THE coronavirus pandemic has devastated sporting fixture lists across the world and left many clubs facing serious financial difficulty – but for Helensburgh’s rugby players it may actually turn out to have some hidden benefits.

That, at least, is the view of John Cashmore, president of the rugby section at Helensburgh Cricket and Rugby Football Club.

John spoke to the Advertiser after the recent announcement by Scottish Rugby officials that they were completely cancelling the 2020-21 season because of the ongoing effects of Covid-19.

And while the decision of the game’s governing body is no great surprise, John says the local club is already doing what it can to make the best of a hugely difficult situation.

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“It wasn’t a huge shock,” John said of the SRU’s decision.

“It was fairly evident that this was always going to happen.

“From a safety and common sense point of view, I’ve been saying for months that I’d prefer it if the SRU were to leave everything until next year.

“Okay, there’s no rugby, but there was never going to be any rugby until next season anyway, so the decision to cancel the season definitely takes some pressure off clubs.”

But while there’s been no action on the pitch at Ardencaple, there’s been plenty going on behind the scenes.

The clubhouse has been adapted to allow members to attend while adhering to all the social distancing rules; a beer tent was set up in the summer and has done a roaring trade; and the clubhouse itself has undergone a comprehensive internal refurbishment.

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“In terms of the hospitality side of it, we’ve done incredibly well,” John continued.

“We were quick to see the opportunity that was there and to take advantage of it.

“As soon as we opened the beer tent when the weather was nice in July, the question was “why have we not been doing this every summer?”.

“We’ve also been able to refurbish the clubhouse quite drastically over the last few months. We see that as an investment, and we’re seeing the return on it already.

“We’ve probably spent upwards of £30,000 refurbishing the clubhouse, making it more welcoming and more of a place families would want to come to.

“Before we did that work, it was quite dark and dingy in places; now we’ve now opened it all out. I think a stranger would walk in and wonder whether this was a rugby club or a cafe-bistro.”

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And while John admits he’s missing seeing match action at Ardencaple – despite Helensburgh’s struggles on the pitch in recent seasons – he also says the logistics of playing games under strict Covid rules, as was looking possible until case numbers started to climb again across Scotland as summer turned to autumn, would have presented the club, and the volunteers who run it, with significant headaches.

“We’re a sports club,” he continued. “That’s why we exist.

“But under the circumstances I think that playing games would have brought serious pressures – in terms of Covid as well as the added stress of actually trying to field a team.

“I think, being honest, not having the rugby has been quite nice. The added stress of actively playing rugby and having to be extremely careful while doing so is something we could have done without.

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“We’re just volunteers, and getting heat from both sides would have been incredibly hard work.

“I would probably prefer to have had the rugby and not the hospitality, but that’s not how it’s worked out, and it’s worked out pretty well for us as a club.

“But we are very lucky to have the facilities we do, and to have the people within the club who can see the opportunities that are there and take advantage of them.

“We know that a lot of clubs are not in that fortunate position.

“The next season is now not far off 10 months away, and that’s a long time for any club to survive without a direct source of income such as the one we have at Helensburgh.”

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