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Nouse interviews… Jon Flatman

Sport Editor Dom Smith speaks with York City Knights’ Chairman Jon Flatman to discuss the club’s response to the pandemic.

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Image Credit: York City Knights RLFC

Have these been a tough few months for York City Knights?

It’s been a tough few months for everyone up and down the country. It’s the uncertainty and health concerns that come from such a pandemic. Business-wise, there are always challenges and this has presented yet another challenge.

Have you had to let any staff go during this testing time?

No. We made a commitment that our staff — on- and off-field staff — are our prized assets, and that we would do everything possible to keep them in position until the end of their fixed-term contracts, which we’ve managed to do. We were committed from the start to making sure they would be supported through the process.

Do you expect the Coronavirus will change any ways in which the club functions, going forward?

I think that’s a really key part of any sort of business interruption — to come out of it with a different and better structure and mentality than you went into the period. Whether it be financially, value-driven or structurally, we’ll come out of it in a very different place. But we’re excited for the future and extremely positive about what it will hold.

Am I right to suggest that the 2020 Championship season was abandoned?

The 2020 season was less than half a dozen games into a 28-week season. Once the season was put on hold — after crowds weren’t allowed in — it was decided it simply wasn’t possible to fit a meaningful season in. Therefore, 2020 was not to be a completed league season.

What are the financial implications for the club, due to the pandemic?

I don’t think the true impact of the financials will be known until, probably, 2022. The various government incentives put in place provided the club some comfort. The most startling financial situation during the period was that over 93% of our season-ticket holders — who had only had one game of their season — decided to donate their season-ticket money to the club.

That gave everybody an enormous boost — to know that in difficult times we’re all in this together. That is the definition of a club, and that is the definition of engaged supporters — that they’re willing to that during what is a simply daunting time financially for everybody.

I’d also like to pay my thanks to those individuals who have contributed in their small ways or their large ways to our squad-builder fund, which has enabled us to build what we believe to be an extremely capable squad for 2021.

How has James Ford, the Head Coach, managed to keep his players fit and committed during all of this?

It’s difficult because the players have been on furlough, as has James. He was on full furlough for a good period of months, and then began to come back one day a week. In terms of team training, it’s not been possible from a furlough perspective.
But players are players and they want to keep fit and be ready. Communications has been essential. The club have updated its players and employees with relevant information when we’ve become aware of it.

What’s been important is that no one is left out; there have been regular conversations — not necessarily rugby conversations! That’s been crucial, just that everybody knows that everybody cares.

As Chairman of the club, where does this rank in terms of the most testing times while you’ve been here?

This is the most difficult period by far. We have a small preseason which is quiet, but the rest of the season is 100 miles per hour. Sometimes that pace is never-ending. What this has done is to put a stop to all that. It’s created a feeling of loss. Everybody is missing their rugby league, and aware of the difference it makes to your daily life.

When that’s not there, maybe absence makes the heart grow fonder. I, like everybody else, cannot wait to get back to whatever ‘the new normal’ is.

With the new stadium well on the way, what does the future hold for York City Knights RLFC?

The future is a positive one. We need to plot a strategy and have some defined goals. This pandemic is out of our control, but what is in our control is, when we return, how we return. We will return full of integrity and vibrancy and we will return competitively.

We’ll be back in a new stadium, which doesn’t come around very often. We’ll be back with an improved squad. And we’ll definitely come back with a bang. I guess there are a lot people here that are a little bit like a coiled spring.

Once our friends in Whitehall release that energy, there’ll be a lot of us in a lot of places making a lot of noise. From a performance perspective, they are absolutely focused on being the best they can possibly be. Without being bullish, you’re going to see a new and improved York City Knights both on and off the pitch.

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