The Gloucester Fans Forum
What a great idea: a face-to-face forum for fans – an opportunity to give the management team a bit of a going-over with pertinent and hard-hitting questions. Trouble is, there was so much I wanted to ask and so my one question would have to be a cracker.
How about: ‘What the blooming hell’s going on, then?’
Yes, that’s the baby. I would stare at them, unflinchingly: ‘Pick the bones out of that,’ my eyes would say.
I never got to ask it, of course – I couldn’t quite muster the courage – but I got the feeling Nigel Davies, Ryan Walkinshaw, Stephen Vaughn and Paddy Anson were more than happy to discuss the season, warts and all, in as much detail as we wanted.
Paddy Anson is our fitness and conditioning supremo and he talked very confidently, explaining the wizzy things he does with the electronic gadgetry that all rugby players get harnessed to – there is no hiding place for the professional rugby player, these days.
He conceded that although he has all the hard data regarding every ounce of energy the team is expending during a match, substitutions are always the coach’s call. His job was more about preparation for the match and analysis after it. The coach knows best, he says. He even admitted that he would always take a good losing performance over an ugly win.
He might be on his own there.
Interestingly, he pinched a question that should have been aimed at Nigel: ‘Mine!’ he shouted as the question floated towards the foursome. ‘Why did the forwards walk to the lineouts?’ ‘Ah,’ he said. ‘To get the call right – not because they are tired.’
Trouble is, I don’t think anyone in the room was suggesting that he’d done such a bad job that our cherry and white heroes are too knackered to get quickly to the lineouts. It’s just that your average supporter wants the forwards to march up to their positions snarling and slavering. The ponderous Sunday afternoon slouch sends all the wrong signals. What happens is this:
Ball kicked into touch. Our lineout. Forwards meander to the position indicated by the touch judge (or whatever politically correct name he’s called now … or she, of course). Five yards out, said forwards huddle together, form a committee and appoint a spokesperson, and decide the call. After all objections and any other business have been settled they unhurriedly make their way to the lineout position, by which time, the opposing team are growing impatient and making get-a-bloody-move-on comments to the referee.
Now, I can almost understand the huddle – you’ve got to be clear about the call, after all. But why, in the name of Castle Grim do we have to meander, oh so slowly, up to the mark? Are we hoping, perhaps, the opposition forwards will give up the will to live … or what?
So that was one question not answered.
The big suit was there, of course. Stephen Vaughan spoke with great passion about his club and explained some of the recent decisions. I mentioned to him that I didn’t think there was enough information coming out of the club – the upshot being that gloomy old gits like myself get it all wrong – and there was, he said, a very fine line to be trodden between telling people everything and telling people nothing. He had, evidently, tightened up on what he allowed to emanate from the club because previously Toms, Dicks and Harrys were leaking information willy-nilly; careless talk cost lives and all that.
Well that’s all very well, but the paradox is as follows: CEO, Director of Rugby, Club Chairman and Head of Strength and Conditioning all appeared on this public forum to talk openly, honestly and publically – obviously – about the present dire situation. My question, therefore, is this: if four club big-nobs can talk so informatively in a forum of this nature, why can’t press releases be equally as open. Give the fans as much you can, without compromising anything too delicate, I say.
And our Nige was able to explain a couple of situations that had previously left supporters and grumpy old gits like me scratching our heads and coming to the wrong conclusions.
Akapusi Qera, our so he informed us, threw his toys out of the pram – despite the club bending over backwards to accommodate. There were all sorts of legal and insurance reasons why he could not be allowed to play in that extra, unscheduled match for Fiji.
He also emphasised that the club didn’t ‘let Ryan Mills go’. He was seduced away by a promise of big bucks – well, bigger bucks than Gloucester was prepared to offer, anyway. The club weighed up the pros – his undoubted talent – against the cons – his history of injury – and came up with a realistic offer. The silver-tongued Dean Ryan was not so circumspect.
It’s either the lovely Welsh lilt or I’m going soft in my old age because I really enjoyed listening to our Nige – it seemed to come from the heart. I reckon this bloke cares. He admitted mistakes – naivety was one, for starters – and he’s promised change across the board. The team, he assured us, will be better next year.
The dapper Ryan Walkinshaw was there, of course, waxing lyrical about his countless business interests and, he looked our Nige straight in the eyes and threw down the gauntlet: top four next year, Nige, he said. Or else.
As promised, I cracked open a bottle of Moet et Chandon following the loss at Leicester. A losing bonus point and we’re all happy … aren’t we?
Well, no, actually. It’s all very well writing off the season and putting all your jam in next year’s basket, but what we might have achieved last Sunday with a half-decent pack is only to be dreamed about. There was barely a completed scrum and those that were incomplete – there were many – ended with a penalty or free kick against us. Leicester weren’t great and we were the better team I thought. At least our backs, with the Warrior-elect Ryan Mills in the ten position (ho-hum), are beginning to run straight and – dare I say it – threatening lines.
We could have, should have, would have, blooming well ought t’have won that bugger.