Bury St Edmunds Rugby Club to go semi-professional next season

Bury St Edmunds

Bury St Edmunds - Credit: Archant

The region’s premier rugby club this morning revealed that it is to make its first team and reserve squad semi-professional next season.

Bury St Edmunds Rugby Club, currently sitting atop National League 3 London & SE, will offer first team players and those in the reserve Wolfhounds team a “modest cash incentive” to play and train.

In return, the players will be expected to help coach the club’s thriving mini and junior sections.

Around 30 players in total will be contracted on a semi-pro basis for next season.

The news comes as Bury are in pole position to win promotion to National League 2 this season – the fourth tier of rugby nationally and the highest level a Suffolk side would ever have competed at.

Club chairman, Mike Robinson, speaking on behalf of the committee said: “This is something the committee have thought long and hard about, because we are finding it increasingly difficult to compete against the majority of other clubs at this level who are paying players a match fee.

“One team in our division has a playing budget of over £100,000, while we’re asking our squads to train twice a week, do fitness work in their own time and then sometimes get on a coach for a four hour journey before a game, currently with no recompense.

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“Therefore this move is now necessary in order for us to be able to attract and retain the calibre of player we need; not only to remain at our current level, but crucially to realise our ambitions and aspirations to become a National 2 club.

“Nowadays, players of this standard expect modest rewards in recognition of the commitment needed to compete at this level.

“If we are serious about progressing as a club, about retaining our best young players and attracting others, then this is a step we must now take.

“It all comes down to having an element of control over our players, due to the commitment they need to make.”

Robinson added: “Of course the committee recognise that it has to be viable financially and run on a business model that is self-sustaining.

“Consequently, our initial budget will be relatively small.

“Fortunately our continued success and high profile has meant that we have several supportive local sponsors looking to benefit further from the exposure our success is giving them.

“Their combined input will enable us to make this significant transition, albeit on a small scale to begin with.”

A separate limited company has been established to run the first team squad.

It will handle payments and, where relevant, tax and NI contributions, along with players’ membership fees.

The new company, Bury Pro-Am Rugby Ltd, will be funded by sponsorship from a range of local businesses, meaning that the rest of the amateur club, including the youth and mini sections, will not be funding the move.

They will continue to operate as it has done since the club first started almost 90 years ago – as an amateur club run by volunteers.

Bury’s first team moved to the top of National League 3 last Saturday, winning a muddy clash with then-league leaders London Irish Wild Geese 20-9 at The Haberden.

With eight games left in the season, Bury must hold on to top spot to ensure automatic promotion and make Suffolk rugby history.

Should they slip to second, they will face a play-off game to determine their fate. They travel to CS Rugby 1863 tomorrow.

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