The Ramblings Of An Egg Chaser

Welcome to my blog on all things rugby related, my views are my own except where the voices in my head tell me otherwise.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Why Are You An Amateur Rugby Club?

So who are you?  What defines your rugby club?

When I asked this question, to a a variety of rugby club members at around fifteen clubs between tiers 5 and 8, the most common answer was “We are an amateur club.”  This on the face of it sounds like a reasonable answer, it certainly occurs regularly in the media and in blanket RFU statements.  More interestingly it was certainly accepted as the right answer by almost everybody I spoke to but I wondered if we put that answer under a little scrutiny, does it stand up?

OK, your club is amateur, but is that really “who” the club is.  That would be like someone defining themselves entirely by producing a bank statement.  Who the club is, or in marketing speak "The clubs brand" is the club’s personality and this is made up of more than just one aspect.  In my opinion the term Amateur is just one definition of a club’s financial status and as such does not give anyone the faintest idea of what the club stands for, what its aspirations are or what its very reason for being is.  

So if being amateur as a tag is important to so many people without it actually giving an answer to the question perhaps we should look a why your club is amateur in the first place.

Why Are You An Amateur Club?

So you’re an amateur club playing mid level rugby but why are you an amateur club?  Why are you playing your (1st team) rugby at this level?  What do you offer as a rugby club?  What are your aspirations?  There are literally dozens of questions like this that all lead to one simple thing, your club’s identity or brand.  I would suggest that given the most common, seemingly incorrect, answers given What you need to clearly understand is why you are an amateur club before you go any further.

So, why is your club amateur? 

The answer isn’t “because we believe that rugby and/or this club should be amateur”. 

It seriously isn’t.

It isn’t because rugby is not an amateur sport and wishing will not make it so again. 

It isn’t because if it were, those arguing this would not watch, read about, allow the club to be a member of, or participate in any rugby that wasn’t amateur.  I have yet to meet anyone who does take that stance. 

Trying to claim that one rugby club should be amateur on some pretention of ethical or philosophical grounds whilst watching, and therefore condoning, another being professional is hypocritical at best.

Lastly it isn’t the answer because, as previously mentioned, that statement is a matter of financial status and the club should have a purpose and ethos that transcends its financial status.  Something like financial status can change over time but a club’s identity or brand should remain constant. 

A change in financial status does not = a change in ethos


A club currently playing in London League 1 who were completely amateur have recently moved into the realms of a semi-pro club. 

Their aim (their ethos and the club’s raison d’ĂȘtre) is to provide good standard rugby for all playing members but also to develop players and help them achieve their potential.  Due to a change in financial situation they have recently taken on two paid player/coaches (cost circa £16,000) to further this aim as they have a benefactor who has agreed to fund this. 
This change from amateur to semi-pro simply reflects a change in the clubs financial footing whilst maintaining the aims and focus of the club.

Dean Richards whilst Director Of Rugby at Harlequins insisted that ALL players buy their opposite number a drink after the match and mingled with club members in the bar.  His reasoning was that clubs could be professional without losing what it meant to be a rugby club.

The Answer

The real answer to why your club is amateur is almost always the same. 

You do not have the funding to do otherwise. 

There are various reasons for why this is the case from the obvious fact that your club is not high enough up the leagues to get that level of financial support from the RFU to club specific reasons like low attendance levels of spectators and limited paying club members. 

Obviously this can change and if the financial situation alters to an extent where the club can look at moving to a semi pro or professional footing then sit down and start this process again.  My only advice in this instance would be to protect the club’s ethos and identity and to ensure the funding is sustainable.  A sugar daddy is all well and good however it has almost lead to historic clubs like London Scottish, Richmond, Birmingham Bees and London Welsh ceasing to exist.  Recently Old Dunstonians in tier 7 have bought league survival for a single season at the detriment to the clubs finance in the long term.  Make sure that money spent, unless on capital projects, is sustainable in at least the medium term.

Why Does It Matter?

Once you truly understand why you are an amateur club you can look at what your club’s purpose or raison d’ĂȘtre is without the baggage of this frequently misused tag which doesn’t define your club and usually covers up the fact that you lack a coherent identity.

Dark Horses Or Black Stallions?

If you’ve been at any of this season’s early UK rugby 7s tournaments or were fortunate enough to go to the Dubai 7s last December, you might have noticed that the Nigerian national team were in the programme. What you may not know is that last year Nigeria, with less than two days preparation and a squad thrown together at the last minute, managed to finish third in an IRB rugby sevens tournament in Morocco. 

Nigeria At Marrakesh 7s 2011 
You also might not know that there have been Nigerian players competing at the very top level for the last four decades. When you hear the names of such rugby luminaries as Steve Ojomo, Adedayo Adebayo, Victor Ubogu, Ugo Monye, Ayoola Erinle and Martin Offiah, you realise that the previous lack of international rugby in Nigeria has meant that exceptional Nigerian players have had to opt to play for other nations to fulfil their potential.  

