Derek Beaumont : « The club is extremely healthy financially »
While his club applied for the 12th Super League spot, we spoke with Derek Beaumont, president of Leigh Centurions. His candidacy for the Super League, the recruitment, the health crisis, the Toulouse Olympique or even French rugby league, the Centurions boss answered all our questions.
Derek, can you introduce yourself to french rugby league fans who don’t know you ?
I think some French fans may remember me from our visit to play Toulouse in 2018 where I spoke on the stage with their president attempting my rather basic French! Some may also have seen my interview at the end of the Million Pound game against Catalan Dragons when we got relegated. I come from a single parent family with two brothers on a council estate. It breeds a toughness in you both mentally and physically. I liked anything that tested this and that is how I became interested in rugby at junior school. I played for the team and as I moved to senior school I continued to get selected. I also played for a local team called Bedford Recks. When I was 14 I moved to a different school and they weren’t really that into rugby so I stopped playing school rugby. However my previous school requested I went on a tour with them when I was 16 to play teams in the south of France. We played Limoux and Carcassonne in a round robin competition with the final being between St Mary’s and Limoux. During the game my little finger got broken and sent the opposite way needing an operation. This took many months to repair and I never played rugby again. I enjoyed my time in France and my French improved during that time. I remember the French being very physical and much bigger than us. We were sure they were older but then everyone says that! From there I watched my team Leigh regularly. Eventually I became a shirt sponsor then took over in a consortium in 2003 getting us promoted in 2004 for the 2005 season into Super League. I left that year and returned in 2013. I run a self-made successful decking company building them on mobile homes all over the UK. We do a little bit of business in Europe and some in France. We were establishing a French arm through Caroline Pelissier the wife of Eloi but this didn’t continue with him moving to London. One of the highlights of my year in Super League was the two visits to Catalan Dragons. The atmosphere was great and the people were friendly. Our supporters loved the experience.
What is your feeling over the last two years of your club, from a sporting point of view ?
We failed to make the play offs in 2018 which was a massive failure with the team we had and the money invested. These placed the club at risk as we had contracts running into further years that with the drop from 1.8M to 1.2M then becoming 200k meant we were unable to fund them. This meant a rebuilding process of the squad and coaching team at a much lower level. John Duffy did a great job with local players and the boys over achieved finishing fourth in the league which regained my appetite. Towards the end of that season I had started to add players with a view to the 2020 season and having a tilt at gaining promotion to Super League. The 2020 season started great and I was confident we would have had enough to win the competition and I was committed to add anything necessary during the season to make sure of that. I saw Toulouse as the strongest challenger along with Featherstone Rovers. Our loss in the last second away to Hull KR having played for 20 minutes with twelve men gave me confidence but with the Covid 19 pandemic it proved to be our last game which was frustrating as we will never know how that team would have finished the season.
How much has the health crisis affected the Leigh Centurions?
I believe it has affected ourselves and the other bigger clubs the most in the championship division. A lot of clubs have managed to cover their salary payments with the job retention scheme by the government. However with that being to a maximum of £2500 per month which reduced further in September and October it didn’t cover the vast majority of our monthly salary. Fortunately 90 percent of our loyal season ticket holders and sponsors did not claim a refund on their purchases so the club remained in a healthy financial position. The issue will be bigger between now and March as the scheme does not cover new employees so all new signings that are contracted from December will not be able to be supported. However we are confident the commitment of the RFL and championship clubs will see the season start in March even if behind closed doors and I have committed the funds to cover everything.
You are postulating for 12th place in the Super League, why your file is better than others ?
