Jobs for the boys

As rugby union enters a new era of professionalism and bickering over big money, the players at Bath, England's largest club, face giving up their steady jobs as farmers, butchers and policemen. Jim White reports. Photographs by Tom Bible

According to the traditionalists, a century of glorious British practice will shortly come to an end, with the final kick of this rugby union season. From September, when competition begins again in earnest, this last bastion of sporting amateurism, whose Corinthian values have held in check the advance of grubby commercialism, will turn fully professional. Instead of doing it merely for the fun which sustained generations of previous exponents, players will - pass the smelling salts - be paid.

Those who play the game at the highest level are relieved. No longer will they risk their ear lobes, their necks and their noses every week for no proper financial return. No longer will the huge television and sponsorship income generated by their efforts disappear into others' pockets. And, better still, no longer need they be party to the shabby practices which have characterised their sport for the past two decades.

As the game grew richer through the Eighties and early Nineties, so the manner in which the amateur rules have been circumvented became ever more Byzantine. Clubs wishing to attract top talent used all sorts of cunning incentives, from the rent-free use of clubhouses, to wads of cash popped into boots left strategically in dressing rooms. Few players, in short, will shed a tear at the demise of the great British compromise known as "shamateurism", though some of those who run the game seem keen to hold on to it. Even as rugby goes professional, a power struggle has ensued between the Rugby Football Union ("the 57 old farts" of Will Carling's analysis) and the 20 leading clubs about who should control it. At the moment, the English Professional Rugby Union Clubs are determined to break away from the RFU, threatening the greatest split in rugby since the formation of rugby league.

The players may be forced to take sides. At Bath football club, the most successful and financially muscular in the country, the new order will mean big decisions for the current team. The opportunity to devote themselves full-time to their sport will be available; but will they want to pack in jobs which they have carefully nurtured, which provide them with adequate time off and a career, and which will still be there when they retire from the game?

Perhaps for Ian Sanders, the scrum half, a policeman pounding the beat around Bath, or David Hilton, the Scottish international and prop, who works in his father's butcher's shop in Knowle Broadway, near Bristol, the choice will be straightforward: rugby will be better paid, and they can always return to their jobs later. For others, such as hooker Graham Dawe, who farms in Devon, there will at last be adequate recompense for the time they spend away from developing their own businesses.

But many of the stars of the Bath side may well prefer to remain part- timers. Unlike its Welsh counterpart, English rugby is overwhelmingly a middle-class pursuit, and its supporters have always been able and willing to provide employment for the players. Having an international on the company's letterhead not only keeps the clients happy and opens doors to new business, it also ensures that the managing director is supplied with tickets for big games. It's well worth giving the employees months off to pursue their hobby.

Indeed, so prevalent has this practice become that Brian Moore, the former England and Harlequins hooker, and a partner in a firm of City solicitors, was regularly infuriated by the widespread assumption in his profession that he didn't do a proper job. "Though," he says, with a glint of the competitive instinct that characterised his playing career, "anyone made a mistake if they underestimated me."

Since the mid-Eighties, as corporate hospitality has boomed, the amateur rugby player has also realised the market value of his celebrity. The pioneer was Will Carling, of England and Harlequins. When he graduated, Carling, who had had Army sponsorship at university, spurned the chance of a commission because he would have lacked the time away from soldiering to prepare for his game. Instead, he became a management consultant. "Here's how I motivated the England team", was his sales pitch, "so go off and motivate your squad of loss adjusters in the same way."

Others quickly followed. At Bath, winger Adedayo Adebayo works for his father's Nigerian-based business entertaining clients; the prop Victor Ubogu co-owns Shoeless Joe's, a bar in London's King's Road, where he is regularly seen pressing the flesh; Mike Catt, fly-half for Bath and full-back with England, and Jeremy Guscott, international centre, are also in constant attendance at corporate events, where people will pay big money to rub up against sporting excellence. Guscott has had some success as a model, too.

It is unlikely, come September, that established players like these will significantly change their routines. The effects of professionalism will be fully felt only when a new generation of young players emerges, men who prefer to concentrate solely on their game. Players will get better in consequence. Brian Moore, for example, used to train on his own after work for two hours a night. On Thursdays, he also trained with the team, working on plays and moves. Professional footballers, in contrast, only train for two hours a day. Even so, Moore believes he never achieved the same level of fitness. For him, professionalism is not simply a matter of being paid.

"I approached my training after a full day's work, when the body and the mind were tired and less likely to absorb the full benefits," he says. "Compared to the full-time rugby league boys at Wigan, it was another world. They have the luxury of quality training, quality physio to help them recover properly from injury, and, just as importantly, quality rest between games."

A sign of the brave new world of English rugby will be seen in May, when Bath take on Wigan, England's best league team, in two exhibition matches. The first, on 8 May, will be played at Maine Road in Manchester under league rules; on 25 May, it will be under union rules at Twickenham. The Bath players will draw some comfort from these encounters, if only because there will be financial recompense for the mauling they are expected to receive

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

    £26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

    Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

    £24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

    Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

    £22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

    Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

    £16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions