Spring evening provides Winter warmers…
Although Peter Rossborough and Jon Sharp also contributed at various times, this Members’ Forum was very much about the 140(ish) supporters present having the opportunity to listen to Rowland Winter for the first time and, in particular, hear what he had to say about his vision for Coventry over the next couple of seasons.
And based on what he had to say over the 80 minutes or so the forum lasted, he will have left most feeling far happier about the coming season than they might have been once the announcement of the disbanding of the current squad was made back in February.
It was a consummate performance on his part. Over the past few weeks there had been talk on the Messageboard of some awkward questions being asked, particularly over the decision to move players on, but RW was able to deflect any such potential difficulties with PPT presentation that answered the questions before they could be asked. If only Cov could had had such an effective defence on which to base their attacks last season…
I think the general feeling come the end of the evening was that this is a man who knows exactly what is required to succeed at this level, and in the Championship, and that he’s already putting in place the structures to enable the club to move much closer to where they need to be if they are to compete at this level.
The evening was divided into 6 sections…
- an introduction by Peter Rossborough
- a brief opening statement from Jon Sharp
- a presentation by Rowland Winter
- a Q+A session
- some basic information from Jon Sharp regarding finances and long term plans
- a final Q+A session
I’ll go through each one in turn other than Peter Rossborough’s introduction, but please be aware I am reliant on a few scribbled notes and a failing memory, so apologies if I miss something out or don’t quite present something as accurately as I should.
Opening statement from JS – JS started by recapping. He talked of the optimism of pre-season, highlighting that recruitment in the summer meant that ‘everything was perfect’. Wins against Cardiff and Ealing and then two 5pt hauls in the first two games did nothing to dissuade anyone that things were going well – but then come the 3rd game of the league season and with 15 players already injured, things quickly changed. Questions were soon asked of the players and coaches and whether or not the fitness, conditioning, nutritional needs etc were up to the required standard (and odd remark to make as regards fitness given we have reappointed Rob Norman…).
It was quickly realised that things had to change and that in actual fact other teams in the league had made far more progress over the close season than we had – whilst we might have taken one step forward, they’d taken three.
Any change in the club’s structure had to ensure that the club could not only achieve promotion, but it could also sustain its place in the Championship…at which point JS handed over to Rowland Winter, having first said that once he had finished, the q+a session would be a no holds barred one; all questions would be answered.
Presentation by Rowland Winter – the very fact that RW used a PPT suggested that here was a man keen to bring the club into the modern era; IT is hardly something we’d come to associate previous DoRs with.
Okay, that’s something of a flippant remark, but it is somewhat indicative of how RW is moving the club on and how important technology will be off the pitch in determining how successful the club will be on it.
The first thing RW talked about was the need for a brand new culture and identity, one that in some way reflects the club’s previous history and tradition.
At the moment the club isn’t even set up to be competitive in National 2, let alone National 1 or the Championship. There’s a huge shift needed in order to set up the structures and systems, as well as the facilities, needed to enable players to have the opportunity to compete successfully even in National 1. Being professional isn’t just about levels of pay, it’s about acting professionally and having professional standards. Under his guidance, the club would develop it’s own brand which would include changes in the way it approached fitness and nutrition, as well as its own style of play on the pitch.
The squad would consist of 32 players, to include the 4 player coaches. In addition, there would be a further ten to twelve 18-21 year olds who would bridge the gap between the youngsters Matt Price is presently working with through the community programme and the 1st team squad. (RW was at pains to point out the exceptional work that Matt Price was doing with youngsters in and around the city).
These 10-12 players would play once a month on a Wednesday for the Nighthawks, together with the coaches, as well as players from local clubs that Cov wanted to look at. The games will be a chance for players to show exactly what they are made of and what they can bring to the club. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays the 10-12 in the development squad would be loaned to local clubs, but would train with the 1st team squad on Mondays.
Last season, players were only training three and a half hours a week, but next season this will go up to 12 hours a week over 5 sessions – this would still be 6 hours a week below what is expected of Championship and Premiership players. Of the 12 hours training next season, 6-10 hours would be centred around fitness and conditioning work – last season no time was set aside for this as players were expected to conduct their own fitness programmes. Already, the differences in approach were becoming obvious…
The appointment of a full-time physiotherapist (Hannah Walker?), as well as medical insurance cover now being available to the players, means that injuries can be treated immediately and through the private sector (players have been previously turning up to the first training session after a game to report an injury). Immediate diagnosis and treatment will ensure quick recovery.
RW felt that at the moment the club is at least a year behind the top teams in National 1 but he hoped that the 67 hours (!!!) of training between the start of the pre-season programme and the friendlies would enable Cov to catch up some of ground lost to the opposition last season.
