Say the words
Are you there? Can I be heard?
Station to station
Coast to coast
Face to face will tell you most
Communication – Janet Jackson
Change isn’t always for the best.
Sometimes you have to ride the storm, believing that on its passing you’ll be stronger and wiser for the experience.
But equally, sometimes it can be.
Take Jon Sharp’s decision to appoint a new DoR back in January, for instance.
Little did we know then what a positive impact Rowland Winter would have in such a very short space of time. The decision to relieve Scott Morgan of his responsibilities at the end of the season came out of the blue to most of us…the feeling was that, despite his relative inexperience and the team’s disappointing performances, he would be given a decent run.
But there was also a sense of relief. Scott was, and still is, well-liked and respected by Cov supporters. However, and this is where perhaps I’m going to upset some, much of that respect came from what he’d achieved on the rugby pitch over a long and successful career and his genuine desire to see Cov succeed, not necessarily from his role as Head Coach.
We all wanted Scott to succeed, of course we did, but despite finishing 3rd in the league in 2014/15 (although the warning signs were there in the last 10 games) he had yet to prove himself as a coach. As results continued to disappoint and there didn’t appear, from the stands at least, to be a clear structure to what was happening on the pitch, many supporters sensed it just wasn’t working. When Plan A failed, Plans B,C and even D didn’t materialise and Scott’s end-of-game comments became more despondent (remember the Esher game?).
The manner of the announcement of Scott’s departure was poorly handled by all accounts, but even though it was just a few weeks after his appointment as Head of Rugby, many supporters were already (and forgive the pun) resigned to change.
It was definitely the right decision.
But it was a potentially very difficult period for Rowland Winter, and one that could easily have become extremely awkward had it been handled differently. News that wholesale changes to the squad would be inevitable and that faces familiar to Cov supporters for several seasons would be on their way out initially met understandably with some disgruntled comments. Players who had performed exceptionally well and been extremely loyal to the club were to be moved on, even though some had expressed a desire to stay.
It was undoubtedly a volatile situation but one that was calmed almost immediately by Rowland Winter himself. He took the almost unprecedented decision of talking to supporters, not through the Coventry Telegraph but directly through the club’s website. We were being talked to and not at – and that was different.
Decisions were explained and a vision mapped out that was to begin the start of the journey we’ve now only just undetaking, a journey that will hopefully take us closer towards our desire to compete initially with the very top teams in National 1 and then with best teams in the Championship.
We live in a shrinking world, a world where information is accessible at the press of a button.
The information highway.
Yet this was anything but the case at Cov even 12 months ago.
Most of last season little information came out of the club other than match reviews and reports and despite John Wilkinson’s best efforts, that highway was little more than a B class country lane as far as Cov was concerned. It was something that Rowland Winter quickly recognised and by offering supporters regular updates involving recruitment, almost immediately announcing the impressive coaching structure and then the retained players, he deflected the most supporters’ concerns regarding those who were leaving the club at the end of the season.
Suddenly we had the information we needed to understand what was happening to make informed decisions about the rights and wrongs of what was taking place,. And the result? Almost everyone come down in favour of the changes on the playing front (I’m leaving aside any potential plans for the ground which are not part of RW’s remit!).
Simply by providing the facts, speculation and rumour have had no place in the argument.
Suddenly the mood of supporters seemed to change. The news coming out of the club of further appointments and the wholesale alterations being made to the management infrastructure, as well as the increased amount of training expected of the players, reinforced the need for such widespread change in personnel. Even the news of Dave Addleton’s departure was lessened by the announcement of Tony Gulliver’s appointment and Dave’s subsequent move to Rugby to work alongside Rob Dignum.
John Wilkinson’s appointment also ensured continuity and reassured supporters that there were ‘old’ hands (or older, perhaps!) around the club in whom they could trust.
Further, a major factor in the willingness of supporters to take on such change was Rowland Winter’s willingness to talk to supporters both formally at the Members and Supporters’ Clubs meetings and informally to individuals. He’s always ready to explain his vision for the club, outline what he hopes to achieve and how he intends to achieve it.
Face to face will tell you most…it’s something Cov are beginning at long last to understand.
