I’ve been living through changes
And I could swing for you
I can see the veins in my hands
Are showing through…
…Consequently my reaction
Is getting rather strange
I can see your course of action
Leading to a change
The Teardrop Explodes – Treason
In years past, the beginning of March was when many supporters began to speculate about the following season. Rumours of players soon to be on their way in, or out, would often start to surface and there would be discussions, too, as to the costs of watching the club either as season ticket holder or simply on a game-to-game basis. It all added interest to the current season, especially if things were petering out, with little to play for over the remaining games. Other than pride, of course.
The RFU’s decision to reduce its funding to its 2015 level of £288,000 from 2022-23, with an initial reduction of £135,000 next season, means that clubs have had to put everything on hold, so I imagine it will be some time before supporters of Championship clubs will have a real idea of what squads or costings will look like for 20/21.
With Championship clubs having to rethink their recruitment drive, the rumour mill has all but dried up.
As it currently stands, for supporters everything is in limbo until the clubs can get a real take on exactly what the RFU’s plans mean for them over the next season or two. It’s frustrating, but all supporters can do for the remainder of this season is be patient.
Currently the RFU pays Championship clubs about £534,000 per year (depending on who you listen to/believe) so belts are going to have to be well and truly tightened and cloths cut accordingly.
In last weekend’s programme notes, Rowland Winter again reaffirmed what he has said elsewhere, namely that although currently Cov are in the fortunate position of having a large squad with options right through the team, next season:
‘…it will have to slightly reduce, as we operate a leaner rugby programme.’
Quite what a ‘leaner rugby programme’ entails is as yet unclear, but given the Championship fixtures won’t be reduced in any way, is it an oblique reference to the Academy/U18s setups, or even the club’s own outreach programme which appears to have been such a success in recent years?
Despite a reduction in squad size, the club appears to be determined to remain fully professional:
‘However, we still will be fully professional and I am really looking forward to seeing the core of this squad develop and continue to grow over the next few years.’
The growth RW refers to will presumably be measured not in terms of the size of the squad but in its experience and success.
Jon Sharp stated publicly within days of Bill Sweeney’s announcement that Cov would be honouring the contracts of all players contracted to the club for next season and beyond, so I’m guessing some of those players whose contracts are up for renewal at the end of this season might have to be moved on to compensate for the loss of RFU funding, especially those with the biggest salaries.
And there are a number of them – including the likes of Tom Kessell, David Halaifonua, Ben Nutley, Darren Dawidiuk, Jack Ram, the Bulumakaus, Ben Nutley and Heath Stevens.
£27,000 is the figure generally quoted as being the average salary of a player in the Championship, which happens to be exactly a fifth of the £135,000 reduction in funding clubs will receive next year. Some of those players listed above will presumably be on more than that, so Cov could hypothetically save the deficit by reducing the squad by just 5 or 6 of those whose contracts end in a couple of months time.
Letting David Halaifonua go and replacing him with, say, Louis Brown makes sense on a financial level given DH must be one of the club’s highest earners with Brown presumably at the lower end of the scale – and on his showing at the weekend a great prospect too.
Dare I say it, but it probably makes sense on the playing front too…
By bringing in 3 or 4 inexperienced, and therefore less expensive, players from lower leagues, and/or relying on the club’s development squad more than they are a present, Cov could in theory make up the shortfall without affecting the current equilibrium too adversely. There’s definitely plenty of younger talent coming through and maybe that is the way forward until the Championship is in a position to go its own way and negotiate its own funding outside of the RFU.
RW has said next season’s squad will be younger than this year’s, so maybe this is the way forward for Cov.
The club has put a lot of time and resources into the development of young players from within; perhaps we’ll see even more players come through the ranks and Cov continue to enjoy the profits of what is, after all, a sizeable investment, both financial and otherwise, in its Academy and U18 squads.
