Over the weekend in Paris, I discussed some ideas that my good friend Steve had put briefly on a Facebook page, to me they made absolute sense so I asked him to get them down in writing for me – they’re worth a read!
A little about Steve as a starter – I started watching Saracens just prior to their move to Vicarage Road, as a fan of rugby their move closer to where I lived was the catalyst to my deep affinity to the club. As the years went by I started to give something back becoming involved with the Foundation, raising funds for their local community projects and with the Supporters Association helping to spread the enormous sense of belonging I felt.
The whole salary cap issue and the surrounding fallout have dominated the rugby press since the story broke almost a fortnight ago. Much has been said from the initial knee jerk anger to the more balanced reflections of respected journalists. One thing remains constant however and that is the fact that none of us really know what’s gone on. Somewhere in deepest Paris, late one evening I shared my views with Debs who, having seen my passion asked me to put it down in words. So here goes…
Firstly let me say as a Saracens supporter of over 25 years my neutrality could be questioned but I am also a rugby fan. I’m also a fan of equality and rules! Add to that a passion for personal support and development, player welfare, and the entrepreneurial spirit and you start to get the picture. So this situation we find ourselves in (and believe it our not we are all in the mire) covers many bases which I will try to address below.
PRL have been very strong in their sanction for what we dont actually know. One thing they have said in their very short statement was that this was not a deliberate act. Something certain reports have chosen to omit. Without doubt Saracens have overstepped the mark and today’s acceptance of the sanction in many peoples view confirm that. But this will NEVER go away until we know. As fans we deserve that. My investment may not match Nigels but for 25 years I have poured my heart and soul and a huge portion of my salary into the club. Do I not deserve the truth?
Do I not deserve to know what’s happened and when? Do I not deserve the reassurance that all clubs are being audited to the same forensic detail? At the time of writing I understand that 6 other clubs are being investigated this must simply be phase II. All clubs must be treated the same. Level playing field right? Spirit of the rules?
And that brings me on to the rules. A confused set of guidelines agreed by 13 members. People say Saracens are guilty. We’re not, this isnt a criminal matter. So hands up if you know how much Saracens cap was? £7m £8m more? Yes, close to £8.5. Academy credits, England credits, money in money out. Hows the average fan supposed to keep up? I say make it easy. And heres how.
1) Remove Marquee players
2) Cap the squad size
3) Reward your academy
4) Stop distributing RFU credit.
The removal of Marquee players seems huge however, in my opinion this causes huge imbalance, players side by side but earnings a world apart. How do you fit them in? Well, how about we cap the senior squad to 50. Big enough I’m sure. Especially when point 3) kicks in. Any player developed from say U15 is exempt from the cap while at the same club. Grow your own. Reward loyalty. English talent. You want to buy a star? Fine, pay for it. Develop a star and keep them for free. If that star goes on to play for England then compensate the club properly! if for example player A on 500k a year misses 25% of his domestic season pay that club £125k and let them keep it! Not handing some back to say Worcester Warriors who have not.
Under those terms a cap of £7m is plenty.
So what next? Where does PRL go from here, what of the fine. £5.3m is some windfall. If they want to care about players post career then put your money where your mouth is. Use that money as an endowment for players to access investment in post rugby business ventures. All legal and above board. When said business does well PRL sell back their share and re circulate the money for the next generation. Provide business coaching and support free of charge and help these men who put their bodies on the line risking life changing injury week in week out for our entertainment! It saddens me to hear some clubs have ‘already spent’ their share, speaking of which do we get 1/13th back?
I’m still hugely disappointed with what’s happened and the way it’s been portrayed. Good people make mistakes and the hypocrisy of some so called pundits has been astonishing. As I said early in the piece I’m a fan of rules so this whole episode has shocked me to the core. However, no one has died. What we need to do is work on a solution that ensures sustainability and looks after the players who are seen as disposable in this whole sorry mess. I hope the powers that be sit down and take a long hard look at what has become a tarnished product and rebuild it on a solid even base. A base that rewards foresight and development, a base that makes England world beaters, a base that’s clear and transparent.
What of Saracens. Well with no further investment they are under the cap. No player will be forced to leave. I hope they stay. That in itself sends a message that it’s about more than money. As I return from Paris having tasted defeat (where a young Saracens side came up short against a squad assembled for around €11m) I feel rather excited about the future. We have to be, because if you keep reading the last chapter you never start the next. I’ll still give my heart and soul to the players, the Supporters Association the Foundation and to Nigel. Because we are #TogetherSaracens.