Richard Nowell interview January 28, 2004

'They're a great bunch to work with'

Richard Nowell is Vodafone's Team Liaison man and travels everywhere with the England team. Behind the scenes, he helps out with the media, social and technical side of matters. He also played for Surrey in the mid-1990s. Here he talks to Freddie Auld about what he calls his dream job:

What exactly does your role involve?
Primarily, it is to exploit Vodafone's sponsorship of the England cricket team through press, marketing and PR. The key is to form relationships and understand the players from a cricketing point of view. As a former player myself, I know when, say, Michael Vaughan or Marcus Trescothick have had a hard day out on the field and won't want to be bothered with unreasonable requests from the media. I basically look after the communication and technical side of things. It's an all-consuming role, with plenty of work and sacrifices involved.

Richard busy on his phone and iPAQ
© Graham Morris

What does the technical aspect involve?
As sponsors we provide the team's communication equipment, from phones to personal computers, so one of my roles is to ensure its smooth running. Jimmy Anderson broke his phone within two days after he went swimming with it in Bangladesh, so I had to sort out a replacement, and only the other day, Matthew Hoggard rang me as he'd forgot the support code for his phone. But it also extends through running events, photocalls and providing content that goes on Vodafone Live! and I guess I'm a bit of a techie.

I imagine the other side of your role is more exciting?
Yeah, there are exciting parts away from ensuring the players are correctly branded at press conferences. Photocalls follow press conferences, so there were a few rickshaw rides to strange locations while we where in Asia. There are also larger events, one being "A Question of Cricket" in Sri Lanka, which was fairly close to a TV show. It was a great evening which brought together the fans and the team. It can be quite difficult sorting out social events abroad, though. Having to find a venue, a set, and a film crew etc in a foreign country is quite hard. However, all the events we run need an end result. Whether it's simply goodwill towards the players or press, or to deliver to my client.

And you have to promote the sponsors at the same time as well?
Of course promoting Vodafone is the key requirement, but it's more important than just getting a mention or a logo - it's about communicating their products and services that are used by the team and management. If someone can see Michael Vaughan getting his emails via his iPAQ and phone while on the move, why can't that work as a business tool in the UK? It also helps that we have a good relationship with the players, who often help us out. For example, Alec Stewart was the ultimate professional. On the morning of a Test, he would deliberately warm up in front of the Vodafone advertising board, just to get that extra bit of coverage.

Is it difficult combining your role as a friend to the players with being a member of staff?
It's important I don't get too close. I have my boundaries. I never go into the changing-room, or on the team bus. I sometimes have a beer with them, but I keep my distance. It meant a lot to me when Duncan Fletcher told me I was "in the bubble" - it was his way of accepting me, even though I'm officially in the media. But it's important I don't abuse that trust. I can't be too matey with them as I have to be firm as well, like when organising interviews, or telling them they've got to go and visit a local school etc.

Are you friends with any of the players in particular?
Colly [Paul Collingwood], Tresco [Marcus Trescothick], and Freddie [Andrew Flintoff] are good mates, and I was at Surrey with Butch [Mark Butcher} and Thorpey [Graham Thorpe]. They're really good guys to work with. There are no personality clashes, and they know what's required of them. They're always on time, dress properly, don't drink during Tests, and take their fitness very seriously.

You must have some good tour stories?
Yes, but most of them aren't repeatable! In Sri Lanka, after we lost the last Test, once everyone had got over it, we went for a few beers and karaoke in the Hilton Bar. The two guys who dress up as the Pink Panther and Sylvester were there, so Freddie got dressed up in a Pink Panther suit as well. Also, I played a round of golf with Jimmy and Hoggy [Matthew Hoggard], and a snake suddenly appeared on the fairway. Hoggy threw down his bag in terror and ran back to the clubhouse.

Richard puts the England batsmen through their paces
© Getty Images

How easy was it to find things to do in Bangladesh?
Well, I was on the social committee with Colly and Ashley Giles, but we struggled in Bangladesh, it was a desperate place, I had never been to somewhere so poor, and at times it was quite upsetting. The players would spend lots of time playing games on their Playstation or watching DVDs. There were also a few high commission places, and the limited drinking was confined to hotels. We had a few race nights, and Bumble [David Lloyd] provided a quiz night - I would describe it as wholesome entertainment. Sri Lanka was better, you could go out more and weren't confined to the hotel all the time. You could live like a Westerner.

What have you got planned for the West Indies?
We've got a number of events, as it's a much higher-profile tour with an increased level of media activity. From visiting warships, to golf days, beach-cricket events and team visits to schools.

Would you say it's a dream job?
Definitely. Some of my friends in the city earn twice as much as myself, but they would give their right arm to do what I do. I sometimes have to pinch myself when I come down to breakfast one morning and sit next to the likes of Ian Botham, but you can't become too overawed, everyone's just here doing their job.

You played for Surrey as a left-arm spinner between 1994 and 1997, do you have good memories of that time?
Great memories, yeah. I remember it all happened in a bit of a hurry. I arrived there straight from school, and before the likes of Ian Salisbury and Saqlain Mushtaq. I had a couple of good seasons and played against the likes of Graham Gooch, Allan Lamb and Allan Donald, and no-one can take that away from me.

Why did it come to an end?
I started to struggle with my bowling a bit. I wasn't getting any better and deep down, I knew I was lacking that 5% to make it as a successful pro. Another factor was that I didn't want to end up as a journeyman, with nothing to fall back on, and that's why I decided to go in to the corporate side of the game.

Do you still play?
Funnily enough, I still have the odd net with the boys. During the Sri Lankan leg, Giles was ill, so Duncan called me down to bowl in the nets - it's nice to know I can be useful to the team in a different way.