Before I get into this week’s musings, I have a very real STOP PRESS moment with another very exciting signing at Albion! Hot on the heels of Ospreys and Wales 7’s Phil Jones, we’re over the moon announce imposing second row/back row Jake Clemson from Cornish Pirates. Standing at six feet six inches and tipping the scales at over seventeen stones he will add some serious grunt to our already formidable pack.
And now, the musings…
At last! HM Government is progressively releasing the most serious restrictions of lockdown, promoting the Rugby Football Union to unveil its plan for the resumption of club rugby.
Chief executive Bill Sweeney, and Rugby Development Director Steve Grainger unveiled the governing body’s return-to-rugby roadmap. In light of the severity of the Covid-19 pandemic, we should not be too critical of the guidelines, but in true RFU fashion, there are three possible start dates and six stages: from Stage A relating to individual training with one other person, moving through to Stage F when there can be a return to competitive matches against other teams.
Following Government advice, the RFU advised us that we are currently at Stage B, which allows exercise within a group of up to six people, as long as social-distancing guidelines are maintained. Damien and James Bish have already busied themselves with players on an individual basis but will be delighted to learn we can start group activities, regain our team spirit and start to build the new culture we envision that will make Albion Great Again.
I was pleased to hear Bill Sweeney describe the community game as the RFU’s “lifeblood”. Unfortunately, we will not be permitted to return to contact training until Stage E. The governing body added that the roadmap focuses solely on on-field matters and does not yet cover, for example, the reopening of clubhouses, which are subject to separate government advice and guidance.
As it stands, those guidelines dictate that clubs can only open indoor facilities to allow access through the building to pitches, to toilets, and to a facility for the serving of takeaway food and drinks.
Neither Sweeney nor Grainger could provide a timescale for when they expect English rugby to have moved through all six phases. Grainger outlined three potential dates for the resumption of community rugby: the usual September start of the season or late October, early November; or even January 2021, which he described as the “pessimistic” option. Once again as clear as mud, but at least it is progress.
Despite the fact that clubs lost the lucrative end of season income together with being unable to train or play since mid-March, Steve Grainger was convinced that there is no “immediate crisis in the community”. I suspect that is an opinion many might challenge. He went on to say “There is a clear inability for clubs to raise funds over the summer period that they often would – beer festivals, end-of-season dinners… and other fund-raising activities. That’s becoming a major concern for many of them.” Too true Mr Granger.
There is more encouragement in Grangers stated priorities “Our ongoing work at the moment is looking at three key areas: first, how we might look at returning to league rugby next season; secondly, alternative options for if we do not start the league programme according to plan, in order to keep players engaged and connected with their clubs; and thirdly, helping clubs to reopen safely, to take back their pivotal place in the community, and to bring in much-needed revenue. But we have to be guided by the Government and medical advice.”
Much of course hinges on the all-important ‘R-Factor’ and the potential for a second spike. If all goes well however it is conceivable that we could be playing competitive rugby at Brickfields in September. Let us all stay positive, remain ‘alert’ and hope for the best. In any eventuality, we will be covering all the bases here at Albi HQ.
Legendary NBL coach, John Wooden famously said; “The main ingredients of stardom are the rest of the team.” I feel sure we all have empathy with that as far as our players are concerned. A rugby club, however, is a multifaceted organisation with several ‘Teams’ contributing to the success of the club.
I would like to take this opportunity to remind you of some key members of our Albi backroom team who give their all to the success and progress of ‘OUR CLUB.’
All voluntary members who stayed firm and loyal when we were at our lowest ebb.
Dave Venables – Former club captain and club owner. A successful businessman who stepped in with ‘significant’ cash to rescue the club from impending insolvency in 2016. Dave is frustrated by the way ‘His’ club fell into decline and is driving the initiative to ‘Make Albion Great Again.’
Alison Hannaford – Albi Chairperson. From Totnes, Ali a self-made entrepreneur runs an extremely successful frozen food business, she came in at the darkest time and has applied a steady hand. Her calm demeanour has been of great help in these testing times.
Graham Hannaford – Club NCA Rep. Vastly experienced and very much on the ball with RFU protocols. Graham will be working hard to ensure we jump through all of the RFU hoops as and when the season gets back on track
Nigel Sparrow – Director of rugby, A former player and coach. A strong character with over 30 years’ service to the club. A Welshman with rugby in his blood, highly respected and well thought of locally.
Kev Norris – Community Director – A former player keen for the club to consolidate and progress. Another strong character, a safe pair of hands and a good man to have in our team.
Ellie Venables – FD and Joint MD – It is more than a family affair with Ellie running day to day functions and club administration.
Liz Venables – The glue that keeps us all together – mum is receptionist, chief executive, bar staff, shop manager and everything in between, mum has ensured that I’m on an even tack at the most challenging of times
Damian Welch – Head coach – Our new man at the head of playing affairs. Already an RFU Grade 2 Coach with an illustrious 13-year elite level playing career to his credit. Young and ambitious to build his coaching career and Albi club fortunes. A great addition to the team.
James Bish – Strength and conditioning. Owner of Plymouth CrossFit, James is right at the cutting edge of fitness and human performance. He knows where the players need to be and has the knowledge, drive and experience to take them onto the next level. Another great addition to the team.
Mark Mears – Medical supremo. Mark has been in the position for one year and is both excited and highly motivated to improve, grow and develop Albi’s injury treatment, medical support and rehab. He has been of immense help over the last few weeks ensuring we satisfy the ever-changing guidelines to ensure the players are safe as can be
Simon Arthurs – Financial advisor – Head of finance at Marjon and well versed in Plymouth business and politics. An experienced operator, another safe pair of hands and a great asset to have on our team.
Chris Bentley – Commercial Manager- Bentos joins us after working at Exeter Chiefs for 13 years (7 as a player and 6 in their corporate team). A director of Smithkin Baker Marketing Consultants, Bentos is also active as a raconteur on the after-dinner circuit and another great addition to our team
The Albion supporters club – headed up by the formidable duo of Peter Harrison and Ann Prue their support of the team on the field has been matched with their support of the club as a whole off the field.
Willie, Penny, Pepper – The office wouldn’t be complete without my whippet and Ellies two boxers!
Somebody once said; ‘’When you don’t have a problem, you don’t have a job”. Since taking over in the hot seat at Albion, I have certainly had a few ‘problems’ to solve. Looking around today, I believe I am in the right place, at the right time and surrounded by the right team to Make Albion Great Again.