Keighley Cougars release stunning statement on Matt Foster’s sacking and what went on ‘behind the scenes’ – Total Rugby League

Keighley Cougars release stunning statement on Matt Foster’s sacking and what went on ‘behind the scenes’ – Total Rugby League

KEIGHLEY COUGARS have taken the unprecedented step of revealing all the events that took place behind the scenes which led to the firing of coach Matt Foster.

Foster, who took over at the end of last year, has guided the Cougars to joint first place in League One so far.

However, the Australian was unceremoniously sacked by the West Yorkshire club last night, leaving many wondering why the decision was made.

In response, co-owners Ryan O’Neill and Kaue Garcia decided to reveal their version of the events that led to Foster’s firing.

The statement read: “We have been monitoring comments on social media, as well as direct messages from fans to the club.

“We are concerned by the level of hostility we have received. This club is run, and has been since 2019, and every decision is made in the best interests of Keighley Cougars. No man is bigger than this club and if he were to become one, as has been the case in the past, the club would fail.

“In 2023, we parted ways with our previous manager. We kept the reasons private and issued a general statement that the decision was ‘results-based’. We received a lot of criticism for this and fans understandably asked why. We can now say that sacking a manager means dealing with a man who deserves to be protected so he can rebuild his career. That is why we did not give the reasons. The manager at the time was causing a level of disruption behind the scenes that no employer would tolerate. We regret that we kept it private because the manager was given a free pass and the club suffered as a result.

“We made the same mistake again. We issued a vague statement that provoked anger from fans and open hostility towards those who run, pay for and keep professional rugby league alive in this city.

“The level of hostility over the past few hours has reached a point where we are no longer prepared to tolerate this level of abuse. We will therefore explain in more detail why we have made the decision to part ways with Matt and hope that you will see that there is more to running a club than meets the eye.

“Firstly we would like to emphasise our thanks to Matt and Debs for moving to the UK to coach the Cougars last year. Matt was given a generous move package including accommodation, car, flights, bills and salary. Matt was fiercely loyal to the club, which no one can fault and his legacy at the club makes it that much harder.

“During pre-season Matt returned to Australia and Jake Webster took over the recruitment and worked hard to build us a great squad on a budget.

“Upon returning to the UK, Matt was hostile towards Jake over the transfers he had made.

“Matt was adamantly opposed to signing Brandon Pickersgill, which led to significant internal tension between Jake and Matt.

“Jake agreed terms with other Championship players but Matt refused to look at them and the club ended up losing money.

“This came to a head in May when Jake proposed signing George Flanagan. Matt refused to commit to this. Jake came to us asking for permission to overturn the manager’s decision and sign George. Jake and I agreed that George would be a huge asset to the club. Jake informed Matt that the board had given him permission to sign George, at which stage Matt threatened to resign if he signed. We signed George and after his first game Matt agreed that we had a star and that he would eat his ‘humility’.

“Jake negotiated the signing of Mitch Revell for the club. Matt did not commit and it took 3 months to get Mitch to the club, only because Jake, at the end of his rope, asked the board to agree to override Matt’s reluctance to commit to Mitch.

“The approach to the Championship players that Jake proposed to bring to the Cougars was rejected out of hand by Matt. We were frustrated that as a board, the refusal to engage with top-class players, negotiated by Jake and Steve, was blocked by the manager.

“The dream of every coach should be to sign the best players. Not doing so was a wake-up call.

“Obviously things weren’t going well so we met with Jake, Steve and Matt. We informed Matt that Jake was the Director of Rugby and had to be respected and had responsibility for recruitment. Matt admitted that he didn’t fully understand the role and that he would be working more closely with Jake.

“We have therefore appointed Jake and Steve to the board to formalise their positions and establish Jake as the principal for all things rugby.

“We were hoping things would get better. They didn’t. Jake would call us to complain that he wasn’t getting any communication from the head coach. Jake would ask for practice schedules so he could check his results, but he never got them. Jake would ask for a plan for his season progress, but he never got one.

“Jake would meet with senior players and assistant coaches in his role as director of rugby to get their feedback on how they were doing at the club and if there was anything we as a club could do to improve their time here. Matt had strong reservations about this and it caused further problems.

“We were increasingly worried about performances. We lost to Hunslet at home; we should have lost to Midlands because they disallowed a try that probably was a try; we struggled to get a decent result against Cornwall; we almost lost to Rochdale away; and on Sunday we drew with Rochdale at home. If results had gone differently, which they could have done with the bounce of the ball, we would now be mid-table and worrying about getting into the play-offs.”

“On Sunday we were saddened to see George Flanagan absent from the pitch for the first half, with Dan Parker on the bench.

“After the match, Matt told us he couldn’t work with Jake anymore and gave us an ultimatum: either Jake leaves or he leaves.

“We spent the rest of the evening asking senior players and staff for their thoughts. They said the coaching was poor, the strategy left a lot to be desired and it might be necessary to change the head coach.

“So on Monday we had a board meeting where we had to face the reality that things were not right and that things were getting worse. We knew it would be controversial but because we have the best interests of this club at heart we agreed that we had to part ways with Matt.

“This is a very difficult statement to make and it is with regret that we have to do so, but in the last 2 hours, several things have happened that have left us with no choice and there are certain things we will not tolerate:

“- Attacks on Jake Webster. This man has been the best thing to happen to Keighley Cougars in decades. He works 14 hour days. He makes things happen that no one else involved in this club could. He has been a staunch ally from the day he made the decision to join the club. If the fans turn against Jake Webster then we as a collective will lose faith in Keighley Cougars.
Steve Watkinson, who is essentially the CEO of the club, has worked a million miles harder than anyone we have ever had in that role. He has brought in sponsors, he has professionalised all our operations and he is a great support to all the staff off the pitch. He deserves credit for what he does, not for bullying.

“- Homophobia towards us – that came from our own fans today, which we’ve never had before. We’ve given blood, sweat, tears and money to this club. We do what we do to give this city a club that aims to be the best. If that’s how you treat us, then we’re done.”

“- Threats to boycott the club. If you think one man is bigger than the club, then the club is in danger. Either you support the club 100%, like we do, or you can leave and in the end, all is lost.

“We hope you will consider what we have to deal with behind the scenes. If the fans want a club that is mid-table in League One, then we can deliver that – it will be a lot less stressful and a lot less expensive. We personally want something better. It’s time for you all to decide what you want for this club.

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