Peter Smith: Wakefield’s future looks bright...if they get stadium issue resolved

Michael Carter.
Michael Carter.
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LOOK UP the definition of “long-suffering” and you’ll come across a picture of a Wakefield Trinity fan.

Once one of the titans of rugby league, Trinity have lurched from crisis to crisis for years, both on and off the field.

Chris Chester.

Chris Chester.

Since entering Super League in 1999 they have finished in the bottom-three nine times and have endured a series of financial meltdowns.

Their Belle Vue Stadium is one of the sport’s originals and was probably looking rather tired back when the first rugby league match was played there in 1895.

Poor facilities and years of struggle on and off the pitch almost got Wakefield kicked out of Super League back in 2011 and they were only reprieved when Welsh outfit Crusaders collapsed.

So all the drama of the past few weeks will not have been anything new or particularly surprising to Trinity fans, but it’s disappointing and worrying nevertheless.

Tom Johnstone.

Tom Johnstone.

Earlier this month club chairman Michael Carter revealed he has given notice to quit Belle Vue, now known as Beaumont Legal Stadium, with a ground-share at Kingstone Press Championship outfit Dewsbury Rams being the most likely option for next season.

Trinity have planning permission for a new stadium on the former Newmarket colliery site in Stanley and separate proposals for a complete redevelopment of Belle Vue were announced last year, but neither scheme seems to have made any real progress.

The prospect of moving out of Wakefield, something Carter has touted a number of times, is bad enough, but last week it was revealed he would be prepared to open talks if another party offered £2m for Trinity’s Super League place.

That is a long way off happening and rich backers don’t seem to be exactly falling over themselves to invest in or take over rugby league clubs.

And no wonder. One of the quickest ways to make a small fortune is to invest a large one in a rugby league club, particularly one outside the game’s so-called heartlands.

But the prospect of the club voluntarily being relegated in an attempt to survive in the long-term should serve as a warning to everyone in the area that the future of the city’s only top-level sports organisation is in serious peril.

Wakefield does not have a professional or even senior semi-professional football team, nor first class cricket or high-level rugby union.

Outside the city, Trinity follows Wakefield like chips comes after fish. Can the city really afford to lose one of its focal points? That’s something the powers that be in the area need to consider.

Club officials feel let down by local politicians over the lack of progress towards a new stadium and that is understandable, but the only real barrier – as Trinity have planning permission for Newmarket – is the cost.

As Leeds Rhinos are finding out, spending on professional sports facilities isn’t a priority in these tough times, but Wakefield’s community stadium would benefit the entire area, not just the club itself.

The most obvious and best solution would be for Trinity to get together with Castleford Tigers, who are also hoping to develop a new stadium in the same area. Trinity might have to move out of the city, to Tigers’ site at Glasshoughton, but they would still be in the district. Shared facilities would benefit both clubs and could work if there was a will to make it happen, but fan opposition will prevent it.

The off-field wrangling is a shame, because Trinity are doing so much right. Carter has stabilised the club, the team is in better shape than it has been for a while and some talented youngsters are being produced. Tom Johnstone and James Batchelor are outstanding prospects and six Trinity players have been selected in England’s 40-strong England Youth Performance squad, which is a notable achievement.

Trinity can now line up against most opposition with a reasonable expectation they might actually win and whether they do or not, Wakefield’s games are rarely dull. The club could have a bright future, but only if the stadium issue is resolved.

Leeds Rhinos. PIC: Bruce Rollinson

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