I left my position as CEO of The WRU in 2005, a year after extending my contract through to 2008. That probably seems quite bizarre, but I had no choice. I needed time out with my family & friends to recover from a severe clinical depression. The best place to do that was in our home in New Zealand.
Mental illness is a horrible thing. It can and does happen to anyone, and it can turn you into a very unpleasant person. It also has a devastating effect on those around you. When you break your leg, everyone can see what is wrong, and sympathises. When you are mentally ill, let’s just say some people’s attitudes are different. For a while, I didn’t even realise myself that I was ill.
When I was diagnosed, I decided that I needed to get out of the goldfish bowl of Welsh Rugby politics to recover. Do you blame me? I am not looking for sympathy just your understanding.
I told David Pickering that I was leaving and why, and he was very disappointed, but also understood. We agreed a settlement that he requested be kept confidential. I have done that. Let’s just say that it was fair and equitable and in keeping with my contract, given the time and effort I had put in over the previous years, plus the impact that undoubtedly had on my health. It would also help me to recover knowing that my family had something to live on whilst I took the time off.
I was and still remain grateful for that simple act of compassion & generosity in my own hour of need.
A couple of years ago, RRW contacted me out of the blue and asked if I would help out with negotiations with the WRU over a new Participation Agreement. It was always my intention to start RRW and then hand over to someone else – which I did after completing the bulk of negotiations with the WRU.
It was a strange and frustrating time, but something happened to me whilst I was back in Wales. I started to care again. I lost that back in the dark days of 2005, and perhaps wrongly blamed Welsh Rugby for my illness. But being back in Wales and amongst the rugby fraternity re-ignited something. It was just a small flame then, but it was to grow…
Throughout 2012 and 2013, I watched from afar as the WRU and the Regions squabble became an argument and eventually an all-out war. I was deeply saddened that Welsh Rugby was tearing itself apart yet again. I gave 3 years of my life to Welsh Rugby, and it cost me a lot more, and now, yet again, the Welsh were fighting amongst themselves, right after they’d almost got to the final of the Rugby World Cup in my own backyard.
I suppose it made me realise a few home truths about my time as WRU CEO.
Regional rugby, which I introduced, has been very good for Team Wales, but not so good for the rest of Welsh Rugby. I made mistakes 10 years ago. I should have held out and got the regions I really wanted, not the ones I had to settle for. The trouble was, I didn’t have any money to fight the threat of legal action. I couldn’t even afford to employ people to paint the concourse at Millennium Stadium – Paul Sergeant, Rupert Moon, and the staff did it instead. That’s how broke the WRU was.
Since being back I have reminisced with many of my old friends as to how dark and tough those days were. The people who took over in 2007 just do not know or appreciate just how lucky they are.
Another mistake I made was to underestimate the fierce tribalism within Welsh rugby, and the need for every club to be able to aspire to greater things. I thought that clubs from the Premiership down to League 6 would be happy to fight it out for promotion and relegation within that structure, but now I know that clubs want to be able to go even further.
Nowhere is that view held more passionately than at Pontypridd. Here is a proud club with fanatical supporters, and with whom of course I have a bit of history. The problem now at Pontypridd is that they are winning the Premiership regularly, but there is nowhere left for them to go, except perhaps to take one further step and win the British & Irish Cup. I wish them and all other clubs the very best in that quest, but once they achieve it (and I have no doubt they will), then what? There is a solution in my Manifesto.
Ponty still blame me for the demise of the Celtic Warriors. Well, that’s a bit rich. I didn’t hand in the keys to the WRU – that was Leighton Samuel. It was Leighton who also decided to take the Warriors away from Sardis Road and go full-time to the Brewery Field, not me. It was the Ponty supporters who didn’t get on the free buses to Bridgend to support the team they now claim to have cared so passionately about, 10 years later. And I wasn’t the one leading Ponty when it went bust. The WRU had actually provided Ponty with half a million pounds which they then lost.
