As in any country, there is a significant difference in Azerbaijan between the sports to which is paying a special attention, and sports that are equally less popular both among athletes and among investors. Unfortunately, rugby in this country belongs to the second kind of sports. However, this situation probably will change soon. Meet newly arrived to Baku Sean Nolan, who became a couch of Azerbaijan’s youth rugby team.
Tell us about yourself?
My name is Sean Nolan; I was born in Liverpool in England. I had my education in a school called St. Anselm’s College, which was a catholic school, and did a degree in civil engineering. I worked in the civil engineering industry ever since. I played rugby since the age of 8, played at school, played at the university, and played some county rugby. I am a member of Anselmiams Rugby Club. I joined, when I was 17 years old, so that makes it 23 years now
Was it a professional team?
No, it was not a professional team, it was an amateur team, but we do pay some players now. When we started playing, everyone was an amateur for the last 10 years. I coached at various levels in the club
What aspect of rugby is more interesting for you?
I do miss the sport, when my son stopped playing. I enjoy coaching now, and I do enjoy seeing people play and improve. I just enjoy Rugby, I like being around rugby players and I have made a lot of friends through rugby all over England. I played a little rugby in South Africa, when I was working over there a few years ago.
What would you describe as your biggest challenge?
In my opinion, the biggest challenge, coaching wise is not getting people to start playing rugby, but to get people to carry on playing rugby, when they get to the ages of 17-18, when all the distractions come in which are sex, drugs, rock-n-roll and more school work. A lot of our boys go to the university and quite often they don’t come back when they go away. I mean those are the biggest challenges, keeping people playing and when people get to the ages of 19, 20 and 21, normally they carry on playing which is an inclusive sport. It teaches good values, teaches teamwork and teaches how to get on with people. It is a good sport like that.
When did you arrive to Azerbaijan?
Three weeks now.
Are you already acquainted with our team?
No, not yet, I was staying in landmark and I was surfing the internet then I came across Emil’s (Azerbaijan Rugby Union’s press officer) website so I sent across an email, he asked if I would like to meet him and I met him and I asked if I would like to be a coach. We did a bit of coaching and that is where we are now.
Can you comment on their performance?
I have seen them train once and I would say that they are certainly committed, they all seem to enjoy the sport and they have some potential too. Rugby is all about spreading the word and getting more people to play and that is what I want to do.
As you know, rugby is not a very popular sport in Azerbaijan, what do we need to help us promote it?
What we need is to get people to start playing the sport. What we need is to start from the children, playing rugby in schools because it grows with us. It does help build a successful national team. It’s like the Serbian tennis player Anna Ivanovich, which I am sure pushed lots of people in Serbia to start playing tennis , it is also like football in the early 80s and at the moment, cricket is making a real come back in England because the English team won the cricket tournament. If we can get a good team together, more people will be part of the sport. Everybody wants to be successful, everybody wants to be in a good team and everyone wants to aspire to play well
Do you think the game is aggressive?
I suppose it does appeal to certain group of people, most sports are physical and tend to come with a bit of injury
How long does it take for a person to become a good rugby player?
You can be good rugby player after just one coaching session, as long as you can run and catch the ball. You don’t have to be 1.9m or 2m tall, you don’t have to weigh 200kg. As long as you can catch, you can continue to be part of the team
How long will you be in Azerbaijan?
I will be here for 12 months, but it might be longer.
What are your first impressions of Azerbaijan?
I was very surprised; I did not know very much about Azerbaijan. I knew it was oil rich and Baku was the capital. Apart from that I did not know what to expect. Everyone seems friendly and nice. I am impressed with how organized the city is and there are a lot of constructions going on. It is a very expensive place to live in.
Do you have a family?
I do, I have a wife and three children and they are back in England. I hope to bring them during the holiday.
Is it difficult to be away from family?
It is always difficult to be apart from your family, but it is something I have gotten used to and not a situation I enjoy or want. Sometimes you have to do what you have to do
Can you tell us something interesting form the world of rugby?
Yes, probably about 7 or 8 years ago, when I worked in England, I took my son to a rugby game and Martin Johnson was playing on that day. My son was not that interested in the game, he wanted to just get an autograph. After the game, I and few other friends where at the bar having a few drinks and my son was walking around. After a while, I could not find him and someone came up to me and told me that they were signing autographs and I went into the dressing room to see my son sitting right next to Jason Robinson. He was having tea with all the players and that is what I mean when I say it is all about bring people together.
Who would you describe as the biggest rugby star?
Probably, that would be Dan Carter.
What advice will you give to young potential rugby players?
Try and contact someone that knows about rugby and just start playing.