determination to succeed despite whatever is thrown at us. Everywhere we go we get asked “How do you do it?”, and we just need to say, “We are Swinton Lions, we are a very special club”. So to all loyal fans of The Lions, and all of our volunteers, both well-established and more recent, we thank you sincerely for all of your support.


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