Hon Secretary report to AGM 2010

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FOR THE SEASON 2009 – 2010
TO THE A.G.M. 14th JULY 2010

I want to start this evening if I may, with an apology.  Amid some of the confusion that pervaded part of the annual meeting last year, no thanks were formally tendered to John Tiffen who stood down after thirteen years as President of the Club.    John has been a sterling member of the club as a player, committee member and latterly as President.    In his own unique way he has done much to advance the cause of the game of rugby, both in Carlisle and further afield.  In addition to his duties at Carlisle, he found time to be both the president and chairman of Cumbria RFU.    It would be remiss of us not to place on record our appreciation for the contribution John has made, and I would like to record the thanks of the Club in an official way, and couple that with a sincere apology for the omission this time last year.
Moving on then to the year under review, and rugby being what I hope we are all here for, that comes first.    The Cougars whilst not having an abundance of fixtures during the season, did make the most of it though.  They had a successful season, finishing as the winners of the RFUW Championship North 2 League.  Well done to them for that, but the success brought with it a dilemma; that being whether or not to accept the promotion.  Lack of strength in depth so far as player numbers is concerned, was one of the main reasons that taxed minds.  Promotion to Championship North 1 brings with it many challenges.  Certainly, the hope is that there will be an increase in the number of women and girls wanting to play the game, otherwise the burdens of promotion will become onerous if that player supply chain fails.  The higher standard of rugby that promotion brings, whilst welcome, but then there is the worry of, will we be good enough.  We all hope so.
There are logistical demands too.  The RFUW (and come to think of it the RFU too) have an unusual approach to geographical areas in England.  If Lakenham Hewett (Norwich) and Olney (Buckinghamshire) are in the north of England then “eating hay with a horse” springs to mind.  They are two places they have to visit in their new league, as well as Camp Hill in Birmingham.
The 1st XV who, after a faltering start to the campaign in RFU North 1 East, followed by an enforced long break due to inclement weather, eventually found their way, providing us all with an exciting second half of the season.  After flirting with relegation for a good part of the campaign, they eventually struck a rich vein of form that saw the side climb the table and finish in a respectable mid table setting at the end of their fourth season competing at Level 6; the first season in the north west and the remainder in the north east after being level transferred.
The season culminated with the Cumbria Cup Final at Wigton when we were defeated 31 pts to 20 pts by Penrith.  Some, including me, would say the outcome was unjust but, it is the result that counts.
I would like to convey the thanks of the Club to Steve Stamper who has retired as club captain after taking over from Martin Plummer four seasons ago.  Steve has been a good captain both on and off the field, and we owe him a debt of gratitude.  Thankfully, he has not retired from playing though, and he is training hard and intent on a claiming a starting berth in the front row come the new season.
The Crusaders had a rather mixed season in the “Candy” League.  Whilst that merit table has served its purpose, it was perhaps not sufficiently competitive to ensure that prospective 1st XV aspirants had a meaningful test of their skill and ability, week in and week out.  Sadly, there are a number of teams in the league who don’t know the meaning of reliability, and several games fell by the way side by default of the opposition, often at the last minute.
On the bright side though, the Crusaders fought their way through to the final of the Cumbria Vase competition.  On the way to the final they disposed of Kendal and Penrith before meeting Kirkby Lonsdale in the final played at Underley Park.  The second string were deserved winners and can now look forward to meeting Kendal and Penrith at least twice each during the coming season.  The Crusaders have been entered into what was formerly known as the Miller Homes Leagues.  It has been renamed the university of Salford North West Intermediate Leagues and the lads will play in Division 1.  The north-west leagues set up allows for promotion and relegation and will be substantially more competitive than the Candy League has been hitherto.  Players now demand competitive rugby, and this new challenge should provide an environment for players to hone their skills, making them more ready for the first XV call when that comes.  There is a full fixture programme on a home and away basis, and the organisers have been careful to arrange fixtures so as to ensure that on league Saturday’s there is always rugby available.  Without exception, the 2nd XV will be away when the 1st XV are at home and vice versa.  However, a word of caution  –  fixtures must be completed otherwise there are serious penalties; three false dawns and defaulting sides are thrown out of the league and have also to pay a financial penalty.

Our 3rd XV, the Hornets, had a disappointing season following what has been a reasonably successful one during 2008-2009.  Competing in the Cumbria Shield League, they did not complete all their fixtures.  Not always their fault, with opposition crying off at short notice.  But we can’t always blame others clubs.  We were guilty on occasions of late cancellations ourselves.  Perhaps there are two principle reasons for this  –  players found other things to do with the guarantee of a match uncertain, and there was a worry too amongst the older chaps, that injury was more than a passing worry, given the sudden death the previous year of Ray Higgins and the broken neck suffered by Mike Rawling.
All that said, we must strive to maintain a third XV.  There are too many young players coming through from junior rugby, and to ensure the future certainty of the club, we need to have fixtures for them to play in, as not all will achieve more senior notoriety!  The Cumbria Shield League continues this coming season and it will end with the Shield Knock Out Cup.

Colts rugby is the life blood of the club, and during last season there were mixed fortunes, although this was perhaps understandable because there was a massive change in playing personnel.   Nevertheless, the squad acquitted themselves well, finishing in a creditable position in the Saturday Northern Under 18 League.  The real bonus though, was the defeat of Wigton at Creighton in the final of the colts Cumbria Cup.  Both sides played entertaining rugby and there was no doubt that Carlisle were the worthy winners.

