Amateur to Professional


One of my ex team mates Neil, who went onto higher recognition benefitted from the professional era when it happened as he was still only 21. He is still involved in the game today as forwards and defence coach for Bath Rugby Club. The last time we bumped into each other was at Nando's, Kingston Upon Thames many moons ago when he was still playing for London Irish.

Back in 1994 I was still very active playing rugby more so because I enjoyed playing the sport. I have always enjoyed playing competitive sports and the physicality the sport offered was part of the attraction. This is one sport you can release all the tensions from work and feel better afterwards.

There was a change happening behind the scenes as even though money has always been involved for the top players via backhand under the counter deals money was filtering through to club level. Sponsors of the various teams in our Premier League were paying match fees with bonuses depending on how well your team was doing. This put added pressure on everyone to perform and in some ways took the enjoyment out of the game as it was a game about winning at all costs.

Most of us saw this as drinking money for after the games and never really took notice of where the sport was heading. The players directly above my league playing provincial and international rugby were already getting paid vasts sums of money. The game turning professional in 1995 was just legalising what was already happening.

At the time as a player it was difficult to see where the money was going to come from for the likes of myself as I never expected to receive 1 cent let alone a salary. The costs of playing a sport was all on you and if you needed new boots you just went and bought another pair. The idea of having sponsored gear never entered the thought process.

Everyone playing worked a 9-5 type job so playing a serious sport had it's issues as you had to be dedicated as training was 2 or 3 evenings during the week with a match on Saturdays. Training would start at 6.30pm and end at 9pm so your evenings were already done once you had showered and driven home. These days you train during the day which involves around 5 hours of training on the field and in the gym. Then again you are being well paid for your time so the dedication has to be there along with the love for doing what you do.

At the time I was 26 years of age and would have been a hell of a lot different if I was 21 with this happening around me. I already had a career path and was not tempted to turn professional which the sport did in 1995. I was no steroid baby having injections or tablets like many other players were doing. I do understand more the reason behind what they were doing as they were already contacting other clubs overseas and were priming themselves for the next season. At the time I was blatantly ignorant to this fact as I had no clue what was going down even though I was in the mix. I was consuming 3 times the amount of food I would normally trying to bulk up with little effect as the more you trained the more calories you burned so I was just a solid well built 120kg (264 lbs) that was all natural.

Many of my team mates left to various teams around the world and turned professional doing very well for themselves. A few went onto play and represent other countries and I have stayed in contact with a vast majority of them. One a team mate always a team mate is basically how we all think and we are there if anyone requires help. Some are still in the game coaching doing the back room work and have been very successful being involved with the likes of England at the last World Cup.

If the game hadn't turned professional when it did most of these guys would have been involved in some corporate life like I was doing. This is what happened with sportsman back then as networking was part of the playing benefits. I had benefitted from this as I was part of a global company that sponsored sporting events and was part of the marketing promotional team. The difference is today this company picks up retired professional sportsmen as their love for sport is still evident.

I am just grateful to have lived through the changes when a sport moves from an amateur code to a professional code and witnessed this first hand. Not many people would have experienced this as the game changed overnight.


From my personal point of view, sport is life.

I love and practice many sports and I am in favor of professionalism even if I believe that the first thing that should move the sportsman is passion.

Obviously, especially for those who make it a profession, there are many sacrifices and it is right that at some point they are repaid in some way.
However, I believe in an equally convinced way in amateur sport and in general in what it can give in terms of teachings and values.

You've had a wonderful experience, you've lived a moment of transition and you've treasured everything you've experienced and learned, this thing in my opinion is commendable; I can only make you my compliments.