Written by Callum Walker
He’s been one of the mainstays in rugby league for the past two decades, but Hull KR chairman Neil Hudgell is to step down from that role in December this year. It marks the end of a 16-year reign as the owner, with the East Yorkshire club now seeking a new direction.
Hudgell, who is also the executive chairman of a solicitors’ firm of the same name, became the sole owner and the major investor of the Robins in April 2019 following the exit of Rob Crossland.
But, with the COVID-19 lockdown putting unbearable pressure on both businesses, Hudgell has decided it is time to retreat from his rugby league commitments. That is unsurprising, considering the fact that Rovers were scheduled to host a number of concerts throughout the year as well as games, meaning that commitments to sponsors could not be made during lockdown.
That left Hudgell, amongst others, to make a plea for support from the government, which resulted in a £16m loan in April. Despite the loan, playing games without fans is especially damaging for the Robins, whose large, vociferous fanbase often proves the difference between winning and losing.
In fact, the owner shared the harsh reality of being in charge of an anticipating and sizeable fan base.
“The weight of expectation for a club of our size and support base is enormous and needs more than I feel I am now able to give.
“With all that in mind, I do not believe I can do justice to it any longer, which would be letting down the magnificent support base of our great club.”
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To see his side walkout at Wembley for the 2015 Challenge Cup Final was just desserts for the money and time he had put into the club – though the less said about the 50-0 hammering against Leeds the better. And, Hudgell remained consistently loyal to help the Robins bounce back from relegation in 2016.
Without him, Hull KR would have been in dire straits a long time ago, which begs the question, what happens now? Of course, looking for a new chairman and majority stakeholder is the first on the list for chief executive Mike Smith. But, it’s hardly a ripe time for investors to plant their money into a sport where most clubs run at considerable losses.
As a fan, Hudgell has put blood, sweat and tears into the Robins, and he leaves the club in a much stronger position than when he took over in 2004. Hull KR have a great tradition and history, but that often means little in the modern game – just look at the likes of Hunslet and Barrow.
Rooted to the bottom of Super League, there is no relegation for KR to worry about in 2020. That is a godsend, but the club needs to act fast to replace someone who epitomised the tagline “Mr Hull Kingston Rovers”.