The Ramblings Of An Egg Chaser

Welcome to my blog on all things rugby related, my views are my own except where the voices in my head tell me otherwise.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Why Are You An Amateur Rugby Club?

So who are you?  What defines your rugby club?

When I asked this question, to a a variety of rugby club members at around fifteen clubs between tiers 5 and 8, the most common answer was “We are an amateur club.”  This on the face of it sounds like a reasonable answer, it certainly occurs regularly in the media and in blanket RFU statements.  More interestingly it was certainly accepted as the right answer by almost everybody I spoke to but I wondered if we put that answer under a little scrutiny, does it stand up?

OK, your club is amateur, but is that really “who” the club is.  That would be like someone defining themselves entirely by producing a bank statement.  Who the club is, or in marketing speak "The clubs brand" is the club’s personality and this is made up of more than just one aspect.  In my opinion the term Amateur is just one definition of a club’s financial status and as such does not give anyone the faintest idea of what the club stands for, what its aspirations are or what its very reason for being is.  

So if being amateur as a tag is important to so many people without it actually giving an answer to the question perhaps we should look a why your club is amateur in the first place.

Why Are You An Amateur Club?

So you’re an amateur club playing mid level rugby but why are you an amateur club?  Why are you playing your (1st team) rugby at this level?  What do you offer as a rugby club?  What are your aspirations?  There are literally dozens of questions like this that all lead to one simple thing, your club’s identity or brand.  I would suggest that given the most common, seemingly incorrect, answers given What you need to clearly understand is why you are an amateur club before you go any further.

So, why is your club amateur? 

The answer isn’t “because we believe that rugby and/or this club should be amateur”. 

It seriously isn’t.

It isn’t because rugby is not an amateur sport and wishing will not make it so again. 

It isn’t because if it were, those arguing this would not watch, read about, allow the club to be a member of, or participate in any rugby that wasn’t amateur.  I have yet to meet anyone who does take that stance. 

Trying to claim that one rugby club should be amateur on some pretention of ethical or philosophical grounds whilst watching, and therefore condoning, another being professional is hypocritical at best.

Lastly it isn’t the answer because, as previously mentioned, that statement is a matter of financial status and the club should have a purpose and ethos that transcends its financial status.  Something like financial status can change over time but a club’s identity or brand should remain constant. 

A change in financial status does not = a change in ethos


A club currently playing in London League 1 who were completely amateur have recently moved into the realms of a semi-pro club. 

Their aim (their ethos and the club’s raison d’être) is to provide good standard rugby for all playing members but also to develop players and help them achieve their potential.  Due to a change in financial situation they have recently taken on two paid player/coaches (cost circa £16,000) to further this aim as they have a benefactor who has agreed to fund this. 
This change from amateur to semi-pro simply reflects a change in the clubs financial footing whilst maintaining the aims and focus of the club.

Dean Richards whilst Director Of Rugby at Harlequins insisted that ALL players buy their opposite number a drink after the match and mingled with club members in the bar.  His reasoning was that clubs could be professional without losing what it meant to be a rugby club.

The Answer

The real answer to why your club is amateur is almost always the same. 

You do not have the funding to do otherwise. 

There are various reasons for why this is the case from the obvious fact that your club is not high enough up the leagues to get that level of financial support from the RFU to club specific reasons like low attendance levels of spectators and limited paying club members. 

Obviously this can change and if the financial situation alters to an extent where the club can look at moving to a semi pro or professional footing then sit down and start this process again.  My only advice in this instance would be to protect the club’s ethos and identity and to ensure the funding is sustainable.  A sugar daddy is all well and good however it has almost lead to historic clubs like London Scottish, Richmond, Birmingham Bees and London Welsh ceasing to exist.  Recently Old Dunstonians in tier 7 have bought league survival for a single season at the detriment to the clubs finance in the long term.  Make sure that money spent, unless on capital projects, is sustainable in at least the medium term.

Why Does It Matter?

Once you truly understand why you are an amateur club you can look at what your club’s purpose or raison d’être is without the baggage of this frequently misused tag which doesn’t define your club and usually covers up the fact that you lack a coherent identity.

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