Hartpury College: a club with an identity crisis?…and an appreciation of the travelling supporters
When I was young
I never needed anyone
Hard to be sure
Sometimes I feel so insecure
And love so distant and obscure
Remains the cure
All by myself
Don’t wanna be, all by myself anymore
Eric Carmen – All By Myself
According to The Rugby Paper, there were 677 at College Stadium (really?), Hartpury, to watch Saturday’s National 1 game against Coventry.
Now I’m not great at guestimating numbers, but I would imagine almost a third of those present were Coventry supporters.
Given yesterday’s gate was 384, yes 384, up on their average gate for the season (according to Statbunker), then I’m probably erring on the side of caution.
And it’s worth just stopping to contemplate the significance of that for a moment. Hartpury have an average attendance of 293 (not including yesterday’s), with a season’s high of 500 prior to our visit, to watch a team running away with the league, playing some fantastic rugby in the process and with several players who are clearly destined for bigger and better things.
Yet a club like Cov, starved of success in recent times, more often than not, finishing in the bottom half of the table over the last six seasons and with Premiership rugby on its doorstep, can attract between 4 and 5 times that number on a regular basis. Okay, Coventry have a much bigger and more heavily populated catchment area on which to rely, but even so…
It just goes show how the current funding arrangements for clubs at this level certainly don’t offer everyone a fair and equal chance of success. Whilst Coventry have to rely on the generosity of it’s chairman and the prowess of its business managers to constantly look for new streams of revenue, there are those teams, not many I hasten to add, for whom such constant worries are somewhat less pressing.
That’s not a gripe by the way, merely an observation.
But for all the quality that I saw in the Hartpury side yesterday, for all the resources that the club has at it’s disposal and for all the wins that they’ve accumulated this season, there was very little passion in the stand or around the pitch.
Other than that which was coming from the Coventry supporters, of course.
Imagine if the situations were reversed and it was Coventry topping the league – the car park would be full by 2.oo pm, the main stand by 2.45 pm and the far side and ends three or four deep. And for most games.
Closed by 2.30 for Moseley I’d imagine…
It was all a bit soulless on Saturday until the Coventry supporters found their voices as the players left the field at the end of the warm up. There was some excitement, but again that was shared amongst the Cov supporters as they quietly voiced their expectations of what might soon unfold (although, as we now know, this was not to be)…but other than that, you’d never have known that this was the ground of the league leaders, champions-elect in all but name, and with a team of players as good as anything I’ve certainly seen at this level.
And maybe that’s because Hartpury just doesn’t have the feel of a club with a history to it.
That might be being grossly unfair to those involved with Hartpury College, but having been founded as recently as 2000 and having enjoyed regular promotions from the eleventh tier of the rugby pyramid thereafter, it all seems to have come about too quickly to build up the pride in the club that you often see elsewhere. There aren’t the fans there who have been watching the club play for generations; the grandparents who have been members of the club since the sixties and still attend with their children and grandchildren.
Interestingly, there appeared to be few Hartpury supporters ‘of an age’…
That passion for the club isn’t yet coursing through the veins of those who support Hartpury, as it is at Cov or Moseley, Plymouth, Blackheath, Rosslyn Park and so on…there haven’t been the hard times that make the good times that much better.
It will come…
And because it was formed in partnership with Gloucester RFC and still retains that link, stronger than ever it would appear, then for those on the outside it seems as if the club is a means to an end, a stepping stone for the great and the good.
Can you imagine, in a few years’ time, five of the current Hartpury squad reaching the significant milestone of 100 appearances…?
I think that’s why I find it so difficult to accept clubs like Hartpury. I’m probably entirely wrong, but the club seems to exit as a stepping stone to the Premiership and not as a club in its own right.
It’s an opinion and I accept one that won’t be shared by many who read this blog, but that’s how it comes across to me.
It seems to lack an identity of its own…it fulfils a role as a feeder for Gloucester rather than as a club with it’s own unique identity. Maybe not to those who support it, but certainly to some who support other clubs in this league.
Is the aim of the club to provide competitive rugby for a group of young, gifted players attached to clubs in the highest tier of English rugby, or is it to play in that top tier as a club in its own right? Were it in a position to gain promotion from the Championship to the Premiership in years to come, how would this be greeted by Gloucester? It’s those sorts of questions that make the club something of an enigma and it will be a while before those with minds as narrow as mine accept Hartpury into the pantheon of clubs that include the likes of those mentioned earlier.
There was no real external evidence of passion amongst the Hartpury crowd. The noise came mostly from the Coventry faithful who continued to shout their support long after the game was over as a contest. As a Cov supporter, I felt proud of our supporters and of the way they constantly encouraged the team – just as I felt proud of the players who gave their all and who, before injuries took their toll, matched Hartpury in most areas in the first half.
Even the PA had to try and drum up some noise from the Hartpury few, acknowledging that only the Coventry supporters could be heard (this after Hartpury had scored their third or fourth try). When Phil Boulton led the side out for the start of the second half, he turned to the players behind him and said ‘Listen to that’ as the Cov supporters greeted the arrival of their team onto the pitch.
Okay, it all went pretty pear-shaped from that point on, but such a gesture from by the team captain on the day does indicate just how appreciative of the Cov supporters the players really are. And for me, that is one of the joys of travelling away to watch Cov – being part of a happy band of brothers for whom Cov is such an important part of their lives and has been, in many cases, well before 2000.
And before anyone has a go at me for I’ve written in this post…these are just my thoughts and mine alone. They might be out of kilter with the way others see things, but that doesn’t invalidate them.
I do appreciate there are those who might take exception to what I’ve written, particularly any Hartpury supporters passing through. I can only apologise if that is the case, but in doing so I stand by what I’ve written.
I should add, however, that everyone I encountered at the ground was exceedingly cordial and friendly and we were extremely well looked after…
I came down on the supporters’ coach.
It was full…
And the mood was positive…as it was, pretty much, as we drove away from the ground at 5.30 pm. We’d been beaten, well beaten, by an exceptionally strong team and had put in a decent shift for the most part. There were a few moans and grumbles but everyone recognised that this was a very different defeat to those we’d suffered down in London earlier in the season.
And there was genuine appreciation for the three representatives from the club who came onto the coach prior to our departure to offer their thanks for the support shown by those who made the journey down (not forgetting those, of course, who made their own way to Hartpury). It was genuine and heartfelt and appreciated by the supporters. Cliffie Hodgson was there, despite having just had ten stitches in his knee, to offer his thanks and ‘apologies’ for the performance, although I don’t think anyone felt let down by a Coventry side who were overrun in the end by the better team.
Even in defeat, many of us felt we could see that progress was evident, and that despite putting out a weakened side, short of a number of key players through injury and unavailability, we competed pretty well. And as results improve, so will confidence in the team and I can see a time next season, if performances continue to improve as they are, when there will be enough demand for a second coach to some games.
As it is, following the success of the last two away visits, the Supporters’ Club have amassed enough in the coffers to run a coach for the Fylde game…the SC goes from strength to strength.
A word for Steve Hood at this point – much of the success the SC has enjoyed as far as the away travel is concerned is down to Steve. Whilst the sheer logistics of booking the coaches is important, something which I think Cliff and Quent oversee, Steve is very much the main man on the day and his organisation and management help make it such an enjoyable experience.
It’s folk like Steve, and all the others on the Supporters’ Club Committee, who are helping to generate an interest and involvement amongst supporters unprecedented over the last few years. Watching Cov this season, good as it has been on the pitch, has been made that much more enjoyable through their efforts, efforts for which I am extremely grateful.
Great song…great lyrics…great perm