I’ve been thinking a fair bit about Rowland Winter’s initial thoughts regarding the similarities between Cambridge RFC when he first arrived there as the newly appointed Director of Rugby and how he views the present situation at Coventry.
It is refreshing to see someone new arrive at the club and immediately talk so openly and honestly about the way he sees things and is prepared to be somewhat critical of those with whom he is going to have to work so closely with, but doing it in a way that doesn’t cause offence.
Whilst praising the work that had been done by the Cambridge Board prior to his appointment in 2013, he goes on to say:
they didn’t have a clear vision about where they wanted to be and they didn’t have enough structures or procedures in place to allow them to work towards that.
as a result attention to what was happening on the pitch had sort of slipped away
Fair enough. But when he then adds:
my attention turns to Coventry and everything I’ve just said kind of applies again
That’s suggests to me that he feels that actually all is not quite as rosy behind the scenes as we might hope and that there is work to be done to get the club fit for purpose.
And the purpose?
It is clear from the article that Rowland Winter is ambitious; by his own admission, it’s the very reason he accepted the job at Coventry rather than stay on with Cambridge when they most likely gain promotion into National 1 at the end of the season. And what is equally evident to me is, if Coventry can’t deliver in the next two or three years, if we can’t match his own expectations and aspirations, then he won’t outstay his welcome.
And good on him if that is the case. A young man, full of ambition and an energy to carry it out.
Sounds perfect to me.
With this in mind, I decided to go back to 2012 and the appointment of Jon Sharp as the Coventry Chairman. Having read Roland Winter’s vision for the next couple of years or so, I felt it would be pertinent to revisit his own vision for Cov at that time and look to see how successful the club had been in achieving the goals he had outlined back then.
Given we live in an age of accountability, as Scott Morgan has recently found out to his cost and many of this year’s squad are about to, if speculation is anything to go by, then it seems only fair to look at how the club has performed against Jon Sharp’s original targets set nearly four years ago. And there is a pretty clear statement of intent from back then that can be used as the terms of reference. It comes in the form of a Brian Dick interview with the newly appointed John Sharp back in April 2012.
And re-reading it, I do think it is pretty obvious that Jon Sharp had a vision back then, as he does now, although how clear it is, is perhaps a matter of debate. When he set out his latest plans for the development of the Butts last December it seemed clear enough, so Roland Winter’s comments that, like Cambridge, there isn’t a ‘clear vison of where they (Cov) want to be’ seem a bit harsh.
But then he’s very much on the inside looking in, rather than the supporters who are on the outside looking…well…for any information they can get hold of to be honest
And that’s precious little other than what’s contained in the feature articles that John Wilkinson has been producing mid-week and, strictly speaking, any information in them isn’t coming directly from the club. But that’s not the topic for today, so I’ll just leave it hanging…other than to say (I just can’t resist it) if the new DoE-elect were to do anything to improve relations between the club and its supporters, then he could do worse that just keep them up-to-date with what’s happening in the form of weekly ‘diary’ on the official website.
How to win over the supporters in one easy lesson…talk to them.
Anyway, back in April 2012 Jon Sharp painted a pretty clear and concise picture of where he wanted Coventry to be two years or so from then. Some things he has been successful in achieving, others less so.
However, before I look at the successes and the less than successful (I’m not using the ‘f’ word), I thought I’d begin with a real classic which presumably Jon Sharp has come to regret saying over the last 12 months or so…
…back in 2012, and talking about how just throwing money at a club isn’t the long-term solution to success, he went on to say:
OK there is somebody in the city (London) with big money throwing it at them (on Ealing Trailfinders) . But I don’t think that is a long term guarantee. You look at Wasps, maybe relegation this year, they are looking for a new ground, they don’t have a home.
We do have a home, we have a heartland…
Whoops, probably not his finest moment and somewhat akin to the Decca Records executive who said to the then manager of the Beatles, Brian Epstein, following an audition in 1962:
We don’t like your boys’ sound. Groups are out. Four-piece groups with guitars, particularly, are finished.
If only he had known then what we know now…although perhaps that wouldn’t have changed things significantly, would it?
In the Brian Dick article, Jon Sharp looks at two areas of the club, the rugby side and the business/corporate side, seeming to stress that the latter is imperative if the former is to succeed. He mentions Worcester who were at the time in the Championship but who had invested heavily in their facilities to provide opportunities to hold ‘events, conferences, dinners and so on’. The club had a set up better than most in the Premiership with the implied benefits of a additional monies from these being used to fund the building of a squad capable of playing at the highest level.
And this still remains Jon Sharp’s goal. Phil Maynard now oversees this side of the club and from what was said at the August Members’ Forum, he has been very successful in this role. Further improvements to the facilities are planned, sweeping changes at that, although they remain plans rather than bricks and mortar at the moment.
