Waterloo willing to embrace change for future of the club

WHERE once they faced Bath, Wasps and Leicester, Waterloo now regularly makes trips to Burnage, West Hartlepool and Kendal.

Life in National League Three North is a world away from the two seasons the Crosby club spent in the top flight of the English game – but then these have been challenging and changing times for one of Merseyside’s most historic rugby union teams.

Their most recent past has been one where they have risen and then fallen at an alarming pace through the levels, with relegations often being tied to growing financial concerns.

The St Anthony’s Road side currently find themselves mid-table in the fifth tier of the national game, akin to playing football in the Conference.

Having flirted with relegation last season, director of rugby and former player Jan Van Deventer hopes to bring stability to the side this term, which is an aim for those concerned with off-field matters as well.

Waterloo’s story is not an unusual one but there nevertheless remains the need to shift perceptions of what the club is, of what its priorities now are and, just recently, what it is called.

In October, the club signed a five-year naming rights deal with a local building firm and are now known as Firwood Waterloo. For the traditionalists, who can remember the finest days of a 130-year-old history where the XV wearing myrtle green were revered, such a decision would border on unacceptable.

Chairman Dave Raywood says it was a judgement the club took time over but one they knew had to be made.

“Clearly it was a big decision and one we didn’t take lightly,” he said.

“Waterloo were formed in 1882 and we are preserving the club for the next generation. But we felt this was a right decision.

“It is not the first time anyone has done it and we have to take income where we can find it in a period where sponsorship and corporate hospitality is down because of the recession.

“This is someone we know, someone who has been a member at this club for 40 years. He believes in what we are doing and the way we are running the business.

“It leaves open the possibilities of shirt sponsorship for us and is just a great deal for the club.

“Bootle Cricket Club have seen the benefits of now being Firwood Bootle.

“The security it provides over the next five years and at the end of the deal we can go back to being Waterloo.

“The next challenge is replacing that income after the five years.”

Signing such a deal is hardly revolutionary, but for a sport often seen as deep seeded in its ways, the flexibility and willing Waterloo are showing is refreshing.

But as Raywood hinted, these are no longer times to be looking a gift horse in the mouth.

And an ability to reinvent the club and be creative with it, is essential to the long-term future of Waterloo.

An example of that was the launch of mywaterloorugby.com, three years ago.

A website where supporters paid a subscription to have a vote on all aspects of the club, from team selection and new signings to bar prices.

It has since reached a natural conclusion and is no longer in operation, but is a prime example of the adaptability they have shown.

“The biggest challenge that we have is to exist within our means,” he continued.

“We want to play rugby at the highest level we can afford but there is no point in paying players to get us promoted and then the club going bankrupt.

“That won’t get you anywhere. We’ve been down that road.

“We don’t have a team full of Argentinean and South African journeymen anymore and half of the current squad have come from within the club.

“Our rugby budget has been considerably slashed from three years ago. It is running at less than 20% of what it was.

“Of course, we have ambitions, want to get promoted and do our best every time we go out onto the field.

“But now is not about hiring players to get us there.”

He added: “I was one of the three people who put mywaterloorugby together. That was when Waterloo stared down the barrel of a gun.

“We needed to do something desperately because we could not afford to play at the level.

“Although it only lasted three years and brought some money in, it made the decision making at the club more transparent.

“As well as helping with decisions about signing a new prop, it was also about how much we should charge for a pint.”

That level of interaction will be key to Raywood’s plans to make Waterloo a club more in-tune with the community.

Waterloo remain a well-supported club and from lows of around 250 spectators to near 600 through the gate this season, St Anthony’s Road remains one of the most vibrant grounds on the circuit.

But Raywood says they must make more people aware that the club – and its facilities – exist.

“If you got on your push bike and rode a mile from the ground and stopped and asked people where Waterloo Rugby Club was, there is only a 50-50 chance people would know,” he said.

“That is kind of weird.

“Next season it is unlikely that the north will have a Premiership rugby club. And we are in a football city so the future for us is to become a community club and dismantle some of the structure we had in place when we wanted to be a top professional side.

“There are three main things we need to achieve. We need to live within our means and break even every year. We must become much more of a presence in the local community and recruit the majority of our players from there, building from within.

“And finally we must invest in our facilities because this is our home and it is badly in need of some serious updating.”

The first part of that is planned to being in the summer of 2014, when Waterloo will replace their changing rooms with modern facilities to properly accommodate their growing junior and ladies teams.

“We don’t want to have the first-team alienate the rest of the club,” he added. “On a commercial front, we need to pay for all of this. We will get funding from the RFU and will do our own fund raising but we still need to improve our commercial income.”

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