Where Are They Now | Tony Copsey
It’s funny how there always seems to be a story about a fight whenever Tony Copsey recalls a game of rugby he played in. For those of you who don’t recall his international debut for Wales back in 1992, he decked his Irish line-out rival Neil Francis with a straight right hand that even Tyson Fury would have been proud of.
Those were back in the gun-slinger days of rugby when there were no spies in the stand, no TMOs to worry about and referees did their utmost to keep 15 players on each side. Not even a yellow or red card in sight.
For the record, the 56-year-old Welshman (even though he has ‘Made in England’ tattooed on his backside) and the Irishman are big mates these days. Back then the Romford-born Copsey was strutting his stuff for Llanelli having served his rugby apprenticeship at what was then South Glamorgan Institute, in Cardiff.
It took him seven years to qualify to play for Wales under residency regulations and he went on to win 16 caps from 1992-94. Just before the game went professional in 1995, he joined Saracens and spent three years at the club before re-joining Llanelli in a player-commercial manager joint role.
While he knew the routine as a player, his step into the commercial world was inspired by his time at Saracens and by studying the work of the sports marketing guru Peter Deacon.
“I loved my time at Saracens and I was able to bridge the old amateur and the new professional eras. Eddie Halvey and I were among the earliest professionals at the club,” recalled Copsey.
“Across both eras Sarries were very inclusive, held great values and were always a good laugh. Then the big boys started to join – Sella, Lynagh, Pienaar and Bracken.
“When I first joined we were playing at Bramley Road and then moved on to Enfield FC. That’s when the Fez boys started to watch us and I was crowned ‘King Fez’ by the fans with Kyran Bracken as ‘Prince Fez’.
“A lot of effort was put into the work in the community and when Peter Deacon arrived from Bradford Bulls he revolutionised the way the game was marketed. We had sell-out crowds and he instigated a number of ground-breaking initiatives.
“I was able to take a lot of what I learned during my time at Sarries on the rest of my rugby journey. I had a great time on and off the field at the club.”
That rugby journey included seven years as managing director at Harlequins, two years as CEO at Wasps and shorter terms as interim CEO at London Scottish and then London Welsh. These days he is director of Fourth Dimension Expert Resource Ltd, a company he founded with his brother 12 years ago.
“We deliver business transformation across multiple industry sectors. We help companies to manage complex change projects and develop their people,” explained Copsey.
“I’m still living in Hertfordshire and I’m still involved with Saracens, albeit with the amateur club. My son, Luke, played through the junior section and I helped coach the teams in which he played.
“Now I give Jack Goldberg a hand with the coaching of the first team when he needs it. It’s great to still be involved in the game in a small way.
“I’m hoping to get to the StoneX Stadium to watch a few matches in the near future, although I still keep in touch with the Sarries players I used to play with at our regular social gatherings.”
Many of those meeting over Christmas will have played in the first European games undertaken by Saracens in the Challenge Cup back in the 1997-98 season. First up was a rather tricky away trip to Narbonne where, you guessed it, Copsey got into a bit of bother.
“Pierre Berbizier was their coach and they were fired-up as all French teams are at home. When we ran out at the start I was wondering why there was a concertina plastic tunnel from the stand to the pitch,” recalled Copsey.
“There was a bit of a punch-up and I think I was guilty of laying out my opposite number. The crowd went mad and as we left the pitch we were all thankful for the plastic tunnel as the beer cans rained down on us!”
Thank heavens for the deadly accurate boot of Andy Lee!
SARACENS FIRST STEPS IN EUROPE
7 September, 1997 - Narbonne 16 – 18 Saracens (3,500)
Narbonne: Sebastien Rouch; Bruno Calero, Patrick Arlettaz, Alessandro Stoica, Arnaud Cervello; Jeremy Valls, Henri Sanz (captain); Gabriel Vlad, Herve Guiraud, Arnaud Racine, Xavier Plataret, Tibarro Brinza, Massimo Giovanelli, Patrick Pere, Marc Raynaud
Scorers: Try: P Arlettaz; Con: J Valls; Pens: J Valls 3
Saracens: Matt Singer; Kris Chesney, Philippe Sella, Steve Ravenscroft, Ryan Constable; Andy Lee, Brad Free; Adrian Olver, Gregg Botterman, Paul Wallace, Mark Burrow, Tony Copsey, Francois Pienaar, Richard Hill, Phil Ogilvie
Scorers: Pens: A Lee 6
Referee: John Cole (Ireland)
FIRST HOME GAME
14 September, 1997 – Saracens 26 – 21 Castres Olympique
Saracens: Matt Singer; Brendon Daniel (Ryan Constable 74), Philippe Sella, Steve Ravenscroft, Richard Wallace; Michael Lynagh, Brad Free; Brendan Reidy (Adrian Olver 60), George Chuter (Gregg Botterman 67), Paul Wallace, Danny Grewcock, Tony Copsey (Phil Ogilvie 77), Ben Sturnham, Francois Pienaar, Tony Diprose (captain)
Scorers: Tries: R Wallace, P Sella, S Ravenscroft; Con: M Lynagh; Pens: M Lynagh 3
Castres Olympique: Olivier Sarraméa; Philippe Escalle, Eric Artiguste, Jean-Marc Aue, Christophe Lucquiaud; Thomas Castaignede, Frederic Seguier; Laurent Toussaint, Christian Batut, Thierry Lafforgue (Mauricio Reggiardo 65), Colin Gaston (Laurent Bonventre 48), Jean-Francois Gourragne, Bruno Dalla Riva (Isamel Lassissi 53), Thierry Labrousse, Nick Hallinger (captain)
Scorers: Tries: O Sarraméa, M Reggiardo; Con: T Castaignede; Pens: T Castaignede 3
Referee: Peter Bolland (Wales)
TONY COPSEY’S SARACENS DREAM TEAM
15 Paul Hughes
14 Martin Gregory
13 Philippe Sella
12 Steve Ravenscroft
11 Kris Chesney
10 Andy Lee
9 Brian Davies
1 Stuart Wilson
2 Gregg Botterman
3 Paul Wallace
4 Paddy Johns
5 Mark Langley
6 John Green
7 Richard Hill
8 Tony Diprose
George Chuter, Roberto Gray, Danny Grewcock, Alex Bennett, Francois Pienaar, Kevin Sorrell, Michael Lynagh, Muna Ebongalame, Kyran Bracken