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A new nadir reached

Saturday 7th April 2018: Aviva Premiership Round 19: Harlequins v London Irish at the Stoop, kick off 3.00pm: Result – Harlequins 5 (0 league points) London Irish 35 (5 league points, 4 for for the win and 1 four-try bonus point): League positions – Harlequins 9th of 12 on 36 points, London Irish 12th of 12 on 22 points.

Let’s get straight to the point:

I have zero to report to my Rust readers about this match – I didn’t attend it, it wasn’t being televised, I was busy doing other things and, to be completely frank, could barely be bothered to find out the result after I had registered that the time for the final whistle had passed.

Mind you, it did shock me considerably when I heard the news!

For the record, London Irish – freshly promoted from the Championship at the beginning of this season – have been anchored at the bottom of the Premiership for most of it and had so far won but three league matches all term. Two of those victories have been achieved at our expense, their all-time biggest arch-rivals. So what does that say about Quins?

From a field of not a few, 2017/2018 has quite possibly been the most depressing season ever in my time as a Harlequins club member, season ticket holder and fan.

The club is currently a disaster zone and has lost its soul. According to a recent article in The Times, in its last lodged accounts, it had lost the best part of £3 million.

Over the past decade those in charge seem to have gradually contrived to phase out everyone in the organisation who (to use the tired old ‘stick of Blackpool rock’ analogy) ever had ‘the spirit of rugby union’ running through their core.

And then replaced them with a series of C-lister-standard executives who –  whilst no doubt being fans of rugby and/or Quins, well-intentioned and notionally intelligent – suffer from a terminal lack of vision, thrust, charisma and sheer bloody common sense.

As a prospective career-path, sport is a bit like the media. If you ever stopped 100 people in the street – irrespective of intelligence, drive or ability – and offered them a job in either, you could bet your house that 95% would respond “Yes please!”

Even if they’re former rugby players – whether their expertise be in law, accountancy, PR, marketing, human resources, catering, event management, real estate, corporate management, coaching or [add your own further nominations here] – that doesn’t mean they’re going to the best at what they do. Given the fact that even supposedly elite Premiership clubs can only afford minimal salaries for their staff, they tend to attract kids and/or only averagely-talented candidates.

In an ideal world you need to apply a quality-control filter. Arguably, it is better to have just two or three top quality people than twenty or thirty mediocre time-servers, however enthusiastic and keen.

Of course, as with politicians, the club’s management can all spout stirring platitudes direct from the marketing textbook by the yard.

Harlequins is one of the most widely-recognised and positive rugby brands in the world, partly because of its illustrious 150-year history.

I’m not picking on him specifically, but in his time David Ellis (our current CEO), a pleasant enough fellow with (so far as I am aware) no previous career rugby experience, has taken to the airwaves to offer details of the club’s plans to become a dominant worldwide force in rugby union by expanding into North America and other new emerging markets and (separately) build a brand new 25,000 seater stadium.

This all sounds great but comes against a background in which – from the heady heights of winning the Premiership (and other competitions besides) in 2011/2012 with a brilliant squad mixing seasoned mercenaries with quality youngsters developed in-house together playing wonderfully-entertaining, free-flowing rugby – the club has been on a depressing slide down the Premiership table ever since that is now gaining long-term momentum.

The problem?

The club has (to coin an appropriate phrase) ‘taken its eye off the ball’.

With any sports club, particularly an elite one, success begins and ends with what happens on the field of play.  Yes, that sounds patently obvious – but it’s true.

At the end of the 2004/2005 season Quins got relegated from the Premiership. Afterwards the then CEO Mark Evans admitted that they’d got their priorities wrong – they were so consumed with building a vast brand new South Stand to the Stoop, the better to both accommodate new fans and reach the minimum 15,000 crowd capacity required for a club to host European rugby, that they forgot about the rugby itself, assuming that there was no way on earth that they’d be risking ‘the drop’.

The issue with Quins’ playing side of things is that – after Conor O’Shea disappeared off to become head coach of Italy – for whatever reasons, instead of replacing him with a proven world class coach [whatever that might have cost] they opted instead to appoint long-time in-house club stalwart John Kingston together with a coaching structure and line-up that basically hadn’t changed in seven or eight years. And have since been renewing their contracts whilst also hiring some veteran recently-retired players to assist.

Big mistake. Quins now need an urgent player and coaching staff clear-out and instead get in a world class director of rugby to begin a rapid complete re-boot of everything.

At the moment the Quins fans’ chat-rooms don’t make pleasant reading. There are a lot of very disgruntled people about because they’ve been belly-aching about these issues for three and more seasons and nothing has been done.

If one didn’t know better, one would think that the club’s ‘powers that be’ either don’t have a clue and/or don’t actually care. It’s got to be one or the other.


About Derek Williams

A recently-retired actuary, the long-suffering Derek has been a Quins fan for the best part of three decades. More Posts