Winning the hearts and minds of your supporters can be fiendishly difficult, especially when you have lost your first six Gallagher Premiership matches in a row.
This is the situation Newcastle Falcons find themselves in ahead of their clash against third-placed Exeter Chiefs at Kingston Park this weekend.
Currently bottom of the Premiership table, Newcastle are looking to enthuse the local community and their fanbase for Sunday’s fixture.
To achieve this, the club has joined forces with Wor Flags, who make such a dramatic impact with their spectacular giant banners at Newcastle United home games at St James’s Park.
In a bid to bring some of that magic to Kingston Park, a huge banner will be unfurled in the West Stand before the Exeter game and Falcons centre and former Newcastle University captain, Zach Kerr, is eager to see its pre-match impact.
The countdown ? is on...— Newcastle Falcons (@FalconsRugby) November 25, 2023
We can't wait to welcome @worflags ?? to KP tomorrow - it's going to be ????????! ??
Enjoy some ?? shots of their other displays. ??
?? @toonarmy59 pic.twitter.com/JAtx46AYa8
“The fans make the team, and this Sunday the West Stand is 80 per cent full for the game,” Kerr told TRU.
“The flag display is going to be class and at club or international level, I am not sure that I have ever seen it before. That’s just one of the things that Cods (Falcons head coach Alex Codling) is trying to bring in, he’s trying to create as positive an environment as he can.”
This week, Codling admitted he had never been 0-6 in his long rugby career as a coach or player and the defeats have led to negative comments on social media.
The Rugby World Cup saw referees and players become targets for abuse and Kerr admits this season’s setbacks have seen Falcons targeted.
It came to a head with negative reactions to the team selected to face Sale last Friday, which included Kerr.
Codling opted to blood his young players and Newcastle only trailed 26-22 with five minutes to go before losing 40-22. That was a gutsy performance against a highly experienced Sharks side and a display to silence the critics who took to social media to write the team off before the game had even started.
Kerr said: “The people that were praising us probably weren’t the same people that were giving us abuse when the team got announced saying we weren’t going to do anything. Hopefully our performance kept them quiet. After the game, a lot of people were saying fair play on social media which was quite pleasing.”
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Kerr understands the negative impact social media ‘trolling’ can have on players, especially around game day, where full focus is required to compete at Premiership level.
The 23-year-old has proactively filtered his social media settings to avoid online abuse. He said: “I try not to check social media after the game, whether I have played well or not.
“You’re never as bad or as good as people say you are so I think there’s no point looking at any social media posts.
“I try not to look at them. I am on Twitter, but I just block certain accounts and key words, so I am not seeing that stuff.”
Post Covid and following the demise of London Irish, Worcester and Wasps from the Premiership, this is a worrying time for young players who are trying to find their way in professional rugby with social media abuse only adding to the pressure.
For Kerr, spending three years studying Law at Newcastle University has provided him with a Plan B going forward.
Besides studying for his degree, Kerr was also able to play for the university 1st XV under former Falcon, Darren Fearn.
Kerr said: “Obviously with the financial state at the minute, with what went on last season, having a degree makes it slightly more comfortable. If something like that does happen, there’s something tangible to fall back on.
“The standard of university rugby, albeit Newcastle University were in the second tier of BUCS, is still really high. I was also in the Falcons academy, playing maybe 15, 20 games a season. Being part of the Falcons Academy definitely made the transition (to professional rugby) much easier.
“Falcons were really good with it (university.) All of the coaches I worked with in the academy went to university and a lot of players had too, so they understood.
“At university, I developed a lot of transferable skills, not just academic skills but skills I can transfer to day-to-day life, including time management and organisation.
“When you’re a bit younger, you don’t get the game time at the Premiership level. Having something outside of rugby to take your mind off it is important. It can’t be rugby all of the time. A university degree helped that a lot for me."
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