The American financier Warren Buffett famously said he liked to invest when the tide had gone out so he could see who had been swimming naked. John Kingston has been around professional rugby long enough to see plenty of clubs caught with their pants down. The Harlequins head coach sympathises with Bristol, Newcastle, Wasps, Sale and others struggling to keep their heads above water, and he is just glad to be safely on the shore at a club with the basic tenets of owning their own ground, no single sugar daddy and a strong brand.
Where Kingston does get agitated is the idea that Bristol, who have pleaded publicly for investment of up to £2.5 million a year, might be thrown a lifejacket by the other clubs. "We will seek to help where we can, but each individual club has to run itself financially," said Mark McCafferty, the chief executive of Premier Rugby, which allows plenty of leeway. McCafferty took the unusual step of revealing that the new broadcasting deal with Setanta and Sky in 2010 will be worth £54m. Fewer clubs would add up to more money each.
Kingston was the head coach at Richmond 10 seasons ago when the then 14-club Premiership cut them adrift, refusing a plea for a few weeks' grace to bring in new investors after the owner, Ashley Levett, pulled out. "What the difference is now, I fail to understand at all," said Kingston, who has coached Quins to back-to-back wins over Stade Français. "The way Richmond were dealt with was well documented, not least in The Independent. Some of the rubbish expounded at that time, pretending Richmond was something they were trying to protect and preserve, was quite extra-ordinary when what they really wantedto do was reduce the number of teams from 14 to 12. Richmond had massive interest from alternative organisations and I'd spent weeks canvassing other clubs to see if they'd give us a few weeks to put our house in order.
"When it came to the crucial meeting, there were people in the room from Saracens, Leicester, you name it, people who are still in the game, very high-profile people. The minute it went quiet, I said I could see it was a stitch-up and walked out. I can't judge what will happen now but that's the way it happened then, and I learned a big lesson that people will tell you one thing and do another if it doesn't suit their personal needs."
So, Bristol be warned. Richmond's demise came when they went into administration, which was the trigger for them to lose their Premiership share (although Kingston insists there was a saving caveat if a club were engaged in reconstruction). If Bristol go into administration it will cost them 15 points, which equals relegation for Richard Hill's team. Ten Boxing Days ago, Richmond had hosted London Irish in front of a near-10,000 crowd at the Madejski Stadium. Irish ended up as long-term tenants, but it is much better to be landlords.
Bristol sold their Memorial Stadiumto Bristol Rovers in 1998 – "Some clubs have flogged the crown jewels and they have nothing to fall back on," said Kingston – and can scarcely buy a win, literally so, as they can afford only three-quarters of the £4m salary cap.
The Bristol supporters' trust are seeking a share and a seat on the board, but if the club need £25m over 10 years to compete, where will it come from? This disparity prompts Mark Evans, Kingston's chief executive at Quins, to predict an eventual schism, with a European Super League populated by the rich and famous.
Copper trader Levett put the "rich" into Richmond to the tune of £6m, but Quins have multiple backers. "That's the other dangerous situation, where one person has a charge over the club's assets so he can set it off against the losses and the club's left with nothing," said Kingston. In an 1,800-word statement last month Newcastle's big benefactor Dave Thompson said he had taken down the "for sale" signs, since the only interested parties wanted the land at Kingston Park, not the rugby.
In the football-mad North-east of England, that may be no surprise. What Thompson makes of it now is unclear, as he refuses to do interviews.Reuse content