Jason Payne overcomes the barriers at Gateshead Thunder
PUBLISHED: 17:01 18 March 2011 | UPDATED: 19:01 20 February 2013
Being captain can mean a lot more than just leading out the team on to the pitch, as Roger Tames finds out during a visit to Gateshead Thunder.
For Jason Payne, working life as a professional sportsman doesnt end once the boots come off. When playing and training are finished, its back behind the desk to find the local support that will keep his club alive.
As skipper of Gateshead Thunder, the survival of rugby league in its North East outpost depends almost as much on his business contributions off the pitch as his try-scoring efforts on it.
Rugby League is a tough sport and proud of it. And the 22-year-old Yorkshireman has certainly taken a difficult route to being a full-time professional, justifying his Thunder wage by doubling as captain and business development manager.
It means 12-hour days, three times a week but working for the club also gives me the time to fit in weight training and gym work, says the prop.
Jason knows what its like to be a full-time rugby league player with no extra workload, having begun his career as a 16-year-old at the academy of then Superleague Castleford Tigers.
Gateshead Thunder play in the third tier of rugby league with a team of gas engineers, plumbers, teachers and the like. But their attitude and their approach has to reflect far more professional value than the modest cash they pocket for playing.
Its a massive commitment, explains the Thunder captain. The team trains three nights a week and Saturday mornings with a game on a Sunday. Then you have to fit in five weight training sessions plus extra general fitness work.
Some players just fade out as the season goes on because they underestimate how big a commitment is involved.
Of course, there may not even be a rugby league club if Jason cant play a blinder in his desk job. The Thunder are currently in their fifth financial re-incarnation since they exploded on to the rugby league scene as a Superleague club in 1999.
Its my job to help push the club forward, raise the profile, enthuses Jason whos bursting with enthusiasm after recovering from more than a year out with a double hernia.
It still baffles me that after nearly 12 years, people in Gateshead still say: Gateshead who? Our community side brings us in contact with as many kids as Newcastle United.
I look to build relationships with sponsors, not to try a hard sell. If I can just get them interested, they might begin to support us. The corporate side is really challenging but I feel its a massive achievement to get a company involved with the club. It can be tough convincing them we were not going to collapse again.
Jason lead out the Thunder for the first time in a competitive match in the recent season opener against Sheffield Eagles. A 20-32 defeat in the Northern Rail Cup against one of the strongest teams from the league above, represented genuine encouragement for a much -changed squad under new coach Richard Pell.
Pell is not the first rugby league diehard to head north and be taken aback by the native talent and local enthusiasm for the game which exists below the football surface of North East life. Jason was hooked some time ago:
I loved it here from the first time I came to Gateshead. Its weird because its not a rugby league area but there is just something about the place. I have had offers to go elsewhere but after everything theyve done for me, I wanted to give it another go with the Thunder. Ive got real faith in the club.
If the rugby league boys are to turn around Gatesheads recent hard times, it will need a significant contribution from their captain both on and off the pitch.