Club talk

Coventry Rugby Club – Inclusive or exclusive?

For far too long Coventry Rugby Club just didn’t get it.

At all.

But they do now.

And just what is the ‘it’ to which I refer..?

Simply the relationship between itself and its supporters.

In fact, a better opening statement might have been, ‘For far too long Coventry Rugby Club just didn’t get us’.

The regular updates emanating from the keyboard of John Wilkinson provide supporters this season with a Cov narrative that has never previously existed.  Through his interviews with the coaches, players, and support staff, we get more of feel for what is happening behind the scenes and as a result a much stronger connection to the club. Or at least I do.

Supporting Cov was pretty much a one day a week event for most of us prior to this season but, by appointing JW and opening up the lines of communication that have allowed him to act as interface between club and supporters, suddenly being a Cov supporter is far less of a part-time experience than it ever used to be.

And in that sense Coventry Rugby Club understands its supporters far better under the new management than it ever did before. There is now much more information emanating from the club on a regular basis than at any previous time in the club’s history. Whether supporters avail themselves of it, well that their choice, but the important thing is we do at least have that choice.

All updates placed on the official website, such as the one yesterday, can also be accessed via links from the supporters’ messageboard, Facebook and Twitter, so anyone who is part of the social media revolution will very quickly have access to anything appearing on the Coventry website. Not everyone chooses to read the latest Cov news, and some will pick and choose what they read, but the information is there in a way that it never was before.

What I’m trying to get across is best exemplified in yesterday’s update on the website entitled ‘Development squad shaping Cov’s future’…

I can only speak for myself here, but I always got the impression that Cov’s long term planning in previous seasons, as far as the rugby side of the business was concerned, involved just the one season at a time.

Jon Sharp set out his long-term vision for the club almost from the moment he took over as Chairman and I very much admire the way he is working towards his plans of developing a ground and facilities that will sustain Championship rugby…but on a playing front, the talk from the coaches at Members’ Forums up until Rowland Winter’s arrival was only of the season ahead, rather than a longer term strategy over two or three years.

So even the headline of yesterday’s article is indicative of a change of direction…a future shaped not just by the players wearing the Cov jersey this season, but by the youngsters forming part of the Development Squad who, in seasons to come,  will hopefully take up the mantle. There’s a succession plan in place, built around local lads who will come through the ranks and understand what it means to wear the blue and white hoops and be a player from Coventry, rather just a player for Coventry.

That’s not to take anything away from those players who join Coventry from further afield, it’s just a belief that playing for the club that represents the city you grew up in might mean just that little bit more to you as a player. Discuss…

Anyway, the update from JW gave us a fairly detailed breakdown of the players currently in the Development Squad including not just where they presently are , but also how they have been settling in at the various clubs they’re attached to.

And that shouldn’t be something we take for granted because in previous seasons there was a dearth of information about players generally…we’d get a weekly team announcement and more recently we began to get some updates as to injuries. But little else. Occasionally, and also in the team news, we might have got a line or two to say where player X, Y or Z was now playing, but these certainly weren’t regular and didn’t cover all the players who weren’t playing first team rugby at that time.

And there was the frustration for me.

Players suddenly disappeared from the match day squad and you’d have no indication as to whether they were injured, rested or whether others had been picked ahead of them. Sometimes, it was only by reading a report of another club game in The Rugby Paper or the Coventry Telegraph that we’d learn one of the squad players was out on loan, or via a comment left on the Messageboard.

How ironic was that…the best source of information about the club came from the supporters themselves?

Fortunately, things have move on a great deal in the last few months and now we have weekly updates of who’s in and out of the team and the injuries, including how far off players are from a return.

Whether it’s just me I’m not sure, but Coventry Rugby Club feels far more inclusive, far less exclusive these days.

And really it’s very much in the interests of the club to make such information available. At times last season, particularly at some of the home games, there were often two or three players watching from the stands. Now that’s no big deal, it’s what you’d expect when a player is injured. But when Cov were on a run of poor form and rumours were pretty rife about poor morale and tensions between players on the training ground, inevitably speculation abounds. Had these players been dropped, disciplined or were they just injured?

Lots of whispers and some louder voices…and really it was all the result of some naivety on the part of the club.  It could have been so easily avoided by simply doing what Cov are doing at the moment.

Take Sam Smith – the fact that he’s not out on loan would, in previous seasons, have meant that we’d have heard nothing about him or his progress, but probably have seen him around the ground on match days, making completely the wrong assumptions. But via the update, it’s clear his is taking a very different path from the other Development Squad players, a path which will hopefully lead to first team rugby before too long, and one which by all accounts is working both for him and the coaches.  A really interesting insight…

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And it just gets better and better, with the news that the club are presently advertising for a media officer to work alongside JW, looking more at social media and interactive videos to complement the information that is available presently via the website.

