Gareth Dyer’s Hoppers’ rugby union column

Gareth Dyer is head of rugby operations at Preston Grasshoppers
Gareth Dyer is head of rugby operations at Preston Grasshoppers

Preston Grasshoppers’ form in October has been pleasing with a maximum 15 points taken from the 15 available across the three games played.

That return has seen us move to the top of the North Premier Division after eight games played, with 37 league points now taken from the 40 available to date.

The performance at Rossendale was particularly pleasing given that the game was played in the full fury of Storm Brian with conditions amongst the worst I have seen us play in.

However, we are not getting carried away by our position. Refreshingly the coaches and players both feel we have lots to improve on and have lots of growing still to do as a squad – both on and off the pitch.

If we needed any reminders of what we need to overcome if we are to be successful this season, I only need to read the comments of those from other clubs in the division.

The comment of, ‘You should be top given the size of your budget’ is starting to become a familiar noise.

I must admit when I hear that I have to smile.

Several clubs in this division have sizeable playing budgets, some of which are clearly bigger than ours. As has been the case with Hoppers for many years, whichever league we have played in we have not had the biggest budget and we haven’t had the smallest either.

As a club, we only spend what we can afford and what we generate must support all parts of our club, not just our aspirations at 1st XV.

I think what relegation has done is to galvanise the support around the club. We have had a record number of local sponsors come forward to get involved, whilst our longstanding supporters and main sponsors have re-doubled their already sizeable efforts to support the club in any way they can.

Our travelling support has been immense. The numbers that are following us around are growing by the week and they will certainly be needed over the next two weeks when we cross the Pennines for two tough away fixtures. That support is humbling and it has not been lost on me, the coaches and the playing squad as to our responsibility to repay the faith that is being shown.

It has also helped us in our aspirations to build a positive culture built on a simple ideal: We are all part of one club.

We are here to support each other and ensure we all enjoy our rugby, whether that be from lacing up the boots or standing on the sidelines showing our support. In my day job, I work in Financial Services and it was whilst reading the daily edition of the Financial Times that I came across a superb article about Saracens and the value of nurturing a club mentality.

There was a quote from the owner of Saracens Nigel Wray which really struck a chord. Talking about their recent Premiership and European Cup successes, Wray candidly pointed out that success cannot be judged on winning and losing alone.

As Wray put it “A trophy isn’t what it is about. It is a good memory but you only get them as a result of the other things that matter more. What matters more is understanding what creates that success and sticking to it – taking the long view, having continuity, caring about people”.

He also goes on to point out why the initial short-term victories the club achieved when he first took over were hollow. In effect, they produced good days out but they are just that. Days rather than something more sustainable. “No one cared deeply about the club”.

Saracens success has been built on building a squad that wants to stay together. Research into sustained winners shows that teams that stay together tend to perform better over time. Not just because they become familiar with each other in a playing sense but because of the bonds that are built.

Whilst comparing Hoppers with Saracens is like comparing chalk with cheese on most levels, I believe we too have a great opportunity to build something which is bigger than just success for the 1st XV on the pitch.

We asked the players in pre-season to provide us with their ideas as to how to improve their club. The response was refreshing and reassuring in equal measure. The idea of building the family nature of the club and all being seen to be part of one club was paramount.

As was said to me, our target mantra should be, ‘My club, My team, Myself in that order’.

Once that is engrained perhaps the noise from outside will then change to, ‘You should be top given the tightness of your group’.

Then I will really have to smile.