York City Knights Chairman Jon Flatman is ‘extremely excited for what 2021 will hold’ after seeing the 2020 Betfred Championship season cancelled amid the Coronavirus pandemic, leading to the club understandably withdrawing from the 2020 Coral Challenge Cup.
Speaking to Jules Bellerby on BBC Radio York’s afternoon show, Flatman reasoned: “Its sad conformation , we don’t want to dwell too much but the fact is our Super League opposition would have been in training for at least a month, and with the season cancelled at our level it was a step too far when taking player welfare and many other aspects into consideration.
“We’re talking about a high speed high impact sport where players at our level can compete in one-off games against elite level opposition, but we need things to be right in order to do that. You need a certain amount of time to properly prepare for a fixture like that, and we’ve been on hold since March.
“It’s a sad day for us to have to pull out of the most prestigious cup competition in the world in our sport - we were very proud to reach round six and earn the opportunity to take on Castleford, but we have to take sensible decisions at a sensible time, and look forward to the future which we will now do - but we’re certainly not brushing the pain of this decision under the carpet.
“We were looking forward to similar scenes that we enjoyed with our fans and commercial partners on that memorable day in 2018 when we took on eventual tournament winners Catalans Dragons in front of a packed house at Bootham Crescent on the BBC, and pushed them all the way, but we’re now not going to dwell on the disappointment of this decision for too long.”
When asked about the impact the Coronavirus pandemic has had on the club, Flatman explained: “The biggest setback with the Covid situation in Rugby League and our club must and always be the personal impact, and I don’t think we should get away from that - we’ve lost friends, we’ve lost supporters, and we’ve lost valuable people from our game to this pandemic and first and foremost they must be in our minds, because ultimately their health is more important than anything else.
“Talking about the financial aspect, we will come through this process - we won’t get through it stronger than we were pre-Covid, but we will get through it - we are run to an extremely tight financial structure, and while nobody could foresee the impact of Coronavirus, we have been able to be flexible and agile in our response to these challenges.”
Speaking about planning ahead, Flatman said: “We will continue to trade and look forward to moving into our new home at the LNER Community Stadium with hopefully an even stronger playing squad in 2021 - we have some wrongs from 2020 that we want to put right in 2021 and come out fighting after this incredibly frustrating period, and we’re certainly planning to do that.
“Whilst news from the club has been quite quiet recently, trust me that no news is good news at this stage, and we have some big announcements in due course about how serious we are about mounting a challenge in 2021, both on field and off field.”
Flatman underlined the importance of the value of the support of the club, he said: “The fans want to see the best players and we want to put the best players in the shirts of York City Knights without taking any financial risks, and that will require the support of everyone involved with the club, but we are absolutely heads up in terms of mounting a challenge in 2021 and making it the best season that the club has ever had with that collective effort.
There has been a huge amount of work going on behind the scenes in the last three months in terms of putting a team together that will compete.
“I think finances will dictate that Dual Registration across the sport will be very different in 2021. Super League clubs have been hit very hard in terms of TV broadcast income and match ticket revenue, so I think they will run with smaller squads next year and the Super League clubs won’t have quite as many players to dual-reg, so we are talking about signing players that want to play for York City Knights, and take this club to reach the highest level it possibly can, on top of those players that we currently have who have shown that they are capable of putting this club into the top 4 of the Betfred Championship, like we saw last year.”
He enthused: “We’re going to be bigger, we’re going to be stronger, and we’re going to come out and ensure that 2021 will be a magical year for Rugby League in York. We’ve got the World Cup coming to York in 2021, we’re hosting half of the women’s tournament at the LNER Community Stadium, and we’ve got the York City Knights Ladies who are going to go onto bigger and better things in the Betfred Women’s Super League, so it’s a good time to support Rugby League in York, and we thank all our fans and partners for continuing to support us.
“Discussions are ongoing as they always are, and once we get ink on paper and our media guys let me loose(!) then we’ll start to make some exciting announcements as and when.
There’s no guarantees until the ink is dry, but we are extremely excited for what 2021 will hold.”