Triumphant Brittle ready to make the most of his success

Rugby Union
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The Independent Online
Cliff Brittle once again confounded the Rugby Football Union when he was elected chairman of the newly-formed management board, beating Twickenham's preferred choice, Bob Rogers, in the process during a stormy annual meeting in London's Hilton Hotel last night.

Brittle received the grass roots support from the 2,200-strong membership of the RFU, as he did on being elected to the chair of the now defunct executive committee in the first of three SGMs in January, 1996. Then the 55-year-old millionaire Brittle beat another RFU nominee, John Jeavons- Fellows.

His victory by 599 votes to 357 over Rogers, a Sussex solicitor, is all the more significant because it is a clear indication that the majority in the game are dissatisfied with the performance of the power brokers at rugby's headquarters.

Brittle promptly asked the new president, Peter Brook, to convene a meeting of the emergency council (formerly the committee) for 9 o'clock this morning at the same venue, but that proved impossible. Instead, Brittle will meet with Brook and Peter Trunkfield, the senior vice-president. It is hoped that meeting will take place as early as possible next week, with Brittke empahsising the urgency by saying: "It has to be within days.

"The RFU cannot be administered as it has during the last 18 months. For the sake of unity some changes have to be made and made quickly."

Although refusing to be drawn on whether he wouild be seeking resignation's from committee members, Brittle did admit: "We will have to study the constitution. There might have to be some changes to it."

Brittle's election leaves the position of the acting chief executive, Tony Hallett, in some doubt. It is to be reviewed in October, at which point the post may be advertised outside the RFU.

Brittle had some impressive support, none more so than Fran Cotton, manager of the triumphant British Lions in South Africa. He had been accorded a standing ovation before proceedings got under way in recognition of his achievements this summer. He then made an impassioned appeal for delegates to back Brittle and they did. The candidate did not even have to speak for himself.

Mind you, Rogers also had a celebrated player batting for him, the former England captain Will Carling. He confessed to having found the whole row between Brittle and certain factions of the RFU, "tedious", and he went on to say: "I am not here as anyone's puppet. I'm not here to give an emotional outburst." He was eloquent and amusing, and if it was startling to see Carling backing the nominee of the "old farts" as he referred to them two years ago, it was not startling enough. Unfortunately, in this instance, he had backed a loser.

Since his original election Brittle's has been a lone voice in challenging certain decisions made by the RFU, notably their independent negotiations with satellite television company BSkyB to sell exclusive broadcasting to all England home internationals, including the precious Five Nations games. That angered the Home Unions and for a short while last summer England were expelled from the Five Nations tournament, its committee arguing that the RFU was in breach of an agreement that broadcasting rights are negotiated collectively.

Brittle also fought a fierce, though largely unsuccessful, battle for the RFU to retain administrative and fiscal control of the top 24 clubs, who had formed themselves into a separate body known as Epruc. A threatened breakaway of the clubs from the RFU was averted earlier this year. Brittle claiming credit for it, although others in the RFU's negotiating team say differently.

Last night's vote means that the RFU will not find it easy to brush under the carpet certain proposals put to the meeting for discussion. Those proposals included a call for an independent inquiry "...into the manner in which the union conducts its business with particular reference to the way in which commercial contracts are awarded and in which senior staff appointments are made..." It is highly unlikely that Brittle will allow the RFU to ignore such a request.

Delegates had Twickenham's top brass on the back foot from the outset. The outgoing president, John Richardson, weathered the early squalls, particularly when the financial statement revealed a deficit of pounds 6.2m. The new age of professionalism has taken its toll with loans to clubs and the buy-out of Epruc, not to mention the servicing of existing loans, which accounted for pounds 3.5m, as well as a similar sum to account for depreciation.

NEW RFU MANAGEMENT BOARD: Cliff Brittle (chairman); Peter Brook (president); Peter Trunkfield (vice-president); John Jeavons-Fellows (IB representative); Tony Hallett (acting chief executive); Robert Horner, Ray Manock, Bob Rogers (council members); Charles Levison (English Rugby Partnership); Ken Whitehead (director of support services); David Fison (finance director); Don Rutherford (director of rugby).