What England’s sevens are doing How players are earning a living
Phil Director of rugby at Cranleigh School
Burgess: Tom Bowen:
Coaching teenagers (paid and voluntary)
Rugby coaching, corporate performance coaching
Senior academy contract at Saracens
Ben Harris: Will Muir:
Signed XVs contract at Bath Signed XVs contract at London Irish
Charlton Kerr: Dan Norton:
XVs contract at London Irish
Richard de Carpentier:
Coaching in a school and on private basis
Recovering from knee surgery
Skills and attack coach at St Joseph’s College, Ipswich
Studying economics at Newcastle University
Studying at Brunel Uni and at Ealing Trailfinders academy
Will Hendy: Will Edwards:
Recovering from shoulder surgery
Oil broker Financial
Mike Ellery: Harry Glover:
Unemployed, part-time gardening players, it seems like there was a lot of unnecessary stress, anxiety and frustration.
“My wife has been great, but I don’t suppose she has enjoyed those days when I have been miserable. And the same for a lot of the other guys – every time Dan Bibby puts the call on, you can hear his children screaming and wanting to play, but he is trying to ask a question about his contract for next year and redundancy pay.”
Bibby’s life was flipped on its head at the beginning of the lockdown in March, when he returned from the Los Angeles and Vancouver legs of the World Series and went from fulltime athlete to stay-at-home dad.
Sensing that the future for sevens would be bleak, the Bibbys decided to put their London home on the market and move closer to family in the North.
“I went through waves,” the 29-year-old says. “I started off with more good days at the beginning. I had just got back from Vancouver and it was great to spend time with the kids. Then I got to a point where I found it very tough – as you could only go out once, I had to take the dogs out and then get the kids out because Jude was six months old.
“We had a plan for if the sevens started again – that we would take the house off the market or I would just commute down. But at the end of the lockdown we were told the bad news.”
Parenthood has, however, given Bibby a sense of perspective. “It has been a challenge for me in a whole new way and I think the boys have come on so much having me home. I was away so often. I think my older boy, Jasper, is a lot more confident from having me around more.
“This next Olympics is still a goal of mine and I will do everything I can to get there, but I have done one and I have played professionally for eight, nine years. But I felt quite sorry for the young lads who haven’t had a chance to go to the Olympics yet who are just at the start of their careers.”
Burgess was ready to retire earlier in the summer but, perversely, the decision to axe the programme – which he describes as “flabbergasting” – inspired him to keep going.
“For one thing, it was taken away from me, but also I felt like I could have done more,” he says. “I can do more to try and force things to happen. If I can get to Tokyo and play then that would be amazing, but if I get there and I am not picked, I will have given the guys the chance to compete and do the best that we can.”
Mitchell echoes that sentiment. “There was a bit of me, at one point, that thought ‘is this it for me?’ I am 31 now; I was probably going to move on from sevens after the Olympics and look to do some other rugby.
“Is fate dealing me that hand and should I just listen to it? I did ponder on that for a while. I would love to be in the Tokyo gold medal-winning squad, but if that doesn’t happen for me, at least it can happen for somebody else.”
As the photographer who has come to take portraits of Mitchell packs up his equipment, he explains that he will be shooting at the Tokyo Olympics and hopes he will see the player there. “I hope so, too,” Mitchell says, smiling rather sadly.
He knows that dream might be further away than ever but, despite the welter of negativity surrounding the sport’s future – which mushroomed again yesterday with news of tighter restrictions for at least the next six months – Mitchell has to try to stay upbeat.
“I want us to finish the journey and for people to have the chance to achieve what they want to achieve.
“And you never know what goodness can come out of these situations. That is what I am clinging onto to stay sane.”