There are a lot of things you probably don’t know about Leigh Centurions owner Derek Beaumont.
For a start he has a black belt at karate. He also used to be the number one double glazing salesman for one of the leading companies in the country, and spent time hosting the nationwide promotional tour of “The Full Monty” on the back of the 1997 film’s success.
But beyond that, he has battled and won an addiction to cocaine, fought depression and relaunched a business that is now making profits measured in millions.
Since his return to the sport at Leigh, Beaumont has become one of the most talked about figures in Rugby League, particularly on social media, and by his own admission he can be seen as loud, brash and outspoken.
Last season he was fined on three separate occasions by the RFL, including a notorious incident from a home game against Bradford that seemed to run and run throughout the course of the campaign.
But those who know Beaumont well speak of his charitable side, of his considerable donations to various causes, many of them anonymously. He spends several hours of his own time giving talks in local schools about his experiences as part of the club’s community programme.
— stephen barlow (@wolrab316) December 27, 2015
His drive for success and passion are clear, but he understands, too, that his approach makes it impossible for him to be universally liked.
“There’s an old saying that lions care not for the opinion of sheep,” Beaumont tells Rugby League World from a box overlooking Leigh Sports Village.
“If I speak about things that I’ve done like taking cocaine or smoking cannabis or drink driving, and 500 people criticise me and say ‘Your owner’s an idiot for that’, that does not bother me one bit.
“But if one person reads that and realises that you can go through things like that and overcome it and achieve your dream, then that inspires me more than anything. I don’t think you’re ever going to be truly liked by people when you’re at the forefront of a sporting club because people will naturally support their clubs. Other chairmen that know me get on fine with me, and I’ve never had a player say bad things about me.”
In his most revealing interview yet, Beaumont charts his considerable highs and lows and offers an insight into his role at the Centurions as they aim for Super League again in 2016.
Born in Salford, he was brought up on a council estate in Little Hulton with his two brothers.
“My mum was only 21, on her own at the time and had three young children all less than a year apart. But she strived to keep us together, creating an extreme bond between us.
“She taught us right from wrong. One occasion I remember as a real young boy was when I found a wad of money on the golf course when we were out walking. Despite having nothing, she took us to the clubhouse to hand it in as this was the right thing to do.
“She has been my inspiration throughout life and worked tirelessly to provide the platform that has enabled me to become successful. I am forever in her debt for that and get satisfaction from how proud she is of me.”
At the age of eight the family moved to Leigh, where Beaumont’s love for Rugby League began.
— Tracey Burton (@Trevurgh) December 26, 2015
He was one of the stronger players at junior school, but found himself competing for the hooker’s shirt with future Leigh player Mick Blakeley at high school, and eventually gave the game up in his teens. His final match was on a tour of France, ironically when Blakeley couldn’t go.
“They were all big with beards and I got knocked about a bit,” Beaumont recalls. “I just never got back into it. I wasn’t good enough, based on the players who were around me. But also foolishly I got into smoking and boozing around the third year, which aren’t the kind of things you need to be dedicated to play sport.”
Beaumont’s school attendance was sporadic at best, but he was brought up as catholic and his first ambition was to become a priest. When he did leave school however, his initial career choice was an unlikely one — hairdressing.
It wasn’t until he started working for his mum and stepdad’s double glazing business that he began on the path that has led him to his current business — albeit a path he often stumbled off.
Beaumont found he was a natural salesman and was quickly earning £1,000 a week commission, buying his own house at 18. But distractions away from work took hold; he began smoking cannabis and, in his own words “bumming around”.
Even then though, he firmly believed he would ultimately be successful. “There were two of us sat in the house playing computer games, drinking and smoking weed. And I used to say ‘I’ll be a millionaire when I’m 40’. I just believed it.”
The following years were littered with highs and lows. After one relationship broke down Beaumont battled with depression for a couple of years, and was living off benefits.
A return to work helped.
“I went for a job at Wickes and the basic wage was £6,500 plus commission. I said to the guy who trained me that I needed to double that to survive. He told me I’d struggle to do that. In my first year at Wickes I earned £58,000 and was the country’s top salesman from a little store in Clifton. I won a holiday in Rio de Janeiro for that.”
Beaumont also turned his attention to DJ-ing, which led to him compèring a John Smith’s promotional tour for “The Fully Monty” — models Melinda Messenger and Cathy Lloyd were the judges at the final event in Nottingham.
But next, another low — being banned for drink driving.
