RUGBY: Neil Back’s new book reveals all about his season at Webb Ellis Road

The cover of Neil Back's second autobiography, published by Pitch Publishing and written with Dean Eldredge
The cover of Neil Back's second autobiography, published by Pitch Publishing and written with Dean Eldredge

‘The Death of Rugby’ aims to bring justice for all those affected

Speaking for the first time about his year at Rugby Lions, Neil Back hopes his new book will help bring some justice for all those affected.

Neil Back in Rugby in 2011

Neil Back in Rugby in 2011

Published last Saturday, his second autobiography ‘The Death of Rugby’ is dedicated to the players and staff at Webb Ellis Road during that 2011-12 season - as well as the supporters, local community and businesses who supported them - when Michael Aland took over the club and the promised funding never materialised.

Aland’s well-publicised vision to build a team to compete in the Premiership – with a stadium development and museum – never came to fruition.

Back hopes his book will prompt new investigations and above all ensure it can never happen to anyone else.

“If there is any justice in the game, the authorities will read our version of events, open this up and breathe life back into The Death of Rugby,” he concludes.

Michael Aland, who took over Rugby Lions in the 2011-12 season

Michael Aland, who took over Rugby Lions in the 2011-12 season

“My sole reason for writing this book was for people to understand what happened to us and I sincerely hope that some sort of justice is brought sooner rather than later and we can all move on with our lives.”

The book also highlights what an absolutely incredible achievement it was for the Lions to win 31 out of 31 games on the field while battling the emotional rollercoaster of broken promises and financial hardship off it.

Anyone who watched the games that season will be intrigued to know exactly what happened – and while it doesn’t tell us everything (Back wishes he could have penned all 85,000 words on the subject) it goes a long way in explaining what they were up against. Chief executive Andy Key and conditioning coach Glen Thurgood also contribute to the story.

The chapter reveals Back, who was appointed head coach of The Rugby Football Club (2011) Ltd, was among those who never received a single penny, and even supported colleagues by paying out their money. Others were paid a fraction of what they were owed, surviving week to week with the help of bar takings.

Lions achieved so much that season without any money - just think what they could have done with it.

Lions achieved so much that season without any money - just think what they could have done with it.

“I always said I would do my utmost to try and help everyone recover their losses,” he said.

“The emotional costs will never be recovered, but I wrote this book to hopefully help them financially if there could be new investigations.”

The book details how he feels they were let down by the RFU, who made two visits to the club but took no action, except to later relegate the club to tier nine, punishing only those left behind.

He also wishes owner David Owen, whose deal to sell the club to Michael Aland never went through, could have done more.

“The day I resigned from Leeds, within an hour I was called about this job and Dean Richards was involved in those initial discussions.

“He was going to join the club on completion of his three-year ban,” Back explains.

“It had all the right people involved. I had bought into Mike Aland’s vision whole-heartedly and gave everything, as did the players and staff, local businesses and community.

“It was the perfect opportunity, which had such romance to it - a five-year plan to coincide with this year’s World Cup and I loved everything about it.

“It wasn’t about going out and buying a team, we only brought in a handful of players, but we were working on developing young talent.

“But at the end of the day it was a dream, that’s all it was and it left a lot of people emotionally scarred.

“The platform we managed to lay in year one was solid and set against the backdrop of everything that was happening, it was an incredible achievement by everyone involved.

“We had arranged a meeting in the first week in January when I was ready to say we were wasting our time and it wasn’t going to happen, so we should walk away with our heads held high.

“But the players were saying they wouldn’t be able to join another club at that stage of the season and we needed to make it work. So at that point, like the captain of a ship, I said I would stay with them until the very end, until we were safely docked and ashore.

“We decided to give everything to one another and that’s what we did.

“If we had lost a game it would have taken the edge off it, but we didn’t.

“Even for the very last game which was the narrow Warwickshire Cup final win we stuck with the development team who had got us there, rather than field our best team, who could have won by 50 points. Some of the players may never play in another cup final in their life and to watch their faces and the coaches was incredible.

“We did everything that season without any money - just think what we could have done with it.

“I have no regrets. It made me the man I am today and I am a better man for the experience.

“You have to take the positives and despite everything I also absolutely loved it.

“It was a great year. I had my moments like everyone did, but every time we walked through that door it was all about winning.

“The first message I give to my players is that I am available 24/7, 365 days a year and will always get back to them within 24 hours.

“I took calls at all hours of the evening and through the night from players desperate for financial support and many of us paid out directly.

“I think it helped the team bond and togetherness. I’m still available to them now and I’ve taken a lot of calls over the years since.

“Everyone involved was out of pocket, but it wasn’t just us, members of the local community and businesses all lost out.”

Back says it was hard to condense his year at Rugby into just one chapter.

“But I hope by including notable events such as the 2002 Heineken Cup final, Rugby World Cup in 2003, the 2005 Lions tour to New Zealand and my life as a coach and since, it will give it a wider audience,” he added.

There are also contributions from Sir Clive Woodward, Martin Johnson, Jonny Wilkinson, Richard Hill and Lawrence Dallaglio.

Back is available for after dinner speaking, visit http://champions-speakers.co.uk