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Archive for November, 2011

Fred Karno is still in town

November 29, 2011 Leave a comment

I don`t know if Frederick John Westcott was a rugby fan but hailing from Exeter there is always a chance that he may have watched a game when not building his empire as a theatre impresario.

But the man better known by his stage name of Fred Karno would have no doubt found his troop of performers perfectly at home wintering this year within the walls of the Twickenham Playhouse.

The crisis facing the RFU is still so great that even one of Cornwall`s finest, former England skipper Phil Vickery, has been moved to put down his pots and pans and call for the head of Rob Andrew – the elite director of rugby.

This week will see further board meetings as the ruling classes of the English game manoeuvre and procrastinate, treading water, wasting time and hoping that somebody breaks ranks, takes the blame for all the many wrongs at the top level, and offers themselves up as a sacrifice for the biggest custard pie gag of all time.

We have already seen Martin Johnson and Brian Smith depart from the England national team but what has changed in the wake of that? Erm, nothing.

Mike Tindall has had his fine for the costliest round of drinks ever cut on appeal and he has been re-instated to the elite player squad, which simply shows that when the RFU do try to act tough they still cock it up.

I don`t expect Rob Andrew to quit in a hurry but as the RFU waste more money on trying to find the whistleblower who leaked the confidential report which sent the game into meltdown, I think they have missed a huge PR opportunity.

As Brian Moore argued in The Telegraph this week the “little people” within the game who do so much for so little return in order to keep their clubs at all levels of the league pyramid functioning, have largely lost respect for the ruling elite. These people, the backbone of this sport, feel that they have nothing in common with them, are not listened to when they voice opinions from the grassroots level of the game, and are now seriously considering their willingness to spend large amounts of money supporting the national team.

Andrew and the RFU board could have come out of the board room with all guns blazing admitting that they had problems and were now going to address them at all levels in a blaze of media spin and headlines which would have deflected so much negative attention.

A pro-active hunt for a new head coach of England, affordable tickets for big internationals for all true fans, proper funding for clubs below Level 1, a sponsor for the Championship and the introduction of a new national knock-out cup at the expense of the ridiculous LV=Cup white elephant are all just some of the things that the little people want.

What we got instead was more sickening inaction as Andrew admitted that English rugby had hit rock bottom. Twenty-four hours later the New Zealand hotel worker allegedly harrassed by several England players at the World Cup gave Andrew a further boot in the nadgers with the reported suggestion that members of the England coaching team had tried to silence her.

In short England rugby is run with all the foresight and efficiency of an EU member state.

Now we are at a point somewhere below rock bottom, and who would have expected that post RWC 2003, and still nothing is happening in the corridors of power.

Maybe back in the heady days of the Empire the very word “England” would have conjured up fear and respect amongst those natives of other rugby playing countries. Now they just laugh and you cannot blame the failings of the last World Cup solely on the players. Wales have some party animals supreme within their ranks and look how far they went without self destructing.

Change must be made at the top of English rugby before it is too late. Too late isn`t very far away anymore and doing nothing really isn`t an option. Failing to move with the times ultimately killed Fred Karno`s Circus and the biggest Circus in south-west London is right now heading in the same direction.

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Graham Dawe – The end of an era

November 22, 2011 Leave a comment

The sacking of coaches mid-season in rugby is still mercifully a relatively rare pastime in the boardrooms of clubs up and down the country.

So the news that Plymouth Albion had yesterday dispensed with the services of their Chairman of Rugby Graham Dawe came with some disappointment to me. 

The news first broke just before kick-off at the Memorial Ground on Sunday but despite some frantic investigation in the minutes before Bristol got underway against the Cornish Pirates nothing conclusive emerged until later that night. And then yesterday morning Albion confirmed his dismissal.

After 12 years at the helm it was inevitable that Dawe would go eventually and with every passing close season the speculation grew as to when he would step aside. He took over the coaching duties at Albion in 1999 making his debut for the club against Norwich and not only built a formidable team on the pitch but oversaw the move from Beacon Park to Brickfields off it.

Under Dawe Albion arrived at Level 2 at the end of the 2001-02 season where they have stayed ever since but after finishing 3rd in National One at the end of the 2004-05 season have been on the slide in terms of league finishes ever since. The first ever Championship season saw Albion come in 8th but last year they were consigned to the relegation play-off pool after coming in 10th and only survived the drop because Birmingham & Solihull were a far worse side.

It has been reported that the finances of the playing budget have been increasingly tight in recent season but Dawe has always managed to get the best out of whatever players he has been given and has produced more than his fair share of talent.

Martin Schusterman, Dan Ward-Smith, Will James, Martin Rice, Nic Sestaret, Danny Thomas and Nic Rouse are just a few of the names who have gone onto the Premiership and in some cases international rugby with others such as Harlequins centre Matt Hopper making their breakthrough into the top flight after a season honing skills elsewhere.

Richard Graham Reed Dawe has always been a figure that many Cornish rugby fans have loved to hate. It hasn`t been anything malicious but rather a relationship born out of huge respect for the five times capped England hooker who played for Launceston and Cornwall before going on to Albion and then torment the County side through his later involvement with Devon.

He held the proverbial Indian sign over the Cornish Pirates who always struggled to cope with Albion`s strong forwards based game and went nearly four seasons without a success at Brickfields. But the arrival of Chris Stirling and a different coaching mentality in Cornwall finally helped to unlock the Albion hoodoo although it wasn`t easy.

The success that Pirates fans had craved against Dawe`s troops finally came in a 13-9 win in the British & Irish Cup in February 2010 although Albion would gain their revenge winning at home in the Championship play-offs two months later.