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“I’d had two pints. I didn’t think I’d had what I considered too many, but when I was pulled over I blew 41 and the limit was 35 — they only prosecute at 40. But because of my attitude and the way I was, I got done for it. I could probably have got a slap on the wrists but the sergeant said to me ‘I guess you didn’t come in very amiably did you young man?’ It was a good lesson for me back then because I’ve never done it again.”
No driving meant that sales was, pardon the pun, out of the window, so Beaumont focused on DJ-ing in local pubs and working for a cleaning company during the day to pay off arrears on his mortgage. But the promotional work had seen him get into cocaine, which he says provided him with his biggest battle — not immediately but later down the line when he was running his own business.
“It became something that I got seriously addicted to. It was something I had to have every day. Anyone who’s been addicted to anything will know it’s like a trigger — something happens to give you a reason to justify going to do it, even though you don’t want to. A job would cancel at work or somebody broke a piece of glass, and out you’d go and get some.
“I realised it was horrible and I struggled with it — it got me depressed. I only functioned when I had it. But I’ll speak about it now because there’s a lot of people in the hard-driven sales industry that are on it. It’s widespread in a lot of areas, and you’d be surprised who is taking it. It’s only when you’re taking it yourself that you get to know.”
It was around this time that Beaumont became involved with Rugby League again, initially with his company sponsoring a Leigh game following an approach from Kevin Ashcroft.
Ultimately it led to Beaumont becoming one of the senior directors as Leigh earned promotion to Super League in 2004.
But it came too early for him. Beaumont didn’t have the finances to invest the kind of sums required at the club, and when he threw himself into his role at the Centurions, his business also suffered badly. He left the club during their ill-fated Super League campaign in 2005, angry at a host of things including his brother being attacked in the toilets at a match by an irate Leigh fan.
“I didn’t watch rugby at all — if anything I became bitter towards it because of the way it ended,” he remembers. “I drew some comfort from them failing, if I’m honest.
“When I went back to my business, I didn’t have much of a business. In fact it could have been argued it was trading insolvent.”
During his self-imposed Rugby League exile, Beaumont built AB Sundecks — based on providing PVC deckings with a steel base — significantly. In the first six months of this year it turned over £4.3million with a profit of £1.6million. When the Centurions came calling again in April 2013, unable to pay the players’ wages after a cash crisis, Beaumont was in a much better position to make an impact. Almost three years down the line, he spearheads the club as owner and head of rugby. And he insists he won’t take his eyes off the ball with his business this time.
— Gareth Walker (@garethwalker13) December 18, 2015
“It’s well established and rounded,” he explains. “My involvement here is less. I said right from day one coming back here that I would not get involved in the commercial side at all. It’s time consuming and draining. It’s what my forte is, far more than the rugby side, but I don’t get involved in the coaching or team selection.
“My time with rugby is a lot of chats with agents and players, motivating them all as a group now and then and setting them carrots — that kind of thing. There’s no drain on my time. I’ve got good managers in my business and it’s all a good fit. The business is growing fast but controlled. If the club costs me £700,000 next year — and we’ll look to minimise that by increased spectators and other commercial avenues — that’s OK. But the belief is that if the club gets into Super League it will wash its own face.”
Beaumont has his own personal targets surrounding that aim.
“Last time it was a goal to get in Super League, and it was almost like getting a black belt in karate, which I’ve done. You’ve done it and then there’s nothing after it. Once we got into Super League it was never sustainable then.
“It became too big for me at that time, the numbers you needed to put in to be competitive, and I didn’t like it. My ambition this time isn’t to get Leigh into Super League, it’s to establish Leigh in Super League and to get the club with an established structure of youth and academies under it.
“There’s more people from this service area playing Super League than anywhere else. We need those structures, and I want to create something that when I’m gone, is still left behind.
“Winning trophies and stuff is what coaches and players do — I can put the money in and convince players to come, which is what I’m good at doing. But Rowls (Paul Rowley) delivers the game plan and the players follow it through. That’s their achievement not mine.
“It’s flattering when people say you’ve contributed and I do feel part of it. But I want to leave something that is great for this town going forward. My personal goal is that I want to see Leigh at Wembley. They got to the final in ’21 and did it in ’71. I want to do it before 2021 again.”
So, to the controversies since his return — and in particular the £2,000 fine for “behaviour prejudicial to the interests of the game” in this year’s league match with Bradford.
“Was what I did at the Bradford game appropriate? Certainly not. Did I accept being fined for it? Yes, 100 per cent.
“But I feel that’s where it should have been left — it shouldn’t have been dwelt on and expanded upon, with people seeking further apologies. My behaviour was inappropriate and I made sure when we played them the next time I didn’t put myself in that situation.