RW went through the coaches and their backgrounds, all of which is well documented elsewhere, so please forgive me for not repeating it here. He did say that Tony Gulliver’s appointment as Team Manager would ensure that the club reconnected with it’s history and that he would prove to be a ‘scary’ team manager and one no player would be prepared to steal kit from!
As far as recruitment and retention are concerned, players have been signed in accordance with the direction the club intend to take on and off the pitch over the next few seasons. There is a revised pay structure in place, reflecting what is ‘regarded as value for money in today’s current market’. Players have to be of the right mindset and professional in their approach with regards to the way they look after their bodies and in their willingness to train 5 times a week. RW was very blunt at this point, saying that some players just had to move on.
(JS asked supporters to consider a ‘Jobs Forum’ – if any supporters know of potential employers who would take on some of the contracted players part-time, this would be extremely helpful and also get players out and about into the local community. It would be a jobs network in effect…)
23 players will live in the Coventry area next season and this will have a massive impact on the social time the players spend together (and by implication team spirit on and off the pitch)…this season 16 players lived 2 hours drive away from the club (I think I’ve got that right!).
Selection was about doing some ‘digging’ into the players and not just about watching ‘YouTube’ clips.
Although RW will be DoR, he will also be the attack coach, describing his brand of rugby as ‘edge of the seat’ stuff, where finger nails quickly become non-existent. His teams attack ‘from anywhere on the park’ and he’s hugely in favour of quick tapped penalties. Players need to be mobile and athletic with good hands and an ability to pass. All players must be committed both on and off the pitch.
Interestingly, most players are on 2-3 year contracts which presumably allows the style of play to develop over time.
The season has already been broken up into 6 week blocks, with particular areas of training and fitness etc being assigned to each one.
As far as the supporters are concerned, RW wants to involve them far more in what is happening and wants to get away from the ‘us/them’ divide which seems to be the case at the moment. The appointment of John Wilkinson will be hugely important here, as will the re-launching of the Supporters’ Club. He wants to work with supporters and meet with them regularly and listen to their thoughts and opinions – more news will follow shortly with regards to the SC.
Over the coming weeks there will be several ‘publicity stunts’ across the city to ensure that players understand more about the area they are living in and about the city they are representing (details to follow).
Q+A session – below are pretty much all the questions asked and a brief summary of the answers given:
- Who will captain the team? RW – captaincy needs to be earned and will be decided once the whole team is together. It will depend on who steps up and who the players want to represent them. Captaincy is partly a ‘referee coordinator’s role’, someone to voice the opinions of the coaching team;
- Is there going to be new kit next season? RW – the club have just agreed a new contract with Under Armour for the next two years (they’re also used by a local premiership club!). They will offer a complete new range of clothing and goods, together with some specifically designed for the supporters’ club;
- What are the realistic expectations for next season? Have targets been set? RW – ‘you cant cross a chasm in just two steps’. It would be too naïve to give an answer in terms of where the club will finish next April. The aim is to win each and every game, with targets set each month. RW said he wasn’t prepared to ‘bullsh*t an answer!’;
- Has the link with Broadstreet ended? RW/PR – one of the problems is that at the moment some players only attend The Butts 15 times a season, which clearly isn’t a satisfactory situation. Further, the club can’t assume BSt will take all of our players who need additional game time if coming back from injury or who aren’t able to make the match day squad – it causes them problems in terms of selecting their own squad players. Cov will be using a number of different local clubs in this respect, matched against the needs of individual players – with some being at level 5 or even 6. There is still an option to train at BSt but also at The Butts, too;
- Was recruitment of players all down to Rowland Winter? RW – in terms of accountability, yes. He must take the blame as well as the credit. However, he has had 4 ‘experts’ (the coaches) to consult in order to determine a player’s suitability and they have been thorough (especially when determining the props!). Also they have watched endless hours of DVDs as well as meetings with the players themselves;
- Have any pre-season friendlies been arranged? RW: July – Dublin (developmental), 27th July – Broadstreet (h), 6th August – Jersey (a), 13th August – Ealing Trailfinders (h), 20th August – Newport (h), 27th August – Nighthawks (h) followed by 1st XV v Bury St Edmunds (h);
- What haven’t Coventry University been approached to get more involved – even to be a kit sponsor? PR/RW – they have been approached already but no firm answer could be given. RW invited the person posing the question to have a chat at the end of the forum;
- How concrete are the Nighthawks fixtures following problems in previous seasons? RW – there are already 12 players in the Development Squad pencilled in and there will be additional players the club want to examine who are playing elsewhere. The coaches will also be involved in playing. There will be one fixture a month against teams of National 2/3 standard – there’s no advantage in playing Premiership 2nd XVs. They will definitely go ahead and they are the pre-cursor to a Cov 2nd XV. There will be a dedicated Nighthawks page on the website;
- Are there any planned links with Wasps? RW – in short no, but this is partly because the Academy remains in NW London. There is a hope that once it becomes established in the Coventry area something more positive will come about. Wasps originally made all sorts of promises but nothing has come of them so far. RW is against DRs in principle, he has better players in his own squad than many of the 19/20 year olds who would be made available. However, RW had had several talks with Matt Davies and once the Academy is in Coventry, Cov should embrace it, but only when they need to.