But it was in that Cup match that I witnessed a little cameo of Graham Dawe which for me summed up his spirit and no-nonsense approach to the game.

Deep into stoppage time at the end of the match and with the Pirates clinging on in the face of a series of mauls and scrums close to their line Dawe, a 78th minute replacement for Joe Clark, packed down against young Pirates hooker Ryan Prosser.

Referee Darren Gamage wasn`t happy and stood the front rows up again at which point it became clear that Prosser was bleeding heavily from his nose. He wiped away the blood, grinned at Dawe and moments later they collided again. This time as they were told to re-set the scrum Dawe had a bloody nose. He too grinned, shook Prosser`s hand and they carried on battling.

Plymouth Albion`s board have made their choice and I`m sure the fans will wish his successor Pete Drewett well. But rugby needs people like Graham Dawe and I hope that once the dust settles on his sacking he finds another club in Cornwall or Devon from where he can work his own brand of coaching magic.

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A bold step forward

November 18, 2011 2 comments

I think the news from County Hall in Truro yesterday afternoon was probably a little better than many of us expected as Cornwall Council granted outline planning permission on the Stadium by a majority of 14-4.

The fact that the matter has now been referred to the Secretary of State is something I expected anyway but those fourteen Councillors who backed the plan deserve credit.

There are still big debates to be had on the business plan for the venture, transport access and the linked housing development, but unless the truckload of files now on their way to Eric Pickles MP land on his desk on a particularly bad day in Westminster the early momentum of this project should be maintained. 

I tuned in to a bit of the online debate yesterday but my attention began to wane by some of the woolly-headed arguments offered to potentially derail the planning application.

What I did learn was that Truro clearly has an airfield of immense standing a couple of miles from the Stadium location even if several of my Cornish born and bred friends had never heard of it. Perhaps next time I`m in polite company I might enquire as to who is flying up to Truro for the weekend.

If you can land large transport planes in jungle clearings then a concrete arena down the road is hardly going to upset the Cessna-jockies is it? And if they think that is difficult perhaps some old footage of plonking a 747 down on the track at Hong Kong`s old Kai Tak airport might give them some persepctive. I would pay good money for that experience again.

First Great Western seemed to have an unspecified issue with the project which I never did get to the bottom of although it did seem odd that a major transport provider should be concerned by the whole Stadium venture.

Then we had a suggestion that in keeping with green issues people should be discouraged from using their cars to travel to the Stadium. Erm, excuse me Councillor, but when was the last time you tries to get anywhere by public transport?

After that there was a real show-stopper which suggested that building the Stadium on the outskirts of Truro would be detrimental to the economy of the city as it would take business away from the centre. Now Threemilestone is a fine place but the West End of London it is not and even the laziest taxi driver in Cornwall will have enough nous to deliver visiting fans the couple of miles to the mecca of Truro city centre.

Then I glazed over and was awoken by the splash that the Cornish Pirates will temporarily relocate to Plymouth Argyle FC`s ground at Home Park should they win the Championship and get promoted this season.

It was a story I reported in the local press about three weeks ago and even then it was hardly an exclusive, but things have moved on a little more and promotion is now clearly the objective this season.

We will now enter a period of debate amongst rugby fans in Cornwall and Devon as to the legitimacy of the Pirates lodging across the Tamar for a short time and Plymouth Albion supremo Graham Dawe already seems a bit miffed by it.

But down at the Mennaye Field this morning I asked Pirates boss Chris Stirling if had received his orders to go and win the Championship. I enquired if the pressure levels had gone up a notch or two in the hours since Cornwall Council made their decision. He just grinned broadly. He didn`t need to say a word.

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Stadium for Cornwall – a big week in the Duchy

November 15, 2011 4 comments

As big weeks in Cornish rugby go this one is right up there as on Thursday Cornwall Council meet to potentially determine the fate of the whole Stadium for Cornwall project.

The recommendation from the Council`s own planning officers is that they approve the scheme although a parallel application for a mixed residential and commercial development on adjoining land may well delay any overall approval of the whole scheme.

It would also seem that amongst Cornwall`s sporting community and key business leaders there is a huge amount of support for the venture so those in power down here in the far west of England are under big pressure to make the right call here.

At a time when the global economic slowdown is hurting millions of people the reputations of politicians and their ability to make good usage of public money is being sorely tested, it has to be said that the Stadium for Cornwall is not without its critics but their arguments do seem to be limited to finances. And even then much of the negativity is non-specific or concerns the non-development of the City of Truro.

If you are not Cornish, do not live in Cornwall or have never resided here for a period of time you may not know that getting major projects to boost the whole local economy off the ground are historically nigh on impossible.

Just recently the fiasco concerning the development of Penzance harbour, the abandoned waste management facility project in mid-Cornwall, and the on-going uncertainty concerning the viability of Newquay airport have seriously tested the credibility of Cornwall Council. The Stadium project gives them the opportunity to earn a huge amount of respect from many voters and sports fans if they do the right thing.

I`m not going to bang on about the benefits to the local economy through hard cash and jobs because I think it is pretty obvious and others, far more qualified than me, have written about that already. But as a pure and simple sports fan the need for a Stadium (and remember we don`t have one here right now) is a no-brainer.

Build it, market it properly, stringently administer a strict business model for its long term viability and we may be lucky enough to see teams like the Cornish Pirates playing Premiership and European rugby on Cornish soil very soon.

Reject it and the future for the game in this part of the country will be bleaker than a stormy winter night on Bodmin Moor.

It`s over to you, leaders of Cornwall.

Read more here www.stadiumforcornwall.org

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