Here's the report from Robin Edwards of the Stourbridge Rugby season at the half-way point...
IntroductionIt seems barely possible that we have reached the half way point of the season already but the calendar shows December is almost finished and a New Year is about to begin. Time for reflection and review of how our season is shaping up. These views are my personal commentary for our members’ information only and as such are an informal communication.
Your new general committee elected at the 2016 AGM brought changes with some new faces appearing and responsibilities were allocated accordingly. Your new President - Nick Perry, Hon Secretary - Lisa Hill, with new husband Alex Hill, Commercial Director – Miles Edge, Communications Director - Mark Denison, Membership Secretary - David Wainwright, Head of Marketing - Louise Kelly, Rich Walker - M and J representative all joined with fourteen re-elected committee members. Your committee is representative across the whole club although we are always looking to co-opt more willing volunteers and we are very much aware that most of the hard work is done via subcommittees and their sub teams.
The Lions and the M and J committees have continued to function as previously and both are represented on general committee. Each section determines the composition of their own committees. It is in everyone’s best interests to have a consistent approach to club development and a common purpose for the future.
At the last AGM issues were raised about the way our constitution worked and these details are now being studied with the intention of making recommendations for amendment. We anticipate that proposed changes will be available for members’ consideration before the next AGM.
We are very fortunate to have such a dedicated and active membership willing to encourage the committee with their advice and guidance. We realise that the club only functions as a result of the efforts of its members and we are aware of the need to engage as many volunteers as possible. If you feel you would like to assist in any way please come forward and get involved. The general committee is considering the prospect of nominating a volunteer coordinator for next season.
During the year it has been made clear that several of our members have strongly held opinions about running the club. We encourage feedback and would be happy to hold a member’s discussion forum if this is of interest. There have been instances when some members have used social media to express their feelings about the club. Whilst this is a legitimate medium for social banter we do have a social media policy we would like our members to follow. In the first instance members may prefer to adopt a more direct approach and discuss face to face with the clubs officials.
It is our intention to involve as many sponsors, supporters and members as possible in running the club and this season the President has adopted a policy of inviting members and sponsors from across the club to join him on the official representatives table at pre match lunches.
The excellent support for our teams at home and away is envied by many clubs in our league and the players and officials appreciate the loyal and dedicated supporters who turn up in all weathers at grounds around the country. It is a great credit to our club to have supporters who are so amiable and well behaved. There is a theory that this may well be attributed to gin and tonic liberally applied in transit?
Match day crowds at home are never as big as we would like however we are trying to grow the gate numbers with a number of initiatives. The increased gate after our bonfire night special offer was encouraging and we will look at ways to further introduce rugby to a wider audience. All are welcome at Stourton Park, please bring your friends and family down to watch.
We continue to enjoy a close liaison with the RFU and their assistance has been beneficial to the development of the club in many ways.
The club is supporting the ‘Return to Rugby’ initiative that is designed to involve as many new and ‘lapsed’ players as possible in coming back to the game. We are encouraging the gazelles to play more often and are hopeful that through the local clubs networking there will be more fixtures played. There is the option to play under lights on a weekday evening if this proves to be attractive.
O2 touch continues to be popular on Wednesday evenings and we receive support from the RFU for developing this aspect of the game. We intend to improve the administration of these sessions to allow all members and guests to fully enjoy the facilities.
Our new floodlights have been installed and the RFU have part funded the costs of this essential facility. It is encouraging to see that the lights are now in use almost every evening.
We are in discussions about the merits of an artificial grass pitch, more detail in facilities.
Support for the mini and junior section is extensive providing the key messages that we want young rugby players to observe. Always worth repeating the message;
Teamwork, Respect, Enjoyment, Discipline and Sportsmanship
Our Game Management System (GMS) database still requires work and the scale of the task is daunting. The range of information contained in the database means that we need to check several different sources and keeping all the different feeds up to date is impractical. We are looking at the possibility of using a simpler database that we can build to talk to the GMS.
Player payment capping
Stability in any club is a major factor in achieving success on the field and the reality of the professional era is that at many levels teams can change drastically depending on the amount of financial support available and the movement of players between clubs has never been more pronounced. Whilst this situation provides opportunities for players to find the ideal level to display their talents it does little to assist stability.
