‘Let the club grow or risk watching it die’ — that is the stark warning offered to members of Sudbury Rugby Club by frustrated soon-to-depart coach Graham Richards.
The former Natal Sharks, Harlequins and Malta coach has ended his silence on his decision to leave the club at the end of the season by revealing a resistance to the professional approach he was trying to implement was the main factor behind his decision to move on.
Richards, who spent four years at Whittome Field, which included winning promotion to London Two North East as champions with a young squad last season, said he strongly believes Sudbury Rugby Club needs a better business plan if development off the field is to keep pace with progress made on the playing side.
With the club facing the challenge of meeting substantial running costs each month, the ex-St Joseph’s College rugby chief feels the only way to be successful is ‘to get a better business model and market yourself better, to turn more income over’.
Richards describes his time at Sudbury as ‘the hardest job I have ever done’.
He explained: “I’m happy with the results. But I just wish the club had developed hand-in-glove with the playing side.
“This was a great opportunity for me to leave a really good legacy as it would probably be my last coaching job. The biggest thing for me was to improve the rugby club, and I don’t think I have.”
Richards always felt he was blocked by the fear factor produced by revenue not keeping pace with the high costs.
“There was a big fear about developing in any way in case it got too big,” he revealed.
“It seems the club has not learned any lessons from that huge success back in the Nineties.
“How many clubs had All Blacks playing for them then? The club seems to have got bitten then, and that’s probably why I have had such a difficult time.
“But if you don’t grow, you die. You have to always be investing to grow. That doesn’t always mean money. It means trusting people, investing time.
“The club needs to build a better business plan, to build the club to a level where people will want to be there and continue to play attractive rugby that people want to come and watch on a Saturday afternoon.”
But the swipe at the club off-the-field has not come without constructive suggestions.
Richards believes incentivising the club manager would be a positive step forward, along with making sure that the clubhouse is open for business seven days a week.
He added: “We must look at what we can do to make sure people are enjoying themselves. If they are, they don’t mind spending money.”
n For Richards on his next step and how he had an eye-opening first day at the club, don’t miss next week’s Free Press.