IN the next few weeks Alan Wilson, the great unsung, will again pack his car with second hand football boots and hitch a trailer, filled with donated tackle bags and hit shields, to his towbar and he will drive into the bush to give them to junior clubs that cannot afford them.
The last time Wilson went bush he called former NRL player Ian McCann, now at Wentworthville, and McCann loaded him with old boots and training shirts, whatever surplus was around the club.
Wilson, supported by Leagues Clubs Australia, works through a good heart. He called Wests Ashfield chief executive Simon Cook and asked for a few bucks and Cook said just tell me what you need.
That is the heart-warmer here.
Elsewhere, we love a game that no longer knows what it is or what it wants, one that has lost a little soul.
Last year the NRL came up with what was a good idea; to offset rising insurance costs by finding one broker to insure the entire game under one discounted insurance policy.
The NRL called in the NSW and Queensland Rugby Leagues, the Country Rugby League, and asked if they were on-board.
They believed the idea was tremendous, though it is uncertain how much further the conversation advanced.
Soon after the NRL put out a tender and several consultants leapt for the deal. Nobody passes up free money.
Lion Partnership won the tender and what happens next is all too familiar in rugby league.
When Lion Partnership dropped the winner on the table, US-based global brokerage company Arthur J Gallagher and Co, the Country Rugby League looked and had a problem.
They were already in partnership with an insurance company and still had a year to go on the deal.
The metropolitan junior leagues realised that if the NRL could not sell the whole of game it was really selling nothing different from before and so they chose to stay with their insurers, too.
Shortly before Christmas the proposal — which Lion Partnership broker Peter Sellwood said was worth “a few thousand dollars’’ and the NRL said was “$30-40,000’’ — fell apart.
All that was left was the invoice from Lion Partnership. They did their job and the NRL was hit with a bill of about $700,000. Club officials and other bidders remain certain this was the amount.
The dumbness of it is that all this would have been avoided if somebody had simply asked the question — could they all sign up immediately? — when they originally met.
How much would that $700,000 have helped the work Wilson is doing in the country? Or the $750,000 for a stadium feasibility study that got thrown out by the State Government?
The money being spent at headquarters is extraordinary.
And nobody seems accountable.
There is nothing the NRL won’t spend its money on if somebody, usually hired by the NRL, tells them it is a good idea.
The game is currently budgeting $150 million on an in-house digital media platform. They have spoken to clubs about each contributing $180,000 a year for upkeep. This, on top of running their own websites.
This is an idea years behind its time.
Other major organisations like the AFL and the NFL overseas are scaling back their in-house digital platforms because the cost is prohibitive and it is cheaper to outsource.
Yet the NRL ignores the burden of Australia’s small population and the warnings of others and pushed forward.
Or do they just not know?
Do not even begin to dream what Alan Wilson could do with that money.
A $100 million has been budgeted on junior participation.
Crowds are down more than 25 per cent at some clubs over the past five years. This, in the season the NRL’s strategic plan of 2013 promised crowd averages of 20,000 a game.
Participation rates are down.
The QRL has dropped from 60,000 players last year to 54,000 this year, country registrations have dropped from 55,000 to 52,000 and Sydney kids have dropped from 39,000 to 34,000.
These numbers are worse than they appear. They are down on numbers from the year before, a game in slow death.
It is critical for the game not only now, but in years to come.
NSWRL research shows that if you played rugby league for at least three years as a junior you were seven times more likely to be an “avid supporter” of the game as an adult.
An avid supporter is a member, or buys a jersey, attends games.
Another study shows that for every dollar spent on junior participation it multiplies into millions over a lifetime.
Yet they are disappearing.
The NRL is at war with clubs at the moment, the lack of trust as bad as it has been since Super League.
The clubs don’t believe the NRL has any idea how to run its business and the NRL believes the clubs are frivolous with the money when they give it to them.
That war became public last November when the clubs walked out on the NRL after the League reneged on its salary cap promise.
The NRL argued it needs $100 million a year to urgently address junior participation.
The clubs argue back that the NRL has spent $100 million on junior participation in recent seasons and numbers continued to go down and they want to know what changes with the next $100 million.
There is no plan.
It is a business that does not know what it does not know.
So it buys insurance against criticism by hiring high-priced consultants to tell them solutions that fail to work but insulate them against blowback.
Meanwhile, a guy who knows very clearly what is needed and how it can be done loads his car with donated equipment and drives west.
He is the great unsung, working on shoestrings and hand-me-downs, and he worth more than the rest of them put together.