The semi professional game is the subject of much open discussion at the moment, opinions are plentiful and the RFU are already in the process of refining their original draft report about player payments. It seems inevitable that player payment capping of some sort will be introduced soon however the mechanisms for control, the set limits and the overall effect on the game are yet to be seen. It is likely that this will have some effect on SRFC however as yet we have insufficient detail to be able to comment. There are conflicting opinions amongst the expert commentators but all agree that whatever happens we want to encourage people to play rugby at all levels rather than tie the game down with red tape.
England supporters have become accustomed to winning with the team unbeaten in fourteen outings including humbling Australia 3-0 on their home turf and winning a grand slam. Whatever secret formula Eddie Jones is using it has proven effective and the style of play has entertained and impressed crowds across the rugby world. International matches are usually won or lost on fine margins and there is no room for complacency even with this excellent record to brag about. We look forward to the mouthwatering prospect of the six nations. Hopefully we will receive our ticket allocation shortly.
The unbeatable All Blacks fell to Ireland in Chicago, South Africa seem to be struggling to find any form and the rise of Argentina and Japan is impressive. It may be that the world order is gradually changing and with more rugby being played around the globe perhaps new teams will emerge to challenge the established giants. There has been much talk about the USA and with their potential resources surely they will have a say in future competitions?
The dramatic growth of popularity of sevens as a specialist game is stunning. There is now a well established and thriving international sevens circuit drawing huge crowds across the globe. The Rio Olympics was a wonderful showcase for the sport and the level of thrills and skills on display certainly keeps the crowds entertained. The advancement of sevens as a spectator event can only be good for the game as a whole and we are looking to host our own sevens tournament in future.
Local rugby sceneIn the Premiership [level 1] Wasps are joint leaders and playing some great rugby in front of massive crowds, their move to the Ricoh arena seems to have been a masterstroke. At the other end of the table Worcester are in a relegation fight with Bristol and will require all their best efforts to retain their premiership status.
In the Championship Nottingham hold a mid table position and seem to be the only relatively local club for us to consider.
Above us in National 1 [level 3] Birmingham Moseley are making their challenge to bounce back into the Championship from their hard earned 4th place and Coventry are a bit further adrift in 6th place. This looks to be a very competitive league with Macclesfield (promoted from our league last year) currently in the bottom slot. This may be an indicator of the huge step up required to survive in this league? In National league 2 North [level 4] SRFC is currently placed 4th with Caldy topping the table and Sale and Sedgley Park above us. We have played all three of these teams away from home and all were very narrow losses. We will welcome the return fixtures at Stourton Park and hope for better outcomes.
Below us in National league 3 Midlands [level 5] Nuneaton are looking good atop the table with Bees in 3rd place and Old Halesonians in 5th anything could happen in the second half of the season. Towards the other end of the table Bridgnorth are in 11th and below them Lichfield in 12th.
In Midlands 1 West [level 6] Newport Salop are topping the table, DK have recently hit a winning streak and have reached 5th place with Wolverhampton close behind in 6th place.
In Midlands 2 West (north) [Level 7] Stourbridge Lions proudly top the table after an excellent first half of the season. Their closest rivals are Camp Hill and the second half of the season will prove interesting.
Looking around other league tables there are a few surprises this year. Rugby Lions appear to be reborn, topping their league after many years in relative obscurity and conversely the fate of our close friends Bromsgrove looks to be perilous after 13 losses and 1 win in their campaigns so far in the South West.
Rugby (Director - Neil Mitchell)All aspects of playing rugby are discussed and reported through the rugby sub committee that includes representation from the First Team, the Lions, the M and J s team coaches and club captains. It is through this subcommittee that any playing, coaching or management issues are raised and recommendations made.
The class of 2016/17 emerged from the previous years squad with a few notable exceptions who have either moved on to other clubs or retired. Recruitment in the spring gave Mitch a longer lead-time than usual and as a result our first team squad was considerably strengthened with an array of talented new players. The size and depth of our squad was encouraging and in particular the abundance of front row players was recognised as providing a solid platform for the seasons campaign.
