Running a sports clubs comes at a cost - gas, water, electricity, ground rates, rents, facility maintenance, players and coaches, coaching courses, first aid, travel expenses, insurances and membership to the relevant governing bodies are all a huge drain on finances.
Whilst most sports clubs are judged by the success of their first team, where winning matches, gaining promotion and doing well in the leagues certainly gives them a high profile, the reality is that success is down to how well the club is run behind the scenes.
A strong junior section is, quite rightly, viewed as the future of any club yet, equally, the provision of seconds, thirds and veterans teams keeps the financial arteries flowing, bringing in much needed income.
A club's income generally comes solely from the 'spending power' of its membership, with monies raised via subscriptions, bar takings, events and local sponsorship (often from members' own companies) providing the main income streams. Occasionally, additional funding is available from governing bodies, the national lottery and other agencies, but this is generally to finance specific projects.
So, it is vitally important that, when a player hangs up his boots, he or she remains involved in the club in some capacity. This is, generally, not too difficult as the club will have become part and parcel of the player's life and 'giving back' becomes a natural progression - coach, secretary, chairman, club president, fixtures secretary and groundsman roles are always up for grabs! These dedicated volunteers are the mainstay of any club, giving something back, at little or no cost.
When I moved to Shropshire, back in 1990, I joined Newport Rugby Club, playing for their first team for a number of years, before gracefully retiring and taking on a coaching role within the club. I confess that the enjoyment I got from progressing youngsters through the various squads was almost as satisfying as playing - and certainly less painful!
Like most clubs, Newport RFC are driven by the fact they want to do well, progress up the leagues and be a large part of the local community.
In recent years, the club has been successful on the playing front, rising through the leagues to be currently playing the highest level of rugby in their history - Level 5 National 3, Midlands.
The first XV holds the Shropshire Cup and were runners up in the North Midlands Cup in 2012. They have a very strong mini and junior section, with teams from U7s to U18s. Last year, the U15s won the North Midlands Cup.
Newport's facilities are set in the idyllic surroundings of Newport Agricultural Showground at Chetwynd Deer Park. They have recently secured a long term lease agreement with the Newport and District Agriculture Society, who own the land, which gives them the opportunity to secure much needed funding from the RFU and other funding agencies to extend and improve their facilities.
The club are currently busy raising funds to pay for a clubhouse extension, and has recently secured a £50,000 grant from Sport England to assist with this. The extension will provide much needed extra space to cope with the numbers of people who are involved in the playing and running of the club.
Along with club members Andrew Watson Jones and Stephen Murphy, I was involved in raising much needed funds this summer, by organising a rock festival - NewFest 2012 - an all day music event. Following a number of meetings last year, the club finally agreed to run the event and, after much planning by all concerned, we saw the fruition of the event in May. We were blessed with fantastic weather and the commitment from ten local bands.
Many of the club's members helped run the festival, culminating in a very successful event that raised over £10,000.
Also, this year, the club were keen to improve the quality of their pitches, especially their training areas. They approached me for some advice and, after some discussions with the club's volunteer groundsmen, Andrew Watson Jones and Neil Furniss, both ex-players and local farmers, some extensive work was carried out on the training pitch.
Neil and Andrew have, for a number of years, been looking after the club's pitches. using their farming skills. The pitches are naturally very free draining as they are laid over sandstone.
Being farmers, they had all the equipment at their disposal to undertake a full reconstruction of the training pitch, killing off the top vegetation, ploughing up the pitch, power harrowing, relevelling and overseeding. They bought twenty bags of perennial sports rye grass seed (from Pitchcare obviously), and completed the work in May.
My biggest concern, at the time, was the weather. Once the seed had been sown, and having no irrigation available, it was a case of praying for rain. I think we all prayed too hard, as it didn't stop raining for several weeks!
Germination was succesful and growth strong, so Neil borrowed some ride-on rotary mowers to undertake the first few cuts. With the grass firmly established, it was now a case of mowing on a weekly basis to promote tillering. Feeding and stone picking, to remove any large stones from the playing surface, was also carried out. A selective weedkiller will be applied in September to kill off any weeds that may have sprouted in recent weeks.
As for the first team pitch, this year's renovation programme was centred on an oversowing of the pitch followed by regular mowing and feeding.
It is important that clubs invest in their pitches and find the appropriate resources to undertake the necessary maintenance work to keep them in good condition. Well maintained and presented pitches will encourage better play and will also act as a catalyst to attract players to the club.
I have been keeping an eye on the pitches and, whilst it would be nice to see more attention being paid to them in terms of more frequent mowing, the reliance on farmers being available at their busiest time of their year often compromises what can be achieved.
I also had some concerns with the use of large and heavy tractors fitted with agricultural tyres, which resulted in some surface damage when applying fertiliser.
Being farmers, they used an agricultural, high nitrogen based granular fertiliser product, basically because it was 'cheap and cheerful' compared to using specialist sportsturf fertilisers. An appropriate sportsturf fertiliser, designed to promote steady, longer lasting growth would have been my preferred choice, but it's difficult to argue with the maths... and the farmers!
If all goes to plan, the club will be back training on the new pitch in October. Both Andrew and Neil will be keen to see the pitch back in play and, hopefully, will have gained enough confidence to undertake the same operation next year on the first team pitch with the same encouraging results.
It goes without saying that the success of any sports club comes from within, making good use of the resources available which, in the main, are its members. Andrew and Neil are a prime example. Their drive and passion makes a difference to the club's success, both on and off the pitch.