An interesting and informative Fans Forum was well attended yesterday evening, with some 120 supporters present. Jon Sharp, Phil Maynard, Scott Morgan and Cliffie Hodgson all spoke, together with Tom Little who gave a brief indication of how other teams might fare this season.
John S is a witty and engaging speaker and his enthusiasm regarding the journey the club has taken thus far since his arrival, and where it might travel this season, is somewhat infectious. He spent a few minutes given some basic facts and figures regarding the progress that had been made over the last 5 years (gates up 85% with attendances last year better than all but 6 teams in the Championship ), the progress Coventry made on the field last year (beating every team at least once and doing the double of many). He also expressed concerns that crucial away games last season had ‘drifted’ (Esher and Blaydon, for example) , something that was followed up later.
Financially, without giving any figures, Jon S was keen to point out that the club was financially on ‘sound ground’ with takings up 37% on last year. The club was investing off the field as well as on, with new flooring in the bar areas, new blinds across the length of the main bars (an example of which was in place for supporters to comment on), a temporary marquee outside where beer will be available during match days to relieve the huge pressure on staff in the indoor bar at half time and enhanced facilities in the kitchens (with more to follow this year).
Profit margins were ‘looking good’ and this was down to a willingness to invest in additional staff, notably an accountant in the early days of Jon’s tenure and a marketing manager.
Jon S rounded off his 10 minutes by stressing that Coventry RFC were very much a professional business. He certainly was extremely positive and set the tone for the rest of the forum.
Phil Maynard then took over – what is it with Phil and microphones? It appears to be a perennial problem. He briefly reminded us of the ‘dark’ times and just how bad they were. He also mentioned that in previous years there had always been at least one full-time, professional team in the league each season (eg Jersey, Doncaster, Ealing) which made it particularly difficult for the other teams. However, this year Plymouth Albion, relegated from the Championship, aren’t going to be in such a strong financial position; the implication being that this would even things up for the other teams. Coventry had recruited well ‘from top to bottom’ resulting in much more depth than in previous years and the club was ready to make a ‘sustained challenge’ this season.
Scott Morgan began by saying how excited he is about the coming season based particularly on the club’s record last season. He, too, mentioned the sustained challenge and the club had recruited well. He said one of the problems last season was the quality of the benches, especially when there were key injuries in the same position. Teams like Ealing were able to send on players in the second halves of games who were equal to those who were being replaced and this made a significant difference. He was confident that the team will manage injuries to players now and there is significantly more depth than last season. Scott finished by stating that they were ‘only after the number 1 sport’ and they would ‘stay there all year’ which was great to hear.
Cliffie spoke a few words, saying how pleased and honoured he was to be back for another season and what a privilege it was to be the club captain. He had been struggling with injuries and ‘off the field stuff’ last season but having returned to South Africa in the summer and with all his exams successfully completed, it was great to be back, refreshed.
Some questions were asked from the floor. In answer to one about recruitment, it was interesting that Cliffie and Scott singled out a couple of players, James Tinknell and Martin Wolfsenden, suggesting they would make a big impact, together with Devlin Hope. Last season, injuries had created weaker match day squads, but the club had ensured they had recruited at least two players for each position and the ‘falling away’ that occurred in February and March would be unlikely to happen again. Jon Sharp alluded to Will Hurrell’s exit but there were others in to replace him. Scott M also was effusive in his praise of Rob Knox who has ‘got it at any level’…the suggestion was that the backs will be even more dangerous (and entertaining) than last year. All the players in the squad are more than capable of performing on a match day. If DR players come along, as before Scott will look at them and if they are good enough, they could be given an opportunity, but only if they really going to be able to perform. Scott also said that from the Cardiff game onwards ‘the season starts’, so it is clear that whilst Chinnor will be a chance to look at a number of players in different roles/combinations, the rest of the games in August will be preparing for the Wharfedale game, presumably with a smaller squad taking part?
With some trepidation amongst the audience, Tom Little then stepped forward to give us his run down on the other teams in the league, ranking them in the order he felt they would finish at the end of the season, starting with the relegation positions, and adding some comments where appropriate. It was really interesting, and a little more concise than last year. If I’ve got it right, it was as follows (remember, this is not the club’s prediction, just Tom’s and to be fair, he was pretty accurate last year):
Wharfedale – no news coming out regarding to recruitment
Henley – certainly in danger of relegation, despite links with London Welsh and the RAF
Ampthill – experienced back of forwards and links with Saracens. Big budget and also experienced coaches
Esher – new coaching set up. Ambitious off field. One for the future
Blaydon – no news. Links with Tynedale and Newcastle
Richmond – on their day they can beat anyone
Hartpury College – not as strong as last year. Links to Gloucester
Plymouth Albion – Graham Dawe now coach! Lost 23 of last year’s squad, relying on Cornwall counties for players and with some full-time players
Blackheath – lost some key players. Links to Wasps
Darlington Mowden Park – money in the bank. Lost some key players
Fylde – settled side but would they really want promotion
Coventry and Rosslyn Park – too close to call.
Interestingly, Rossylyn Park and Loughborough Students now have 3G pitches
A few more questions and then those in attendance were offered the opportunity to watch the players train outside.
All-in-all, it was very, very upbeat.