This is how I remember Adam Balding. A ball carrying rather than ball playing number eight whose vigorous approach belied his quietly spoken demeanour off the pitch. He never looked happier than in training kit during the week or in team colours on a match day.
Now though, his uniform of choice is very different. Fashionable shoes, grey trousers and a sharply pressed white shirt, with the sort of collar Harry Hill would be proud of. A player who gave his all for five different clubs has swapped rugby roles and is heading off in a different direction.
The former Gloucester captain has hung up his boots at 33 to become 2015 Rugby World Cup co-ordinator for the tournament at the City Council. Gloucester is staging four matches, and while when I went to see him, he looked ready for another season on the field, he confessed that “another” season wasn’t as exciting as the job he had taken on.
“Being a former Gloucester player and captain obviously was a help to my application” he said. “I understand the relationship the city has with the club and the passion that exists here, but I think I also got the job because of the transferable skills I can bring – leadership. drive, resilience and being able to connect with the public.”
“I’ve been part of the work that community departments at clubs like Gloucester do, and it’s fantastic going into schools and raising awareness of rugby and sport in general. That’s why I thought this job ticked a lot of boxes for me, it gives me the ability to give something back, but also the ability to step from professional sport into the corporate world and work with some fantastic people.”
Balding came to Gloucester in 2004 and the supporters voted him Player of the Year by a landslide at the end of his first season. His remaining three years at the club were dogged by fitness issues. He fractured a cheekbone in three places and damaged an Achilles badly enough that the surgeon’s knife was needed to put it right. Both meant lengthy spells watching rather than playing, but Balding didn’t waste that time.
“I anticipated playing again this season so I’ve come here straight off the field, if you like” Balding said.
“Over the years I was encouraged to network either by going to functions or by meeting people after games. I sat down and wrote out a contact list not only from the rugby side but also including business people and I actually thought it was quite a distinguished list so I’ll certainly try and use it. This is a massive learning curve for me but although I’ve only been here a couple of weeks it feels very natural and as if I’ve been here for quite a while already.”
I sensed Balding liked the fact he had taken control of his own career. Sometimes players move because they can see little opportunity in front of them.
They may not want to uproot their family but they can sense if they are being squeezed out. Balding’s playing career post Gloucester took him to Newcastle (twice), Worcester and London Welsh, where he finished last season.
At the end of it he was a free agent, but after a two day assessment Balding landed a very different job, albeit one which covers a typical time span for a player’s contract, through until the 2015 tournament.
“I know Paul James (City Council Leader) has described it as a big job, and it is, but the resources in the department are amazing” Balding went on.
“It is the first job like this I have had and there is a sense of the unknown about it, but help and a structure is in place and I’m not shy of asking questions. The 2015 Rugby World Cup is a vehicle for us to reach out into the community – we want to make everyone feel a part of it.”
“Will it happen overnight ? Absolutely not. It’s a slow burner and there will always be certain people who are oblivious to what is going on and those are the ones we want to try and grasp and get them involved either with the rugby or with the other events that go with it.”
Adam Balding the player was uncomplicated. His injury log will tell you he was one of those players Gloucester fans respect for putting the needs of the team before any thought of self preservation. He’s also got through that emotional moment of realising that his playing career is over, and is, in his typically head-on fashion, tackling something new. He deserves to make a success of it.
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