RW seems to have created something of ‘an open’ door policy – it’s a term we used in the school where I worked. Put simply, parents would always be welcomed into the school and would always be listened by one of the senior leaders on call at the time. We couldn’t promise to answer the question or resolve the problem, but we would follow it up and get back to the parent within 24 hours.
Let me give an example.
At the Supporters’ Club meeting last month, RW displayed the full squad by position on a PPT slide, together with the names of the Development Squad who would be understudying the full squad and who might be able to step in should injuries mean there is a problem, depending of course on whether they have the experience to cope at this level (Sam Smith and Joe Foreman would be two such players presently in this category).
It was really interesting visual aid as it allowed us to see which players would be competing for which position and the depth that had been built in to it to cover for loss of form, injuries and so on. In previous years, the website only every offered some pictures of players which were never up-to-date and only served as an aid to recognition and little else.
Even the excellent list that Nick keeps on the Messageboard, which has been the only accurate squad list available (which is shocking in itself) often refers to players to players by a generic position – eg back row, centre, prop. Even that has to be updated by eagle-eyed readers spotting gaps.
As a result, it isn’t always clear whether a player is a loosehead or tighthead, and who they might be competing against for a place in the starting XV, or whether a player is regarded principally as a 6 or a 7.
I’m sure this is something that others won’t necessarily have had a problem with, but I’ve often got confused in the past over this. Last year, there was much debate amongst supporters at the start of the season as to where Cliffie would play…would it be fly half, full back or even centre. No confusion now – full back, competing against James Pritchard and James Stokes (and there’s plenty of experience and ability there!).
Obviously some of these players will be able to play across one or two positions, but it does let us see where the club sees players playing the majority of their rugby with Cov.
Anyway, I thought it would be good just to put the list of players, by position, in a post just to highlight the above points. In previous years it would never have occurred to me to contact the club to ask if I could have the information on that slide.
I guess there wouldn’t have been a slide available in the first place anyway, but you get the drift. I wouldn’t have felt the club would have wanted to share it with an individual supporter, let alone someone who writes a blog.
However, I contacted Rowland Winter and after confirming the right email address, it was nestling in my Inbox, almost by return.
And that’s the difference about the Coventry pre RW and post RW (eek!)
As an individual, I feel part of what is happening and simply don’t recognise the divide between club and supporter in the way I did before.
Boundaries are being broken and the club is reaching out to embrace not just those supporters who will always remain true to the cause, but also those who left in their droves at the end of the 2014/15 season and need reassuring that changes are afoot and that match day on a Saturday at The Butts offers a better experience than a trip across the city to the Ricoh.
In the past, sad to say, it did seem a little like ‘Our Club, Your Team’, but Cov are really starting to embrace the concept of Our City, Our Club and, if they are as successful on the pitch as they are so off it, then attendances will quickly improve.
And here is that squad list:
Coventry Rugby 2016/17 – 1st XV and Development Squad
1 2 3
Andy Brown Matt Price Jimmy Litchfied
Boris Stankovich Scott Tolmie Phil Boulton
Joe Foreman Will Priestley Jake Byrne
Brendon Snyman Rob Conquest
Tom Poole Tom Jubb
6 7 8
Brett Daynes Eoghan Grace Ali Bone
Darrell Dyer Sam Harry Olly Povoas
Alex Smit Tony Fenner
Pete White Will Maisey
Rhodri Adamson Adam Canning
Callum MacBurnie Brendan Burke
Tom Wheatcroft Corey Hircock
Sam Smith Rob Knox
Dan Rundle Cliffie Hodgson
Jay Heath James Pritchard
Max Trimble James Stokes
Josh Palmer Max Titchener
There will be those who have seen this already, so please forgive me for adding it to the post, but not everyone uses Twitter and those that do won’t necessarily have come across this tweet.
Yesterday I had been at a school in Nuneaton and happened to take the train back from Nuneaton to Cov. Realising that it came into Cov via the line that runs adjacent to the railway end (funnily enough) of the ground, I decided just to video the view as we ‘chugged’ merrily past The Butts.
I’d often wondered how much of the ground was visible and what it would look like on a Saturday afternoon and whilst there were sadly no players about, it is worth a watch.
The ground looks impressive – let’s the hope the rugby this season complements it to the same degree!