The news that Plymouth Albion are likely to go into administration came as something of a surprise given its suddenness, even though the club’s financial problems have been widely known for some time now.
It is yet another reminder of just how important it is that clubs show budgetary prudence and avoid the obvious temptation to buy success in the short term, only to suffer long term debts. If by going into administration Plymouth can indeed clear their debts and thus attract new investors into the club, then it would appear to be the right solution especially if it means that they can keep their current squad together.
On the face of it, Plymouth look an attractive proposition for any potential investor. Having released the vast majority of their Championship players back in April of last year, they acquired a new squad in September and after a slow start they have risen to third in the table. Although they will inevitably be docked points if they do go into the hands of the receivers, they must already be one of the favourites for promotion next season, providing they hold on to that squad.
In addition, they are the 3rd best supported team in the league, with attendances on the up, just as our are on the decline. A crowd of more than 1600 watched them narrowly beat Blackheath, so there is plenty there to attract a potential buyer and sponsors.
Plymouth’s news comes hot off the heels of Richmond’s announcement that they will retain their semi-professional status if, as looks more than likely, they are promoted into the Championship.
You have to admire the Board’s decision not to turn fully professional. It is a brave decision, but it begs the question as to whether it is possible for a semi-professional team to remain competitive in the Championship.
A road not taken…
Richmond have been there before, and I can well remember going down to Richmond to watch what must have been one of Ben Clarke’s first games for Richmond after his £1,000,000 signing from Bath back in the mid 90s. It was the highest fee ever paid for a player at the time, and this for a club in the Championship.
Just 3 or 4 years on and Richmond had to call in the receivers. They have since learned from their mistakes and, having worked their way up from the 9th tier of English rugby, they obviously have no intention of going down that path again, something that deserves respect.
Even with the £530,000 payment from the RFU that would come with promotion, Richmond won’t be tempted to retain players on full-time contracts, or even buy in additions to the squad on professional contracts either.
It would be wrong to knock Steve Hill for placing his faith in the squad that got Richmond promoted and it shows a degree of loyalty that is rare these days in sport where, more often than not, such qualities come secondary to the likely financial rewards than can come with such success.
However, were I a Richmond supporter, I do think I would be extremely concerned. And for a number of reasons…
Whilst Richmond are currently sitting pretty at the top of National 1, they haven’t really set the league alight in the same way as Ealing, Doncaster and Jersey have done in the past few seasons. They are the strongest side in the league given their position, but the standard of rugby hasn’t been that high this season and they have already failed to win 5 games with another five still to play.
They are only averaging a little over 28 points a game which suggests they aren’t dominating sides in the way that most teams who top the league do and they have conceded well over 400 points. Even though Steve Hill will recruit a number of players to augment his present squad, are a team that have been successful in National 1 going to be competitive even against the weakest sides in the Championship who are full-time?
Rowland Winter has made it very clear that he feels Coventry have been at a huge disadvantage having only two training sessions a week and that in order to be compete against the top teams in our league that has to be increased. The disadvantages must be that much greater when you move up to the Championship.
I think I would fear that the players just won’t have the strength, fitness and endurance to match full-time squads week in, week out. I wouldn’t want to see my team on the end of a drubbing most weeks and become the league’s whipping boys, providing other teams with the opportunity to better their points difference. And against teams that are vying for a place in the Premiership at the top end of the table, with players who will almost certainly be bigger and stronger, is there a greater risk of them getting injured because they simply won’t be training enough to cope with that degree of physicality?.
It’s a question I’d be asking…
Now clearly that is not how Steve Hill will see it, and hopefully that isn’t how the season will pan out for the SW London side. However brave a face I might put on it, I think that would be my fear were I supporting Richmond and not Coventry.
The point was made elsewhere that the decision to retain their semi professional status will, in all likelihood, result in relegation and if that is the case, at least they will return to National 1 the following season at least in as good a financial position as when they left it, if not better. And that foresight, as far the financial management of the club is concerned, has to be applauded.
But it is a big ask of their supporters who will probably have little taste of success should Richmond gain their deserved promotion, especially when there was an alternative route the club could have taken that, from a spectator’s point of view, might have made for a more enjoyable season. I’d call myself a fairly loyal Coventry supporter, but even I’d question my willingness to travel to away games if Cov found themselves in that situation with all the additional expense and time involved, knowing that it was going to be a much longer journey back home.
It’s a tough call for a club that’s caught between a rock and a hard place. By doing what they believe is the right thing to safeguard their financial well-being, they are probably condemning their supporters to a pretty miserable few months of rugby.
Of course Richmond might confound the pundits and do well enough to survive, but it seems unlikely…
The other thing that would rile me a little is if I supported the team that came second in the National 1.
And let’s say, for the sake of argument, that’s Coventry.
Jon Sharp has already said he’s keen to get the structures in place to eventually move towards a full-time squad. I think I’d be a bit miffed if Richmond went up and remained semi professional whilst acknowledging that there’s every chance they will make a swift return to National 1, when almost certainly we would have turned professional in that situation and, in so doing, given ourselves a far better chance of survival.
Richmond will have deserved the opportunity to test themselves in the higher league, of course they will. And they have every right to go down whatever route of funding their players they choose.
But there would be part of me that would feel short-changed, however irrational that might be.
Richmond are one of the oldest clubs in existence and the fact they are aren’t going to sell themselves to modern day professionalism is something to be admired. But in all honesty, it is a decision that I wouldn’t welcome from the Coventry Board were we preparing for promotion. It strikes me that the mid to long-term plan that Jon Sharp has of turning the club into a fully professional outfit, starting this season with the coaches and then widening it to include the players is the right way to go about it.
I’m not sure how you can compete successfully with teams that are full-time and I’m sure I wouldn’t want to see Coventry so disadvantaged when we do gain promotion back into the Championship (not if!).
I hope Richmond are promoted, certainly in preference to Hartpury College (for a number of reasons). I also sincerely hope that once in the Championship they are able to consolidate their position and that their supporters are able to experience some success at that level.
I do fear for them though.
I hope I’m proved wrong…
The Road Not Taken – Robert Frost