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Simon Cohen is the Chief Executive of the most successful English rugby union club since the introduction of the league 30 years ago. The Leicester Tigers have won more Premiership Rugby titles than any other club and are one of only four teams never to have been relegated from the top division.
The Staffordshire University graduate and former lawyer has been with the Tigers since 2005 and in the top job since 2012. Previously, he worked as a rugby agent, representing some of the top England team players, such as Johnny Wilkinson. Simon believes he wouldn’t be where he is today if it wasn’t for his law degree.
He said: “Staffordshire University provided me with a real life changing opportunity. It quite literally changed my life. All those fantastic experiences that have happened since – working as a lawyer, a rugby agent and joining the Leicester Tigers – wouldn’t have happened if the law degree wasn’t available on a part time basis at a reasonable cost. I’m very grateful to the University for that opportunity.”
Signing up to a law degree was not Simon’s original career plan, however. Having attained his first undergraduate degree from Birmingham University in 1978, it wasn’t until 1995 that he returned to education, in his early 30s.
Originally from Macclesfield, Simon had launched his own company, offering rugby holidays for children and teenagers, following a career in the holiday industry. His wife had decided to start a part time law degree at Staffordshire University and he was driving her down to Stoke-on-Trent for her lectures twice a week. Instead of sitting in the car waiting for her to finish, he signed himself up.
“I didn’t pick the degree, my wife did,” Simon recalled. “It was part time and reasonably priced so I thought I’d keep her company rather than sit in the car park until she was finished. I wasn’t particularly academic and didn’t expect to find myself there and able to cope.
“It sounds daunting at first but when I got into it I found it reasonably doable. We were both working at the time and we have three kids but we completed the course over four years and I found it really enjoyable. A lot of the skills I learned I still use today. It’s always good to have a grasp of basic legal principles in wide variety of employment.”
Simon was still running his rugby holidays company, Rugby Class, when he graduated and moved into a law career. He had made a lot of contacts in the sport and used his newly acquired knowledge and skills to work as a player agent during a period when rugby union was starting to get increasingly professional.
He said: “A lot of players I knew asked me to be their agent and I worked with a lawyer to do the legal bits of their contracts and he said ‘you should get your articles so you can practice as a lawyer’ so I went to The University of Law in Chester for the Law Society finals.”
Simon eventually sold Rugby Class and moved into sports law full time, spending six years at two different Manchester firms before joining The Leicester Tigers as the Head of Rugby Operations, in 2005.
“I did that for seven years and then became Chief Executive in 2012,” he said. “The sport has grown a lot over the past 12 years. We’re not football but the sort of sums being paid to players today you wouldn’t have dreamt of in 2005. We’ve grown our stadium capacity to 26,000 and continuing our success in the top division of English rugby. I would say we’re the most successful rugby club.”