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Chris Yorke starts new life in Australia after doing so much for Longlevens Rugby

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Author: Roger Jackson, Posted: Tuesday, 23rd November 2021, 09:00

Chris, Arthur, Gemma and Ethan Yorke on their last day out to the top of Cooper’s Hill prior to their departure Chris, Arthur, Gemma and Ethan Yorke on their last day out to the top of Cooper’s Hill prior to their departure

Chris Yorke has spent thousands of hours flying the flag for all things Longlevens Rugby for the best part of the decade.

He’s been one of the major driving forces at a club that have been going places on and off the pitch for quite a while now, having served on the committee for over six years and as the club’s chairman for the past two.

But he stood down from that role in August and now he’s flown thousands of miles to the other side of world to make a new life for himself and his young family in Australia.

And while that may come as a surprise to some, it shouldn’t to anyone who knows him because listening to Yorke talk just for a few minutes, it is clear that he knows his own mind and is very independent in his thinking both in his personal and professional life.

And that independence manifested itself in his very early years because although Gloucester born and bred and part of a big rugby playing family, he was not into rugby himself as a youngster.

“Growing up, football was my game, although I wasn’t really any good at it,” he said. “My father Richard was president of Longlevens Rugby for about 10 years and my brothers Michael and Harrison both played all through the juniors and into the seniors.

“I went to Tommy Rich’s so I dabbled with rugby but I never really played much.”

So how did he get into rugby?

“It was when I went to university in Portsmouth,” he explained. “I liked the values that rugby had and I just found myself moving away from football.

“I enjoyed playing rugby and I suppose my peak achievement at university was becoming captain of the 1st XV.”

Yorke, now 38, was also showing himself to be a leader off the field because he became a sports officer at the university, as well as president of the students’ union.

And on the field he was quick off the mark too.

“No-one will believe this when I say it but I used to be quite fast,” he laughed. “I started on the wing but then I got moved into the centres and when I say centres I mean 12, I was never a 13, I was an out-and-out 12.”

After leaving the south coast, Yorke headed to London to join the Metropolitan Police where he was able to continue to play rugby.

“I played for a range of teams,” he said. “I was renting so I moved about a bit. Playing for Met Police was the highlight but I also played for Finchley and Battersea Ironsides.”

The rugby was good and he’d also set up a 7s team called the Beer Rats that toured all over the world, but by the age of 30 Yorke took the brave decision that he wanted to leave the police force – that independent thinking again – and come back home to Gloucester.

Following a few roles elsewhere, he landed a job as a business development manager at Dee & Griffin Solicitors, working for the managing partner Julian Jenkins, who just happened to be president of Longlevens Rugby.

It wasn’t long before Yorke was getting involved at the club – he knew a lot of the faces there because of his family’s connection – so much so that he was elected captain of the 2nd XV.

And those in the know certainly knew what they were doing.

“The 2nd team was in a sorry state at the start,” said Yorke, who captained them for three years.

“We used to beg and borrow to get 12 players on the pitch but we were eventually able to attract more players and over the three years we had a really good run. We got promoted and we got to a cup final.

“The 2nd team didn’t get a lot of love, I tried to re-energise the players.

“They weren’t the very best players, and I firmly put myself in that bracket, but that’s not the point, in my eyes they were the best.”

And it was that can-do, all-for-one kind of attitude that meant when the chairman’s job came up he was almost a shoo-in for the role.

“I suppose I was never just going to sit on my hands,” said Yorke, who had become a major figure off the field at the club even before he became chairman.

And what has happened over the past few years has certainly changed the shape of Longlevens with Yorke’s knowledge, drive and the aforementioned independence of thought, pushing and cajoling the club onto another level.

“I saw the club needed help but I was a bit of an outlier,” he said. “I wasn’t someone who had been there all the time but I could see the club had massive potential.

“I could see the journey that the club needed to go on and it’s been a real mission.”

That journey is not yet complete but the club is certainly moving closer to The Promised Land.

That was not always the case.

“The club was in a sorry state financially,” Yorke said. “It was going to go bust.

“One of the problems is that there is this rose-tinted idea that your sports club is a community centre and that it is too big to fail, but they do. The RFU have made it very clear there is no magic bail-out.”

Yorke knew that the club needed more than just their regulars through the door if they were to survive and then thrive, and the 2015 World Cup came along at just the right time for him to bring about that change.