I don’t necessarily think my bid is better than others as I don’t have the information of the other clubs so I can only concentrate on the strong points of my bid and the visible parts of the other bids such as the playing squads at this stage. I believe everyone’s bids will make a strong case for themselves and different clubs will have strengths in different areas. I believe the most important part is the ability to be competitive in Super League and to be able to demonstrate the visible cash to support that should there be no games in front of crowds so that there is absolute certainty that there would not be a repeat of this year with the club selected having to withdraw. Our squad is currently 23 and will become 25. Two players have not yet been announced as their club is still involved in the playoffs. Every single player has super league and or NRL experience with a number of international caps as well. I believe this speaks for itself. I also believe that Toulouse have a squad that wouldn’t need much change to be competitive in Super League but beyond that I believe the other candidates would need to make a number of changes and I don’t see the players available in the market that I can see at the moment. The club is extremely healthy financially and shows a good profit from last year and also showed spending the full cap in Super League in 2017 that it could make a small profit. We have a proven track record of competing well in Super League and did not finish bottom attracting an average crowd of 6500 taking on average 1500 fans to away games. We also contributed well off the field in the meetings and I believe we were a welcomed addition to the competition. I have significant physical cash in hand to demonstrate I can self-fund the club in Super League even without any spectators at games or even the £1m from central funding so we are a completely safe bet financially. Our facilities speak for themselves as they have been selected for the world cup next year and have previously hosted world cup games. We have an outstanding partnership with the Leigh Sports Village and the local council who are fully supportive of the club and it being in Super League. I suppose the possible chink in our armour would be our location in terms of the desire to grow the competition as we are located in the heartlands of other clubs. This is the case for some other clubs as well although I see this as a strong area for the bids of Toulouse and London although London has had many years of opportunity which hasn’t really gelled so I don’t see that as an attraction for their bid. I believe that the sport wants to see a return of Bradford and given their massive fan base and history on the field I can understand why however I believe it is to soon for that and they have to big of a mountain to climb in such a short time with their recruitment and their stadium. I believe Bradford would be better building their way in by promotion so they get there with a full share of funding so they can be competitive. I believe if they went in now it would see them more damaged from the experience. Whilst I believe Toulouse to be a good option in terms of growing the competition certainly in France and a strong well built and managed club with a strong squad I don’t think with the current climate of the pandemic that it is the correct time. The recent request from the Catalan Dragons for French government support obviously raises concerns and whilst they should be applauded for their commitment to fulfil the season in such circumstances it has obviously come with challenges and there is no certainty of what other restrictions could be imposed in 2021. I also have concerns with 2 French teams in a twelve team competition with 1/6 representation and 1/6 of the funding leaving the country. The two professional French teams would be in the top flight whilst only 10 of the 36 English clubs would be. I believe we would need at least 14 teams in Super league to have two French clubs in there but I have always thought super league should be 14 teams. If there was an expansion to that and three clubs were to be added I would certainly be supporting a Toulouse bid in those circumstances. If it isn’t my club to be chosen I would prefer for it to be Toulouse as it would be a strong team out of the way in the championship to contend with next season.
You have already made a big recruiting for 2021, you do it while thinking of Championship or Super League?
My recruitment for this year was always based on the championship and most players were recruited ahead of the decision surrounding Toronto and the addition of a club in this manner. As I said earlier I was hoping to have got promoted this year and always knew if I wasn’t I would add to it this year as I see the 2021 season as really important as it’s the end of the current broadcast deal and I have always had concerns as to the consequences of that and if the sport would again remove promotion and relegation so I was always going to invest in this season. Also whilst a massive task I wanted us to have an outside chance of trying to get a run in the challenge cup a bit like Salford so wanted a strong team to be able to focus on that. We won it in 1921 and 1971 the year I was born so it would be a dream come true to be there in 2021. It may be that’s the 1895 cup instead but a day at Wembley would be memorable. That said when recruiting a team to get promoted to super league you are thinking of super league as when you get promoted you want to have to make only a few changes to strengthen not wholesale changes.
If you are not the chosen one, which club would you like to see selected for the Super League ?
I think I have answered this above from a purely self interest perspective in terms of Toulouse so that it makes it easier to win the championship and get promoted although Featherstone amongst others will also fancy their chances of that and I know from experience how tough the championship is to win. If I take my Leigh hat off and look at it purely from the best interests of rugby league and how I perceive the clubs without having all the information then I could argue that London were the last relegated team so they have the right to return. I could argue that Featherstone lost the grand final so it is their right to return. However given these aren’t circumstances being considered they aren’t the basis for a decision. York interests me it’s a well run club with john Flatman. It has a new stadium a growing fan base is a beautiful historic city that expands the foot print and would be a new place for fans to visit. That said I think its to early for them and to big a mountain to climb recruitment wise in a short space of time. I have already mentioned the benefits of Bradford versus the issues so in the end I would honestly have to come back to Toulouse as the only real viable alternative to Leigh in terms of being able to be competitive in Super League as in the end that has to be the over riding factor in all of this.
What do you think about rugby league in France ?
I think the French people are very vibrant and passionate. The French players are very physical and tough. The English people love to travel to France to watch their teams play there and enjoy the nice weather and hospitality of the French. I think Catalan have represented the French rugby very well over the years and have been competitive with the challenge cup and super league. They have also brought some high profile players to the game. Equally Toulouse have always represented themselves well and I have enjoyed both of my trips over there once losing in the challenge cup when they were in the division below us and in 2018. My only criticism is that the travelling isn’t reciprocated with very few travelling fans supporting the French teams vising the UK. I understand that is not ever going to be possible on a weekly basis but it would be nice to see more fans travelling as a whole across the season maybe even just for a big following at the magic weekend. Maybe having two French teams at such an event will achieve that who knows time will tell. I believe time will tell that sooner rather than later though as if Leigh get selected for Super League I believe Toulouse will win the championship and get promoted at the end of 2021 anyway. If Bradford is the chosen club which my paranoia thinks will be the case then I believe it will be a shoot out in the end with the losing team being the strongest team in 2022 and getting promoted then. I think its safe to say if the commitment remains from whoever is financing Toulouse then it’s simply a matter of when not if Toulouse will be in Super League.