Bev Risman

Bev spoke to me for League Express shortly after being appointed the new President of the Rugby Football League in the summer of 2010

Name: Bev Risman
Title: President of the Rugby Football League
Age: 72
Clubs: Leigh & Leeds
Position: Fullback or stand-off
Representative: Great Britain (five caps)
Playing career: 1961-1970
Honours: Challenge Cup winner (1968), Championship Final winner (1969)

Here’s something you might not know. The President of the Rugby Football League used to coach the Chairman of the Rugby Football League tennis.

Richard Lewis, of course, is a former British Davis Cup player and Bev Risman, the RFL’s new President, enjoyed a spell of employment for the Lawn Tennis Association after his glittering Rugby League career ended.

Risman, the son of League legend Gus and elder brother of the President of the Scotland Rugby League, John, was recently handed the President’s role and described it as the biggest honour of his rugby life. When you consider he’s been capped in both codes, been on the winning side in the most famous of Wembley finals and won a League title, that’s quite a statement.

“I was a bit overcome by it all initially,” admits Risman, who lives near Penrith in Cumbria.

“The role is mainly ambassadorial and ceremonial and I’ll assist the Rugby Football League in any way they want me to. There are things I have an eye on – for example, I want to help develop a national ex-players’ association right from the grassroots to the top professional players, and there needs to be an organisation who will look after the British Lions Association who are struggling with no more British Lions being formed.

“Rugby League is as healthy as it can be in comparison to most sports. We’re holding our own in many, many ways. We’re financially secure and a lot of the decisions made by the RFL are taken up by other sports. We are one of the leading sports in the country in that respect and that’s great credit to the administrators.

Risman’s introduction to Rugby League came at a young age courtesy of his father’s magnificent career which saw him excel for Salford, Workington and Great Britain.

“Memories of my father came flooding back when I was made the President because it’s the greatest honour possible, including playing, so I’m sure he’d be very pleased about it,” says Risman.

“I watched him as a young lad – I used to stand behind the posts at Borough Park and marvel at what he did, even though he played for Workington between the ages of 35 and 42.

“I almost played in the same team as him because I was 16 or 17 when he was still playing for Workington and it was my dream to play Rugby League for Workington. But he took me to one side and said there’s a lot to life before Rugby League and he advised me to wait a few years.”

Despite Risman’s love of the 13-man code as a youngster, he played union at school and university before playing for England and the British Lions.

“I went to Cockermouth School which played union, despite Rugby League being the dominant sport in Cumbria,” recalls Risman. “Rugby League was taboo in universities at that time, so I never had an opportunity to play League and I stuck with union. My dad also said that I could eventually switch to League and make a few bob further down the line.”

After a successful union career, Risman took his father’s advice, signing for Leigh, for whom he played stand-off.

“There wasn’t any doubt that at some time I’d become a League player with my father’s background,” Risman says.

“My career had stalled a little bit and Dick Sharp was an upcoming fly-half at the time. I played centre for a few internationals but only touched the ball about twice in three internationals! As well as that, Rugby League people were continually asking me if I was going to turn professional.

“So I switched codes at the end of my third season in union, and never regretted it for a second. I’d seen so much Rugby League and thought I knew all about the game having watched so much of it.

“But neither my father or I looked at the situation too closely and Leigh had an ageing pack of forwards, all growing old at the same time. I ended up playing like an extra forward and didn’t have the success I was looking for at Leigh and I had a couple of serious injuries. I was chosen a couple of times in Great Britain squads although didn’t win a cap.

“I signed for Leeds in 1966 and thought a change of environment would do me good and Leigh were very good about it. [Coach] Roy [Francis] said to me, “You’re going to play fullback and kick the goals.” It was a turning point in my League career.”

At Leeds, Risman was the league’s leading goalkicker in 1967, 1968 and 1969, he helped them win the Challenge Cup in the famous Watersplash final of 1968 when Don Fox inexplicably missed that infamous last-gasp conversion from just to the side of the posts and he won another medal in 1969, as Leeds beat Castleford in the Championship Final.

“The club made some outstanding signings and brought through some excellent young players. We were league leaders four times in a row and it was a very good time for us.

“The [1968] semi-final against Wigan was probably our greatest match,” Risman remembers with fondness of a game his side won 25-4. “They’d been our bogey team in the Cup and it was our time to get our own back. We absolutely stuffed them even with [Billy] Boston and [Eric] Ashton playing.

“When Ken Hirst scored the try at the end, we thought it was all over obviously. I was quite deep and the second time he kicked it, I went to dive on it but it got stuck in a puddle and I went sliding past it,” says Risman of the farcical try that led to Fox’s ill-fated conversion.

“I watched him put the ball down and you just hope [that the kick will miss], but you have to be realistic and think there’s no way he’ll miss it. It all happened so quickly and the kick missed. It was a strange feeling to win it like that. It was sheer luck but after what we’d done in the previous rounds, maybe we deserved it.”

Internationally, Risman played five times for Great Britain, all in 1968. He played twice against France, scoring two tries on his Test debut in Paris. With Wakefield’s Neil Fox injured, Risman then captained the side during the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, but Britain missed out on making the final.

“I was lucky with the captaincy because Neil Fox wasn’t fit- in fact that injury probably won us the Challenge Cup as well as he’d have kicked the goals instead of Don.

“The World Cup was very disappointing. France were much better than they had been in the previous games against us and beat us in Auckland. We’d already lost to Australia and we were out.”

Risman went on to enjoy a number of different roles after his playing career ended.

“I coached with the Wakefield Rugby League coaching scheme along Phil Larder and then went down to London with the family. The opportunity then came along to be involved in the Student game and I did that for quite some time.

“I decided to have a break from education and went out on my own as a sports’ coaching and fitness consultant and that’s when I worked for the LTA [Lawn Tennis Association] coaching youngsters and I was involved in the Davis Cup.

“I coached Richard Lewis, and I was asked about him when his appointment at the RFL came up. I followed his career after he finished playing and noticed he was making great strides in sports administration. His appointment has proved to be an inspired selection by the RFL.

“At the same time I was doing Rugby League coaching and Fulham came along and asked if I’d become their coach-stroke-manager, which I did from May 1988 to February 1989. We were very low down in the second division and I insisted I’d only do the job if we assembled a London-based team. We did that and we had some very enthusiastic players but we weren’t able to compete with the top teams and it didn’t work out in the end.

“After that I ran the Student World Cup in 1989 and was a director of the Student Rugby League for a number of years, based in the south, before working for the London Broncos as director of development. It was an incredibly rewarding time – I set up the junior-development programme team that still exists in London.

“I did that from 1995 to 2000 and worked with Richard Branson, but it’s David Hughes who’s been the great man down there. He’s been the single person who has stayed with the club for a long time.”

Risman’s new role saw him attend Sunday’s Northern Rail Cup Final between Batley and Widnes as guest of honour and he will take his chains of office to Australia and New Zealand later in the year for the Four Nations.

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