Despite Brian Dicks’ rather pointed comment that, ‘there will be sceptics who claim to have heard honeyed words emanating from Butts Park or Coundon Road too often’, I do think Jon Sharp has moved the club a long way forward in this direction. Despite some concerns earlier this season on the messageboard, the club does look in a reasonably healthy financial situation. The boat has been steadied and whilst it doesn’t yet have an outboard motor, it is picking up speed provided the wind continues to blow in the right direct, which seems to be the case at the moment.
Jon Sharp talks of ‘maintaining and developing commercial credibility’ and this seems to be something the club has definitely achieved. He has avoided the club being ‘bitten again’, so on this front it’s a thumbs up, at least from me.
It’s been a long road, but the club are on course to undertake the improvements mentioned back in 2012, even if it is probably taken more than he might have hoped.
However, on the playing front, the targets he set the club just haven’t been met and, 4 years on, we seem further away than ever from achieving them. Back in 2012 then:
We believe we can get a fairly early entry into the Championship.
We are going to have a tilt at it starting next year and we certainly believe we should achieve it within 2 years
It would be easy to refer back to the ‘honeyed words’ that Brian Dick referred to, but I do think that would be less than fair. If the club had decided that it could no longer push for promotion and had to accept that it was going to be a mid-table National 1 side, then perhaps that would be justified, but none of the ambition or the desire to achieve Championship status has waned and indeed, with the appointment of Rowland Winter, that desire seems as strong as ever.
However, the fact remains that the club has fallen a long way short in this regard.
I do disagree with him on one point though. In the article, when discussing promotion, he suggested:
to do so, unfortunately, in today’s professional era is simply a matter of money
I’m not sure that is the case. This season’s squad hasn’t come cheap and our budget is going to be up there with the top teams vying presently for the No.1 spot, yet we have failed spectacularly. Injury, a lack of confidence, concerns over coaching and so on are all contributory factors when assessing how a team might fare in addition to that large campaign chest.
I wonder if the Chairman still feels the same having watch expensive squads in successive years fall short? Clearly any club that has the finances at their disposal to buy quality players and coaches at this level is going to have a big advantage. But money alone is not, and never will be, the be all and end all. It is anything but ‘simply money’.
Jon Sharp also suggested back in 2012 that he would like to see attendances rise to 2000 in 2012-13. I presume he meant average attendances – and, if that is the case, we have again fallen well short of expectations. Yes, there have been individual gates of 2000+, but even last season, when we were playing such attractive rugby and looking like we might be the genuine article around Christmas 2014, gates only averaged 1500. To average 2000 would need a huge change in fortunes given we’re only at around 1150 at the moment.
2012-13 was well before the arrival of Wasps onto the scene, so that can’t be a factor…whatever the reasons, we just haven’t been able to attract support in the numbers the club had hoped for, especially when taking into account this is such a ‘big rugby heartland’. Nor, at the moment, does the club look like increasing the average attendances, but that goes back to the way the club interacts with it’s supporters and the wider community. It has to come to terms with social media sooner rather than later if it wishes to increase it’s support in the 18-40 age range, something it seems reluctant to do at the moment.
Jon Sharp is nothing if not astute and he is clearly understands the importance of the supporters in making the club successful on the pitch…
We do have a home, we have a heartland, we have a solid base of supporters, the Coventry rugby heartland. And I think that is how we will build our success.
And, for me, that is one of the most frustrating things about the last 4 years. He well knows that developing support for the team, increasing attendances and widening even further the solid Cov fan base is so, so crucial. But it’s just not happening…if anything it’s contracting. The vision is undoubtedly still there and although the club hasn’t achieved anything like the success that he’d had targeted back in 2012, it is in good shape and still working towards the Aviva Premiership ‘over the next decade’. The ambition is just as great but perhaps the execution has fallen short of expectations. And Wasps aren’t the root cause…we still managed attendances of 2000+ last season when Wasps were getting 20000+.
However, despite all the frustrations and disappointments of this current season, it would be wrong to be critical of Jon Sharp when he has done so much to keep the club afloat, together with Peter Rossborough and the others on the Board (apologies to them, but I don’t know their names). Rowland Winter’s comments did surprise me somewhat but I do think he was absolutely right when suggested that with so much focus on what has been happening off the pitch to ensure the club stays on a sound financial footing:
attention to what was happening on the pitch had sort of slipped away.
That’s not meant of a criticism of the coaches either, or the players, but 14 losses out of 24 games certainly suggests something has gone horribly wrong. We have to trust the Board in their decision to appoint Roland Winter (however loyal we might be towards Scott Morgan) and believe that he is the right man to lead the team into the professional era and make the Butts rock to the sound of large crowds celebrating a successful and entertaining Coventry team.
And that’s certainly what I’m doing…