When Leighton Samuel eventually wanted out, the WRU couldn’t afford to run a region that was losing millions as it didn’t have any money either. At no point did I promise to keep the Warriors going. What was I supposed to do? Keep them afloat and then potentially go to jail for knowingly entering into contracts that could not be honoured, whilst the WRU then went bust?
People forget that, when I came in, the WRU was just a few of weeks from going under, and the Board didn’t even realise it. They didn’t know that they were trading whilst technically insolvent. They would have lost everything, including the stadium, had I not turned things around.
What really irks me is that it wasn’t just David Moffett who decided to shut down the Celtic Warriors – it was the WRU Board that unanimously made that decision. Ten years later, and some of them still sit there around the Board table, pretending that they manage the current CEO. The only reason that they are still there is because I saved their positions but more importantly their reputations. I was also solely responsible for David Pickering becoming Chairman, a position which he so treasures.
Now, none of them, including David, will even give me the time of day..
Many of you have questioned why I have returned to Wales and taken on the biggest battle of my life. The truth is that I’m coming to the end of my career, and I just want to finish what I started in 2003.
You see, my plan was always to evolve Welsh Rugby as the game itself inevitably changed. That both the WRU and RRW have not done so since 2005 upsets me. All the other Rugby nations have moved on, and they are not waiting for Wales to catch up, that’s for sure.
I also want to set the record straight. I did what needed to be done at the time. Sure that makes me very unpopular now, but at least respect me for the fact that I made the tough calls which saved your National Game from utter financial ruin.
Respect, I know, is earned, and I will earn it again if you give me the opportunity to do so.
You might argue that I’ve had my chance once before. But now you know why I had to leave, you will also realise why I have such a deep burning desire to put Wales firmly back on the centre stage of world rugby, both on and off the field. Call it pride – I have plenty of that. Call it ego – I have plenty of that too. In fact, call it whatever you like, but I feel I owe Welsh Rugby, and its time to settle the debt.
And what better time to do so…
Given the current state of affairs in Welsh Rugby, and the absence of anyone else putting themselves forward to sort out the mess, I decided to fly back to Wales in January this year. I thought I could help solve the problem between the WRU and the regions, given that I introduced them. I said I could do it in 10 days, but no-one listened.
However, what I then quickly learned was that the problems ran much, much deeper. Grassroots Welsh Rugby was being left to rot. The top-down management approach at the WRU was starving the community game. It wasn’t the regions or the WRU that needed help, but the very foundations of the game – the clubs.
Within weeks, I put together a small team and published an 8000 word Manifesto. It had never been done before. There might be one or two contentious points in it, but the Manifesto has been widely accepted as the blueprint to take Welsh Rugby forward. I am very proud of that. The WRU has even started implementing parts of it already, although they don’t acknowledge the author of course!
Encouraged by the positive reaction, I made it public that I would indeed stand to be Chairman of The WRU.
Many people said I had no chance whatsoever of getting to an EGM, let alone becoming Chairman. They also asked me why I would want to take on that role, especially given what happened to me personally back in 2005.
The answer: I care deeply and passionately about Welsh Rugby. Can’t you just accept that? Or must there always be a hidden agenda for the Welsh?
Why can’t I love Welsh Rugby? Is it because I was born in Doncaster, or raised in Kenya, or lived in Australia or now call New Zealand my home? What nonsense. I fell in love with Welsh Rugby the same way many of you did. I watched Gareth, Mervyn, Phil , Barry, Gerald, JPR, and the Pontypool Front Row, marvelled at the way they played the game and saw that Wales truly was New Zealand’s greatest rugby rival on the planet.
I watched the toughness of the Welsh forwards and the dazzling brilliance of their backs and knew that was how the game should be played. I followed them through the golden period of the 70’s and then watched in despair at the unravelling of their reputation through the 80’s, 90’s and culminating in a dismal start to the new millennium. I watched Wales in the 1999 Rugby World Cup and marvelled at the new stadium, the best in the world. I just felt that you needed a team to do the stadium justice.
