As Gloucester begin their search for a new coaching set-up following Johan Ackermann’s departure for Japan, former captain Phil Vickery is urging the club to rediscover their unique identity and heritage.
Vickery spent 11 years at Gloucester in a career that saw him win 73 England caps and play in five Lions tests and despite having last appeared in the famous Cherry and White colours in 2006, the fortunes of the Gallagher Premiership outfit are still a factor in his life.

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“I am shopping in Tesco still getting grief from the fans but that is what I first fell in love with when I came here from Cornwall,” explained Vickery who was Gloucester captain in 2001-02 when they won the Zurich Championship and has carved out a successful career away from rugby, launching the Raging Bull clothing line and now a restaurant in Cheltenham while also holding the title of deputy Lord-Lieutenant of Gloucestershire.

“Gloucester has a beautiful rough edge and people really care about the rugby club and that is wonderful so use that as a positive. With Johan going I wonder about how you get that continuity and the next appointment is going to be very important. It is a good chance to map out the future of the club and where it is going and who wouldn’t want an amazing opportunity to map out the future of Gloucester rugby club?

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“You have to ask what is Gloucester’s identity? All successful teams like Leicester, Bath and Saracens all had their own identity and you cannot keep reinventing a new Gloucester – you are what you are. You have to stay true to yourself and build on that heritage to move forward regardless of who comes in

“The Gloucester squad is as strong as any in the Premiership and Jonny May is back to join some real talent but the team has not been playing particularly well. What is the next cycle going to be? Will it be the same old, same old here we go again? It’s a shame because it seems as if you have to press the reset button again. It is about the tradition of what Gloucester rugby is about and moving it into that new era and you can build from a fantastic heritage.

“There is obviously something wrong and the area of concern for me that we don’t repeat what happened when Philippe Saint-Andre left (in 2002) and so did players with allegiance to him. What is then left behind? The club needs to look at that and learn from it because you cannot have everything hanging on a coach.”

Just like the club he loves, Vickery, the World Cup winning former England captain, faces a major challenge by opting to launch his first restaurant in the middle of a global pandemic. The 2011 Celebrity MasterChef champion has opted to delay his restaurant opening – called No3 after his playing number – and restrict his latest offering to a takeaway service but is committed to making his latest venture another success. ”This has been in the offing for a long time,” added Vickery. “This is a fantastic opportunity. Then COVID-19 comes along and we could either feel sorry for ourselves or do something to get the brand out there.

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“It’s the springer-spaniel in me, wanting to get on the front foot and be positive.”

The 44-year-old, who has an oriental tattoo on his left shoulder which translates to “I’ll fight you to the death”, and a bulldog tattoo on his right, has a successful clothing company Raging Bull – his rugby nickname – and is a long-time supporter of Wooden Spoon, the rugby charity. At the heart of his many passions is rugby and Vickery believes the sport is at a crossroads and decisions made now will have a significant impact on the game’s future.

He said: “What concerns me more than anything is the impact on what is happening on the majority of the game. This is the time to look at what rugby will look like in the future, particularly at the grassroots where clubs are struggling at senior level. We have to look at the bigger picture and we need to think about how we keep the fantastic values of rugby alive. With playing numbers going down we need a mindset change to engage more people.”

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