“THE BEST RUGBY WORLD CUP EVER” / What was it like from a volunteer driver’s perspective

2015-09-26 08.51.59-1

Ready to go – Glouceter Depot

“I can assure you that you have set a new standard for the RWC – Jason Leonard” 

“Thank you @RWC2015ThePack, the 6,000 volunteers who helped make the biggest and best @rugbyworldcup ever – Boris Johnson”

“Tournament owners World Rugby and tournament organisers England Rugby 2015, have hailed the success of the biggest Rugby World Cup ever which saw records broken on and off the pitch – RWC2015”

World Rugby Chairman Bernard Lapasset said: “Rugby World Cup 2015 will be remembered as the biggest tournament to date, but I also believe that it will be remembered as the best. England 2015 has been the most competitive, best-attended, most-watched, most socially-engaged, most commercially-successful RWC”

So the Rugby World Cup is over and the pre tournament favourites New Zealand were duly crowned World Champions on 31 October. England failed to get out of their group, Japan set the tournament alight in the first week, Argentina played with the flair of a matador in full pomp and spectator records were broken on a daily basis.

As you can see from the quotes above, praise for the World Cup has been wide-ranging and fulsome. There is no doubt that from the ‘end user’ perspective that it was a wonderful tournament. World Rugby were happy, the RFU were happy, All tournament VIP’s were happy, Sponsors were happy and spectators were happy too.

But what was it like from the perspective of a volunteer driver?

As any of you that have read my previous blog will know, my circumstances are different to the normal volunteer in that I left home in Italy to start my RWC journey on 31 August and returned home some 74 days later! Obviously, this has had a huge impact on my experience by comparison to many other volunteers.

Here are some stats based on my particular journey:-

  • I have covered over 8500 miles of which over 5,500 were getting to the tournament and then getting to ‘work’ every day and about 3,500 driving tournament guests.
  • I worked 32 shifts as a driver, some lasting over 12 hours – not planned like that I must add
  • I worked just over 300 hours or 12.5 complete days
  • I was the very last volunteer driver to finish at the RWC on 4th November
  • I worked in both Gloucester and London / Kneller Hall depots
  • I moved beds 33 times at 18 different locations in 74 days
  • I managed to get to 9 of the 13 match venues on journeys with tournament guests
  • I saw one match – 1st Semi-Final
Full Car Park - 60+ Land Rover Discovery's

Full Car Park Kneller Hall – 60+ Land Rover Discovery’s

The last day - where have all the cars gone

The last day Kneller Hall – where have all the cars gone

Let me deal with the negative elements of the role as a driver as they have impacted on my time at the tournament.

It was always going to be inevitable that there was going to be quite a bit of waiting around. What perhaps wasn’t clear was just how much there would be!

On occasions I know that certain volunteers spent entire 8/10 hour shifts with nothing to do – not a single ‘job’! I was lucky enough that this only happened to me on one occasion. What a waste of people’s time there must have been throughout the RWC. I have a large degree of sympathy for the Fleet Management and Depot Management staff whose jobs it was to ensure that certain service level agreements were met (minimum numbers on each shift etc) to guarantee that not a single tournament guest was left without the ability to have a car available for them regardless of how little notice might be given. What was completely inexcusable was that ALL of those being paid to run the transport elements at England2015 had experience at the Olympics in 2012 and most at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games as well as other global sporting events. Given this experience, I would have thought that they would have been able to better anticipate the workload on a daily basis (bearing in mind the differing requirements based on whether it was a match day or mid-week). It was only after we were beyond mid way through the tournament that the managers started contacting volunteers if it was going to be a quiet day and giving them the opportunity to not come in that day. Surely that could have been done MUCH earlier in the tournament.

I had to speak to one of the managers early on in the tournament to say that I really couldn’t justify being away from my family and work if I wasn’t going to be busy. Whilst I wasn’t given any assurances I think, perhaps, that it helped ensure that I got a job nearly every day that I was on ‘shift’ – that, added to the fact that I always arrived a couple of hours early for my shift to ensure that I was available for anything that came in and couldn’t be done by others. Learning to ‘play the game was important and those of us who did I am sure benefitted.

The second negative element was how the volunteer drivers were treated from a personnel management perspective at a direct report level.

I am certain that if we were actually being paid to be there, we would all have been treated differently – better. I think that the way that our shifts were managed (as above) would have been done in a much more pro active manner and I am sure that the managers would not have shouted at some drivers as much as I witnessed (never at me I have to confess) and I am sure that, given just how much waiting around there was, our Waiting/ Breakout room might have been a more convivial place to be.