You might ask yourself “why is the Nigerian national team playing over in the UK?” The main reason is that most of the top class players eligible for Nigeria live in the UK. The Nigerian Rugby Football Federation (NRFF) currently has 14 clubs playing in Nigeria, giving it a remarkably small pool of players to draw from. In contrast, there are hundreds of clubs in London alone, most of whom have at least a Nigerian winger. The UK has traditionally been home to a large ex-pat Nigerian community and it made sense for the NRFF to tap into this player pool and include them in the  national squad where possible. This was a huge step forward for Nigerian rugby as it meant that players like David Akinluyi (Northampton, Cambridge and Esher) and Joseph Mbu (London Wasps and Birmingham Bees) could realistically opt to play for Nigeria. Nigeria are, of course, not the first nation to have utilised large numbers of eligible players based overseas; Argentina, Tonga, Morocco and Samoa have been predominantly made up of players who ply their trade outside their countries’ domestic leagues. David Akinluyi had actually been training with the England 7s squad prior to this development; his decision to play for Nigeria, based on the progress made by the NRFF, is certainly a coup for Nigerian rugby.

Nigeria At The Bury St Edmunds 7s 2012
At the IRB & Confederation Africaine Rugby (CAR) tournament in Marrakesh the NRFF were refused entry Visas by Morocco. This prevented any home grown players flying over from Nigeria to play in the tournament. The only way to compete was to bring a totally different squad out from the UK. Luckily, we found eleven players who could get the time off work and flew to Morocco the next day. Nigeria (ranked
5th from bottom in the world rankings) achieved a 3rd place finish, beating Senegal (ranked circa 53rd), Ivory Coast (ranked circa 46th) and Burkino Faso. They only lost to Morocco and Tunisia - both of whom have extensive experience as guest teams on the IRB World Series – who went on to contest the final. To put this in football parlance imagine East Timor beating Ukraine, Belgium and Wales at a FIFA ranking tournament.

One team one dream
Such an achievement is even more impressive as everybody involved is a volunteer. From the head physio, Emma Mark, to the coaching team of Steve Lewis, Joseph Mbu and Martin Olima; everybody is committed to Nigerian rugby development and give their own time and effort to make it happen. But it’s not just those directly involved with the NRFF who are instrumental in the team’s progress. Without the support of the likes of Andy “Boyo” Howells (HFW Wailers), Adam Hurst (Apache) and Terry Sands (Samurai 7s), who help identify and give grass time to Nigerian players like James Doherty and the Ajuwa & Akinluyi brothers, the team would struggle for top level experience. Without Samurai Sportswear donating a kit for this summer, Nigeria, who have no IRB funding or Sponsor, would not have had a playing kit. This was the first time Nigeria actually had their own kit; previously using old regional kits from Nigeria. Having their own national rugby kit was a big deal! The pride on the players’ faces when they pulled on their nation’s playing kit at Bury is something I won’t forget.

So what next for Nigerian Rugby? It’s a full year; looking at prospective players in rugby 7s tournaments in Nigeria and the UK, and the two IRB competitions being run by CAR. It seems incredible that Nigeria will be participating in two IRB tournaments:

• The African Cup in Botswana for the 15s team (July);
• IRB + CAB tournament in Morocco for the 7s team (September).

The 15s will play three full international test matches against Mauritius, Cameroon and Botswana. A large number of newly capped players will come from the UK. If the team fulfil even some of its potential, they will have the opportunity in 2014 to play for the honour of participating in the RWC in England in 2015. Nobody involved with the NRFF believes that this is anything other than a long shot but, for the first time, they don’t believe it is impossible either. For the short game, the chance of making a RWC is even greater having just one tournament to go for qualification. At the end of September this year the Nigerian 7s team travel to Morocco to see if they can better the performance that saw them finish 3rd last year and qualify for the Rugby World Cup 7s in Russia in 2013.  They will be up against teams like Morocco, Tunisia, Zimbabwe and Namibia all of whom have much more experience, player depth and funding.
Dark horses? Black stallions certainly. It is my belief that, if not in 2013 or 2015, it won’t be long before you see the Nigerian rugby team at a World Cup or participating in the Olympic Games. Given the fantastic reaction from the rugby community for the Nigerian team, that can only be a good thing for rugby.

Whatever happens next the Nigerian rugby team, and its fantastic friends & supporters, will continue to add to the UK circuit; enriching the rugby scene and acting as ambassadors for their country and the game. I look forward to seeing you around the tournaments and celebrating the great game of rugby - Nigeria style. As you’ll hear from every member of the squad and management team, this progress is all down to one very simple thing: “One team. One dream.”

One final thought: as Nigerian Rugby moves forward to hopefully fulfil its huge potential, the next Ubugo, Ojomo, Monye, Erinle or Adebayo might just opt to play for Nigeria. Wouldn’t that be something for the development of rugby as a truly international sport?