Steve Hossack on former Doncaster Rovers boss Sammy Chung and reinventing rugby league

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I was sorry to learn of the recent death of former Doncaster Rovers manager Sammy Chung who I always got on well with during his time at Belle Vue in the Richardson era.

The former Wolves boss often chose not to travel to away games on the team coach if Rovers were playing within 100 miles or so of Belle Vue.

On those occasions he used to ask me to travel in his car instead of on the coach.

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It was clear from some of our conversations - I used to ghost-write his programme notes - that Sammy wasn’t in total control of team affairs.

Doncaster Rovers, pictured in August 1994, managed by Sammy Chung (front row).Doncaster Rovers, pictured in August 1994, managed by Sammy Chung (front row).
Doncaster Rovers, pictured in August 1994, managed by Sammy Chung (front row).

That will come as no great surprise to anyone who remembers those turbulent times.

A very likeable man, Sammy was generally popular with supporters but there was a period when he felt they were on his back over the way the team was playing.

Consequently, he thought it would be a good idea if I were to sit in on a pre-match team talk at the hotel where the players had stopped for their pre-match meal, and report on how thorough the preparations had been when it came to tactics.

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It all started off well with coach George Foster discussing the opposition’s danger men.

Sammy then said his piece before announcing: “Ken (Richardson) would like to say a few words.”

It’s fair to say that Richardson, who Sammy probably hadn’t expected to be in the room when he invited me, liked to think he knew something about football.

He often offered his opinion when joining the management team en-route to away games.

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I thought at first that Richardson was playing it for laughs as he detailed his plan to nullify the opposition’s dangermen.

The famous incident involving Vinny Jones and Paul Gascoigne was nothing compared to what Richardson had in mind.

None of it was remotely within the rules!

I was pleased that I was sat behind him as I saw players biting their lips to stop themselves from laughing – though Gary Brabin cracked and subsequently paid the price when being moved on.

I don’t know how Sammy kept a straight face when he got back to his feet and said: “Thank you, Ken. That was very informative.”

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Sammy cared passionately about the club and the way Richardson ended his time at Belle Vue gave disgruntled fans’ even more ammunition to fire at him.

*Like many others associated with rugby league I received a questionnaire from the IMG group charged with coming up with a plan to boost the popularity of the sport and attract new funding.

Given the fact that the company, albeit a big hitter in their field, had little or no previous experience of the sport I had my reservations when their involvement was first announced several months ago and I still have.

One of the problems with such surveys is that they are often box-ticking exercises and they don’t take into account the knowledge and experience of the people filling in the form.

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I have over 65 years’ involvement with rugby league on many levels.

Yet my views, and those of people with similar knowledge, will count no more than someone who is a relative newcomer to the sport.

There was nothing in the questionnaire which addressed one of the main reasons, in my opinion, for falling crowds and lack of media coverage - football’s Premier League.

With my dad being a former part-time professional, as all players were at the time, and being born in the rugby league stronghold of Castleford, I was born with a rugby ball in my hands.

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During my formative years, rugby was all I knew and cared about as there was very little sport on our small black and white television.

Had I been born in the last 20 years or so , the likelihood is my sporting interests would be much different given the glamour and the massive media exposure of the Premier League which dwarfs that of rugby league and most other sports.

Rugby league’s supporter base is certainly getting older and many of the younger generation, even in league strongholds, seem more interested in both watching and playing football these days.

Sadly, it is a problem which is likely to get worse no matter what new ideas IMG come up with.

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For the record, among the changes I’d like to see is a 14-team top division with the team finishing top being crowned champions and the play-offs being made a separate competition as in the past.

I’d also scrap automatic promotion and relegation to the top flight.

I’d also like to see a better structured international programme and look at making changes to the scoring system with points awarded to the winners of each half.

I would also advocate a mid-season Touch Rugby competition.