What’s Happening To The East?

A supporter follows his/her team for many reasons, most of which are intangible but fewer again are sensible, but the tie for many is unbreakable. It is lifelong, through thick and thin but with a huge caveat – as long as the Club followed stays true to the values that first attracted that support. Even if the Club strays from those values, such as getting into bed with a Soccer team on a crazy rental deal that seemingly had nothing to do rugby, the supporter kids himself/believes that the original club is still there and can return. Many Cardiff fans are the embodiment of this. 

Over in Newport, there are many hanging on to the hope that their club sees the same kind of sense that Cardiff did in 2012 when they returned home. For us the catalyst was financial as the support stayed away in larger and larger numbers once the true terms of the deal leaked out. It didn’t happen by accident and Newport followers must decide if they wish to regain their club by taking the only action that Professional Rugby Teams listen to – by hitting them in the pocket.

If those Newport followers need any further incentive other than a decade of dross on their pitch, they should read below for a written Q&A between a lifelong Newport RFC supporter and Stuart Davies, Chief Executive of Rodney Parade ltd. For irony, I’ve produced his replies in Amber.

1. Please would you clarify why the company has never taken up the offer from the WRU of receiving / purchasing their share?

In the short time that I have been here this has not been discussed and I would wish to consider the pros and cons of doing so before exploring further whether this is a possibility that should be pursued. The current arrangement is not causing any concern.

Comment – It’s interesting that the Chief Executive seems unsure as to whether the 50% held by the WRU can be obtained, let alone if it has been offered. I would have thought that this basic knowledge would have been researched before even the first interview. What is equally as startling is how the final sentence will be viewed by the thousands of lapsed Newport supporters who have walked from rugby altogether. Let’s not forget that the support base afforded (supposedly) to the NGD attracted 8482 to watch Uruguay in 2001. For many no longer attending Rodney Parade, ‘the current arrangement’ is causing huge concern, Stuart.

2. Please would you clarify why the team branding and marketing of Newport Gwent Dragons has taken the form it has. By this, it is clear that the direction is to move away from the Black and Amber colours and identity of Newport and more towards a Gwent branding (including even a Blue & Black kit) and what will be the strategy for the 2015/2016 season?

As far as I’m aware there has been no policy to move in such a direction, just a natural progression. At the same time however, I feel that if we wish to be a true regional entity, then further establishing a Dragons brand and identity is important. Newport RFC still exists and plays in black and amber, whereas the Dragons have the freedom to play in different colours – the Monmouthshire blue for example being used in the away kit to which you refer last season.

Comment – so this is basic written confirmation that the ‘Dragons’ brand is moving further and further away from its Newport RFC ‘origin’. So those ‘stay away’ Newport followers will be getting less and less incentive to return.

3. Please would you clarify, or explain with more clarity, the comments of Will Godfrey at the aforementioned FoNR AGM when he stated he wished to distance Newport RFC from ‘The Dragons”.

I cannot comment on behalf of Will Godrey, albeit I have passed on a copy of your letter. Personally though, since my arrival I have noticed a recurring theme of ‘identity’ around which there somewhat bafflingly seems to be confusion. I should say this is also evident in your letter, and I would go back to my comments in point 2 above. Newport RFC exists and plays in the premiership. They are not the regional entity; they did not become a regional ‘super-club’. However, their role in the transition from club to region in these parts is reflected in the Dragons’ name. Notwithstanding this acknowledgement, and indeed the manner in which this whole matter was dealt with some 13 years ago, it is important to both sides that there is clarity around identity, and if some ‘distance’ helps that, then it would be no bad thing in my opinion. 

Comment – Again, to confirm Point 2, the Dragons relied on Newport at the start but now are happy to move away from that base. It’s important here to remember that reliance on the Newport base and the reason why the Newport name was added. It is because the first attempt at ‘regional rugby’ in Gwent went bust. The administrators were called in to sort out the mess that required Newport RFC’s supporters and financial backer to step in. Now it seems that those events of nigh on 12 years ago are forgotten, or abused. The new Chief Executive of Rodney Parade Ltd is agreed with Will Godfrey, Chairman of Newport RFC, that greater distance between Newport Gwent Dragons and Newport RFC is needed.

4. Player Allocation – Why are players paid by Newport RFC allocated to rival teams? Especially when missing important games for their employers. Is this allocation of resource acting in the best interests of the company?

