An Insight into Exeter Chiefs Rugby - Part 1
Now that we have our own Supporters’ web-site, we thought it would be of interest to Members of the Supporters’ Club to have an insight into the running of the club. So who better to start with than our Chief Executive and Chairman, Tony Rowe.
To open our discussion we referred to the passionate, loyal and noisy supporters here at Exeter Chiefs, and asked what effect it had on the players and the club as a whole.
“Well, on the players for instance. I think they seem to grow in stature, in fact they have said this to me. Then there is the chanting; people ask me where it came from, but it hasn’t been here forever. When we first moved here we were very quiet, but the moment I heard the chant a few years ago, I thought that’s good. Our support has grown on match days over the last 3 - 4 seasons , because it is Exeter and the players feel it is their home.. ..there is no mistaking this is their home. The players are very much in touch with what it’s all about. It’s not just on the field, it’s off the field as well.”
When asked about the role of the Supporters within the club he felt that it was very important to the players to have that support no matter where they played.
“It is important to have Exeter people there, whether there is one guy chanting or one guy shouting “Come on Exeter”, they hear that. It’s very important to them . I’ve asked the board that there should be a board member present at every game, anywhere. I’ve done that because the guys notice and they notice the supporters. Going away last year, as we did to Montpellier, was fantastic. The lads couldn’t believe how many supporters had made their way over there. It’s only going to get better.”
Did he feel then that having an official Supporters’ Club was an asset?
“Yes I do. I think the Supporters Club is great, I am a member myself. All the board are members. There’s stuff that you guys do, that we as a professional organisation haven’t got the time or resources to do. As a professional rugby club here, everybody is employed and it all costs money. We organise the buses because if somebody gets that wrong there is a big problem. So as a club, from our point of view we want to make the booking of a coach simple and easy so we do that. What we can’t do is the bits that you guys do, when the people are on the bus, quizzes, looking after them and giving them a good day out. It is lovely now, in the professional era , that we have the Supporters’ club who rally around to put on events, I think it’s great. “
Knowing that the Supporters’ club is always trying to develop is there anything he felt that we could do? In which direction did he feel we could be going?
“I think that you supporters should be going out there and organising the away game accommodation. I think there is a big hole at the moment.” From the club’s point of view, if there is one thing they felt the Supporters’ Club should be doing, it is sorting the away travel. “Other clubs have that. Commercially in Exeter, I’m getting really positive feedback; you know, when we play the likes of Gloucester all the hotel bookings go whoosh! Clubs like Leicester, these guys are old hands, they’ve been doing it for years. They say, “Let’s go to sunny Devon for the weekend “.
As the Supporters’ Club has raised over £25,000 for all sections of Exeter Chiefs and recently provided testing benches for the Academy, how vital did he think the Academy was to rugby in the South West and possibly nationally?
“Very, very, very.” He went on to give a detailed structure of the Academy which will be the subject of a later article. However, he also explained the social responsibility the club has to the Academy players. “We have very much a social responsibility to these boys. Not only do we try to get them into the England set-up and play for their country, but we have a responsibility to educate them as well. In rugby, you know, their career could be over tomorrow and it’s our responsibility and we have to make sure they have another qualification after rugby. The importance of the academy is that at the moment we have only a couple of home grown lads, Richie and Ben. Although Ben is not quite home grown, he’s just up the motorway. What will actually happen with these boys coming through is that hopefully in the future we’ll have loads of home grown boys. Wouldn’t it be good if we had a premiership team with the majority of Westcountry lads? Those 6 under -18 boys of ours in Australia, we’re hoping will get picked for the England under -20 squad next season”.
With the Chiefs Community work thriving, did he see this as a positive reflection on the club as a whole?
“Definitely, as a club we have a duty of social responsibility. The club’s main sponsor, South West Communications Group, has just provided three vans in the club colours for the community so we have these guys, Tony Walker, Keith Fleming, Marc Dibble, Dom Caton, Drew Meakin and Lewis Webb out in the community every day. Keiron manages the Foundation’s match day collections with the 17 – 18 charities which were selected , of which 14 -15 were working with the Exeter Chiefs previously. Basically the more hours they put in the more money the charities get. They have raised over £70,000 so far.
Now the Express and Echo is changing from a daily to a weekly paper, how did he feel this could impact on publicity for the Chiefs, and for the Chiefs Foundation?
