Scrum Down: Harlequins getting ready for lift-off
A SLEEPING giant is about to be awoken thanks to the launch of a new club called the Hardwicke and Quedgeley Harlequins.
Gloucestershire's latest rugby team will spend the next year playing friendly fixtures before entering the bottom rung of the league ladder, Division Three.
The new boys have many similarities with Norton RFC, who only began life last year and make their Gloucester Three debut in two weeks' time at Smiths.
Quins Founder Tom Spencer used to work and play with Norton's chairman Jez Chandler and the two swapped advice last year before Harlequins launched this summer.
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Similarly to Norton, the Gloucester outfit have a unique catchment area to draw upon with the nearest clubs Widden Old Boys and Gordon League more than two miles away.
The recent problems of rugby clubs struggling to attract players have been well documented, so most people would think someone was crazy to start a new side.
Spencer disagrees and says a fresh approach gives them an advantage as his playing career bridged the transition from amateur to professional, letting him draw upon the best of both worlds.
He drew inspiration not only from Norton but his experiences of living in Basingstoke when a new club was set up then and he says his home town Quedgeley is ready to rise.
One of their main problems is the club is located in a football-dominated area, but with a population of 20,000 people in Quedgeley, Spencer says there is room for both.
A Harlequin is described as a comic or buffoon or someone offering something different, and while a heavy emphasis is based on fun, Spencer says there is a serious message behind the name.
As Spencer has watched where he grew up develop and expand, he hopes the rugby club can do the same with 20 players on board and plans afoot for a ground and youth section.
"I always thought Quedgeley needed something else because football has taken over and we're a rugby town so rugby should have a presence there and luckily the RFU agreed with me," said Spencer.
"Rugby players have converted to football for the convenience, plus people who live in Quedgeley travel to play for other clubs.
"They might have committed to this season, but we've had a few people say if we're in the league, they'd be happy to move to us, which is encouraging.
"There are 20,000 people in Quedgeley and if you can't get a rugby team out of that then you don't deserve one!
"Half of our squad are veterans who have played rugby before and stopped, the rest are people who have never touched a rugby ball, so it's a mixed bag.
"There's never been a rugby side there and that was quite difficult.
"Most rugby clubs have some sort of historical bearing like a badge to go on.
"But Quedgeley was a village that started as a hamlet around a farmhouse and expanded and grew around Tesco's.
"As Tesco's expanded so did the town. It was a lot smaller than it is now and has gone through the roof.
"That's why we went for Harlequins because there was not much history and a lot of guys have played for other clubs and come from different areas.
"There are so many elements of different clubs, areas and backgrounds Harlequins explain the community of bringing it all together.
"I always liked Harlequins even though I'm a Gloucester boy and Will Carling was my favourite player and they won the Premiership last year so it seemed topical.
"They've always had a jazzy kit and I liked the idea of something different for kids because we want to stand out.
"There's so many clubs in the city but no one's doing anything different, so we are.
"It's about the social side like having drinks after games, plus we're doing things outside of that like going on paintball trips trying to build camaraderie.
"Everyone's forgotten the core basics of rugby which is having a good time with your mates. That seems to have gone out of the window.
"People have a squash and go home. I know people are living a healthy lifestyle but there's nothing wrong with having two or three pints after a game.
"Also you can't all be about dragging money off people. Every club I go to it's £100 membership and top-of-the-range kit.
"We're a bunch of lads that all get a long and a lot of them have known me but not each other. so we've had a few socials and everyone's getting on really well.
"We're trying to get the right people in but we're more about growing the product of Hardwicke and Quedgeley Harlequins.
"Too many clubs are run as clubs, you have to remember it's a business and the only way to success is get the right staff involved, which in this case is the players.
"We're not asking them for money all the time, we're asking for their time.
"We're lucky we don't have overheads so we can grow the club atmosphere rather than get money off people.
"With that team unity, it's about wearing club shirt and ties after the game because that doesn't happen anymore, it's all flip flops and shorts.
"A rugby club can be a cliquey experience. You have certain cliques where the firsts are in one corner, the seconds in another and the thirds in another.
"We all mix together. We hope to have two sides by the end of the year and the theory will be no cliques because it's about enjoying the game.
"I know it's harder as you go up the levels but I've been to clubs at low levels who still can't get that right.
"The good thing for us is I've not heard anyone say to me, 'What a stupid idea'. I normally expect one or two sceptics but I haven't met anyone who has said that yet."
Anybody interested in joining or sponsoring the club can contact HQRFC@mail.com or call Tom Spencer on 07850 796493.