Since 1995, when rugby union entered its professional era, some rugby players were perceived to play the game for reasons outwith the sport’s values, adopting financial motivations as well as a love for rugby.
With the implementation of not just one but two professional leagues in England, clubs lower down the pecking order started to follow the trend of opening their chequebooks to attract some of the best of the rest available.
Amazingly, there are clubs as low down as level 2, boasting full-time or partially full-time squads as it's the only way they maintain a full-strength squad and challenge for promotion to higher leagues. Some don't condone this idea within the grassroots community but...
Is it really that surprising?
Not really in my opinion; a pyramid professional system, naturally means those lower down look at the more 'successful' clubs and try to reflect parts of their formula for success. Paying players is just part of the mix. Of course, it's hard to measure club success, when for some, simply managing to field a team for every game in a season is an achievement but there are many who seek promotion.
Paying players has become increasingly popular with clubs in the grassroots game and there has certainly been some resistance. One club who were notably opposed to the concept is Dorking RFC, who currently play in the London & South East Premier Division, and have played as high as National League 2. They registered as a charity in 2009 and have repeatedly stated that they do not pay their players.
In some respects, it’s sensible for clubs to refrain from providing payments to their lads; after all community clubs epitomise what grassroots rugby is all about. many have a solid youth programme set up to provide them with ample promising youngsters accompanied with players who move to the club due to work/life commitments. Thus, it would seem unnecessary for the club to pay their players especially in the financially insecure world of rugby. Again, I'll add that of course many clubs do not have this luxury and paying players is an effective method of luring players...
However, this matters spans further than simply whether a club is willing to pay its players; the increasing cost for ambition and quest of improving their club’s league positions is proving a problem for many clubs within the UK.
Although the procedure of paying or attracting new talent to a club has evolved with roles such as Rugby Development Officers & Community Coaches and various packages advertised online, it still significantly costs clubs and the financial pressures often fall onto the players; this doesn't have quite the same grassroots feel.
For some people, payments to players and the mass recruitment that occurs in our national leagues has led to a more corporate and less grassroots feel for the game but for others, it adds quality.
In my opinion, I believe that in 2017, we have a nice blend of corporate and grassroots clubs across the nation, and I believe there’s always room for different kinds of club, especially at the grassroots level. That’s what makes rugby great, you have the ability to play within your means and either pay players with the aim to climb the league, or not and play for fun within a local community.