Rugby Union: Deakin's parting broadside at the blazers

Hugh Godwin finds revolution still driving the guru of commercial rugby
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The Independent Online
AS PETER DEAKIN leaves Saracens after two tub- thumping, ticket-shifting, all-singing, all-dancing years he can say: I did it my way.

Regrets? Yes, he has a few, and most of them to do with the blazers and blunderers, whose antics this week, with delicious irony, took the heat off the leaked news of Deakin's departure to Warrington Wolves. The new role, as chief executive at the Super League club, is a dream come true for Deakin, a dyed-in-the-wool league man. He leaves behind the nightmarish growing pains of the "other code", in the infancy of professionalism.

"It's been a very sad decision," he said. "I'm leaving a fantastic club and a fantastic owner in Nigel Wray - not only an owner but a friend and a work colleague. But this is purely a selfish thing, something I've dreamed about as a kid and growing up through being a professional player with Oldham, and being involved in sales and marketing for the last 20 years. I've always wanted to be able to run my own club."

Deakin speaks with typical enthusiasm of Warrington Council, Greenalls plc and two entrepreneurs, Bill Holroyd and Simon Moran, who are putting new bite into the Wolves. The club occupies an economically stable catchment area between Liverpool, Manchester and Chester, and several sites are being considered for the development of a new stadium.

All fine and good, but what now for Saracens, where Deakin has been sales and marketing director since August 1997? And what now for rugby union, which seems to be losing, one after another, the loudest voices for change at club level? "The game itself has got a great future," said Deakin. "But there really is a sad lack of understanding of what the hell is needed.

"I'm not a politician. I've always believed in life that you judge people by performance. Unfortunately it's been proved again this week that there are some incredibly pompous people out there who don't understand the nature of professional sports.

"These people are still under the influence of the old amateur ethos. It promotes the politicking, wily administrator type, because there's nothing in it for him apart from a paper tray of sandwiches at internationals. For the sake of the game, their whole approach and the way they have always involved themselves has got to change.

"On the one hand you have the club owners who have made personal fortunes in business, and on the other you have the amateur ethos, the Billy Bunter types. It was always bound to be a head-on collision. Of course you need a high-level, successful international team setting the tone. But at the end of the day the sport will only be delivered to the communities by clubs.

"I've heard it all said - `He's not a rugby union man, what does he know?' Yet how embarrassing is it for them for someone like me to come in from the outside and, inside 17 months, achieve what we have done at Saracens? Rugby union is a growth sport, but it is a minor sport. Organisations trying to develop themselves have to be innovative, have to look at ways at getting attention for their particular product.

"I can leave Saracens feeling confident that from a philosophical standpoint, from a focus standpoint, everything is in place off the field. There is a general faith in what we have been doing. I can only envisage Nigel Wray investing more, not less, into intensifying it and taking it to a new level. Commercially, the club is ready for any opportunity that comes along. I say `look out Leicester' in the next couple of years, because this club will be bigger."

Deakin will stay at Saracens until the end of May, although he has already started making waves at Warrington. It might not be long before he returns to Vicarage Road with the Wolves. "I have always said that Watford is a natural home for the London Broncos."

I left the guru's presence with a friendly tip that the Saracens switchboard was still promoting the match with Cardiff, played five days previously. "I'll get that changed," was Deakin's swift reply. There could be no more suitable sign-off.