I hope you are all keeping safe and well, and feeling somewhat more optimistic as we see some light at the end of the Covid tunnel.
I wanted to update you on what’s happening at our Club, both on and off the pitch, and announce an opportunity for you to join an online fans’ forum event, where you will have the chance to ask us anything that’s on your mind about our Club.
Before I get onto that, however, I have to mention the sad passing of Graham Spring last week. Springy was our stadium announcer for over 40 years – an amazing feat.
‘Legend’ is an often over-used word these days, but he truly was. For so many of us he was the voice of Kingsholm, and he will be very sadly missed.
We had a minute’s applause before our game against Exeter on Friday in his honour, but we will be making sure that you can all pay proper tribute to Graham when we are able to welcome you all back into Kingsholm at the start of next season.
The Playing Side
We’ve been saying for some time now that our strategy is to invest in our Academy, with the aim that more Gloucester Boys play for Gloucester Rugby.
The recent appointment of Carl Hogg, who starts with us this week, as Director of Academy and Development, is a significant investment and a clear statement of our intent in this area of the organisation.
Carl will not only be overseeing the Academy and other player development, but will also become part of our senior management team, ensuring we continue to have a completely joined-up approach across every part of the Club.
You will have also seen that George Skivington has been selecting more players from the Academy as part of his Gallagher Premiership and Heineken Champions Cup match day squads. Inevitably this has been a learning curve for some of those players, but it’s been great to see how they’ve been developing as they get more game time.
This is starting to produce dividends in terms of contributing to our improving results this season, but we’re all very excited about what having youngsters with this kind of experience is going to mean over the next couple of seasons.
We had six players away on international duty over the Six Nations, and it was great to see them performing so well on that stage. But it will also be even better to have them back and available for Gloucester Rugby again. We saw Jonny May and Louis Rees-Zammit feature in our bonus point win over Exeter last weekend, and Alex Craig, Chris Harris, Giorgi Kveseladze and Stephen Varney will also now be available for selection going forward.
With a combination of players coming through the Academy, the senior players we already have, and those we have recruited, we are looking forward to an exciting future. You will have seen that a number of our players have recently signed extended contracts, including Santi Socino today, so the players we have are clearly looking forward to an exciting future here too. Keep your eyes peeled on our SoMe channels tomorrow afternoon for more good news.
We do believe, however, that there are still one or two positions where we can further strengthen our squad, and we are focusing our recruitment activity on those positions.
It’s still a very intense season through to June, with games every weekend. In the Premiership we’re starting to get the results we feel the work everyone has been putting in deserves. For the next couple of weeks, however, our focus turns to the Champions Cup.
We drew La Rochelle, who we play at Kingsholm on Friday, in the first knockout round, and should we be successful in that game then we will face the winners of the game between Scarlets and Sale in the quarter final. That game would also be at Kingsholm.
It’s such a shame that we won’t be able to have you there cheering the team on for those games; even with only 2,000 fans in it made a huge difference in our last Champions Cup game, against Ulster.
The good news, however, is that we do hope to be able to welcome 4,000 fans back into Kingsholm for our home games against London Irish and Bath in May and June. We expect a return to normal crowds for the start of next season.
The Commercial Side
There’s no doubt that the last twelve months have been incredibly financially challenging for the Club, and, we know, for many other organisations.
I do want to take this opportunity to thank all the sponsors and business partners who have stood by us through these difficulties. Their support has been amazing, and hugely appreciated.
The further good news is that thanks to a Government loan, in the form of the Sports Winter Survival Package (SWSP), we are now sure of our survival. I must give a mention here to our local MP, Richard Graham, who worked tirelessly on our behalf to get the SWSP through Parliament, for which we are very grateful.
That does not mean, however, that our financial challenges are over.
The SWSP support is in the form of a loan, and we will have to repay that loan over the coming years.
In order to manage this additional financial burden we have been working tirelessly over the last twelve months to make sure that we can provide the experiences at Kingsholm, both on matchdays and non-matchdays, that mean that you have an even better time, and that you want to come to matches and other events more often and stay for longer.
Firstly, you will, I’m sure, be glad to hear that we are in the process of installing a new PA system. This is now linked to our state-of-the-art stadium Wi-Fi, and should mean that it’s much easier to hear announcements throughout the ground.
Secondly, we have put a lot of work into making sure that we can serve your drinks more efficiently, so there will be shorter queues and more options to purchase drinks from wherever you are in the stadium. We’ll be letting you know full details shortly.
We’ve also made the decision to bring our catering in-house. I’d like to thank Steve Bussey and his Winslow Brown team for the years of great service they’ve given the Club, and wish them all the best for the future.
Bringing our catering in-house will mean that we can increase the choice of food we can offer on both matchdays and non-matchdays, and offer lunches, dinners and other events much more regularly.
These changes have meant that we have been able to review our hospitality offerings, so that there is a hospitality experience for just about everyone. We will be revealing full details shortly.
We have also set up the Gloucester Rugby Business Club. This is a network of local businesses who are supporting our Club, and we would ask that you support them in return.
If you are involved in a business and would like to join the Business Club please email Tom Adams. It’s normally £99 per month to be a member, but if your business has been affected by Covid-19 then it’s free for six months. We’re trying to do our bit to help our community and local economy recover from the effects of the lockdown.
All of these plans are aimed at giving you an even better experience in being part of our Club. We can’t wait to welcome you back to Kingsholm so that you can enjoy these experiences yourself.
New Training Ground
The other major project we’ve been working on is our new training facility.
Our plans are now almost finalised, but unfortunately it has taken slightly longer than anticipated to get the legal documentation sorted out, so I’m unable to give you any more details just yet.
We do expect to be able to make an announcement before the end of April.
When things return to normal we plan to hold fans’ forums about every quarter at Kingsholm. While we are all still socially distancing, however, we’re going to hold a forum via Zoom.
This is going to take place on the evening of April 14th, and you will receive an invitation via email shortly.
We’re building an exciting squad at our Club, featuring a mix of experience and an increasing number of players coming through our Academy. Our aim is to challenge for a top four place. Once we’re there, let’s see what comes next.
You, our fans, have always been a huge part of our Club, and that will be the case more than ever once we’re able to welcome you back to Kingsholm. We hope you’ll not only come on matchdays, but on other days too for the events we will be putting on.
Together, we are a squad of thousands.