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Last Updated: Monday, 4 April 2005, 08:40 GMT 09:40 UK
The instigator: Sir John Hall
The arrival of professionalism in the mid 1990s was heavily driven by rich benefactors who stepped in to turn around a host of clubs.

The trendsetter was Sir John Hall, the then owner of Newcastle United, who bought the city's main rugby club.

Sir John recalls how he and others changed the face of rugby.

THE DAWNING OF A NEW ERA

Ten years on, I look back now and don't think the clubs have had the recognition they deserve. They were a major factor in winning the World Cup for England.

We turned players into winners at our cost. I remember Rob Andrew asking to bring in this little lad called Jonny Wilkinson for example, and then told me about grabbing this guy called Dave Alred (now England's kicking coach) from Australia. The rest is history.

Sir John Hall celebrates winning the 1997/8 Premiership crown
Hall brought Newcastle storming into professionalism
Had it not been for us benefactors, I believe the sport would have gone to regional rugby like the southern hemisphere, but that wouldn't have worked.

That's not how England works. It's all about clubs. People don't support a region, they support a club.

Professional rugby in England hasn't been the success I thought it would be. It's improved the gates but taken longer to bring money in.

Now Newcastle get about 10,000 per game, when I thought it would have been 15,000 by now.

But I think in 10 years a lot has happened. And there will be further progress in the future - it's still forever changing.

Looking back at 1995, we'd been successful with Newcastle United so we had the idea of putting together a Newcastle sporting club, akin to Barcelona, and get as many supporters as possible.

The way something like that can shape, define and boost an area is amazing. So my initial dealings were all about the publicity value to the region.

We got involved in ice hockey, basketball etc, then I thought about rugby union but didn't think it would really catch on.

But as we started talking to Newcastle Gosforth, the International Rugby Board suddenly announced its decision to make the game professional.

We then moved into rugby quickly even before the Rugby Football Union could react. They wanted to have the set-up in the northern hemisphere like the southern hemisphere, with full control over rugby at the clubs.

I wasn't a rugby man, but when I came in, I just nicked all the ideas from football. We brought in the fitness specialists and dieticians, and we changed the nature of the game.

Jonny Wilkinson on his England debut
Hall believes clubs need credit for shaping big-name internationals
We started it in Newcastle but there were others who followed, like Chris Wright at Wasps, Nigel Wray at Saracens and Andrew Brownsword at Bath.

But Newcastle were the instigators, although it probably would have happened without us anyway. We took the RFU by surprise and they couldn't bring in what they'd intended to do. So that created an impasse between us and them.

But Newcastle's rugby team weren't even in the top flight then, so I bought a team for promotion.

The problem was that I was an outsider. We were all called "the suits" and were never really wanted in the game. In some ways, we were shunned by the old clubs. We were accused of destroying the honour of the game.

The problem was that some of the owners were still stuck in the traditions of rugby. They still had the blazer and badge. I couldn't get the idea through to them (the other owners).

I would have meetings with them telling them they needed the television and commercial rights. But those people just didn't understand what was happening to them.

To prove the point, I had a toast from an old adversary the other day saying 'we should have listened to John Hall and we wouldn't be in the mess we are now'.

Ever since it's inception, it's been an uneasy alliance between the Premier clubs and the RFU, and always will be.

In the end, I decided enough was enough. I'd put 5m in. I believe I changed the shape of the game, but it was a costly exercise. I was ahead of my time.


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