“Just because I own a club doesn’t give people the right to abuse and insult me. What I’ve realised is I can’t retaliate to that — I’ve got to be better than that. I regret that, but by the same token we’re dealing with emotions as well.
“Look at Jimmy Lowes after the Million Pound Game. I felt for the guy in that situation. It’s not the best time to get a mic in front of your nose.
“It’s sport, it’s emotional.
“What I did at the time, felt right at the time because of how I was being dealt with. Faced with the same set of circumstances again, I’d deal with it differently because I’m wiser for the experience.”
Does Beaumont feel that incident and others lead to people having a perception of him that’s wrong?
“People that know me know what I’m really like. I’m generous, caring and very charitable. What I do charity-wise is private and don’t go banging on about it. People have suggested now I should be more open about it.
“I probably do come across differently to that. People just see the side of me that is brash. I’m a tough individual and I speak my mind. I’m open and I’m honest. I’m conscious of people’s feelings and don’t hurt them knowingly, but I will say what I think and speak my mind.
“Not everybody likes that, but people who know me respect it. If I think something is wrong I’ll challenge it. I’m happy to be challenged myself and I will change my mind if I think I’m wrong. I’ve had to do that in my own business.”
Beaumont also insists that both he and the club will learn from events throughout 2015 — on and off the field.
“I think we’re all smarter this year for last year, as a group. There’s things I’ll change personally. I’m more aware of how you can be perceived.
“I’m more willing to work with the RFL now.
“I understand the role of the RFL and what they have to do. The issue I had with the fines was when I don’t think the process is fair. To just fine me isn’t going to change me or get me to see things any differently because it’s not actually affecting me.
“I’ve said I’m a charitable man and the fines go to the welfare side, dealing with players with problems. It’s staying within the game and is needed. But talking to me is a better solution.
“I had a real good meeting with Graeme Sargent, Ralph Rimmer and Karen Moorhouse recently and I came out of that feeling much better, and I think they’ve got a much better understanding of me.
“I just want to achieve what’s best for Leigh, and if I have to change to do that — without losing my beliefs and morals — then I will.
“But people have to remember that if you’re putting a lot of money into a sport you’ve got to get something out of it. I’m not bothered about my profile — I’d prefer that to be lower.
“Does it bother me a load of Bradford fans singing names at me? No, I actually like that — I find it funny, and I think people should have banter. Sometimes people get a bit personal and social media’s changed the world. You choose whether you read it or not.
“I find it motivates me and inspires me. I’m a strong believer, and I tell this to my kids and people who work for me, in the power of now.
“Only concern yourself with what’s happening now, because that’s all you can control.
“You can’t change last season or last week. You can only learn from it. Weak people will dwell on things and feel sorry for themselves; strong people will learn and use it as a tool to motivate them to be better.
“In life if you wait for things to happen, you miss opportunities. You have to create your own success, make your own luck, have a plan and have the courage to stick to it.
“The plan at Leigh is right — it just deviated.
“I could start moaning how we went from sixth to eighth last season but at the end of the day we are responsible for where we are through our own performances.
“If you leave your fate in other people’s hands, you can’t complain if it ends up to their benefit.”
Next season Beaumont will increase his investment in the Centurions to cover their disappointing Qualifiers finish, and the signing of Rangi Chase in November illustrated clearly their continuing ambition.
Away from the club, Beaumont is happier than he’s ever been.
“What has been a big influence in my life, and changed me, has been my wife Laura. Just before I met her, I’d stopped doing the cocaine, and she wasn’t into anything like that. That was my motivation — I wanted to be with her.
“Every day was a challenge but things get easier, and now it would never even cross my mind. If you put your mind to something you can control your own mind, you just have to be hard on it.
“The only thing I do now is probably drink more than a doctor would tell you to, but you’ve got to have something in life haven’t you?
“I think a lot of what I’ve gone through in life has helped me understand and help some of the players that we’ve brought to the club that might have had difficult backgrounds.
“I live my life on the basis that you put your head on the pillow at night, and there’s only you there.
“You have that few minutes before you fall asleep and there’s only you talking to you.
“If you’re at ease with your own conscience and how you’d treated people and contributed, then that’s all that matters.
“The most important people to me are my family and friends, and people who work for me I regard as family and stick by them. I’ve got everything I need in my life — a nice house with no mortgage, a factory with no mortgage, a business that’s worth a lot of money.
“A lot of people would say I’ve made it, but I’m still driving my business and I’m still driving Leigh. I’ve got a long way to go.”