Scrum down: Chosen Hill rugby club focus
CHOSEN Hill Former Pupils are the epitome of the phrase 'If you build it, they will come.'
Nine years ago their junior section was started with only 11 children, but that tally has now exploded to 150 across nine different age group teams.
Their hard work investing in youth has been recognised and rewarded with the RFU Club Accreditation Award, only the second club in the county to receive it after Drybrook.
Clubs must demonstrate evidence of good practice in areas such as club management, player development and recruitment, child protection, sports equity, coaching, refereeing and volunteering.
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On the pitch they have seen the benefit, with a quarter of the first team made up of players who have risen through the ranks at Brookfield Road.
Last year the first team suffered a horrendous season with injury with four players – scrum-half, fly-half, full-back and wing – all sustaining long-term cruciate ligament knee problems.
At one point they were short of 18 players due to injury and were forced to cry off, costing them a deduction of five points at the start of this season.
As a result of their injury woes they were relegated from Tribute South West One West, ending a three-year stint in the highest division in their 42-year history.
With a constant flow of players flooding through to the senior level, club chairman Phil King says youth has to be invested to ensure there is a future for rugby clubs.
"We don't attract many players to the club, so most players have to come through the ranks," he said.
"Six out of our 23 first-team players came from the junior section, which is not a bad ratio.
"It is the future, without a shadow of a doubt. If you haven't got a junior section then the club won't survive because of the finances.
"You can't run a clubhouse on a first team alone. You used to be able to with just the bar takings, but you won't sell enough behind the bar from just one or two teams.
"We are lucky that we have a good catchment area and links with two schools in Churchdown. But a lot of players have come from the same families and that is how it seems to be.
"Last year we had five different sets of brothers in the first team and that is how it has always been.
"A lot of kids when they get to 18 years old and are ready for adult rugby they go off to university or they go watch Gloucester every week.
"But if their parents are still involved with the club then the kids are more likely to stay involved because there is still a connection there.
"I'm from Tredworth originally and came to watch my brother here in 1981 when I was 20 and fancied a crack at it and have not looked back since, and now my two sons are in the first team.
"Every year the junior section will be providing players, and if we can maintain that ratio of 25 per cent then you have a steady turnover of faces on the pitch."
A NOD TO THE OAST BUT MCNEIL'S AN INNOVATOR
THE future of Chosen Hill Former Pupils is in safe hands with old boy Chris McNeil at the helm.
A scurrying openside by trade, McNeil watched his dad Steve (McNeil) play for the Churchdown outfit as a boy and his uncle Paddy (Mullis) is currently the junior chairman.
McNeil is an example of the fantastic family atmosphere at the Brookfield Road side, who have three senior sides currently in operation having grown up at the club.
The 24-year-old progressed through the playing ranks as a youngster before signing for Cinderford in National One, but a series of serious knee ligament injuries forced him to give up playing.
Having plied his trade in the third tier of English rugby with the Foresters he is back at his boyhood club, coaching the first team in Tribute Western Counties North.
As well as the series of serious injuries last season Chosen Hill, like many teams, struggled with the huge travelling distances in level six.
Long journeys to Devon and Cornwall were a regular thing on Saturdays.
On the pitch the club are benefiting from the influx of their blossoming junior section, while off it they can boast modern and impressive facilities too.
The RFU have just helped with the installation of a new boiler which is better for the environment and has halved the costs of utility bills.
New toilets have been installed recently thanks to money left to the club from former secretary Dave Harris, who died two years ago.
Work is due to start soon on new changing rooms which will be ready at the start of next season.
The club was originally started in 1970 for former pupils who wanted to carry on playing rugby after school and not go onto university.
Now, with McNeil going full circle and returning to the club, he says it is those masses of youngsters aged under 18 who make up the future.
McNeil said: “If you see the word ‘accredited’ – which will be on a big sign outside the club – it means parents can safely bring their children here.
“They will come into an environment that is well controlled and well managed, and it all helps if you have all of these things because it means it is well run.
“The RFU are investing £26 million into grassroots rugby in the next three years and it is the way to go.
“One of the things that was highlighted in the accreditation was ‘succession planning,’ where they made you look at who is going to take over from the current group of players.
“It used to be that you just turned up on a Saturday and it was in someone’s head or written on the back of a fag packet, but it is more professional now.
“Now there is a whole folder of information with the names of the kids in the youth section, their allergies and contacts details if anything happens.”