“Scoring the first try in a local derby for the Colts and winning 40-0 was really great. That’s my personal highlight here.”
It’s something of a cliché but you get the impression that if you were to cut James Tolman open (please don’t try to do so), he would bleed Taunton Rugby Football Club. A local lad, he began playing rugby at Veritas Park at the age of 10 and worked his way up through the age groups, captaining the Colts for two seasons.
Even before graduating from the junior ranks to the men’s 2nd XV, James had taken the decision that he didn’t want to go to university. He went straight from Richard Huish College into an apprenticeship at the rugby club. “I began on the conferencing side of things moving chairs around and setting out trays of tea and biscuits,” he reflects, “but it grew from there.”
Nobody progresses from a role that many would describe as dogsbody into management without demonstrating a willingness to do the hard graft. Those who have observed James’ move through the off-field ranks at Taunton RFC note his ability to accomplish tasks with a smile on his face. Within a couple of years James became the Conference Manager, responsible for the busy events activities that take place on non-match days and which are so vital to the running of the club, “I had the advantage of knowing inside out both our capacity and what we had to offer visitors,” James says.
Eventually this led to his current post of General Manager, a role in which he has 7 full-time members of staff in his team and over 50 casuals on the books. Drawing a comparison with the position of a rugby team captain, James speaks with enthusiasm about building his own team but it’s when describing the major purpose behind his work that the passion sparkles most clearly in his eyes, “We’re building for the club and for all aspects of rugby, junior and senior.”
From Monday to Friday, the club generates the bulk of the income needed for rugby by hosting conferences and events. Across a range of suites, it is possible to accommodate 300 guests on any given day, a fact that’s even lost on some of the playing squad when they turn up to train in the evening. James chuckles as he remembers hearing one player wonder aloud why there was such a big car park.
“We’re really busy in the week and it’s a shock to some people who only usually come here on match days,” he explains, “but we regularly have over a hundred guests so it’s a big operation for catering and logistics.” Being General Manager means liaising not only with Tony Yapp to endeavour to provide what the Titans want and need but also with the junior section at all levels. Then there are staff, accounts and budgets to manage and all the administrative duties that come within keeping a conference facility and a sports club ticking.
If roles at the rugby club came with badges like the Scouts, James would be needing a third sleeve by now to show off all his proficiencies. Amongst his recent moves has been to venture into coaching, almost coming full circle by taking charge of the Colts alongside Club Chairman John Wrelton. Surely no two people could be better placed to appreciate the value of the youth system in the grand scheme of running an aspirational rugby club.
Having played his junior rugby in the back row, as he has moved into more social rugby with Wanderers and Warriors he finds that he is morphing into a hooker something he describes as “a natural progression”. Again he likens the variety to his job: one minute he could be talking about the Under 7s, the next he could be ordering sand. “Each day could be completely different. It’s not coming in and doing the same processes. The variety keeps it really interesting.”
“I really look forward to match days,” he admits, “I love seeing the smile on the faces of the staff when they’ve just smashed a service for 250 people.” The downside is that he only ever gets to snatch glimpses of his beloved Titans in action on the pitch below
High on James’ list of highlights in the calendar are the Christmas party nights on Fridays and Saturdays in December, followed by lunches on the Sundays. “It’s busy and exhausting but it’s also exciting and there’s so much adrenaline.”
In his time at the club, the overall champagne moment has to be the Titans securing promotion to National League One. Ever since James had been involved at Taunton RFC, the club had been in the same division so securing promotion after so many years was a real triumph, albeit bittersweet because the manner in which the title was confirmed during Covid lockdown and with no celebratory party permitted denied all those who had aspired for so long to move the club onwards and upwards.
Asked what would surprise somebody the most if they only usually came on a match day to watch the Titans but found themselves at Veritas Park midweek, James repeats, “It’s how busy we are. We run high quality conferences because we’re experienced in delivering top class events. I’ve got a great hard-working staff and our kitchen puts on fantastic quality spreads. It’s not all about the rugby – and, yet, it is all about the rugby.”