It may have literally ended up as one, but during the 8 months of the Covid-19 crisis so far, it has been far from a horror show. Here, Chairman of Macclesfield Rugby Club, Stephen Branch recounts the challenges and subsequent actions that the pandemic created.
The Macclesfield Rugby Club Family has not just survived through the Covid-19 pandemic so far, but has continued to develop and grow the Club, perhaps faster than it might have done had the status quo not been disrupted. The Executive Team has a fundamental duty to manage the Club on behalf of the Membership, but it is the engagement and involvement of the Members themselves that gets things done, and it is through the Membership that great things can be achieved. It is also important to add the significant contribution made by the Sponsors of the Club many of whom are also members. The sponsors not only provide much needed financial support but they give of their time, products, services and skills all of which play a critical role in the future development of the Club. Many of the Sponsors are fully engaged in the activities of the Club; they attend functions and events; they support their teams on Saturdays and Sundays and a good number are coaches and parents of young members at the Club.
Sponsorship is not all about the money, and getting a financial return on investment; it is also about being involved in, and contributing to, a great community enterprise that provides the sport of Rugby Union for all age groups from U6 to well over 60, within an environment where Teamwork, Respect, Enjoyment, Discipline and Sportsmanship are all core values.
The Club was effectively locked down in the middle of March with six weeks of the season to go and with every chance of the 1st XV gaining promotion to National Two, just three divisions below the Premiership. Promotion was denied the Club but preparation is underway to challenge again when rugby starts again in 2021? At the time of the lockdown the Club was sitting on about 6 weeks of cash in the bank, to meet its financial obligations.
The positivity and can-do attitude demonstrated by the Management, Members and Sponsors of the Club has been amazing and humbling. The Members got behind a call to arms to establish a crisis fund that reached its target within two weeks. The money enabled the Club to meet its obligations whilst the management team were applying for whatever external support was available. The Club’s social media went into overdrive to keep lines of communication open. The Head Coach, Andy Appleyard, was instrumental in setting up ‘MaccActive’, an on-line rugby related fitness and skills forum for all age groups, to join in, and different WhatsApp groups held video challenges and virtual rugby tours. Sponsor profiles were a regular feature on the website and virtual meetings were held. A notable success was the virtual race night organised by The long time 1st XV player Frankie Barker and 1st XV analyst Matt Coleridge. A very entertaining evening raised £3,800 for the Club funds. Frankie and Matt also set up a podcast with regular interviews with Club Members and players, including Ex player Tommy Taylor, now with Wasps and England. All this activity and more kept the finances ticking over and the playing and non-playing Members and Sponsors actively engaged in the Club.
July the 4th and relaxation of the guidelines gave the Rugby Club Family the opportunity to be even more creative. The clubhouse was still closed but food and drink could be served outdoors. General Manager, Andy Appleyard, together with volunteers, commandeered the grounds team shed and converted it into an outdoor bar; namely The Tool Shed Bar. The weather on that day was not good but the members were determined to socialize within the guidelines and came down to the Club in numbers to support the initiative. As the months have passed and the guidelines have evolved Club members have donated time, money, products and skills and have come forward with ideas that have resulted in the Club opening its very own permanent outside bar facility, The Sin Bin, complete with furniture, top cover, lighting, TV coverage and very soon heating. This facility will also be a fantastic asset during the warmer months and through the rugby season, and, but for the pandemic, might not have happened. Huge thanks to long-standing Club member and 4th team skipper Jeremy (Boz) Bostock for his donation of The Sin Bin bar.
At about the same time as the outdoor bar was being established, the Club President, Pete Harper, had the idea of creating a Petanque court on the grounds. Within a matter of weeks, Club Members had donated money, David Marchington (Marchington Stone) and John Calendar had donated materials, the area measured-up and a high specification Boules court built; that proved very popular until the Autumn chill set in. This facility is now a permanent feature at the Club and will bring pleasure to members again when the clocks go forward in 2021.
The Rugby Football Union launched its roadmap back to rugby in which it set out seven stages to return to full-contact league rugby. As the Club has progressed to the current stage D the management, players and coaches across all age groups have been determined to focus on what can be done, rather than on what they have been told they can’t do. Every step of the way this group of people has set out to do as much as possible within the government guidelines and following the RFU roadmap. The Club has been successful in the recruitment of senior players for the next season and will start with real strength-in-depth, with a very strong 1st and 2nd team squad. Phil Mason and Liz Jarret have promoted and started training for girls U13, a first for the Club. The Walking Rugby membership has increased from 6 players to over 45. The Mini/Junior section of the Club is operating fully on Sunday mornings. Senior rugby training for men and women, albeit restricted, is taking place on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Club night takes place every Thursday when the touch rugby and walking rugby players join in and the outdoor bar is open for business. The enthusiasm for playing and socialising within the guidelines is more infectious than the infection and has helped keep the Club functioning even though there has been no prospect of a return to full senior rugby before January 2021 at the earliest.
Once the Club was allowed to offer limited access to the Clubhouse an Army of Volunteers got stuck into the completion of the changing facilities in readiness for the next season. This includes added facilities for the Women and Girls and will enable the Club to host games on the main pitch prior to the 1st XV home games.
Stephen Sampson, a parent/coach from the Junior’s section of the Club, took it upon himself to turn up at the Rugby Club one Saturday morning on a tractor and cut and mulch 5 acres of land to the rear of the main pitch, that had not been managed for a number of years. With his support and enthusiasm, the Club is now working on a plan to bring the land back in to use both for playing and for holding functions and events that will bring in much needed revenue. Stephen’s enthusiasm has been infectious and he and Tristan Wood, Club Safeguarding Officer and parent/coach, have been instrumental in establishing The Roustabout Team with Club President Pete Harper. The team, complete with pink hi-vis jackets, meets every Tuesday morning, to complete general tasks around the Club, indoors and outdoors; chopping dead trees down, trimming hedges, weeding land and painting walls – it’s a fantastic effort that is making a big difference to the appearance of Priory Park.
The Club has now floated the idea of a possible extension to the Clubhouse to built, at some point in the not too distant future. Not for the sake of it, but because the extra space is needed to accommodate the growth of the Club. At ground floor level the Club needs more changing facilities in order that it can host teams on all pitches at the weekend. Upstairs, the new Spiral Lounge has proved very popular and an extension will increase venues. The Club has plans to extend its commercial offer, with space for functions, events, and business and community use through Priory Park Venue as well as extending the stand area to accommodate more spectators.
The creativity and initiative demonstrated by so many people and led by Andy Appleyard, alongside a can-do attitude, and the will to make things happen has led to the achievement of more than the Club might have achieved in normal times. And the Horror Show … the Rugby Club is hosting The Priory Park Horror over three nights this week, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Tickets are by booking online-only, and is the brainchild and creation of The General Manager and David (Wilkey) Wilkinson; supported by his fellow acting colleagues from Macclesfield Amateur Dramatic Society (MADS); two community clubs working together to bring entertainment in these strange times (Book now it’s nearly sold-out, Ed.).
The membership and sponsors have truly risen to the challenge presented by the Covid-19 pandemic and all the restrictions that have been placed on individuals, businesses and sports clubs across the country, and Macclesfield Rugby Club, will continue to work hard in readiness for a return to the Game we all love, that of Rugby Union.