Mark Wilson fears Falcons could fail to play another game this year

‘Everything’s still up in the air’: England forward Mark Wilson fears Newcastle Falcons could go the rest of the year without playing a game as the promoted club try to keep afloat

  • Mark Wilson says Newcastle Falcons could end the year without playing a game
  • England forward Wilson has helped the team secure promotion this season 
  • But he says the current delay is ‘longer than a bad injury’ and fears for the club 

Mark Wilson is in the park enjoying time with his kids in Blaydon when he answers the phone. He has arranged the interview directly because the Newcastle Falcons media officer is furloughed and home schooling his kids.

It is Thursday afternoon, typically one of the busiest times at Kingston Park. The team would usually be preparing for their traditional slot under the Friday night lights but, for the foreseeable future, the lights will remain off.

Having secured promotion back to the Premiership, Falcons must now wait for the delayed 2019-20 campaign to be completed. Every week results in more lost revenue and the reality is the club are unlikely to have any competitive fixtures until December at the earliest.

Mark Wilson fears he could end the year without playing anymore games for the Falcons

‘We could be going from March, when the lockdown started, all the way through to the end of the year without a game,’ said the England forward. ‘It’s longer than a bad injury. Everything’s still up in the air. At the minute, there’s nothing concrete in place. It’s not ideal but as a club we have to work our way around it. You can’t say, “Well, I’m not playing for how many months so I’m just going to sit here and do nothing”.’

‘In every walk of life and in every business, there are fears about the effects the virus will have,’ said Wilson. ‘Rugby clubs rely on match days, revenue, and they’ve been hit hard. It’s obviously a difficult time for everyone but there’s a good feeling that we’re dealing with it.’

Newcastle owner Semore Kurdi has been trying to make ends meet, bringing the club’s employees together to explain that desperate measures were required to keep the club afloat.

Newcastle owner Semore Kurdi has been desperately been trying to keep the club afloat 

While most Premiership clubs implemented 25 per cent pay cuts, Newcastle employees were hit even harder. ‘There’s no passing the buck, we’re all suffering together,’ said Kurdi. ‘We had a meeting and I said, “Listen guys, we’ve got a problem here”. Before I had finished the sentence, people had volunteered to help.

‘The players have donated what they can and taken cuts where they can, as has every other member of staff at the club. There isn’t a formula but most people have taken more than a 25 per cent pay cut. Everyone has just looked at what they need to live off. Some said, “I just need this much to pay this and this… and the rest can wait”. Others said “I don’t need any money… pay me later”.

‘Everyone from Mark Wilson to the off-field guys are chipping in. We all know what it takes to keep the club going with no revenue. What puts a smile on my face is how our people react when things are down.’

What would the situation be if the staff hadn’t been so understanding? ‘It’s mathematics,’ added Kurdi. ‘You’ve got costs and revenue. I’ll leave that one up to you.’

Wilson’s last game for Newcastle was in April 2019, before their relegation and he subsequently had an ill-fated loan move to Sale to keep alive his England ambitions.

Phase two training remains a long way off, with the possibility of a furlough scheme in place until October. But Wilson has been training on his own, including a 20-mile bike ride up the Tyne, and still hopes to play for England in the autumn. 

‘We were getting to a stage where rugby was starting to look really good in the local area,’ he said. ‘We hosted England games at St James’ Park, we qualified for the Champions Cup. We also had the European Cup finals up here. It was a bit of a boom but it’s taken a backward step with relegation to the Championship and the effects of coronavirus.

The Falcons have, however, been promoted back into the Premiership for next season

‘For me, my last game was against Wales during the Six Nations and I just need to make sure that I’m right to play when those Tests come around. For the club, we just want to get back into the Premiership and start building upwards again.’

The maths have not been helped by Newcastle’s year in the Championship, which left a gaping geographical hole in the Premiership’s tapestry.

The cost of relegation resulted in the departure of big-name players, with England apprentice Josh Hodge becoming the latest to leave last week. 

It re-opened the age-old debate about ring-fencing, with Kurdi’s views on scrapping relegation sharpened by their time in the second division. ‘Spending a year in the Championship, I enjoyed my visits to every club we played against,’ said Kurdi. 

‘As a competition I enjoy the Championship, but financially it’s very difficult to play in the Championship with a Premiership structure, designed to be fed by Premiership revenues. The relegated club has to do that, especially if it has ambitions of coming straight back up.

‘We have a serious world crisis and maybe it’s an opportunity for people to think a bit more. In every business, when you’ve had some time away you come back and make adjustments. With or without corona, the finances of rugby need to be looked at.’




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