Brian Dick talks to the latest man keen to secure progress at Sharmans Cross Road.
Of all the sticks with which to beat Birmingham & Solihull Rugby Club, the one with ironic serrations is the weapon of choice for most critics.
How, they sneer, can a club be so poorly resourced and fail to meet even its most basic outgoings, when it is situated in a town renowned for its wealth and opulence?
They then usually go on to trot out the old stat about parts of Solihull having more millionaires per square mile than any other region in the Midlands.
It is cruel but it’s also undoubtedly fair, in fact it is a question that has been asked by the latest man to try to unlock the latent potential at the borough’s favourite sporting cause celebre.
“Like many others, I have whinged from time to time as to why people in this area don’t put their money where their mouth is,” says Bees’ new principal backer, Chris Loughran. “The time came for me to set a bit of an example – that’s what I am doing.”
The 50-year-old father-of-six, stepped forward last week as the key investor on whose shoulders the club’s future rests.
He is reticent to disclose the size of his financial commitment, though I understand he is part of a group that is putting in at least £300,000. However, there is little of the white knight about him. There is no bluster, there are no wild promises of jam tomorrow, nor messianic visions. Loughran is not hungry for headlines.
Indeed just a few minutes in his company, in a cluttered Sharmans Cross portable building that doubles for a predictably unused corporate box, leads one to think his decision to put his head above the parapet has been born out of a combination of duty and curiosity.
“It may be, as some have predicted, that professional rugby cannot be sustained here,” he opines. “We will work that out in a relatively short period of time.”
It is an outlook that will resonate with the aforementioned critics. For the last couple of years, realism has been in as short supply as cash at B&S, a fact that makes their protestations that they are better than ‘those lot down’ the road, all the more grating.
And when Loughran underpins his outlook with an undertaking to make sure ‘there are no loose ends’ if things don’t work out, it is clear the former pupil of Archbishop Grimshaw School, where his father was deputy head, is not embarking on a flight of fancy.
Instead, it is more a controlled test of a business model, a strategy in keeping with someone who has risen to the position of vice-chairman at a prominent accountancy firm.
Such men are not known for their love of risky gambles and with his name one of five due to be inscribed above the door, the full board will be unveiled later this month, it is clear sound housekeeping will be a non-negotiable in the new regime,
“I told the rest of the management team the one commitment I have got to the supporters of this club is that we will live within our means.
“If anything, we have got to learn some lessons from the last company.”
Ah, the last company, last seen owing the Inland Revenue nearly £100,000 and not having paid its players for a whole summer, it was put out of its misery on October 23.
“I am not going to make any critical comments of them because I think a lot of people tried very, very hard in the old days but our lesson has been not to over-extend ourselves,” says Loughran. “Hopefully we can acquire more means so that we can achieve our aims.”
Which is where Loughran and his fellow investors come in. The Knowle resident brings not just his chequebook but a first-class business network, too.
Interestingly, he also has the knowledge of how to take something unpopular and make it work – as demonstrated in his role in developing the central London congestion charge.
Bees, he insists, can draw on far more goodwill. He claims he has already been offered assistance from well-wishers, although the time for them to follow his example – and back up their talk with something that can be banked – is nigh.
Which, no doubt, is where Russell Earnshaw comes in. A facilitator in the nag-you-till-you-do-it mould, the club’s player-coach played no small part in bringing Loughran on board.
Having spent the last few seasons watching happily – and sometimes less so – from the sidelines, Loughran hasn’t just joined the establishment, he’s become it. And not everybody is entirely happy.
“Five years ago, I thought I would just watch the local rugby club and it used to be a place of relaxation,” he says.
“As my wife said to me ‘I thought you came down here for the relaxing blowout at the end of the week and now you are involved’.
“But I fell in love with the place.” Which is something many people would like to do again.