“No matter how much financial backing we had, no matter how much the league wants us in, no matter how much the staff wanted to do it, if the players and their families weren’t supportive of this, I wasn’t going to do it,” started Toronto Arrows Co-Founder and President, Bill Webb.
“I wanted to hear from the girlfriends, the wives, the parents. You want to hear from all these people that they are behind this, because there is a heavy price. Guys are away, there are injuries, taking time off a career and it warmed my heart, because the support has just been amazing.”
Webb first became involved with the Arrows thanks to a request from Mark Winokur, who currently serves as the Arrows Vice-President and General Manager. Winokur invited Webb to an Ontario Blues game against the MLR-bound Glendale Raptors.
“Someone told me that Glendale were one of the top ranked amateur clubs in North America and the Blues trounced them,” said Webb. “A day later, I got a call saying that Mark wanted to speak to me, something had come up.
“He said that Glendale were shocked and they’d challenged us to a rematch, but they wanted us to go down to Colorado, but Rugby Ontario and Rugby Canada didn’t have the money available, as it came out of the blue.
“But if we go down there the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner of MLR were going to be there. He [Mark] asked what interest I had in professional rugby, so I said; I think it’s a huge missing link in the North American system.
Funding the Ontario Blues’ trip to Glendale to play the Raptors, Webb used the trip as an opportunity to talk to the owners of the club and MLR’s commissioner. From there, he became extremely interested in putting a Canadian team into MLR.
Opting to do an exhibition season before gaining admission to the league, Webb wanted to be thorough before evaluating whether or not to enter the league: “Nobody got paid. All they got was their travel, hotels, various expenses, but nobody was on a contract. We were challenging the players, their families, the staff, the sponsors, the fans. Everybody.”
Working in the financial services sector, Webb also serves as a board member for Rugby Canada and was a major reason that the Canadians didn’t get involved with the doomed PRO Rugby experiment in 2016.
“I listened to it and I said; this makes absolutely no sense. The infrastructure, one guy owning the entire league, I hoped we stayed away from it. And we did. Canada stayed away from it and the thing collapsed.”
The club put together a strong squad prior to the start of their first MLR season and Webb is extremely happy with the team that has been built by Chris Silverthorn: “85% of our team is Canadian. People that play the game know these guys, then they’re excited because there are all these new up-and-comers.”
“Here’s an interesting fact, it’s not by design, but, every single guy on the Arrows has either graduated university or college, or is currently at university or college. That’s a very highly educated group of guys.”
Webb played rugby all the way through high school and university, before moving to London to work at the end of his education. Webb says that a tour to Wales with his high school was what really confirmed his love for the game.
“That was a really special thing at our high school. I’d never been to the UK and just getting outside of Canada, and North America, seeing the rest of the world opened my eyes to a lot of things. I loved the sport, I loved Wales, going to London for the first time. It just opened the world for me.”
Wanting to move abroad following the tour to the UK, Webb – who did actually play for Wasps’ third team for part of the 1986 season - says that his first inclination after finishing university was to go abroad. He was even coached by one of the men that brought rugby to Canada after the second world war.
“Rugby was brought to Brantford by a fella called George Jones,” continued Webb. “There were three Jones brothers and between them they started up about nine different clubs and they were there at the founding of the Ontario Rugby Union.
“I remember George once said, in his beautiful Welsh accent; remember boys, if you ever go anywhere in the world, always pack your boots and gum shield. Because if you run out of money, just go to your nearest rugby club and somebody will buy you a pint and probably find you a place to sleep.
“He said this randomly, but I could tell he really meant it and I really embraced that in my life. That spirit was just one of the great things about the game and why I wanted to be involved in it. It’s just had a really good impact on my life, that’s why I love it and why I want my kids to be involved and why I want to grow the game.”
Four games into their debut season in MLR, Webb believes that his team can definitely make the playoffs this season: “We want to make the playoffs, because we believe that we can and do our very best to win the championship. That’s not an unrealistic goal.
“Also, we want to grow our reputation as a top-quality franchise on and off the field. We want to be the organisation that represents our country, our city, our province. Ultimately, we want to be a part of restoring Canada to where it should be. We want to be the team of choice that every Canadian player wants to play for.”
This weekend, the Arrows travel to Glendale, the place the journey started. Their first home game is on April 7th against the high-flying NOLA Gold.