Keeping the whole squad happy is a delicate process and it has been expedient to make suitable arrangements so that players have opportunities to play each week. The awkward/expensive transfer arrangements set by the RFU registration authority can make the internal squad selection difficult.
On the field our First Team have performed well and have shown character and flair but results in key away games have been unkind and there have been a couple of close calls that could have gone our way. The league continues to provide good quality opposition every week and there are no easy games. The Director of Rugby provides expert review and comments from each game and in addition to the detailed analysis shared with the squad his programme notes are a must read for any keen member.
The Lions, Hounds, Hoppers, Gazelles, Colts and all M and Js are all representatives of the club as soon as they pull a shirt on or wear the badge. It is a credit to the club that our behaviour and disciplinary record is excellent. All our coaches, team managers and spectators have a role to play in promoting and continuing this approach and sporting ethos.
The seemingly ever-changing approach to academies continues to baffle most clubs and it is hoped that the latest revisions suggested will release players to actually participate in more competitive rugby. If the cascade system works well we could be working with players from Premiership and Championship squads as do several of the clubs in our league.
ColtsThis team is a fundamental part of the club and we are very pleased to see that we have talented players emerging at this age group. League games are played on a Sunday afternoon and spectator numbers are rising, however this could be to hear the Jevs sing? Credit must go to the coaches, in particular Sean Firth, with Andy Slater and Simon Blackadder who are providing great encouragement and support for these lads.
GirlsGirls rugby is gaining popularity and a squad of over twenty girls regularly trains on Sunday mornings. This year we have been involved in pitch up and play events and there are plans to host an event of this kind at Stourton Park.
MINI and JUNIOR RUGBY (Chairman - Richard Walker)Chairman Tom Skinner has recently handed over to Richard Walker working with James Ritchie to continue the good work with the M and Js. We thank Tom for his contribution to the committee work of the club and have been reassured that he and the family aren’t leaving us.
Our youngsters show great attitude and have a genuine commitment to their teammates and their club. The coaches of every age group deserve recognition for their diligence, patience and enthusiasm and it is evident that the whole club is coming together. We have seen a couple of age groups struggle for numbers recently and when this happens it can be quite dispiriting to the players and families involved. We will endeavor to bolster any such groups affected in the future and if you are concerned about the lack of numbers in any age group please let Richard and James know.
We host rugby camps during the school holidays, often led by Worcester Warriors and SRFC are now recognised as a partner club with the Warriors. The camps provide a good introduction to the game and have a range of expert coaches providing tuition.
The coordination of players and coaches from all teams and age groups is being encouraged so that we can benefit from a combination of all the knowledge and experience in the club and build our collective capability. We encourage coaching exchanges throughout the club and have appointed Tom Harrison as coaching coordinator for the M and Js.
Communications (Director - Mark Denison)
The regular production of ‘In Touch’ (our electronic newsletter) has proven to be very effective and is popular as a vital link for many of our hard to reach members. Keeping the editions interesting, informative and up to date is no mean feat and we must congratulate Mark and his contributors on their efforts.
The Head of Marketing has been very successful taking bookings and overseeing arrangements for ‘external’ hire of our facilities. We host several different functions for business seminars, presentation meetings, training lectures, private parties, weddings and special social events. The flexibility of our facilities works in our favour and the choice of rooms available means that we can accommodate many different requirements. The development of this capability needs to be integrated within the rest of the facilities team.
The management committee has been considering the need for a coordination role for some time and recently we have agreed a job description for a hospitality manager and advertised for applications. We place emphasis on customer care to enhance the experience for anyone using the club. Sponsors and members can reasonably expect to receive a bespoke service with their bookings and we need to make this as efficient and accessible as possible.
Our website carries a lot of useful information details of our fixtures and results and a host of other details however all information has to be loaded and properly maintained. Keeping our unique information up to date is a considerable task that requires administrative controls and we are in the process of streamlining this effort to simplify input and updating. We hope to add archive information, old photographs and memorabilia as we compile more data. Press coverage of our matches is well organised and the match reports and photographs should also be available.
Good to see that the rugby characters are still coming to Stourton Park and having both Austin Healey and Rob Andrew as guest speakers certainly entertained the respective events.