Inevitably discussion amongst supporters of late, outside of purely rugby matters, has concentrated on the fall in attendances this season and the reasons for it. It’s something I’ve highlighted many times before, especially last season, so I won’t harp on too much about it here other than to say that one of the best ways to halt a decline (it’s no longer a dip) is by dong exactly what is being done at the moment.

Put time, effort and resources into promoting the club via the website, Twitter and Facebook and all the local media outlets that you can and you’ll reach out once again to those ‘lapsed’ supporters who no longer attend games but who retain an interest in the club. Include news about the development squad regularly for instance, name names, talk about where they are and how they’re getting on and people will take note.  And when there is a chance to actually see them play for the Nighthawks, and for next to no cost, the temptation will be to pop down to the ground to have a look for yourself. And maybe because you’ve followed them for a while, when they do get their first start in National 1, you’ll want to be there to see it.

And when, via the website and social media, you get video clips of RW talking about selection, or the tries from the game, or videos of the players and coaches talking after the game, or Jon Sharp about the development of the ground, or whatever else it might be…then you begin to reach out to a wider audience…

…@CoventryRugby has 4.9K Twitter followers.

And an attendance of just 950 odd for the last home game.

And I wouldn’t mind betting a fair few of the 4000 followers who didn’t go to the Hartpury game used to watch Cov fairly regularly but have now crossed over to the other side of the city to watch their rugby. Or maybe they’ve just taken up gardening instead.

Whatever the reason for their continuing absence from the BPA, with far more information via the club’s Twitter account and through Facebook, a mixture of information and video on a daily basis, we’ll see some of them return once more.

That and a few wins of course…

Starting with Esher on Saturday.

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I promised I’d include the results of Tuesday’s poll in the blog today. It asked you to chose who you feel have been the two best  Head Coaches/DoR appointments over the last 13 years, not including RW.

And here they are:

  • Steve Williams – 27%
  • Mike Umaga – 22%
  • Scott Morgan  – 15%
  • Dave Addleton – 11%
  • John White  – 7%
  • Phil Maynard – 5%
  • Murray Henderson – 5%
  • Brett Davey – 5%
  • Mark Donato – 2%
Definitely a very different set of results to how I imagined, but interesting all the same.
I’m afraid I can remember nothing of Mark Donato and according to a quick trawl through Google, he’s either a Canadian actor, a minor league baseball player or a bit of a crooner – which probably explains why he didn’t last too long at Cov.

6 replies »

  1. It would be absolutely marvellous if Roger or Peter would write a contribution to the match day programme. This is exactly why I suggested this piece at the start of the season to put forward ideas and thoughts from new and old supporters. It is our club and it is only right that we put forward our feelings on the club, not only the on field view but on the whole club itself. More power to the supporters.

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  2. As far as the game of Rugby is concerned Coventry have always been my team, in good times and bad, and I can’t see that ever changing. “My City My Club” had been part of me long before it became the Cov tag line and long may that continue. Although I’d always been a Cov man it was only a 1 day a week affair in previous seasons. With the transition which has taken place within the club I now feel involved 7 days a week and the feeling is great. As has been said, this is down to so many factors including RW, JS, JW, JB, CRSC, et al, and in no small measure to you too Tim with your daily input.
    I have never felt more a part of this club which I’ve supported for 37 years. Come on Cov…….onwards and upwards.

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    • Hi Peter, thanks for commenting! Were Jon Sharp or any of the Board to ever read the blog, I do think they would be heartened by your comments and those of Roger as well…supporters seem far more behind the club than in recent years, even if results at the moment are up and down. We are in the process of change and getting the structures in place to move forward is almost as important as the results themselves, but only in the short term. RW and his team are still very much in the honeymoon period but ultimately they will be judged, as all coaches are, on results. Like you…I’m feeling the love too! Cue for the Black Eyed Peas at this point!

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  3. Cheers Tim, another interesting blog.
    To link in with falling attendances, one way to arrest decline is for more local lads to be playing, as generally friends, family etc will come along, so the development squad being filled with some local lads is a great way for the longer term reversal of falling numbers to be sorted. As a more ageing fan (qualified for a “concession” season ticket this year), my concern would be the encouragement of younger fans, something the other crosstown team seem to excel at, so rebuilding links with local clubs and players makes a lot of sense. Plus, I’m sure once team really starts to gel, and results start coming, so will the fans.

    Also, like you, feel that this season has been so much more inclusive, club seems to communicate so much more, your daily blog always a great read, fans forums etc so finally I feel I am treated like a supporter, not someone who is there to pay at gate, have a pint and a burger (or pork batch, yum), then go home again until next time.

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    • Hi Roger

      Yes…that’s an interesting point and one that would never have occurred to me. Younger players from the development squad will bring mates to the game for sure…not in itself a reason to further develop a youth scheme but certainly a consideration. We need more supporters in the 20-30 age bracket that’s for sure! Being a supporter should be a two way process…supporting the club and feeling supported by the club. We’ve been given a voice this season, by the club and by the likes of Cliff and Quent and I must say it’s very empowering.
      Thanks for the kind words, too. Come back soon…

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