It’s disappointing as previously we have used the E&E as our notice board but we have been assured that in the new weekly paper Exeter Chiefs will have at least 5 pages every week. We have also employed Pinnacle Photo Agency which will guarantee us plenty of excellent photographs.”
Match days are now a much bigger operation than before. Had that caused the club major headaches re stewarding, health and safety etc?
“The organisation of stewards on match days are the responsibility of Keiron. We are lucky to have carried over a lot of stewards from the County Ground and the new ones are being trained to GNVQ level; our stewards are very good. Last Saturday (Scarlets) we had 70 stewards on duty. Obviously the safety requirement goes back to the Hillsborough days, which is quite right.”
Could he give an insight into the issue of parking and traffic?
“A nightmare. We can’t win. Planners wanted to minimise on- site parking. Originally there were three Park& Ride sites designated, Crealy, Westpoint and Matford. We decided Matford was not really any good because it was out of our area ..... and then the Green Lobby said that it was not really environmentally friendly to have coaches travelling up and back from the car/coach parks to the stadium so we can’t win!” When the capacity was 5,500 they had 144 spaces, but now with twice the capacity the Rugby Club have had to designate the top section of the car park for drop off to prevent tail-backs out onto the road. “The TV companies need at least a third of the car park for their vehicles and remember that there are TV cameras at every game now and more match officials mean extra spaces being used up so we have to rent land for the players to park.”
Having matches televised undoubtedly causes more congestion with the amount of vehicles here, but also with match times. How difficult has that been for the club?
“TV dictates when the games are played. I have tried to get them on a Saturday at 3pm but TV has the final word. For Europe, the Amlin games could be played any day from Thursday to Sunday and Premiership any day from Friday to Sunday, and at almost any time.... the only requirement is that the TV companies give the clubs a minimum of 6 weeks’ notice. “
With the need to increase the size of the stadium to be able to compete fully in Europe and also to generate more income, did he think that Exeter Chiefs would still be able to retain that friendly feel as a club?
“Definitely. You know what it feels like now. When it is a 20,000-seater stadium, enclosed like a bowl it will have an even better atmosphere” and he urged Exeter Rugby Club Members to attend the next Members’ Forum on Monday 19th September at 7.30pm at Sandy Park for more information.
Other clubs and teams have frequently remarked on the work ethic of Exeter Chiefs as a rugby team; it is evident that this is carried out by all the staff here so did he think that is why this club is doing so well?
“Undoubtedly. The work that Rob and Paddy have done is exceptional. “
Obviously to have reached this goal has taken a huge amount of work from everybody concerned. How big a change was it from Championship to Premiership in the day-to-day running of the club?
“Very little, you’d be surprised. Contrary to what the media said, we were ready. We already had a 5 year plan in the Championship, we knew what we had to do when we built Sandy Park to the premiership standard and now we have a 7 year rolling plan, so actually we’re getting more money to do the same thing. We have more people coming through the gates so we can buy better players, but we have had to increase the office staff by only one. So, not a massive change because we already had the systems in place. In any business you can see what is coming around the corner, good or bad, and you have to be prepared for it”.
Now that we are into our 2nd season in the Premiership, did he look back in amazement at what the Club had achieved?
“Ah yes, that’s the other side of it. When you get the draw for this season and you see Leicester, Newcastle, Bath, you have to pinch yourself, to remind yourself that you are actually there. It’s fantastic. Also from a Supporter’s point of view, what I’m really pleased about, is the way that they conduct themselves. Our Supporters are held in high respect by other premiership clubs already, which is nice. They behave themselves. They’re very noisy, they’re very rugby knowledgeable but very respectful. I haven’t had one premiership club make one derogatory comment about any of our supporters. That is a credit to our supporters.”
Personally, what had been the highlight for him over the past twelve months?
“Winning the Championship, no doubt, but that’s gone now. That trophy out in the cabinet, I’ve paid for that, I’ve given it to the club. It will never come here again, because we won’t be going back down there. In the last twelve months? That’s tough. I think probably, the highlight for me was the Aviva Premiership dinner in London and seeing the likes of Tommy Hayes getting his award, and Tom Johnson, and also I think Robert should have got something, and I’m not on my own in thinking that. To me, those guys have worked really hard; I can do everything in my power here but I can’t go out there and win the game. Unless they win the game, everything I do off the pitch I might as well not bother, had I? What drives me on and all my staff is the team. There are very few premiership clubs where the staff go away and follow the team. My team, this bit of it, will always be driven by Robert’s team.”