Our extensive range of social events has proven very popular and whilst many ‘old favorites’ are going strong we have added further events to attract members and visitors to use the club facilities. We have reached the point where we need to have more input to arranging these events and this will be part of the remit of the hospitality manager.
Forthcoming club events include:
- Comedy Night
- Ex Presidents lunch
- 6 Nations screenings
- Debenture Club Dinner
- MayBusiness Lunch
- May Ball
- Club Dinner
- Clash of the Titans
- Presidents and Ladies Evening
- Golf Day
Tea and Cakes
The attraction for half time and post match genteel refreshment with the serving of tea and cakes in the Tower room has developed a loyal following. Whilst this is not everyone’s usual tipple it has proven popular with several regulars who also get the benefit of the best indoor viewing platform on inclement days. We are indebted to Jackie J-F and her lady bakers whose produce is much appreciated.
Social media is becoming all-pervasive and is an essential communication tool for much of the population. Getting up to speed with the various elements of the SRFC presence and the way information is distributed has proven complex. Forming a policy for how we use the web site and other instances of electronic communications (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pitchero) has now been agreed and published. Please refer to the policy if in any doubt about what to post.
Commercial (Director - Miles Edge)
Last year we achieved significant improvement in our financial position because we reduced expenditure and increased income. Our finances have been boosted by a significant increase in sponsorship income, a reduction in overheads and outgoings and a better return on events that has allowed us to invest in improving our facilities, reducing our overdraft facility, paying down debts and ensuring prompt payments to our creditors. Also we have successfully launched interest bearing £5k bonds to assist with funding the planned capital projects.
The detailed financial results from last season have already been published by the Hon Treasurer. (Chris Cook). Unfortunately the attempted FAGM was not quorate due to a lack of attendees and therefore we have rearranged the date to the 19th of January 2017.
Miles Edge coordinates the commercial efforts with a large number of coopted members who have business ‘contacts’. There is a need to continue this development of our contact network and build a functioning business network. Any interested members who have potential sponsors they would like to introduce to the club are encouraged to do so by contacting the Commercial Director.
In addition to retaining our current sponsors this year we have been able to introduce some new faces and they bring fresh opportunities and a wider sphere of influence. We are reaching out to a business audience by offering packages that encourage them to participate in more club events. The response has been very positive and we are working with various groups of sponsors to tailor events to their requirements.
It is our intention to ‘network’ more effectively with our sponsors and provide them with a range of opportunities that will interest them and hopefully assist them in their business aspirations. Brokering introductions between sponsors demonstrates the advantage we offer through our connections. Whilst these arrangements cannot be hurried we are beginning to develop some reciprocal trading that should be attractive to sponsors.
As the new membership secretary David Wainwright has carried out a thorough registration process that has hopefully included all our regular members. We are aware that there may still be people who use the club who may not have joined as members yet. In the New Year these people will not be able to play for any of our teams. If you are in doubt about your membership status please contact David Wainwright.
Our allocation of tickets for each international game at TwIckenham is decided by the RFU and we provide all our members with the opportunity to apply for these tickets. In the event we are oversubscribed we organise a ballot to determine who will receive tickets. If you are interested in going to a match please fill in an application form.
Facilities (Director - John Shaw)
We have invested in the upgrading and maintenance of our facilities at Stourton Park and we are sure that these improvements will allow members and visitors to continue to enjoy their activities in comfort and safety. SRFC is known as a truly exceptional facility amongst the rugby fraternity and the efforts required to keep it in good order are extensive.
John Shaw ably leads the Facilities sub committee and his diligence and methodical approach are hallmarks of his engineering background. Working with a small band of volunteers (the facilities sub committee and co-opts) several projects have been successfully completed. Many more are planned as and when funds become available and we are in the process of getting a condition survey together to prioritise the sequence of project works. Gathering information and considering options is essential to inform any debate around the future costs and potential benefits. In conjunction with the above we have contracted an independent company (Peninsula) to assist us with health and safety matters at the club and they are developing our approach to risk assessments and other vital considerations.
