Having just served the first 10% of my maximum time as Chairman I thought it appropriate to update you all on Hoppers’ progress on various fronts.
We are all, I am sure, intensely frustrated by the lack of games. There remains a possibility of playing this season but quite what form the matches will take and when they can commence is up in the air. The possibility of playing under some sort of modified laws to minimise contact and hence virus transmission is a real possibility. While most clubs were not in favour of this earlier in the season it seems now sentiment is swinging towards “anything is better than nothing”.
If and when matches return we are likely at 1st XV level to be in a “cluster” of Level 5 and 6 clubs consisting of:
VALE OF LUNE
Providing they all opt in to the system which is voluntary. There will be a mini league and then possibly some sort of Cup Competition. Personally I feel that is a fixture list to whet the appetite.
The Halbro Leagues are considering how to organise matches for the other Senior Men’s Teams and one possibility advocated by John Powell will be to try and co-ordinate their clusters so that all teams at each level play the same club on the same day. Oldies like me will feel a real burst of nostalgia if that happens as it will be just like “when I were a lad”.
The RFU are organising similar clusters for the Ladies team but as not all clubs are yet enlightened enough to have Ladies teams their cluster will involve Burnley and Littleborough.
It was incredibly encouraging pre the latest lockdown to see the number of players turning out, sometimes in atrocious weather, for training sessions. These featured all teams coping with the various restrictions imposed on us by the RFU.
Of particular interest were the number of Colts training under the auspices of our DoR Gareth Dyer. I believe this was the largest number for some years. These and the Mini Juniors are the future of the Hoppers.
We are very keen to resume training as soon as it is safe and permitted.
Despite the same lack of competitive games afflicting our senior sides there have been near record numbers of Mini Juniors turning out. It has been great to see a vibrant Club on Sunday mornings and there has been mid-week training as well.
Discussions with RFU
We have been actively engaging with the RFU on the two areas of:
· More regionalisation of Leagues
· Player Salaries
Our team has been led by Gareth Dyer, Brian Hexter, Keith Aitchison and Graham Cox. They have had Zoom sessions with Bill Sweeney the RFU CEO and others of the “great and good” in the labyrinthine Twickenham hierarchy and made contact with numerous other clubs and potential movers and shakers.
On regionalisation of leagues while re-structuring has been put back to season 2022-3 it seems almost certain that Level 4 will be expanded to 3 Leagues of 14 teams rather than the present 2 of 16. What is less clear is how the makeup of these leagues will be determined and from our perspective the criteria for promotion from Level 5 where we currently reside.
The question of Players’ salaries and the imposition of a meaningful enforced lower salary cap has been low on Twickenham’s agenda and the committee with a remit to consider it, appeared to be moribund. However, assisted by Bob Reeves, a Hopper and ex-President of the RFU but sadly exiled down South, our team have managed to raise the profile of this question. We understand that a chairman has been identified who has been charged with a further review of payment of players, so our campaign appears to be gathering momentum. We believe it is essential for clubs to be encouraged to use their funds wisely to invest in the future of the game and so we continue to press for minimum qualification standards for player development, facilities and infrastructure to be eligible for promotion to and within the National leagues and we are urging other like-minded clubs to contact the RFU to share their own views.
Incidentally Bill Sweeney has indicated that when things are back to normal he hopes to visit us for a Saturday match and to stay over for a few beers and a chat with Players and Supporters.
Most of you will be aware that from a standing start we built up the Social Distance Inn and traded very successfully from July to early October. Since then we have been restricted by Tier 3 and lockdown and have not been able to open for Food and Drink.
Some permitted meetings had been taking place and were providing a contribution to our ongoing overheads.
With lockdown staff have been furloughed with some minimum working to keep the administration side of things ticking over.
We hope to be able to re-open in a limited way come December but this will depend entirely upon the rules and regulations in place then.
A large amount of work has already been achieved or is committed on the clubhouse both to improve facilities and to make essential repairs.
The sale of the land fronting Lightfoot Lane (known as “Mound”) is scheduled to go through at the end of the month and this has led to intense debate within Management Committee as to where to focus our spend of the remaining monies from the sale of the “NHS Car Park” and the “Mound” monies. The consensus view is:
· We need to conserve sufficient cash to see us through the pandemic.
· The existing men’s toilets, referees room and storage room should be replaced by Ladies, Gents and Disabled toilets with the referees re-located. This will provide the ladies with much needed additional capacity and enhance the utilisation of the north end of the clubhouse for hospitality.
· The 1/3rd Dooley, already created by the installation of a partition in the Dooley, to be made more customer friendly.
· The Goods Inward area and stairs to the Tower to be tidied up and shielded off from sight to visitors using the north car park.
· Visual improvements to be made to the south east entrance to the club and Wainwright bar.
All the above can be done and there will still be cash available. The need then is to invest in assets that will generate cash in the long term for the Club’s raison d’etre of promoting rugby. The Masterplan originally envisaged that this would be by expansion of the Wainwright bar but this has been thrown into doubt by:
· The success of the Social Distance Inn demonstrating the potential for the North West side of the Club.
· The development of the north car park and investment in the north end of the club changing the dynamic of the club layout.
· The Wainwright scheme now requiring borrowing if it is to be achieved at a standard to make it viable.
A small working party of Management Committee members is therefore being set up to consider to what extent and where we should make additional investment.
As with every club in the land these have been incredible difficult times but Hoppers are better place than most to emerge in a strong position.
This is very much due to the work of our volunteers, staff and all members who have continued paying their subs despite the pandemic. Thank you all.