Just ask yourselves: Why else would I fly 12,000 miles and walk into this rugby storm of the century? Why else would I spend tens of thousands of pounds of my own money? Why else would I work flat out like a lizard drinking for 4 months and then take on the incredible pressure of an EGM. Why else would I leave my family back home in Christchurch to come to Wales, and walk into The Shed at Sardis Road in the middle of winter? Why else would I risk everything about me, including my hard-earned reputation?
It’s certainly not for the money. The Chairman gets £40,000 a year, give or take. I won’t get rich on that.
No! My want and my need is to finish the job. I promised to fix Welsh Rugby in 2003, and I will, if you let me. I’m back because I want to save grassroots rugby in Wales; to get RRW and the WRU back working together in a relationship based on respect & trust that allows the professional game to flourish; to steer through much-needed changes to governance and to refresh the Board; to give the Union back to the clubs by devolving power so that there are local solutions to local problems.
And as one of my daughters regularly confirms on twitter, I’m a stubborn old bastard too!
However, I am not a politician. You know where to look if you want to find one of them in Welsh Rugby. I am a change & conflict manager. Its what I do; its in my blood. And I’m good at it – very good. In 3 years, I turned a £3 million loss into a £6 million profit for you, and even now, the current Board and Executive can’t do any better, despite higher turnover. I also reduced the debt on the stadium from £72 million to £45 million.
Who else has put up their hand to turn around Welsh Rugby ? Let’s be honest, who would want to do it right now? I don’t see a queue forming down Westgate Street to get the job.
Who has the skills, knowledge, contacts & experience to run the WRU, a £60 million pound sports business, with a brand new Board from Day 1?
Why not let me prove myself again by running the interim Board as your tenth man? If I don’t perform, you can replace me at the AGM in October. It’s as simple as that.
There is no hidden agenda, no pot of gold within the WRU vaults for me to spirit away to fund an extravagant retirement. I’m not in RRWs pocket; I’m my own man. RRW won’t ever get a free ride from me, and I assure you that they are not paying me to bring down the Board and hand the power and your money over to the regions. I won’t be bullied again; I will have a much stronger hand to play in 2014 than the one I was dealt in 2003!
Make no mistake: I’m not out for personal revenge or to be a wrecker. I’m not tearing down everything that the WRU stands for. I’m not destroying Welsh Rugby. I want it to grow and flourish again.
What have you got to lose by giving me the chance to fix the problems in Welsh rugby? Someone has to do it and I am ready, available and humble enough to concede that the clubs are the only ones who can take such a tough decision.
The choice is quite stark. Vote for a Union that listens to its clubs, or continue with this unpopular, dictatorial and ignorant WRU that you have today.
Appointing a new Board has to be the next step. It’s simply got to be done, and I know many of the clubs and the Welsh public agree. The Executive is running the show, and that is bad for governance & bad for grassroots rugby. You can all see the results.
A vote of no confidence in the current Board and its Chairman frees the clubs to make the changes needed to restore the reputation of Welsh Rugby in the eyes of the Rugby World.
A vote of no confidence doesn’t adopt my Manifesto. That’s not my aim right now. Appoint a new Board, and then we’ll have that debate about the future. Let’s all come together to decide what will work and what won’t, vote on it at an AGM, and then I’ll ask you to support me as your Chairman to steer the Board and the Executive to deliver.
Without an official position, I have already forced change on the WRU and shown the clubs that they can still have a voice. Let me continue.
And when the job is finally done, probably within 3 years, I will look you straight in the eye, shake your hand firmly, and board the final flight back to New Zealand as a happy & contented man. I certainly won’t stand for re-election in three years time.
You’ve listened to my message and acted by calling the EGM. Now I ask you to trust what I have said today, trust my motives, trust my passion, trust my ability, and trust me to deliver.
And if you can’t, then I will stand down and go back home to my wife and family in New Zealand without further fuss.
But then you will have to find someone else who can deliver change, someone who won’t be bullied, and someone who will stand for what’s right for the clubs. That is certainly not the current Board.
It’s up to you, the clubs, now…