Followers of Newcastle Falcons had been calling for some meat on the bones of plans for next season when they gathered in droves to hear from the club’s management this week. Vegetarians, look away now.
An extraordinary evening of revelation and candour unfolded over two remarkable hours, Falcons owner Semore Kurdi, director of rugby Dean Richards and commercial consultant Mick Hogan fielding every single unvetted question from a packed Kingston Park function room.
It was the sort of transparency Newcastle United fans would kill for and the media were even invited to the party, if only to hear Richards laying into “inaccurate” reporting from journalists who “enjoy tittle-tattle” and are simply “trying to get a reaction”.
Personal barbs aside, there was no shortage of fodder to go at, Newcastle management keen to lay bare their vision for the future with season ticket renewal packs set to hit doormats over the next fortnight. An 11-point buffer between themselves and the bottom of the Premiership table with just six games to go has them strong favourites to stay afloat, even if their current tally of 16 points from the same number of games is two less than at the same point during their 2012 relegation season.
Defeat at Gloucester on Saturday would make it 11 straight defeats in the league and equal their worst ever top-flight run, but Richards was keen to talk up the prospects of his charges kicking on from a “consolidatory season” following last year’s promotion from the Championship.
Those hoping for a raft of new additions to the playing staff were left to snack rather than feast, Richards confirming the widely-anticipated signing of Rotherham’s Argentinian centre Juan Pablo Socino as well as renewed terms for promising young English forwards Dom Barrow and Scott Wilson.
Pressed on why further signings had not yet been announced and asked on wider transfer strategy, he said: “The English-qualified system is something we have to look at pretty closely.
“We need a little bit of experience in certain areas, which we will bring in. We need to put a bit of bulk into certain areas as well, and you pick and choose people accordingly.
“I have never been one for spending huge sums of money. The only ones I did that with were Pat Howard and Nick Evans, and both of those did incredibly well.
“Players like that come around very rarely, maybe once a decade, and you have to be in the right place at the right time to pick these boys up.
“Other than that I have never really spent huge sums of money. I have spent a lot of time developing a culture, bringing in the right people I think have the right character traits, coupled with the right ability.
“That is how I go about it, and I won’t spend massive amounts because every time you do that you invariably find yourself disappointed unless you buy loads and loads of guys at a huge cost, a little bit like Bath and Saracens and Worcester. It is just not my style, and I don’t think it is sustainable.
“As Semore has said, we want to be a viable concern, and that is the right way to go about it.”
Kurdi’s aim to put the club on a self-sustaining financial footing within the next 18 months was repeated, even if the owner declined the opportunity to outline the extent of his investment.
“If you are asking how much money I am paying then I am not going to answer that,” he said, when pressed with repeated questions by one supporter. “Sorry, I’m just not. I don’t think people are really that interested anyway.”
On the nuts and bolts of trying to pack out Kingston Park there were positive messages, Hogan revealing an initiative to see under-11s gaining free season tickets when accompanied by a paying adult (two under-11s season tickets for every adult season ticket).
A promise of World Cup tickets was dangled for those renewing before the April 22 early-bird deadline and the first 250 new season ticket holders purchasing before the same date, the former Wigan rugby league chief executive also outlining plans to install an artificial pitch, pending planning permission. Hogan confirmed home games will be played on Sunday afternoons with a sprinkling of Friday nights and the obligatory moves for TV, the commercial consultant delivering an assured performance and tackling every question head-on.
Watching Richards work the room was an interesting exercise in itself, the accomplished after-dinner speaker earning regular laughs with his dry wit but playing the straightest of bats to questions about selection, contracts and transfers.
“I am a little bit old school. I am an ex-Policeman as well, and I don’t like to give out too much information,” he said, when asked why injury updates were not a regular feature of his pre-match bulletins. The same answer could have applied to a number of issues, Richards stating: “I’ve already answered that” when pushed for further news on player recruitment following a non-specific initial response.
Overall, though, one could only commend the Falcons for being so open with their paying public.
As Hogan said in his opening address: “We will answer all your questions, even though they might not always be the answers you want to hear.”
He was on the money with that, but it made fascinating viewing. Richards raised raucous laughter when asked if he had been priced out of top signings, joking: “With respect to the players, I offered Dan Carter £100,000 and he turned me down!
“Everybody has their price and some price themselves out of the market.
“It is no different to going down to the fruit and veg market in some respects; some things you buy and some you don’t.”
In a market economy the same applies to season tickets, but at least supporters now have the details on which to decide.