Arguably, there might be a slight loss in the quality of rugby on display in the short term but more opportunity for younger players to come through the ranks, many of whom have ties to the city too, must be a good thing in the long run.
Provided they are good enough, that is.
Cov’s current crop of U18s seem to be having plenty of success in their own right against some of the country’s top sides – if we can keep hold of many of those youngsters for another 2 or 3 seasons, there might not be the need to recruit quite so many of the more experienced players on whom we’ve had to rely for the last two or three seasons? The CRSC sponsorship of the U18s, coached by our own Phil Boulton, could yet prove invaluable to the longer term success of the club.
Whilst the club is going to have to reassess its expected financial situation in 12 months time and make changes accordingly, it would appear that at least 6 Championship sides will have to go part-time as a result of the RFU’s decision to slash its funding of the Championship, with several clubs already having made statements to that effect.
In his programme notes, RW goes further:
‘The impact on some clubs is disastrous, and there will be a lot of movement of players a staff as a result, with careers ending in the short term due to uncertainty.’
However tough the impact of such changes are on supporters, they are as nothing compared to those faced by many of the players and management of clubs in the Championship. Players whose contracts end this season are quite likely to be overlooked by other already cash starved Tier 2 clubs.
Unless they are prepared to take massive cuts in their salaries by dropping into National One, they face the prospect of having to retire from the game altogether.
The RFU appears to have abandoned a huge swathe of players and it’s no wonder that so many are concerned about the direction the current situation is taking and are already talking seriously about leaving the game for good. Given the life of a professional rugby player at this level is fairly short-lived, for some cutting their losses now makes more sense. There must be a lot of players currently having to make some very important, life-changing decisions right now.
RW hinted at the worries this is currently causing in his programme notes:
‘The main question I have had from new and current players is how it will affect us at Coventry?’
…although presumably most of the Cov squad will be relieved at what the club is saying publicly, other than those looking to renew their contracts of course.
Despite there being so much uncertainty surrounding the Championship next season, the hope is that those clubs with a vested interest in its long term survival can agree on a longer term vision that ensures it doesn’t remain financially reliant on the RFU.
And the signs appear hopeful…
RW mentioned in his comments that he thinks:
‘…over the next few weeks and months, more conversations and negotiations can continue to reduce the impact and provide a new vision for the league that can be commercialised.’
and in his column Jon Sharp remarked:
‘Representatives from the Championship clubs met informally here at Butts Park a week or so ago. Discussions were positive and we’re looking forward to some proposals being drawn up in die course to present formally to the Championship Clubs Committee and the RFU.’
A more independent Championship, able to organise its own funding with sponsors and tv companies and attracting the interest of clubs from the governing bodies of other rugby unions would be an attractive proposition, especially if (from a personal viewpoint) it involved the WRU.
If the Championship can survive the next 15 months or so and give itself a breathing space in which to negotiate its own future, then the RFU’s decision to pullback on its funding of the Championship could be exactly the wake up call that has been needed for a while now.
Whatever criticisms are presently being levelled at the RFU, it’s fair to say the Championship can’t continue as it currently is, with attendances often under 1000 and with little to attract big money sponsors.
Change has to come and maybe, inadvertently perhaps, the RFU’s decision to starve the Championship of monies will be the catalyst. Who knows exactly what the RFU’s real motives are in jeopardsing the existence of a number of Tier 2 clubs, but whatever they are:
I can see your course of action
Leading to a change
You’ve got to get ready for me
Is it real
Or is it treason
Is it treason…?
Teardrop Explodes were a number of bands coming out of Liverpool in the 80’s, groups which included the likes of OMD, The Christians, Echo and the Bunnymen and The Boo Radleys.
Their first album, Kilimanjaro was a bit of a classic, with Bouncing Babies being a student favourite back in the day.
Julian Cope et al. have featured a couple of times elsewhere in the blog but I’m pretty sure this is a first outing for Treason.