by Keir Waller – Mitcham & Carshalton RUFC
In April, I got a message after getting off the tube, letting me know that the clubhouse was on fire again. In this instance, kids had set alight a small container adjacent to our clubhouse. The resulting inferno heated our equipment container to such a temperature that everything inside was destroyed. Approximately several thousands of pounds worth of gear was lost and as it was outside, our insurance wouldn’t cover it. Police had no leads. This wasn’t the first time we’d been subject to vandalism this year. Hell, I don’t even think that was the only time that month. Such is the life of a Chairman in South London.
I’ve been the Chairman of Mitcham & Carshalton Rugby Club for several months now, Co-Chair for four months and now Chairman for two but I’ve been at the club since I was eleven.
I’ve experienced the whole spectrum at this club, the good and the bad. I’ve felt the euphoria of a league promotion, the hangovers from hell and the immense lows. Namely, a year ago, I sat at a committee meeting, where the Chairman and the committee discussed whether the club was to shut forever. I was then told to drink everything up, because there’d be no more socials and bar.
And THEN the vandalism came.
The Clubhouse became more Hole-y than Righteous.
As some locals might have seen in the paper, we were the victim of numerous vandalism attacks last summer, creating several enormous holes in the roof, causing structural and water damage everywhere. We couldn’t even host the Autumn internationals as it wasn’t safe inside. It feels like at times like we’re at war with a small gang of teenagers who just destroy things because they can. We couldn’t identify them to the police as our CCTV weren’t working at the time. We had an exodus of players and committee members and we were struggling to get a team together. In the past 12 months, we’ve had fires, floods and not quite a PLAGUE of frogs, but we definitely had some amphibious invaders. Even a few months ago, we had our clubhouse door crowbarred open, the repairs for which took up our entire bar take for the Six Nations. We were broken, skint, couldn’t field a side but the bills kept coming.
This Has A Happy Ending, right?
Some of the players were never going to see the club go up in smoke (almost literally). Since that fateful committee meeting, it’s been miraculous. The club has bonded into this wonderful, albeit slightly weird family, the likes of which I’ve not seen at the club before.
Thanks to the kindness of old players and friends and family of the club, a GoFundMe page that we launched, shattered our goal to cover the repairs to the roof. We were even able to upgrade the electrics with the donations. For those who don’t know Mitcham, it’s a far-cry from the clubs populated entirely by Public School Old Boys, all earning six figures. The amazing donors to our club really had to really dig deep to help our club out and we can never thank their generosity enough. We’re now midway through refurbishing our gents, with aspirations in the next 12 months of reworking our 1XV changing rooms and building a beer garden in the wilderness that is the rear of the clubhouse. Anyone got the Man City’s Sheik’s mobile?
Obviously, our problems are far from over; we’re still struggling every month with bills and the summer holidays adds extra risk of more criminal damage from bored teenagers, but at least the subject of closure is completely off the table.
A Bit Young To Be Chairman, Aren’t You?
It’s been remarked that I’m not exactly what people expect when I’ve met people at at the club for consultations, and it’s true. I had considered maybe taking up a senior position on the committee in my thirties, or maybe when close to playing retirement? I’ve lost so much sleep thinking that I’m not skilled enough to run a club. I’ve no real skills in labouring, legal or even financial. I work in film for christ’s sake! All I have is that I know the club inside out and I wasn’t prepared to sit by whilst it fell apart. All I can do is surround myself with people who are better than I am.
We’re far from done.
In the past year, we’ve had an influx of 1XV seniors involved in the committee. A decade ago, the committee was all ex players, parents of seniors and juniors. Now, the committee member age now is something like 33. Player retention is way up. We’ve even had new players join the club because they saw the crisis meeting on the facebook page last year. We now have a bar manager / pavillion manager who shames me with her incredible work ethic. We have a Vice-Chair who’s job has now become his hobby and his hobby has become a full time job.
We still need every player to rally around the club and help our goal of restoring the club to what it was, and one day, surpassing it.
So that’s the mountain the team and I have to climb. Here goes nothing.
Follow Mitcham’s journey story on all of the social outlets.
A special thanks to Fill Your Boots, a true champion of Grassroots Rugby.
Keir Waller (Twitter – @KeirWallerPR)