‘It’s time for our generation to help Portsmouth RFC move forward’

The winds of change are blowing through Portsmouth Rugby Club – on and off the field.

Tuesday, 28th April 2020, 9:13 am
Updated Tuesday, 28th April 2020, 9:15 am
FLASHBACK: Portsmouth RFC, 1989/90. Back (from left): Peter Golding (President), Gary Medlow, Nigel Morgan (head coach), Jon Whitehouse, Steve Todd, Roger Highgate, Jason Ford, Ian Graham, Bob Gillette, Mike Raine, Mike Bailey, Jamie Cook, Dave Paine, Pete Smout (Physio). Front: Mo Twells, Rob Davey, Neil O’Carolan, Steve Cameron (captain), Piers Howarth, Mathew Haslet, Kevin Kennedy, Alex Van GunstaneI.

The News last month reported how head coach Neil McRoberts had stood down after two seasons in charge to be replaced by Gareth Richards.Now chairman Ed Neville is preparing to step down after seven years at the helm.His proposed replacement, Jon Whitehouse, has been co-opted onto the committee ahead of an AGM on a date to be decided.Steve Cameron and Mike Caspall – two other Portsmouth RFC stalwarts of many years standing – will both share the title of vice chairman if all the proposed changes are ratified.Whitehouse first played for Portsmouth in 1988, after moving to the area to work in civil engineering.He was a first team regular into his 30s – mainly in the second row – and played his last game aged 50 on a vets tour of Paris six years ago.‘Five of us retired on the same night,’ he recalled. ‘The only one who didn’t officially retire was ‘Chalky’ (Hugh White) – and he hasn’t played since!Whitehouse retired from business in 2018, ‘and I’ve since found I’ve got a bit more time on my hands, so I can do something for the club.‘It’s time for our generation to step up and try and help move the club forward.’Whitehouse has known Cameron and Caspell for over 30 years, and he believes their close friendship can only benefit the club.‘We know each other well, we’ve played rugby together for a long time, we’ve been on tours throughout Europe together, we understand how each other works,’ he explained.‘There’s a huge element of trust between us all.‘We are inexperienced in terms of being on rugby committees, but we’re experienced in business, and we’ve been members of the club for a long time.‘I was asked by some senior members if I would be interested in becoming chairman. I did have to think about it for a while, I wasn’t sure I was the right person for the job, but I was persuaded otherwise.‘We’d like to run the club in a more business-like manner. Basically, we also want to get ourselves on a firmer financial footing, but still retain the social ethos of the club.‘I do appreciate that at the moment people will be more concerned about trying to save their businesses than sponsoring Portsmouth Rugby Club.‘It’s an exciting time for the club – the new coaching structure has gone down well with the players – it’s just frustrating we can’t really make a start yet.‘It’s very difficult at the moment, there’s big problems trying to communicate. I know from business that video conferences can be very frustrating.‘I’ve been co-opted onto the committee but we haven’t actually held any committee meetings yet. We’re all eager to go, and we’ve got all the time on our hands!Portsmouth have experienced mixed emotions since the turn of the new millennium. They clinched the London 3 title in 2000/01 – winning 15 of their 16 games to finish ahead of runners-up Gosport & Fareham – and five years later won promotion again to London 1.There they stayed until the 2009/10 season, when London 1 was renamed London & SE Premier and they finished second bottom and were relegated. That was the last season they faced county neighbours Havant in league action.Relegation from London 1 South followed in 2012 and a third demotion in eight years arrived from London 2 South at the end of 2016/17.Though they were competitive in their first two campaigns at London 3 South West level – finishing third on both occasions – in the season just ended they were sixth.‘What we would like to see is the club to be competitive at every level they are playing at,’ said Whitehouse. ‘The medium to short-term goal is promotion from London 3 South West.‘We aspire to getting back to London 1 South – we have been there before but we weren’t there for long.‘There’s a lot of colts coming through at the moment and we hope that will continue.‘We understand we have been punching below our weight, and we want to get back to the second and first divisions and beyond.’Cameron, meanwhile, first played for Portsmouth in 1976 when he joined the re-established colts section.He made his first team debut aged 17 – in a Hampshire Cup tie against IBM – and captained the club for many years in the 1980s and early 1990s.According to White, he ‘was a formidable centre held in high regard throughout the rugby community.’Highlights included being part of the Hampshire Merit Table title triumph, and skippering Portsmouth in two Hampshire Cup finals – both of which they lost to Basingstoke.Cameron, who was an inside centre, also played for Hampshire in the 1980s.Now 59, he said: ‘We want to bring more of a business focus to the way the club is run, we want to get more business acumen in and provide firmer financial foundations‘I think we should be playing one or two levels above where we are, that’s where we entered the league system.‘But the priority at the moment is to establish a more cohesive club, to make it more of a community club, an all-encompassing club.‘We’ve got good junior and colts sections, and there’s a good vibe about the ladies game – they have brought a fresh energy to the club.‘It’s all about bringing all these strands together.‘We would like to put out five mens’ teams, a colts team and a vets team.‘This season we put out three teams and sometimes a fourth, so the playing situation is healthy.‘For clubs like ours, we have to be making sure that the talent coming through from the juniors and colts end up playing in the upper teams.’Caspall first played for Portsmouth in the club’s under-15s side in the early 1980s.After over a decade in the 1st XV – he was ‘a nuggety scum-half’ according to White – he was still turning out occasionally for the 2nds in 2019/20, a team he jointly-managed with Mike Bailey.Caspall was joint captain when Portsmouth won their first of several Hampshire Veterans Cups.Echoing Whitehouse’s comments, Caspall said: ‘There was a feeling that players from our era have probably not done our bit for the club over the last few years.‘Myself, Jon, Steve and Hugh want to try and bring a bit more professionalism to the committee.‘Gareth Richards is heading up a new coaching team and hopefully we can up the professionalism off the field over the next year.‘Hopefully we’ll all be bringing some ‘new energy’ to the club.’Portsmouth have already appointed new vets XV co-skippers for 2020/21 – Tom Radborne and Ian Thatcher.

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Steve Cameron in possession for Portsmouth during the 1980s
Mike Caspall, far right, with Neil Styles, left, and Mike Bailey with the Hampshire Vets Cup in 2017