- Can we afford the present business plan? This led to the next section in which Jon Sharp outlined current and future developments surrounding the club.
JS started by dismissing the rumour on the Messageboard that the club was some £800.,000 in debt. Accounts will be registered at Companies House at the end of June and will be available for all to see. They are likely to show a debt (amended- please see comment below from JS) of less than £100,000 (which still seems a fair amount to me???).
JS is adamant that a 5G pitch (a mixture of grass and plastic) is one of the key ways of developing an additional source of income. If the club is to continue to develop it’s community work, it is also important that the club has a pitch that is available 7 days a week, but the cost is upwards of £500000. However, the facility could be used around the clock.
JS stated that the club is not a ‘cheap place to run’ but the finances are in ‘reasonable’ shape (he sounded far more cautious this time around to me?). They had spent more on recruitment next season in the belief that more success on the pitch will bring in more supporters who’ll spend more money etc etc. For too long the club has relied on the ‘largesse’ of a few and with an ageing support base, this can’t go on indefinitely. Nor can it rely on the income generated by just 15 home games a year, particularly if Cov does gain promotion to the Championship.
However, in 2010 (?), when JS took over control, the club was generating £660000, now it’s up to £1.2m. 5G is now the key if it is to increase it’s income further.
JS has been speaking with architects – one plan would be to have a two tier ground where the bottom tier would seat 2-3000 and would be used for rugby games and the larger second tier could be used for soccer games or for Championship/Premier games. The pitch would be sunk into the ground so the car park would in effect be at the point the first and second tiers meet. This is just one of the options though (the others weren’t discussed).
Cov United want to play some of their bigger games at The Butts next season and improvements to the pitch will need to take place for this to happen.
In addition, JS confirmed that he has been having talks with Coventry City who are at the moment groundless and although they do get gate receipts from their games at the Ricoh, revenue from drinks and other refreshments goes to Wasps. JS has been exploring the possibility of a new stadium at The Butts with far better facilities than at present, including a gym. There would be room on the current site for apartments and student accommodation, both of which are in demand – something called bankruptcy remoteness would ensure the club wasn’t saddled with debt should things not work out as expected. Football and rugby would come together under the banner of Coventry Sporting Club (?) – and although there hasn’t been the political will for this to happen before, changes in the council recently mean that this might no longer be the case.
There are ‘lots of bridges to be crossed’…?
However, JS did stress that even though Sky Blues had more financial resources and were the ‘bigger outfit’, Cov would have total control so long as he’s in charge (which begs an obvious question…).
- How would this impact on local residents? JS – there was already planning permission for a 15000 seater stadium when the nearby apartments were built. (But what about all the additional problems with traffic, parking etc…). JS gave that one short shrift but it remains a very valid question;
- How can he club attract more youngsters who are currently heading over to Wasps, attracted by the family ethos there? New supporters would need to come from the grass roots which is why the community work being done by Matt Price is so important. Success on the pitch will attract youngsters who are aspirational to follow a local club like Cov;
- What is the position regarding the lease? JS did give a fairly detailed answer which has been given elsewhere – to be honest, I lost the will to live after the first couple of minutes – if anyone wants to fill this section in, please feel free to do so. Basically, JS is hoping to by the sublease for the pitch and buildings off Mr Millerchip – terms have been agreed;
- What is RW’s view on indifferent refereeing? RW -most referees are ‘rubbish’ at this level, but you just have to ‘put up with it and get on with it’;
- What would be done about the standards of performance off the pitch? This referred to problems regarding of a lack of response from the Office, in particular. Little was said about it…with no real acceptance that there is an issue (to be honest, I don’t know if there is either);
- What responsibilities do the Board have? JS – this wasn’t directly answered but the structure was explained:
9 Directors (larger than normal for historical reasons)
4 Person Executive Committee (meeting monthly)
General Manager Director of Rugby
Looks after day-to-day running of the club Looks after all things rugby related
The meeting closed at 8.50(ish)
To sum up, I left feeling very excited about what’s happening behind the scenes as far as the rugby is concerned, but somewhat deflated by some of the possibilities that could lie ahead for the club in its bid to increase revenue.