Youth and junior rugby continues to flourish with squads at every age group across the spectrum.  It is heartening to see so many enjoying the weekly offer, both in training and playing.  We must continue to ensure that this section of the club continues to develop, because without the sterling work that goes into player development at this level, then the whole future of our club could quickly be compromised.  Cup finals (and semi finals) for our junior sides have almost become a monotonous necessity, with successes perhaps often too many to tabulate.  Rugby for juniors is not just about training and enjoying the game. Apart from the duty of care issues, there are so many more legislative and regulatory demands to comply with, a large administrative burden being placed on those responsible for running the section efficiently.  It would be wrong for me not to place on record our thanks to all those who help.  The work that the coaches, administrators, and general helpers undertake is a massive and we should not underestimate their contribution to the overall well being of the club.
A cautionary note though. It should be remembered that is a youth and junior section is one viable unit and there is no room in that arena for any one age group to work in isolation from the main frame.  I say that because occasionally, there are signs that some want to do their own thing, rather than follow the corporate path.  Please remember it is a club for all, and we should not allow fragmentation.

Rugby is nothing without the coaches.  We are fortunate at Carlisle to have so many who are dedicated to making the game flourish at Warwick Road.  From the head coach, right down to the base age group, they all put in an enormous amount of time and effort, and we should be thankful at such a good state of affairs.  I would like to place on record the thanks of the club for all the excellent work that they do on our behalf.

Off the field, the year under review has been more traumatic.  I don’t want to steal the thunder of the treasurer or the auditor but we all need to appreciate that the provision of rugby comes at considerable expense, and it will be reported later that we have made a loss on the year.  There are a variety of factors that contribute to that position.  Your general committee and all the other groups responsible for various parts of our organisation, do their utmost to support rugby.  Often the committee people are subjected to criticism, some of it justified, some not.  The latter is often tendered from the ill-informed, many of whom always have the right solution, but when challenged to  volunteer their services for the overall good of the club, then they then tend to dissolve into the background.
The successful operation of the club relies on a not inconsiderable amount of work by volunteers, but they are becoming fewer and fewer.  There seems to be a reluctance on the part of some who, having enjoyed a successful playing career, to put something back into the game on the administrative side.  I appreciate that work and family take priority, but a few hours a week would be appreciated.  It is this shortage of volunteers that has driven the committee down the path of inviting applications for the post of club manager.  Hopefully, with the right person in post, some of the administrative burden will be lifted. Yes, a manager will be expected to undertake some administration functions, but his or her principle priority will be to increase the use of our facilities during the day on weekdays.  I believe there is the demand out there for use of the club for meetings, conferences and the like, but to capitalize we need to have someone to operate the place successfully on our behalf.  Generating new income streams is important, and to utilise the club more comprehensively is an obvious way forward.
As with all committees, some members are more active than others.  In the future though, there ought to be an expectation by those who take up a place on a committee that a greater involvement will be looked for. Indeed, it is probable that, specific responsibilities will be devolved to individuals, and it will be up to them to ensure their functions are discharged properly, reporting to the committee on a monthly basis.  Overall though, we need to remain mindful of the fact that we are a corporate organisation with a common objective.  To that end we need to work as one.  To try and bolster the committee base, at the committee meeting following the AGM, I intend to recommend that those who are not successful in the elections, be co-opted to the committee.  It seems to me to be a shame that, when we have so many people willing to stand for election when we are seeking more support, that we should reject them at an election.  We need all the support we can.
I mentioned earlier that there was a hint of some appearing to want to operate in isolation from the main frame.  We are one club and the last thing we need is to have any one group or section trying to split off and do their own thing.  Remember please that we are Carlisle Rugby Football Club and all sections are answerable to the committee (board).
Within a few weeks the body that is the general committee will be dissolved and a board of directors will take its place.  This action follows advice from the RFU that clubs should seriously consider becoming incorporated for the protection of the club, but such a step will afford legal safeguards for individuals in the event of unforeseen difficulties arising.

Brief mention has already been made to fund-raising.  We depend on it and new initiatives are required.  In the past we have relied too much on the same sources, year on year, and there is emerging evidence that some of those who have so readily contributed cash to our cause, are reviewing their own future expenditure.  Broaden our horizons we must and to try and help, the committee have consented to the setting up of a Patron’s Privilege Club.  Hopefully, if one hundred people join, that would generate circa £10K.  You will find a brochure with your papers for the meeting this evening, and I would appeal to you to give the venture favourable consideration, and in doing so, encourage others to follow your example.  Such generosity would be hugely appreciated.

Enough from me then, but before I close it would be remiss of me not to make more than a passing mention of the work done over the years by our retiring chairman, Bill Swarbrick.  He has made a superb contribution to the development of Carlisle RFC.   Some say he will be a hard act to follow.  Not so, because every one has a different approach to the demands of office, and it would be unfair on both Bill and his successor if such comparisons were to be made.  I feel sure Bill will be happy to be consulted should the need arise, but the club should allow whoever succeeds him to settle in and develop their own style.  Whoever, they will have a demanding task ahead of them and they deserve our unequivocal support.  Thanks again Bill, and I know that we can still all look forward to food on match days, given your offer to continue with match day catering.

Finally, I would like to thank all the staff at the club.  Thanks to Christine and her staff for putting up with us (and us with them) throughout the year.  Special thanks are due to Ray Grieve, our grounds-man who is doing a great job on the fields.  Long may it be continue.
Thank you.

14th July 2010