Following The Wilkinson Way

Inspired by their famous former player, Farnham Rugby club are making hugely impressive strides on and off the pitch. Alex Lambe meet the people making it happen.

From scratching at the surface to showcasing wonderful talent at state-of-the-art facilities, every single weekend Farnham Rugby Club has been on quite a journey. From being stuck in the thick and glutinous mud at Wrecclesham to running free on the meticulously and finely cut grass of the pitches at Monkton Lane, the club has gained admirable recognition for the transformation it has undergone. Whilst it hasn’t all been as simple as the club would want, an abundance of blood, sweat and tears have enabled the club to become an essential cornerstone of the Farnham community.

Friendly and warm

‘Victory is the goal, determination gets you there,’ is a quote that is often heard around the club. In my eyes the perfect quotation that epitomises everything positive about Farnham Rugby Club. Having been a regular visitor to the club this season I have felt very lucky to embrace a very friendly and warm atmosphere. Run by a team of volunteers, the club embraces the true quality of teamwork and determination. Coming from their Wrecclesham home of 33 years, it wasn’t an easy ride before the club completed the move to Monkton Lane in 2012, with the move being orchestrated by current chairman Geoff Robins.

Robins believes that the move to Monkton Lane is the reason behind the ever-increasing number of people coming back to the club: “The great thing about having moved here is because now, in previous years, people would grow up in Wrecclesham and go ‘I’m never going back there.’ Now they stay or they come back.”

Robins also highlighted how a number of first-team players have come through the club’s academy and praised the club’s junior section as well as the facilities for being the main reason behind the player’s staying: “If you look at Mike Salmon, current captain. You’ve got Toby Salmon, Toby Comley, Ed Weeks they’re all products of the minis and juniors section. That’s the beauty of this because now they want to play here because of the facilities and the standard of rugby.”

Incredible

2016-17 has been a season to remember for Farnham. They currently sit top of the tree in London 3 South West and have already secured promotion to London 2 South West, territory they have encountered before.

They also have the chance to reach the promised land of Twickenham when they take on Saltash, from the south-west, in the National Semi Final of the RFU Senior Vase on 15th April. The men from Monkton Lane are currently on an incredible run of form having won their previous 17 matches in all competitions.

Ambition seems to be a key character amongst everyone involved with the club, and captain Mike Salmon had three main objectives coming into the season. Salmon explained this and described the feeling of winning promotion, despite it not being in the ideal manner, after a walkover against Weybridge Vandals: “Obviously, it’s great to get promoted with four games to spare, not in the fashion we’d like because the opposition conceded during the week because they couldn’t field a front row. It does mean we’ve achieved one of the three targets I had for the season which was promotion, league title and cup.”

Salmon also went on to describe what it meant to achieve promotion as captain of the club: “Being captain and doing it is a great feeling obviously, if I could achieve something for the club in my tenure it does mean a lot to me and to the players. So, it’s a good feeling and it’s set the tone for us going into the last few games.”

‘Competitive’

Farnham have the chance to complete the league and cup-double this season, and the way they’ve been playing makes you think that the league title and cup is theirs to lose.

With the ambition being so high at the club, head coach Matt Shields made it clear that winning promotion was the bare minimum of what he expects from his players: “I’m not happy that we’re promoted I want us to win the league and I want us to win the cup. Going up in second, I wouldn’t be massively impressed with that. As a player I’m competitive, as a coach I’m competitive and I want to make sure that we win the league and we win the cup.”

Shields also believes that his squad has what it takes to compete in London 2, and believes the success of this campaign will attract more players for next season: “I’ve got massive faith in the current squad. I think they’ll be a couple of players who will probably come down. Players will be attracted by the fact of how well we’ve gone this year, the points we’ve scored and some of the results we’ve had and it would be great to add to the squad. But our team is more than capable of doing well in the next league.”

Farnham have the potential to cap what has been a fantastic season for the club, and with the rugby they are playing and the facilities they have it would come as no surprise if further talent came the way of the Surrey side.

‘The business’

However, there is more to Farnham than meets the eye.  As with any rugby club it is essential that the infrastructure is set in stone to provide a sustainable future. The rugby does a lot of talking, but this club isn’t just about what happens on the field. The commercial side to a rugby club is paramount to establishing a relationship with the local community.

Chairman Robins emphasised how the club is run as a business and spoke about how the step up to London 2 won’t change anything, but will perhaps benefit the club: “This club is run as a business; turnover is £600,000 to £700,000 a year. We run it like a business. Going up or going down doesn’t necessarily have a huge impact on that, because we run it like a business.

“Going up potentially gives us more spectators, which is no bad thing, but fundamentally do I think it’ll have a significant effect on our finances? Not particularly.”

Robins also sees the club growing in the future and there are still developments to make. Particularly securing more land to accommodate the number of players at the club, given that the club also has an 850 strong minis and juniors section.

However, Robins has labelled the transformation of the club as ‘extraordinary’: “We always had the aspiration that we should be a London 1 club; we’ll be in London 2 next year. London 1, I think, is a very good standard of rugby and a standard of rugby we can aspire to.”

At times, it can be a challenge for a rugby club to run the sporting side as well as a successful business. Sometimes distractions from one side of the club can lead to other important aspects escaping attention.

Balance

Farnham treasurer, Andrew Rubio, who is also one of the directors, spoke about the balance of running the rugby club as a sports club as well as running it as a business. He also emphasised the importance of the commercial side: “At the end of the day this is now a business in its own right. It’s got a bar, it’s got a commercial side to it which is needed in order to fund the playing side of it as well as just the normal subs and everything else that goes into the makeup of income of the club.”

Rubio went on to emphasise the challenge of running the club successfully commercially: “It puts a huge amount of pressure on the committee and those that work within the club because we have to make sure we’re compliant with all the stuff that you would have to if you were running a business. We’ve got to pay salaries, we’ve got to pay tax, we’ve got to pay national insurance contributions, we’re VAT registered so we’ve got to ensure we deal with our VAT, we’ve got to make sure we pay our corporation tax.”

“A lot of the club members don’t realise or appreciate all this stuff goes on in the background.”

Boasting

The future only looks bright for Farnham. From being stuck in the mud at Wrecclesham, and only being able to field a makeshift side, which would play a few friendlies in 1975-76 to now, being able to field three senior sides every single weekend as well as boasting a massive minis and juniors section, the transformation has been nothing short of incredible.

On and off the field they have the foundations in place for a sustainable and successful future; they have had an incredible journey and have created a warm and friendly atmosphere at a club, which has become an integral part of the local rugby community in Surrey.

There’s no introduction needed for the star they produced who won England glory in 2003. Someone who has become part of England rugby folk lore and who is deeply embedded in Farnham’s history. When people think of Farnham, they think of Jonny Wilkinson. Farnham has enjoyed some special moments over the years, but a momentous day in the club’s history was marked when Lord Coe opened Wilkinson Way in 2012.

The next chapter of the club’s life had just begun and they are constantly looking to the future. Proving that when there’s a Wilkinson, there’s a way.

 

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