The London Broncos held a minute’s silence before their match against Leigh in memory of former club owner Roy Close, who died on 29 April, aged 90. He had been ill for some time.
It is no exaggeration to say that if Roy and his wife Barbara had not reformed Fulham RLFC in 1984 after the original club had been liquidated, professional rugby league in London would have died an ignominious death just four years after its glorious launch in September 1980 when the new team beat Wigan 24–5. Those sceptical of rugby league development in the south would have been vindicated and geographical development of the sport in the UK would have been set back for a generation.
Roy and Barbara were Fulham FC season ticket holders, and were given free tickets for the first game against Wigan in 1980. They went along to support ‘Fulham’ and Roy did not realise there were two forms of rugby until the second game. They liked what they saw, and started eating in the club restaurant on a Sunday before the games. Roy was a businessman, who at one time aspired to own Fulham FC. Instead, they sponsored some of the rugby league players, and paid the transfer fee for Steve Bayliss to join Fulham in 1982. They hoped to buy the club at that time, but ended up buying the assets from the liquidator in 1984. Barbara became the first female chair of a professional rugby league club, and Roy became managing director. Roy represented the club on the Rugby League Council for many years.
They appointed Roy Lester as team manager and set up a management committee to get more people involved in running the club. They moved to club to Crystal Palace National Sports Centre after agreement for the team to continue to play at Craven Cottage was withdrawn at short notice. They remained directors or owners of the team until March 1993, apart from a short interlude from March to September 1986. They oversaw the move to the Chiswick Polytechnic Stadium, where volunteers made a semi-derelict stadium fit for use. Unable to secure a long term lease for the ground, which would have allowed for redevelopment, the team moved back to Crystal Palace in 1990, and became London Crusaders. In 1987, Roy and Barbara went – wearing their Fulham RLFC jerseys – to watch a quick young black rugby union winger at Rosslyn Park. Sadly, they were unable to persuade Martin Offiah to sign for Fulham.
Another memorable event they were involved in was the 1990 joint tour with York to Russia. They also appointed Ross Strudwick as coach, who made the club more professional and improved the team. Over the years they also accommodated some of the club’s Australian players at their house in Maidenhead.
Roy and Barbara sold their shares in the spring of 1993. They continued to support the club, attended the 1999 Challenge Cup Final, and Roy took part in the pre-match parade as one of the club’s representatives. They also sponsored the Academy at this time, and were present at the club’s 20th anniversary game against Wigan in 2000.
On a personal level, Roy and Barbara were very supportive of our work in publishing our first book Touch and Go – A History of professional rugby league in London. They gave us full access to their files and papers, were interviewed for the book and enthusiastically backed the project.
Away from rugby league, Roy was a successful businessman, a Councillor in Maidenhead and a former chairman of the Institute of Directors. Our thoughts are with Barbara and his children.
Peter Lush and Dave Farrar