David Bowie sang about “Ch…ch…ch…..changes” and after a long period of stability, three of the key movers and shakers in Gloucestershire sport are going to have moved on within 12 months.
They take huge knowledge and experience with them, but as the world changes, their successors are not like for like.
Ken Nottage came to Gloucester Rugby as Managing Director after the late Tom Walkinshaw bought the club. A good basketball player, he worked closely with Sir John Hall when Hall was heavily invvolved at Newcastle United, Hall’s empire included a lot of other sport in the north east – rugby union, ice hockey and basketball – and Ken ran it all apart from the football so running one entity at Kingsholm should have proved straight forward.
Rugby, however was evolving as a professional game, there were many teething issues, and Ken sat on many committees and focus groups to pull it through.
At Gloucester, he was the perfect politician – balancing with demands of the all parties and being the prop for Ryan Walkinshaw as he tried to pick up the baton following the death of his father. “What I’d prefer to say is…” also became his catchphrase with the media. Ken was the master of side stepping the killer question.
On the eve of last season, he left to join the Three Counties Agricultural Society – and into his role stepped Steven Vaughan, a twenty something dynamo with a background in the travel industry. Vaughan promises to have some very different ideas, particularly on marketing, and it will be interesting to see how such a modern business brain gels with a very traditional club.
At Cheltenham Racecourse, Edward Gillespie will be the only Managing Director many racing fans can remember. He stood down last November (age 60) after 32 years at Prestbury Park, in which time he – and I don’t use the word lightly – was an inspiring driver of the venue to the status it holds today.
An ideas man, you always got the impression Edward had 20 strands of thinking in his head at the same time – and the course’s track record in terms of evolution was remarkable. In business terms, very rarely did they make a mistake.
Compare the three day Festival when Desert Orchid won in 1989 Gold Cup with the four day Festival we have today, and it’s not just the extra day. The Cheltenham experience has created it’s own demand, and around 200,000 punters attend the meetings OUTSIDE the Festival.
Any problems were dealt with swiftly and effeciently, and like Nottage, Gillespie was hugely respected. His departure, however, did not lead to a Gloucester Rugby type solution. Instead, the course went to Ian Renton, an experienced racing administrator with Arena Leisure, a group that own several smaller courses around the country.
At 55, Renton will be a safe pair of hands to see through Cheltenham’s next stage of development, although, inevitably, not a long term appointment. He also has regional responsibilities for Jockey Club Racecourses at other tracks in the south west, and so is taking on more than Gillespie left behind.
Gloucestershire cricket now faces the same challenge as Chief Executive Tom Richardson is to stand down at the beginning of September. He will be 61 at that stage, and he will have been in the role for 12 years. A former Army man, Richardson followed another ex serviceman, Colin Sextone, and their approach was not dissimilar. Like Nottage, Richardson has chosen his words carefully, at times appearing unfailingly optimistic when long term Gloucestershire members were not. His goal of international 1-day cricket at the County Ground was achieved, but to keep it, Richardson had to force through the re-development which is currently underway.
The pavilion phase should be finished by the time he leaves, but what type of CEO do Gloucestershire go for as his successor ? It has to be someone who acknowledges the importance of the “other” Cheltenham Festival, which is such a money spinner to the club, and who can get people other than “the blazer brigade” into the ground for first class cricket, although one has to question how a ground so open to the elements will do that. Surely the time has come for someone with a cricket background to take the job, someone not too long retired and who can really connect with the younger supporters. Former seam bowler Mike Smith would tick most of those boxes.
Success in terms of the particpants is often driven by those at the top of a sporting organisation. Gloucester Rugby has threatened to become a real force without quite translating that into consistent, long term achievement. Cheltenham Racecourse – with stability at the top – is now, without question, one of the nation’s finest sporting theatres, Gloucestershire cricket enjoyed a golden period in one-day cricket either side of Richardson’s appointment.
Recent years have been fallow, as the club has concentrated on getting a ground that can deliver international cricket, as without it, prospects on and off the field looked bleak. Can Gloucestershire become an “in it to win it” team rather than one where success is a surprise in the future ? The image of the club may need some of Steven Vaughan’s youthful energy at Gloucester Rugby to make it happen.