General maintenance, repairs and replacements are necessary to keep the clubhouse in useable condition. It is an ongoing process that is part of the Directors responsibilities and we are considering how best to resource this in future. There has been much repair and replacement work carried out recently. This is a never-ending requirement and there is always more to do. We have tried hard to maintain the ‘five star’ standards that have been set however we are constantly aware of the need to refurbish and deal with the ongoing issues of wear and tear within our budgetary constraints.
New floodlights operational
The much anticipated new floodlights were successfully installed and operational from early September and this has made a difference to all training nights. We no longer have an excuse for dropping passes or hiding in dark corners as the lighting gives excellent conditions to conduct safer training sessions. We should thank the RFU for their assistance and also congratulate the contractors DSL. Members may also like to thank John Shaw and Norman Glover who saw this project through to completion.
You may have noticed new gates and fencing appearing around the perimeter of the grounds. We need to ensure that our boundaries are correctly maintained at all times and that we are being responsible neighbours. We now have two new electrically operated garage doors, the old doors were damaged beyond economical repair.
After much preparatory work our new entrance signs are almost ready to be installed onto the new frame at the main entrance.
Internally the old office equipment has been updated with new computers, a new telephone system has been installed (with ansaphone) and super fast broadband has finally arrived in Stourton.
Special Event Catering (aka Shippo) continue to provide our catering although we have changed the arrangements in some aspects to provide pre-match dining at an affordable cost. The delicate matter of the whether we have a choice of sweets or an individual cheeseboard available is indelibly marked on my agenda for resolution.
Bar sales are fickle and have much to do with the fixture list and the events we host. Whilst we saw the big increase in the volume of sales last year we have not seen the same pattern so far this year. We will continue to monitor the monthly figures. We have entered into an improved three-year deal with Marstons and they provide an extensive range of beverages from which we can select. We recently held a ‘wine selection meeting’ at which additional wines were chosen by vote of the members, we hope you will all enjoy the new choices.
During the summer recess we unexpectedly become a brown field site when our esteemed colleague (Kill) Bill Harris mistook the grass killer for feed. In typically thorough fashion large areas were treated and we thought we would struggle to see enough grass to play on at the start if the season. However the elements were kind and the reseeding was so efficient that we now have better green sward than we have seen for many years. Perhaps this is something we should try more often?
The repainting job to freshen up the common areas around the changing rooms has been completed at the same time as a deep clean of the main shower block. We now need to consider the replacement of aged benching and refurbishment of the players toilets. Both of these projects could have a knock on effect with any ground floor reorganization. The gym has been spruced up and we have recently added a running machine amongst the other pieces of functional torture equipment.
New reception, office and kit shop
Whilst all these features are still required the building structure has to be considered as a whole and if we are going to make changes we may as well include these requirements within a bigger overall scheme. Adding the office and shop to the front of the clubhouse would not address some of the other accommodation issues we face on the ground floor and as such may not be good value for money.
It’s your Club, help to make it as good as it can be...
Clubhouse heatingWe are aware that the current heating system is expensive to run and is not particularly effective, on cold winter days heating the main room is difficult. There has been considerable interest in this project and we are fortunate to have several members with expertise in the heating business. It is our intention to put a fully costed proposal together in the near future.
Second exitWe have planning approval and once sufficient funds are available we intend to build the ‘second exit’ which should make the entrance and exit to the club safer and easier. The new exit will be sited in the far corner of the roadside pitch and we will have to create a culvert structure to accommodate a tarmac road leading off the main carriageway. We also need to provide a ‘road’ surface to join up with the existing road that runs down between the first team and road pitches.
Additional changing roomsThere is still a need to increase our changing room capacity however the costs associated with extending the footprint of the clubhouse make this an expensive wish. Inevitably there are a limited number of ways the changing facilities can be extended and each one has major cost implications. We are looking at possibilities that we could use stand alone units in the rear car park however even this option would be costly.
Balcony extensionOutline plans exist that show the feasibility of extending the balcony towards the first team pitch. Whilst this would be a major structural project to provide an extended viewing platform it would also unlock the possibility of increasing the ground floor footprint allowing the club to expand and remodel changing rooms, gym, medical and referees area. The high cost of this project would make it a major capital expenditure and further investigation is needed before the scheme could be properly considered.
It’s your Club, help to make it as good as it can be...