The long awaited announcement about Gloucester’s new ownership was made on Monday and it is good news for the Kingsholm faithful if not all that exciting. The club has had uncertainty over its ownership since it was announced in April 2015 that the club was up for sale, as I covered for Last Word on Sports at the start of the 2015/16 season (see http://old.lastwordonsports.com/2015/10/10/gloucester-rugby-takeover-talks-continue/), but we now know that Martin St Quinton has become the sole owner.
He is not a new face to Gloucester; he has been Vice-Chairman since 2008 and has increased his shareholding to 100%. This brings to an end the Walkinshaw era of ownership that sustained the club since the early years of the professional era in the late 1990s. The late Tom Walkinshaw is widely credited with keeping the club sustainable and always having its best interests at heart, which was continued after his death in 2010 by his son Ryan. The goodwill and tributes to the Walkinshaw family following this announcement from Gloucester fans online demonstrate how the fans value good, honest chairmanship and it looks like St Quinton will continue this.
Martin St Quinton made his name in the fields of office equipment and telecoms, and this sensible business approach is a good match for Gloucester Rugby in its current position. The club has struggled in the league for the last couple of seasons, but some concentrated marketing campaigns and a strong narrative of momentum building has kept attendances strong and led to two sell-outs already in 2016. The new owner has gradually increased his stake from 20% and admitted it was his plan to buy more shares a few years ago before the untimely death of Tom Walkinshaw. Therefore it will be business as usual for Gloucester, with a continued commitment to spending up to the salary cap, and the strategy on the rugby side shouldn’t change drastically. Indeed, it is welcome by Cherry and White fans that there isn’t a ‘sugar daddy’ type of new owner who might pump lots of money to fuel short-term success but jump ship at signs of trouble. Given Bath’s current league position, there has to be some worry that Bruce Craig may be getting impatient and there have been rumours about coach Mike Ford’s job security.
In short, it is not an announcement that will make many headlines beyond the Aviva Premiership but Gloucester can continue their mission to re-establish themselves as a top four side with off the field security backed by a man who knows the culture and shares its values. There may not be any ‘galactico’ signings on the way but it is possible that the biggest name has already been secured for the years to come.