I have assumed here that you are referring to the lending of players to Cross Keys when participating in the B and I Cup. The distribution and development of players via the academy/placement system, joint registrations etc and keeping all parties happy is not straightforward, but as is evident from the current discussions around this competition, it is seen as an important part of the development/competition pathway. I respect the passion and protective feeling that all supporters have for their sides, but on occasion there is a bigger picture that impacts on discussions that may adversely affect teams. It would always be my hope that this was minimalised. 

Comment – I’ve read that reply numerous times but cannot see a relevance to the question other than a weak notion that ‘all parties’ must be kept ‘happy’. What is baffling is that those ‘other parties’ have no stake in the company of which Davies is Chief Executive. He is basically noting, in writing, that he is acting in the interests of other companies and not his own. This is bizarre.

5. Please could you explain to supporters of Newport RFC, whose asset is used as security for loans made to financially support Newport Gwent Dragons (according to the Land Registry records), why our support should extend to Newport Gwent Dragons.

I have no wish to explain to any Newport RFC supporter as to why they should support Newport Gwent Dragons. This is a matter of individual choice and should be a ‘calling’ rather than an obligation. 

Comment – The bizarre theme continued with this answer. A Chief Executive of a Company refusing to take the opportunity to gain a customer, other than by noting that buying his product should be a ‘calling’. A ‘calling’? This isn’t some religious sect where common sense is ignored, where some unrealistic and holistic approach of mass appeal is followed by ignoring reality. Oh, hang on….

6. Does the board of Newport RFC have any plans, or has ever made consideration, to sell off its shareholding in Newport RFC to its own Directors or to any other party.

I would refer you to the Articles of Association of the Company regarding what is or isn’t possible in respect of the transfer of shares, and I am not prepared to comment for individual shareholders.

Comment – There’s a typo here from the Questioner as it should read ‘in Newport Gwent Dragons’.

7. If we are not to become a standalone Professional Team by taking over the WRU’s share, what is the commercial benefit to Newport RFC by maintaining 50% ownership of a loss making team that requires our asset as security for loans?

Newport RFC’s part ownership of the Dragons is not punitive. Indeed, the maintenance and upkeep of the asset to which you refer is in many ways reliant on the arrangement that is in place.

Comment – And here is the killer blow for Newport RFC followers, delivered by Stuart Davies. Here we have the age old myth that Rodney Parade would fall to pieces if it wasn’t for the NGD playing there. I would ask for the basis of this comment, I would ask to see the research for this opinion. Why? Simply because it is a nonsense. There is no other venue in ‘Gwent’ that could host the NGD rugby team’s home games as no other rugby ground has the necessary corporate or spectator facilities. Therefore, it is Rodney Parade upkeeping the NGD and NOT the other way around. How do we know that Rodney Parade couldn’t be maintained at its present status solely by the NGD paying a market rental rate for its use? You know, just as Newport County FC do.

8. If we are not to become a standalone Professional Team, why should any Newport RFC supporter pay for Newport Gwent Dragons tickets?

See 5 above. 

On September 29th, 2014, William Angus Godfrey entered into a mortgage agreement with Newport Rugby Football Club regarding Rodney Parade. It is a Legal Mortgage, registered with the Land Registry. Newport Rugby Football Club (company number 03559359) borrowed £175.000 secured against Rodney Parade. Can Newport RFC followers be assured that this sum was used to support Newport RFC, or Newport Gwent Dragons? According to Companies House, there are five other such charges secured against that company, the company that runs both Newport RFC and Newport Gwent Dragons.

So there we have it laid out bare for Newport RFC fans. We’re told that the NGD will be further distanced from Newport RFC, despite relying on the asset of Newport RFC in order to continue trading. And that asset is only maintained because of the presence of the NGD, if you believe Stuart Davies.

Of course, I don’t believe him. I think that his comment is the worst kind of smoke and mirrors possible. I believe that Newport RFC followers should campaign to force the hand of their Chairman – Will Godfrey – to take one of two courses of action – 1) to buy out the WRU’s share in the NGD in order to make the club a standalone, or 2) Newport RFC should sell its share in the NGD to whoever wishes to buy it.

What is sensible, and honest, here is for Newport RFC to sell its 50% shareholding to Godfrey and co, for the NGD to become tenants of Rodney Parade and for Newport RFC to be landlords and independent. It looks like there is little hope of Newport RFC becoming a standalone professional team whilst being Chaired by Godfrey so the only honest course of action is for the asset of Newport RFC to be used solely (and transparently) for the benefit of Newport RFC. The only way that can happen is by getting out of the NGD and becoming commercial landlords to both Newport County FC and Newport Gwent Dragons.

After all, what’s the point of owning an asset like Rodney Parade if its income stream props up a team that is ‘distancing’ from your own? A team you need to be ‘called’ to follow.

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