Off the pitch just as crucial for Glasgow as well as on it

By Matthew Leslie on Aug 1, 10 08:54 PM in Glasgow Warriors

NOT long after starting my post at The Glaswegian, I asked Ian Reid, the owner of this city's basketball club the Glasgow Rocks, how with his field being a minority sport in Scotland his team managed to pull in and retain a healthy support. His answer? Engaging the community.

Compared with the attendances of the Warriors and indeed, this city's two main football clubs, the Rocks have some way to go to hit those dizzy heights but given the meagre coverage - both local and nationwide - that basketball receives, they are punching above their weight and then some.

"Wherever there is the sound of broken glass crunching underneath your shoes as you walk, you'll find us" was another comment by Reid in an interview with the Glaswegian nearly two years ago when reflecting on the work his team had done not only to catch new fans while they were young, but also to help them improve as valuable members in their own respective backyards.

For the life of a Rocks player isn't just turn up for training in the morning and clearing off to the golf course or (gulp) the bookies and the boozer and await for matchday to arrive. They're off to schools, youth clubs or even the streets of this city's, for want of a better term, rustic areas helping to make youngsters aware of options (besides gang culture and crime) which they might not know that are available to them. Playing basketball of course, being one.

Of course it helps having someone like the soon-to-be-departed skipper (although we hope for a change of mind) Rob Yanders around who has been on the other side of the fence and can speak with good authority that the street corner is not for you.

But even without Yanders, the Rocks can draw on feedback from schools and clubs on how a few words or a coaching session from one of the other players has made a positive impact on the intended audience. The 'Jump2it' sessions set up by the club gain new numbers by the year and more supporters to the cause - the infamous line of Man Utd boss Sir Alex Ferguson visiting a Govan-based school and asking a pupil which team he supported only to be stunned by the reply "the Rocks" being one example of how this campaign is on the right track.

So what does this have to do with the Warriors and rugby I hear you ask? Plenty. And it's an example worth following and building upon as the Warriors have already joined the procession - although you'd be forgiven if you hadn't heard.

Back in 2007, the SRU for financial reasons had to make the hard choice of axing one of its pro teams. The Borders side was that unlucky club with many in Glasgow breathing a sigh of relief. After all, 12 months earlier, it would almost have certainly been them given that they finished rock bottom of the league back then.

Speaking with Warriors head coach Sean Lineen at the time, I enquired as to what work in the community the club were doing. "Every Wednesday we go out into the schools" was his response. "Just Wednesday?" I asked. "Yep, Wednesdays we're out there" came the reply. Upon pointing out the Rocks' schedule Lineen did concede that it was "Interesting and something that might have to be looked at".

They have been looking at it only you wouldn't know unless you approached someone at the club in the same manner as Laurence Olivier in Marathon Man and extracted the information out of them.

A chat with captain Al Kellock last season got onto how attendances had been steadily improving and I countered that they could be boosted even further if a big push in the community was implemented.

Kellock replied that they had done so and rattled off the improvements and additions they had made to their community programme (and it aint just Wednesdays folks) since the stay of execution of 2007. Fantastic. At last. Well done..... now the question for his paymasters at the Warriors/SRU, why don't you blow you trumpet about this or if you are, could you please crank up the volume?

Because this is what the Rocks do. This is why you hear about their work outwith the basketball court in The Glaswegian more often than (Kellock's interview from last season aside) you do regarding rugby in the community. Simple communication that is not overshadowed by fancy logos is the most effective form there is as it ensures the intended target knows all about the work they are doing.

Below the Magners League is the academy that is club rugby where it is hoped various teams will give a platform for aspiring players to come to the fore so that Glasgow and Edinburgh will have stars for the future.

One such club is West of Scotland who did blow its own trumpet very loudly although its then-coach, John Beattie, is a prominent rugby commentator for the BBC and knew the importance of getting the message out regarding West's own work.

But a strange scenario came last season when Beattie, after outlining what West were doing, took time to praise local rivals Glasgow Hawks for their work in the community - in particular, going out to state schools as well as those in the traditional rugby breeding ground that is the private sector.

Again, why were Hawks so modest about their work? Why have the Warriors been as well?

Warriors chief-executive (and former Hawks one) Kenny Baillie gave an audio interview for The Glaswegian's website (in our video and pictures section if you've yet to hear it) where he spoke at length (the website not being beholden to programming schedules, we broadcast the interview in full) for his hopes for Glasgow.

In it, he appeared to take on board that the club should be blowing its own trumpet more loudly with regard to the fine work they are doing in involving school pupils (both state and privately educated) in rugby. Hopefully we will hear them shout from the rooftops as the season progresses.

However, there still appears to be a reluctance to do this with a shyness still holding the torch-bearers of this great game in Scotland back.

A certain sporting institution contacted The Glaswegian demanding that the interview with Baillie be edited. As nobody had been libelled by Kenny, the request was refused and when pressed, they did not reveal which bits they wanted out. At the risk of going out on a limb and taking a guess at what particular bit concerned them, there was one tricky question regarding the promotion (or lack of it) of the game within the streets and schools of Glasgow which Baillie handled extremely well - although a brief concession was made that a more vocal promotion was something to be taken on board. However, recognising a minor flaw is in itself strengthening your position as long as you improve upon it.

There is a message just waiting to be conveyed to a Glasgow public who love their sport. It's not just football they're fond of. Ask the Rocks. Ask our new ice-hockey franchise the Braehead Clan who have yet to play a game but are selling tickets in vast numbers to a hockey fanbase starved of a west coast team for a number of years.

Both the Rocks and Clan have acknowledged the part The Glaswegian has played in getting their respective messages across (yes our own trumpet is causing a din but you get the point). So why should rugby shoot itself in the foot when it has a west coast outlet which has been promoting it's Glasgow flagship with regard to on the pitch willing to also spread its gospel off it?

Baillie was extremely eloquent in his interview with us and we hope he continues to be so for the rest of his tenure. Judging from the initial feedback we've had since its broadcast, so do a number of Warriors fans. Yet there is an uneasy feeling that the gag and handcuffs might not be too far away.

We hope not. With the quality in performance declining and the prices to watch rising, football in this city is at a crossroads. Rugby as this nation's second winter sport has a prime opportunity to bridge the gap given the improvement of both Glasgow and Scotland these past 12 months.

While football probably will remain king, the aforementioned gap can be shortened given the proud history that Scotland has in rugby (our team has at least had the decency to win titles and make the last four of a World Cup unlike its footballing counterpart who can't get past the first round). Yet like those who govern football in this nation of ours, rugby seems to be holding itself back from really exploiting its appeal and unleashing even further the mass potential that is out there.

Shout your good news at volume 11 please and let those like ourselves broadcast your message unhindered. After all, the Rocks haven't done too badly out of it and unlike yourselves, they don't even have the luxury of a TV deal to fall back on. Dust the megaphones off and let rip as history will not be forgiving should it ever ask why Glasgow failed to fulfil its potential.

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Wild Bob said:

Good point. Anything involving public entertainment needs to go that extra mile to stand out against the competition. Given that schools are the main feeder for rugby, it makes a lot of sense to maximise the club's youth and community involvement. Also the fact that nationally we punch above our weight should be emphasised - unlike Craig Brown's perennial whinging when he was in charge of the kicking game that "We're just a wee country", rugby seems to promote a spirit of optimism that breeds results.

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Matthew Leslie

Matthew Leslie
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