When I was at junior school (now called primary school) I was asked, as most pupils were, what I wanted to be when I grew up. Speaking as a Brummie, I distinctly remember saying that in the winter I wanted to play football for Aston Villa and in the summer I wanted to play cricket for Warwickshire. To be elected this evening as the President and Chairman of Staffordshire Rugby Union shows that I have been on an interesting journey as they say on all the reality TV shows.
My family moved from Great Barr to Burntwood half way through my first year at secondary school. I stayed on through sixth form but never experienced rugby at school. I think we had one token games lesson a year when the biggest lad would just keep the ball and knock everybody else over – a game to be avoided as I was always one of the smaller lads.
It was when I went to teacher training college in Nottingham that I was introduced to rugby, or more precisely the social side of rugby post match in the students’ union bar. I still continued to play football and cricket whilst at college playing at 3rd and 4th team level but I enjoyed the drinking games and sing songs the rugby boys did. They seemed to have so much more fun than the football players. I did venture onto the rugby field a couple of times when the 3rd team was short and there was no footy but I didn’t really know what I was doing. I also followed the TV coverage of the New Zealand tour in 1972-3 led by Ian Kirkpatrick which seemed to last forever but featured the likes of Sid Going and the spiky winger Grant Batty who showed you didn’t need to be big to play rugby.
After qualifying I returned to Staffordshire and two significant experiences saw me turn to rugby as my main sport. Firstly, while I had been in Nottingham, Burntwood RUFC was founded in 1972. I felt that the best way I could continue to behave like a student was to join a rugby club and so I joined in 1975.
The second important influence in my conversion to rugby was provided by some of the teaching staff at Chasetown Comprehensive School. Colleagues like Robbie Bracewell (Stafford and Lichfield), Chris Mallet (Walsall), Tony Murray (Walsall, Lichfield and Burntwood), Ernie Pritchard (Rugeley and Stafford), Arthur Palin (Rugeley?), Dave Cowley (who went on to become Chairman of Burntwood), Geoff Ecclestone (society referee and Staffordshire Schools organiser) and Mick Green (Stafford and Staffordshire county). I remember going to work early on Monday mornings after a Five Nations’ weekend just to listen to them discuss what had happened in the internationals. However, the only thing they seemed to agree on was that the referees had made some awful decisions – so some things never change. It’s up to you whether you take that as referees continuing to make awful decisions or that players and spectators continue to see their decisions as awful.
A couple of decades later Roy Smith joined the staff at Chasetown. He was county President while he was at the school and he was instrumental in arranging for the school to host the Rugby World Cup Trophy Tour for an afternoon. I remember him talking about the three to four hour county meetings he attended and I wondered how anyone could do that on a school night.
The fact that I have now joined the list of illustrious Staffordshire Presidents, several of whom are still active on the county management and sub-management teams, is a great honour. It is not a position I actively sought. I’ve always seen myself as a number two to support a number one. When I became county hon. secretary I hoped I could be the equivalent of Radar O’Riley, for any fans of MASH out there. When John asked me to become SRU VP two years ago I asked him for time to think about it. I seem to remember giving him my answer standing underneath the Dennis Lillee statue outside the MCG in Australia.
I would like to thank my club for nominating me. It gives me great pride in becoming the first county President from Burntwood RUFC. I would also like to thank Newcastle for seconding my nomination – it was the least they could do after Burntwood robbed relegation from them to Midlands Three West North.
Becoming President/Chairman does not make me an expert in all things rugby overnight. However, the management team for 2020-21 to be ratified by tonight’s AGM is as strong if not stronger than any I have been involved in for the last ten years. All the officials and representatives nominated have solid groundings at both club and county level and several are active on RFU sub-committees and working parties. I will be relying on their expertise in the coming months.
The one newcomer to the management team to be approved is John McDermott whose nomination as county Vice President has been well received. He is no stranger to many of you given his work on the Player Development Committee and with county representative teams. His business background will be very useful in working on the yearly county business plan now known as the Local Rugby Plan and I am looking forward to working with him.
The amount of support from the RFU paid staff in the years ahead remains to be seen given Bill Sweeney’s announcement yesterday about the RFU trimming its staff by 139 – about a quarter of its workforce. It may well be that we will have to do more for ourselves which is something of a throwback for us older generation to the time when volunteers did everything.
To some extent none of us are experts on all things rugby as World Rugby tweak the laws of the game most seasons and the RFU regularly amend their regulations. There always seems to be at least one review being undertaken at HQ, at the moment it is the framework for season 2021-22 competitions. Another hot topic at the moment is diversity and inclusion but the immediate concern is a return to rugby – Rugby Restart.
The SRU will continue to support its clubs particularly through the current crisis. In return, I hope that all clubs will send representatives to attend county meetings, training and coaching sessions and push players forward for selection in the county representative teams. Virtual meetings may well be adopted, at least on occasion, after the return to normal which could facilitate increased attendances.
My thanks to John for his term as President/Chairman for the last two years. He will continue to work for the county on competitions and also manage the website. It is not the way he wanted to conclude his stint and not the way I wanted to take over. Being Chairman of an organisation which aims to promote the game of rugby is difficult when no rugby is actually being played.
If I serve my two year term, God willing, it will finish in 2022 which will also be Burntwood Rugby Club’s 50th year and my 70th. The Commonwealth Games will be hosted by Birmingham so 2022 should be some year to look forward to. Finally to paraphrase the TV advert for the Royal Navy – “I was born in Birmingham but made in Staffordshire (and a bit of Nottinghamshire)”.