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Plymouth Albion’s heart still beating strongly despite Covid-19 lockdown

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By Commercial Manager Chris Bentley:

On Saturday 6th March English Rugby’s Green King IPA Championship Clubs joined their Gallagher Premiership counterparts to play post-Covid competitive rugby. In the normal progression of events, one would have hoped Plymouth Albion and National League clubs would be soon to follow. Unfortunately, it is not to be as the dark cloud of the pandemic continues to cast a shadow on rugby below elite level.

It has been challenging for the nation’s vast majority of rugby clubs to maintain focus, enthusiasm and training. For over a year now club players, officials and fans have been waiting patiently for a break in the pandemic lockdown and the green light to signal a restart.

It has not been easy, but I am pleased to report the heart is still beating strongly at Brickfields. The ambition, enthusiasm and intent of our club remains undaunted. Indeed, the enforced ‘time out’ has given rise to significant work and activity continuing behind the scenes at Plymouth Albion.

It was famously said that ‘Diamonds are a girl’s best friend. ’I would like to amend that to read, ‘Your best friends are your Diamonds.” Indeed, when you are under pressure the resilience and support of true friends remains astonishing.

I say this because a host of volunteers and friends of the club are currently engaged in repainting the club to ensure we look good, professional and in pristine condition when we finally open again for competitive rugby.

Allow me to single out Mark, Sam, Paddy and Sophie (pictured above). Otherwise known as the sports rehab team! In my book, these ‘Diamond Geezers’ are ‘True Friends’ of Plymouth Albion and the community we serve. A really good effort guys, thanks and respect to you all.

With competitive National League rugby ruled a non-starter until September, the decision at Brickfields has been made not to risk injuring our players in makeshift tournaments and otherwise meaningless competitions. Player development, training and fitness work continues under the guidance of DoR Damien Welsh as Albion continue to build for an explosive and successful start to the season planned for September.

In the interim, Albion are doing much more than simply treading water. Our Heritage Club Blueprint has received a warm response from RFU Chief Executive Bill Sweeney and is similarly earning favourable support from other clubs around the land.

On the commercial front, Albion have a new kit supplier and sparkling new strip in place raring to go. Similarly, Albion executives have been in contact with commercial and political sponsoring partners, all keen to work together to build the success and reputation of our club, the Ocean City and wider community.

I am sure we are all familiar with the adage, ‘The whole is greater than the sum of its parts’.

Plymouth Albion continues to champion the initiative to bring our community together to introduce, build and develop a centre of sporting excellence in the Ocean City. It will not just

happen. It requires the support, firm commitment and action from our civic leaders and captains of industry to identify the potential and bring their weight to the table.

Plymouth Raiders continue to fly the City colours on the national basketball stage with Argyle carrying our colours in major league soccer. The announcement that Plymouth is to enjoy the facility and benefits of becoming a Free Port further fuels confidence for the new norm of life after Covid and the massive potential we have right here in the Ocean City.

It is merely a heartbeat since Plymouth Albion were competing with and regularly beating Exeter Chiefs. In less than a decade following Chiefs promotion to the Premiership, Exeter Rugby Club have masterminded the building and development of a 13,000 capacity stadium, a cutting edge conference and exhibition centre. A 250-bed hotel is already under construction next to their Sandy Park Club to accommodate guests at international corporate events planned for their expanded stadium and conference centre.

Chiefs were again featured on national TV last weekend carrying the Exeter Brand to viewers around the land and rugby fans all over the globe. It was a noticeable feature that the advertising signage has been taken down from the roof of their East stand. This in preparation for still more building to commence at the end of this season of another new and improved extension of their stadium together with additional conference and event facilities.

During my 6-year tenure as Chiefs Corporate Manager, I was made aware that the commercial benefit Chiefs Rugby brought to the city of Exeter was well in excess of £10m. Since my departure from Sandy Park, the club has gone on to win both the National Premiership Championship and European Champions Cup. One hesitates to put a number on the value that prestige and honour this brings to the Exeter community, but I suspect it will significantly add to the previous £10m financial inflow of cash.

I note foreign investment flooding into the nation’s leading soccer clubs. In our own back yard, it took the benevolent involvement of a Turkish businessman to see the value and potential in Plymouth Raiders. It was once said, ‘When others see the boat you may already have missed it.’ Make of that as you will but be minded that Covid will come to an end and life will return to a new norm. The opportunity is there, outline plans are in train, a blueprint is on the table. Plymouth Albion Executive Team are poised, ready and waiting to join with others building a bright and better future for the Ocean City. Watch this space!


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