A Rugby Life

A Rugby Volunteer's Blog

Ask not what your club can do for you…..

money_changing_handsBrian Moore’s article in the Daily Telegraph on 2 January about the paying of players at community rugby clubs struck a chord with many of us involved in the game (click here to read the article). A couple of committee men from local clubs have emailed me about it prompting me to put pen to paper, or rather fingers to keyboard.

It is worth having a read of the article before continuing but in brief Brian Moore is warning of the dangers of paying players at clubs at Level 5 and below, although his assertion that this is in part to blame for the fewer number of players in the game is probably not correct.  But he is right when he says that when a club starts to pay players it is likely to end badly, with players becoming mercenary and volunteers questioning why they do what they do for nothing. 

The key phrase for me is, ‘If these players were really that good they would be playing in the top four divisions already.  They do not deserve to be paid because they are actually not very good’.

In Eastern Counties we only have one club, Cambridge, that openly pays its players. A couple of seasons ago North Walsham playing at Level 4 declared that it was turning professional but that has probably changed now that they play two divisions lower. Other than these two I do not know of any clubs in Eastern Counties that have paid their players.

But we all suspect it happens.

There is a lot of coyness amongst some clubs when they are asked if they pay players, but then that depends on what your definition of payment is. Players not having to pay a membership subscription or match fees probably wouldn’t be regarded as payment, nor would travel expenses to away games. Expenses for travelling to training and home games for those coming from some distance away would probably seem reasonable to most people although HMRC have a different view.

There are many examples of players being found jobs and accommodation as part of a move to a club, often from overseas, but as long as they remain available to the player when he has stopped playing then that is acceptable in my view.

Most of us would refer to paying players as their getting an amount of money to play a game for a club, probably paid in cash in the bar afterwards which is virtually untraceable by HMRC, particularly when paid direct by a sponsor or individual club member.

What is worrying is that this is happening at the lower end of the league structure.

I know of a Level 6 club in Essex that pays its players £50 per game. With a squad of 18 that is £900 per match and almost £20,000 for a league season. This is all declared and is all above board although I can’t help thinking that that money could be so much better spent developing the game locally.  However, I was talking to a player who who told me that he no longer plays for the North East Essex club he had been at for years as he was receiving ‘benefits’, including cash in hand, for playing for a Level 8 club inside the M25. He also said that as soon as the benefits aren’t there he will be off.

Paying players at levels 5 and below just isn’t sustainable. Rugby isn’t a profit-making business and clubs rely on the philanthropy and generosity of sponsors and the goodwill of volunteers. 80% of Eastern Counties clubs have youth or mini sections, but what message is being sent to their 17-19 year olds when their club would prefer to import a player rather than use its home-grown talent in the first team? It’s easy to see why a player overlooked in this way would walk away from the club and the game.

And why do clubs feel the need to tempt players with perks and benefits? It is all about league status, gaining promotion or avoiding relegation. Of course players want to win and clubs want to be successful, but do it on your own merits and don’t buy promotion. League status means little to those outside the game locally and a good example of this was when Colchester plummeted from level 6 in 1996 to level 10 in 1999.

There was a lot of angst and woe at the time but what followed were some of the club’s most successful seasons. The First XV started winning every week and people wanted to be part of it. The club fielded five sides for the first time in a while and the pre-match lunches were oversubscribed. The local press featured Colchester prominently every week ignoring neighbouring clubs that played at higher levels. No-one cared that they played almost at the bottom of the league structure; what they saw was a vibrant club that believed in the players it had developed in their youth section, giving them their opportunity in the senior sides.

People play rugby because they enjoy it and only a very, very few will ever make a living from playing or coaching. If clubs in Eastern Counties that offer perks or money to players suddenly stopped doing so would the player stop playing? Unlikely. When Cambridge slashed their playing budget following their much-publicised financial problems last season, the players stuck by them and played not for money but for the the love of the game and loyalty to their club, finishing in the top three.

Whether or not the RFU decide to outlaw professionalism at Level 5 and below, clubs must see that this is the only way forward long-term. Ultimately it is club committees that allow their players to be paid, and it is those committee members that have the moral obligation to stop rugby going down the route of football and keep our game at grass-roots fully amateur.


8 responses to “Ask not what your club can do for you…..

  1. Martin Pratley 4 January 2012 at 10:28 pm

    Spot on!


  2. Ian. 5 January 2012 at 9:45 am

    Interesting piece Andrew. You make a good point about the 17 to 19 year olds too. It would be interesting to see the numbers of players moving up from youth sections to senior squads at their clubs. Obviously this is a challenging age group as University, work and other stuff start to impact into time.


  3. Shane Manning 5 January 2012 at 4:03 pm

    Very true Andrew,what I do find funny is that the clubs that do pay players but dont gain promotion.I wonder how they feel the end of every season knowing that they could have,may be,stayed in the same league with there own local players.Also there is no club spirt at clubs that pay,i.e,no one hangs around for a beer and a chat after the game,it becomes just about the money.



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  5. Paul Norton 6 January 2012 at 11:33 am

    Andrew you make some very good points as does Brian Moore in his article. You refer to the 1996-1999 period and having been part of that era, and experiencing the highs of 1996 and 1997 to the very low period which followed it, I can definately say that in my opinion paying players is divisive. As during that time there were certain Colchester players who received “rewards” for playing and some did not. Interestingly it wasn’t always the best players. This directly led to a weakening of team spirit and a reduction of the feeling that we were all in it together.

    The question is also one of sustainability. I think we all know of clubs in our locality who have paid players and that once the money runs out or moves on to another club, the clubs virtually fold or go down the leagues rapidly.

    I think it will be impossible to outlaw payment at lower levels, and to try and do so would lead to money in the boots as in Wales during the 70’s. The best way forward is to do what Colchester have done and to nuture youth players. We will then reach our ntural level based upon the skill of the players and ability of the coaches rather than trying to buy success with transient temporary money.


  6. Lee 19 January 2012 at 10:40 am

    If this was an ideal world and individuals and clubs did not have egos and ambition we could return to those great days when rugby players would not be paid and we would all be happy. I dont think so….. wake up guys we are in the era of a professional and a competetitive pathway that makes it possible to take a club from level 10 to the premiership in just over a decade. Incentives have always exsisted in the game it used to be a place at Oxbridge, a job in the city(for those that needed to work) or now a free education in return for your services on the rugby pitch and your picture in the school brochure to sell schools places to people who can afford to pay 20 k+ a year of an education. Clubs that get it right gain creditbility status and win the premiership, those that fail risk playing at level 10 or even disappearing from the game. That is the same in most professional team sports in the world. Everything in this world has a cost. If you were a GOOD level 6 rugby player struggling to make ends meet aged 22 and you could play for free, get looked, after made to feel important and get some extra pocket money each week. What would be your choice. A club with ambition and an EGO or to play with the mates you played with for the first 10 years of your playing career? More regulations would create more problems.


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