“I’d been on Lions tours and I’d been to World Cups, I knew about hospitality in rugby,” he said. “So we went really big at Longlevens on replicating the rugby village during the World Cup.

“We bought a massive marquee, an 8ft by 6ft TV screen and publicised and advertised the big England group games.

“We got 300 people in the marquee, it was full of people who had never been in the clubhouse before, it was a huge success.”

The club did something similar when Argentina played their World Cup game at Kingsholm.

“We got 300 Argentineans in the marquee, we won an award for best community event,” said Yorke. “Suddenly we had proved we could be a hospitality venue.”

More events soon followed.

“We hold Sportsmen’s Lunches,” said Yorke. “We had David Campese the other Friday, 120 people came to hear him talk.

“We’ve had Zinzan Brooke, Andy Goode, Andy Powell, Lewis Moody – the biggest names are coming to Longlevens, but it’s all been costed properly so we can invest in delivering better rugby services.”

And that extends to the club bar.

“Thinking commercially in grassroots rugby is not popular,” admitted Yorke. “There wasn’t really an appetite for change outside of the directors.

“It has been a difficult process but now we have a healthy bank balance, unheralded levels of investment into our rugby services, high participation across senior, Mixed Ability Rugby and junior rugby, and the first team are second in Gloucester Premier pushing for promotion.”

And while that is undoubtedly true, it’s also fair to say that the surrounding facilities can play a big part in making or breaking a club bar.

So it will come as no surprise to anyone that Yorke has been driving changes to become the Gloucester District’s clubhouse.

“The clubhouse is a problem,” said Yorke. “The building is dark, cobbled together and patched up; it was never a commercial venue because back then it didn’t need to be.

“They had multiple teams and you didn’t have to work so hard to secure community engagement – there was no e-sports or Costa Coffee.

“It’s small and will only seat about 100 people. Our main selling point should be a view of the playing fields but the current set-up doesn’t really allow for that. So what we want to do is extend the ground floor and wrap it in glass to provide a great view onto the playing fields.”

The new room will seat 200 people but the club are planning more changes.

“Extending downstairs gives us a fantastic opportunity for a terrace and bar on the top floor,” said Yorke.

That would cater for another 100 people and there are also plans to move the existing top floor gym to a new build in the car park and make it available to the whole community.

The plans are waiting to be approved – Yorke is confident that they will be – but after being involved in so much for so long, he admits he would have loved to have been there when the ribbon is cut on the new clubhouse.

But it’s not just off the field that the club are making waves.

“We hired Gloucester legend Andy Deacon as director of rugby a couple of years ago. He was our first major statement of why you should make money to spend money,” Yorke said.

“He’s Longlevens through and through. He’s made extraordinary strides and the future is extremely exciting.”

Equally exciting is the Mixed Ability Rugby that has absolutely taken off at the club in recent times.

“I’ve always been participation driven over performance,” explained Yorke. “Increased participation generates so many benefits including increased performance. Overly prioritising performance at a grassroots level has plenty of cautionary tales.

“Obviously with Andy Deacon here we’re performance driven as well but I don’t think anyone can believe how successful Mixed Ability Rugby has been.

“It’s staggering the number of people over 35 who have come back to the game.

“They have come back for the love of the game, and because they have such a great empathy with the sport they make the best volunteers – half of our committee play in the mixed ability team.

“If Mixed Ability Rugby did not exist these people would not have come back to the game and if it hadn’t been for Covid we’d have our first mixed ability player in the 1sts by now.”

That will surely happen sooner rather than later, but although Yorke would undoubtedly have liked to have been there when it does, he is more than happy with the decision he has made to head Down Under.

They’ll be living in Sydney – his wife Gemma has got a fantastic job – and Yorke, dad of Arthur, 4, and Ethan, 2, said: “It’s for the quality of life.

“My wife lived there for 10 years before we met.

“Deep into lockdown, Australia seemed pretty attractive!”

So will he get involved in rugby once he is out there?

“I’ll follow the kids,” he said. “Will I ever be chairman of a club again? I doubt it. I need to finish my PhD before I start volunteering again!”

And what about Longlevens Rugby?

“I’ll always be there if they want to give me a call,” he said.

Other Images

Chris Yorke’s leaving gift to his father Richard; a memento of the family’s contribution to the club over the years
Chris Yorke, right, as 2nd XV captain next to Matt Thorogood with current 2nd team manager Mark Pope in the background

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