Bishop's Stortford RFC joint head coaches Tom Coleman and Marcus Cattell on the 'one club' ethos at Silver Leys and what makes it so special
Like everyone associated with Bishop’s Stortford RFC, playing member Sam Watt is looking forward to the day all of the club’s teams can put the coronavirus crisis behind them and return to competitive action.
The aspiring journalist, 22, who graduated with a history degree from the University of East Anglia this year, caught up with joint head coaches Tom Coleman and Marcus Cattell to find out how they are dealing with difficult circumstances and what makes the Silver Leys club so special...
Tom Coleman and Marcus Cattell have been side by side at Bishop's Stortford since they joined as minis and are now leading the club into a season which holds no promise of rugby until the end of January at best.
Having been installed as joint head coaches back in May following Andy Long's departure, the pair are yet to see their side take to the field in National League 1.
But despite this they remain upbeat about the opportunities the enforced break due to the coronavirus pandemic offers.
"We've got to look at this period as a positive and try to improve the boys individually," said Coleman. "The players do get a prolonged rest and we were going to give that to a couple of the boys anyway after a physically tough season."
Cattell added he was glad they "have had the opportunity to do some really skill-heavy stuff that we don't always get a chance to do because of time restrictions".
That said, both are itching to get back to seeing the team play in whatever form that may take. The National League 1 season has been cancelled, but a cup competition involving National League sides has been confirmed, with clubs having until November 30 to register their interest.
When the next league season begins their standards remain high – "we would like to be top eight and fully expect ourselves to be there" – and both are quick to cite the togetherness of the club as the major factor that helps Stortford through difficult periods and gives them an edge. Coleman picks out a point last year when they had 25 injuries: "It was only because of the rugby club that we got through that. We have boys at university who are willing to come back and play for us which is a great asset."
Cattell added: "When boys go away to university their studies take priority, but if we are struggling we can rely on the likes of George Keen, Jake Morris, Tom Hitchcock and Connor Mak to help us out."
It is that family feel which sits at the heart of Stortford's ethos. The appointment of Coleman and Cattell from within is very much testament to that. Colemans and Cattells can be found littered right across the club, most notably their fathers as current and past Stortford presidents respectively.
Coleman was keen to mention how he turned out for the fourth XV last season, which was a far cry from the pressed kit and physio treatment of the first team.
"We get all the praise because we are at the top with the first XV, but it's all the teams below that are really important," he said. "Most of them are the ones putting money behind the bar on a weekly basis and come to support us all the time."
For Cattell, the strength of the club comes from its supporters and sponsors. "It says a lot about them that they are still willing to back us into this season," he said.
"We've been around to meet sponsors, let them know what we're up to and how they're helping us, and actually we've found that we learn stuff from how they work as a team and manage different people."
The coaches know how important man management will be in a league that holds such an intense fixture list. Perhaps then it is beneficial that the pair have been promoted from within and know the players inside out.
"At times you do have to make tough decisions, so it does help to have that relationship with them and know how to talk to each player," said Cattell.
While Tom balances his responsibilities as a coach, husband and parent with being a full-time PE teacher at Hockerill Anglo-European College, Cattell in particular is bearing a heavy workload after he and his wife Laura recently welcomed their first child into the world.
Both coaches feel that the unusual setup of sharing the head coach role will be ideal.
"We both have similar philosophies on how the game should be played and what we are good at as a team," said Coleman. "We both care a lot about the club beyond the first team. With both of us having other jobs it also makes sense to ensure we perform to the best of our ability."
When questioned as to what sets Stortford apart from other teams in National League 1, it is the club beyond the first team that stands out for both of them.
"Being probably in the bottom three clubs in the league in terms of what we pay, it says a lot about the club," said Coleman.
"There has got to be something there when you've played right through from the minis to the colts to the very top. We would still have a good 10 players from a squad of 20 who have come through the system.
"We've told all the boys that this season there might not be any money in it for them and not one of them has said that bothers them."
Cattell also believes the club's culture is key: "We like to keep the amateur side of it. We want to be as professional as possible but still enjoy ourselves on and off the pitch.
"After a good win it's nice to have a beer and that's when the real character of the lads comes out.
"Big socials are always good because the other senior sides and the women's side get involved and the club does practise that 'one club' phrase. So many clubs just throw it out there and don't actually practise it, but we do."
Despite the stranglehold of current restrictions there is still a feeling of positivity around the club.
"I think people will be buzzing to get back up the club when it does finally allow bodies through," said Cattell. "A lot of the boys will no longer take it for granted and will enjoy their rugby more."
It is on the youth setup that the real future of the club rests. Now these teams are back in training, Coleman and Cattell are trying to strengthen the link between them and the first XV.
"The Sunday club support the Saturday club a lot more than the other way around, so we've made a real effort to give more to the Sunday teams," said Cattell. "After all, out the back there is where the next first XV is coming from."