Rugby Union: Tears and fears of twelve angry men

David Llewellyn reports on the despair as players are shed in Moseley's survival fight
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THERE were tears in the Moseley clubhouse last Wednesday evening. Grown men used to laying their bodies on the line for the club's cause had just taken the biggest hit of their rugby careers, something no amount of training could have prepared them for.

Moseley's defeat by a single point in the Cheltenham and Gloucester Cup to Bristol was an incidental. A dozen professionals had just been told that they no longer had a job. Many of the first-team squad gathered in the dressing-room that evening, the last time that they would all be together, and they cried. They and their wives were seen weeping openly in the clubhouse.

Moseley's chronic cash crisis had reached critical mass; something had to give. That something was the hard core of full-time, and costly, professionals, brought in by the Birmingham club to try to achieve success - they failed.

An administrator, John Kelly, who sorted out Millwall Football Club's financial foul-ups a while ago, was called in. He decided to cut the club's losses - pounds 500,000 last financial year and already pounds 400,000 in the six months to Christmas this time around - and shed the expensive set of baggage and pare down the squad to around 18, converting some to part-time status and reducing the full-timers to a nucleus of about four.

Mingled with Wednesday's grief was anger. Members, fans and past players found the actions of the club and its 10-man consortium of businessmen, including the Aston Villa chairman, Doug Ellis, to be inexplicable and contrary to the ethos of the sport.

Al Charron, the Canadian international back-row forward, gave up a secure job with a pension in the Canadian Civil Service when he signed for Moseley in November 1996. But it was not anger that the 31-year-old felt, when he spoke of his predicament. "It hasn't really sunk in yet," said the 171/2 st Charron, who has won 39 caps with Canada. "I suppose it will when I start packing up my gear. I was pretty upset, in fact I was quite emotional when I heard. But more than anything I felt betrayed. I put too much trust in certain people."

Charron has not been paid since 17 December. "Then we just received our basic pay," he explained. "No win bonuses or anything like that."

Charron holds a work permit which only allows him to play rugby professionally, so he cannot even supplement his income with temporary work. He reckons he is fortunate though. "I had a good contract and I have been able to save a little," he said. "I am not as badly off as other guys who have not been able to do that."

It is a far bleaker picture for another redundant player, the New Zealander Mark McAtamney, who, if reports are to be believed, does not have the air fare to take him, his wife and five-month-old baby back home.

Nigel Horton, who captained the club in Moseley's glamorous era of the 1970s and early 1980s when they reached the cup final on three occasions (once sharing the title with Gloucester after a 12-12 draw in 1982), feels something has to be done and quickly.

"When I heard about it my initial reaction was anger," said Horton, the former lock who won 20 England caps spanning three decades from 1969 to 1980. "I sympathise with the players who have been put in this horrible position. But the club had been on a downward curve prior to the consortium of businessmen coming in."

At the height of Moseley's success there were car stickers proclaiming: "Moseley, England's Premier Rugby Club." Not so long ago the stickers read: "Birmingham's Premier Club."

The property company Bryant Homes has ploughed pounds 500,000 into the Moseley coffers, purportedly through a sponsorship deal, but it is not as straightforward as it might appear. That payment and a similar one due in the summer is tied up in the acquisition of the club's Reddings ground which, once planning permission is granted to build new homes, could be worth as much as pounds 2m. Bryant Homes are expected to take up their option on the ground in the next three to four years, so whatever happens Moseley will have to move out of their home.

Moseley are victims of circumstances beyond theirs - and it would appear, the game's - control. They straddle the cleft stick of either not seeking a wealthy backer and gradually slipping into obscurity because they cannot afford to import high-quality players who will allow them to compete with the best. Or attracting players with salaries and incentives which far exceed their money-raising capabilities.

Crowds of 1,500 at The Reddings are a fraction of what is needed to sustain the kind of wages bill that the Allied Dunbar Premiership Two club have signed themselves into.

Right now a club in their 125th year, who have provided England (and the other home countries) with an impressive clutch of quality players, have their existence threatened. Unless something is done, be it a ground- sharing deal or even a merger with their neighbours Birmingham-Solihull, or an injection of cash from some philanthropic sponsors, then Moseley are headed for oblivion. The 18th club to be founded, back in 1873, could be one of the first big victims of the professional era.