Monday, 1 October 2012

Bristol's Chris Booy - a sure-footed chairman in the itchy-footed world of pro sport

Things have been a tad quiet on here of late, for which I apologise. In mitigation, I can only plead time-poverty. Making the transition to freelancer has been demanding, especially when set against the domestic backdrop of the imminent arrival of child number three. Still, at least I'll soon have a complete frontrow at my disposal.
I spoke to Bristol chairman Chris Booy just before the new season kicked off to do a piece for The Rugby Paper. In it, Booy spoke about how promotion from the Championship wasn't "the be all and end all" for his club this season. With multi-millionaire financial services big-hitter Steve Lansdown now on board, Booy said the emphasis at the Memorial Ground was on building a squad that would be capable of staying in the Premiership once it got up there, rather than going up and down between divisions like the proverbial courtesan's negligee.
Well, with the start Bristol have had, it's a good job promotion isn't the be all and end all.
It's been pretty grim so far, with three defeats in their opening five Championship matches. Two of those losses have been at home, the latest a 22-21 reversal against Moseley.
But don't strike a line through Bristol's promotion propects just yet. They have a phalanx of players due back from injury, and I liked the cut of  Booy's jib when I spoke to him back in late August. Measured, grounded and pragmatic, I think Booy's chairmanship, buttressed by Lansdown's deep pockets, will make Bristol a force to be reckoned with over the medium term.
“Getting promoted is not the be all and end all,” he told me. “We can go again. When we win the Championship, we want to make sure we stay in the Premiership. We don’t want the yo-yoing that we’ve had previously. That was down to financial instability and we don’t have that now. The plan is to build so that when we do get our prize we stay in the Premiership. We are in for the long-term. We are in the best place that the club has been in for a long time."
Refreshingly, the level-headed Booy is the perfect antidote to the worryingly expanding breed of impatient, trigger-happy CEOs and chairmen who bin coaches at the first sign of trouble. (Sale's Steve Diamond springs to mind.) Instead of waving the metaphorical axe in head coach Liam Middleton's direction, Booy offers a sympathetic ear.
“The head coach position in all sport is a dreadful position," he said. "You have the pressure of the directors’ ambitions on you, and then underneath you have the whole club reliant on the direction you choose. It’s a lonely place to be.
“So we have set up a series of mentors and friends of the club so that Liam has that network to help him. We have a young coach and we’ve had conversations with him so he has the best support. You need to get it right.”

How enlightened an approach in this increasingly itchy-footed, cut-throat world of professional sport. But whether Booy will be so sympathetic if things don't pick up for Bristol over the next couple of months is, I suspect, quite another matter.


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