2015-10-31 11.52.17

God’s Waiting Room. The Breakout room at Kneller Hall

It was described to me by a fellow volunteer as “God’s Waiting Room”. It was soulless (depite the bunting and odd poster here and there), uncomfortable, freezing cold, particularly at night and – as you can just about see from the photograph above – the TV was miniscule. During Twickenham match days there were often 40+ people all sat trying to watch a game that they couldn’t hear and could barely see unless you were at the very front. The fact that the control room, a much smaller portacabin with up to 6 people in it, had a bigger television was somewhat of a surprise! Again, from managing people throughout my working life, I am well aware that if you make it too comfortable it will be harder to get people out in time to do their allocated job…… But this was several steps too far to the other end of the spectrum. We were all there, after all, as we had volunteered to be there. The implication being that we could easily have not come in if we did not intend to do whatever jobs required doing.

I have to admit to having had a massive sense of humour failure on one occasion (the night of the Final as it happens) and I took it out on the Depot Manager that night. It was the day of my 30th shift and I had asked if there might be the possibility of a ‘good job’. Given that the job board consisted of tasks such as driving Boris Johnson, Lord Coe, CEO of Australia Rugby, Nigel Owens etc etc there were a large number of interesting ones to go around. I got turfed out of the waiting room at the final whistle – 18:00 – by an officious manager (one I had not seen before) for a scheduled pick up at the stadium at 21:00! – a five-minute drive away. I was due to take a World Rugby employee back to their accommodation – so a 30 minute drive or so. He arrived at 21:45 and changed his drop off to a pub in Twickenham! (something he was obviously entitled to do) a 1.5 mile, 5 minute journey. Not the way I had envisaged my one and only job on a 9 hour shift! I shouldn’t have lost my temper (not with the client I hasten to add) and I regret doing so, but my level of frustration was off the Richter Scale!

The Good parts significantly outweigh those above though.

My reason for taking part in the Tournament was to give something back to the sport that I love and I am so glad that I did get involved and that I had a role from before the first game to after the last. There is no doubt that the service we provided as drivers was a huge success (you could argue that  this vindicates the negative points above….. I’m not sure it does) and comments made would confirm that – It was great to be associated with something so positively received.

The majority of the volunteer drivers were incredibly dedicated to doing ‘their bit’ for the tournament A whole raft of us volunteered to take on aditional shifts and often at the most absurd of times of the day. Some starting at the depot at 02:30! I think that shows the level of commitment that was shown by so many and the desire to help in any way possible.

I met some fascinating people in my ‘taxi’ – Too many to list, but included Referees, TMO’s, Anti Doping Officers, Citing Officers, Participating Nations Board Members, Ex International Players, World Rugby staff, England2015 Staff and others that don’t fit into any neat category. All, with one exception; were very chatty, friendly and interested in the role of a volunteer.

A couple of people/Jobs stand out though.

The CEO of Australia Rugby, Bill Pulver was one. I had to pick him up from the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Knightsbridge (along with two Sky TV directors and the Australia team Lawyer) and take him to Dulwich College where the team were conducting their training. I was privileged enough to be invited in to watch a closed training session just before their critical match against Wales. I met the Head coach and a number of players as well – Fascinating and exciting! A huge honour. Despite being a Pom through and through I secretly supported the Wallabies from then on!

Another was taking Joanna Manning-Cooper, the Director of Communications and Marketing for England2015, to and from her house on a few occasions. She was not only fascinating – having previously been Head of PR and Media for London 2012 – and friendly, but her kindness was also responsible for me being able to watch one of the Semi Finals. Something that I will forever be grateful to her for.

More than this though was the fact that I got to know a number of volunteers well.

Gloucester was a much friendlier place than London. It was smaller and more intimate and getting to know people was much easier (I met some people at the London wrap party that I had never met before and I was working at the depot more than most!) so the friendships made there were greater in number and stronger. There were noteable exceptions in London of course! I hope that some of these friendships endure…. I am sure they will.

Would I do what I did again?

No. I was away from home for a long time that’s true, but the real killer was living out of a small backpack -the back seat of my car resembling that of a vagrant piled high with all my other kit. Swapping beds every few days – often spending no more than one night in a place before moving on (possibly to return again at a later stage). It was exhausting – on one occasion I moved location on 9 consecutive days! Given one place to stay then the answer would become an unequivocal yes!

I am so glad that I did it and all of the comments made by the great and the good were spot on. It was the best Rugby World Cup there has ever been without any doubt and whilst it could not have happened without all those paid by England2015 to ensure its delivery, I am certain that the real stars of the show (from a delivery perspective) were the 6000 volunteers. Normal people who gave up their holidays, spent time away from home and threw themselves into making it work. It was an honour to be one and to have been part of such a fantastic tournament.

The Wrap Party

The Wrap Party

Waiting for VIP's after the final - Cardinal Vaughan

Waiting for VIP’s after the final – Cardinal Vaughan

I want to thank everyone that I met for making it a truly memorable experience and in particular huge thank you has to go to the large number of people who gave me a bed for a night (or several). Without your generosity I could not have even contemplated participating. Roll on Japan2019!!!! Sayonara.

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