North Wales Crusaders facing more uncertainty


The Racecourse Ground is home to North Wales Crusaders

FEW clubs have endured such a turbulent history in a relatively short space of time as North Wales Crusaders and their initial incarnation.
Originally founded as the Celtic Crusaders in 2005 and based in Bridgend, the Welsh side enjoyed near-instant success in their first three years in the old National Leagues.
Then came the ultimately disastrous fast-tracking into Super League in 2009, having been controversially chosen ahead of the likes of Widnes Vikings, Leigh Centurions and Halifax for the first three years of the new franchise-based top flight.
Fast forward and the Crusaders had been embroiled in a visa scandal which saw six of their Australian players deported, dropped the ‘Celtic’ tag, moved to Wrexham, run out money and eventually wound up at the conclusion of the 2011 campaign.
Formed from the ashes of this debacle, North Wales Crusaders joined Championship One for the start of the 2012 and although they have remained there since, the past four seasons have proved relatively successful.
The reformed club picked up their first honour in 2013 by winning the first and only Northern Rail Bowl, beating London Skolars 42-24 at The Shay.
Last year saw them carry off the inaugural iPro Sport Cup as well thanks to a 12-8 triumph over Swinton Lions at Blackpool’s Bloomfield Road in the opening game of the Summer Bash.
And yet, with just over a week to go before they kick off the defence of that title away to Doncaster, the Crusaders board made the announcement they are: “inviting formal expressions of interest from parties with a genuine wish to invest significant funds in the club.”
The news comes after the players and staff agreed to take a 15 per cent pay cut at the start of February and follows the decision of chief executive and majority shareholder Jamie Thomas to step down.
Despite the gloom surrounding the club, the statement issued by the board was relentlessly positive in tone. Indeed, it boasted of the club’s success since reforming, being well-placed to earn promotion to the Championship and of “attendances surpassing four figures.”
Quite where that last claim came from is up for debate as none of the Crusaders’ home Kingston Press League One home games in 2015 attracted 1,000 or more fans, with the average attendance at the Racecourse Ground being 635.
Dubious mathematics aside, the second incarnation of the Crusaders seems to have been built on more than just wishful thinking and desperation to have a Welsh presence in Super League, so it would be a blow to the sport to lose a club representing the north of the Principality.
Professional rugby league in Wales has never run smoothly though, even going back as far as the short-lived Welsh League of the Northern Union in the early 1900s which folded after just two season.
Combine that with the tight finances of the typical League One club and there must be concern the Crusaders could join the likes of Ebbw Vale, Mid-Rhondda, Merthyr Tydfil, Treherbert, Aberdare, Barry and Cardiff City/Bridgend Blue Dragons in being little more than a footnote in rugby league history.
Fortunately, it is not all doom and gloom for the professional game in Wales. Indeed, South Wales Scorpions have long since established themselves as a viable team in League One since joining in 2010.
This is in spite of regularly moving home, with Caerphilly’s Virginia Park being their fourth ground after spells at Neath, Maesteg and Mountain Ash.
If both the Scorpions and the Crusaders can make certain of their long-term security then the future for the 13-man code in Wales could be very bright. However, much depends on whether the latter can attract the investment and stability they so desperately need.



  1. Stuart Sheard · February 16, 2016

    The visa problems were when the club was in South Wales. The move to Wrexham was initially successful, impressive crowds including 10,000 for the Super League opener. The club had a good season in Super League and reached the play-offs losing very narrowly at Huddersfield. Three young Welsh players Lloyd White, Ben Flower and Gil Dudson had their first taste of Super League with the Crusaders. However, off the field things were very difficult and ultimately the lack of money and some very poor decisions at Board/owner level resulted in the club withdrawing from Super League. I think the people who reformed the club have done an excellent job. Wrexham is an ideal place to base a Welsh club and hope they are able to attract new investment and continue to play.


    • marcbazeley · February 16, 2016

      I always feared the original Celtic Crusaders project was doomed from the start simply because the RFL were desperate to put them in Super League whether they were ready or not, which it transpired they weren’t.
      And yes, the move to Wrexham was initially successful, but – as has so often been the case with new teams in rugby league history – that success could not be maintained. Plus, the move arguably breached the terms of their Super League license as they had been accepted as a club away from the heartlands, only to move closer to it.
      But yes, the present incarnation of the Crusaders seems to be built on a lot more stable footing and the intention of doing things the right way. The RFL like to – rightly – boast of the geographical diversity of League One, so let’s hope they get the investment they need.


  2. Pingback: The Armchair Pundit – No Varsity blues for Oxford University | The Game That Got Away

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