The public perception of Amateur Football is that of pub teams running about the local park still half pissed, smoking a roll-up and puking last night’s concoction of alcohol and kebabs.
But that could not be further than the truth. In fact, I’d go as far to say that they are as well run as some of the so-called “professional” clubs here in Scotland. I was fortunate enough to be part of the amateur game for around 13 years and by Christ it’s hard work keeping a club afloat.
I started off as the “roving reporter” for Greenhills Dynamo fresh from college around 15 years ago. This team was a group of friends from Greenhills in East Kilbride who formed to quell the boredom. The club was looking for a new Secretary to run the administrative side of things and seeing as I worked in football at the time, I had bags of experience.
I had my eyes opened. I had no idea that it cost around £5,000 a year to run the outfit. Strips had to be bought, laundered weekly, and pitches and training had to be paid for. Referees get paid too, as well as League Fees and mandatory insurance.
Unlike the professional game, players actually themselves pay to play and train. They also paid or part-paid for physiotherapists, and if you suggested a sports massage in the dressing room, the players would have thought it was code word for something extra. What a lot of people don’t understand is that the guys in the background work several extra hours a week running the clubs, arranging league meetings, sorting games and a host of other duties – all unpaid. You want to know what football looks like at the grassroots level? It looks like this; a guy sitting up to the wee small hours phoning around for a pitch to rent, or an opponent to play, or someone to referee.
We do it for one reason only. We love the game.
The amateur game in Scotland has around 40,000 registered players, far more than any other Association, yet it probably receives the least money. The women’s game in Scotland receives far more, and this is not my being sexist, but to be blunt, women’s football is a minority sport in comparison. Youths, I can understand and agree with as they are the future of the country.
We get none of the perks, but all of the responsibilities. Registrations have to be done just like the professional game. We once had a player who went to play in Australia semi-professionally. He was homesick and wanted to return, which he indicated to me in an e-mail. Amazingly, I had to apply for an International Clearance Certificate via the SFA in order that I could sign him. Luckily enough, his 50 plus goals helped us secure our first league title, but you tell that story to someone who doesn’t understand how it works and the reaction you get is open disbelief.
Players also come and go without transfer fees, and there are no contracts to be exchanged. But amateur teams have scouting networks and many manager’s give up more time, unpaid of course, to seek out players. You can’t entice players by money either, so there’s an advantage the pros have.
Let’s get back to the cash for a minute. The cash is important.
Money, or lack thereof, doesn’t only force professional clubs out of the game. No-one really gets that your local amateur side runs on cash … but it’s a fact, and any number of amateur clubs do go to the wall, although most will no doubt owe the league monies only, not the local newsagent or face painter.
My side, like many amateur sides, attracted sponsorship from local hostelries and businesses. I remember meeting with the area manager of Belhaven Breweries to secure a “deal”. I had a four page document highlighting what they would get as a return on their £700 a season investment. After a season, they had got it back more than 10 fold. I was a bit disappointed when we were offered less the following year before, in a Magners-esque deal, we were offered £1000 by another pub. This paid for our new kit and League fees and we had free reign on holding fundraising nights. Landlords know that amateur sides are a cash cow. If you can get 15-20 guys spending at least £10 each a week for 30 weeks then you’re on to a winner, and on top of that are the nights the clubs have. The tills are bulging by the end of them.
Yet the traditional methods of fund-raising are weaning. Players are somewhat reluctant to buy football cards, do weekly totes, sell football cards or anything else that eats into their leisure time. As a result, many clubs have taken to having their own websites, Facebook pages and Twitter Feeds.
Some of the amateur sides websites are so professional that to the football fan outside of Scotland, you would think it is was an SPL team. A good friend of mine, Bernie Vallely, is manager of Tynecastle AFC and he’s taken to wonderful world of the world wide web like a duck to water. His site www.tynecastleafc.co.uk is somewhat unique and allows anyone the chance to blog about football, including myself.
Bernie has also had the ingenuity to have just about every area of his site and club sponsored, and is constantly looking at ways of raising cash. We shared the same ethos that all players have to do is turn up for training and the game on a Saturday without having to worry about what goes on in the background, just like their professional counterparts. Their sole job is to play. It’s our job to make sure they have somewhere to do it, strips to play, registration to allow them and a place to get changed and washed before and after games. Free of those hassles, they can put it all out there on the park.
Bernie also uses Twitter to update his followers with scores, links to his website with the match reports and regularly gives his sponsors a plug. All part of a marketing strategy from an amateur side. Many others do it too. It’s also attracted players; many players will look at websites and get a feel for how well the club is run and what kind of side they are.
Fellow Strathclyde Saturday morning side, Tantallon Victoria appear to use Twitter more than Ashton Kutcher but see the benefits flooding in. They started a Twitter in January of 2011. When they started up, Davie Brown the now serial tweeter was unsure what he’d use it for but within a few weeks we started networking with other clubs who were using Twitter and built up friendships with three or four clubs in particular.
This in turn, helped the feed to grow organically and it changed and developed into part information and promotion and part parody.
Dave said, “We tried to do everything that a professional club would do with the punchline to jokes being that we were just 20 or so friends playing in a park.
“Someone asked if they could buy a shirt as they lived in America and they’d never get to see us play. This led to us selling replica shirts and in the first season we sold around 20 to people UK wide and beyond.”
I’m sure their kit supplier were more than chuffed with that. Not sure that Tally Vics will grow a sports chain but that is surely worth a round of applause for smart thinking? PSL Teamsports now runs a club shop on their behalf which brings much needed income in. They’re probably the smallest club in the world with it’s own line of merchandise. Professional I’d say. Hats off, caps doffed.
More importantly, it’s forged friendships with other clubs and even ones as far afield as the Black Country. Maybe some professional clubs could adopt this approach?
It also allowed them to share ideas on fundraising, an essential part of running an amateur side. They also have players individually sponsored, bringing yet more money into the club.
But with every positive there is a negative. Many players have taken to Twitter, Facebook and the Unofficial SAFA site and what starts as banter, can turn into nasty exchanges. I had on occasion have to warn players about their conduct on such sites because, frankly, it was nothing more than a team talk for the opposition and Amateur League Committees frown greatly upon such behaviour.
Yet I especially enjoy Tweets from
@Scottish_AFF. The man behind it, Dougie Gunning actively promotes the game throughout Scotland and re-tweets scores from as faraway as the Shetland League. Dougie is immersed in the amateur game and the SAFA should give the man a job in the PR Department.
Players seem to think that if no-one is on their followers or friends list then immunity is theirs. How naive. Leagues are looking at having strict policies on this now and can result in fines and suspensions.
Can you imagine having your star striker suspended for a crucial League or Cup game.
“Why’s the big man suspended?”
“Och, he called someone from today’s opposition a prick on Twitter”
We’ve all seen the abuse Antony Stokes, Joey Barton, Rio Ferdinand have taken on Twitter – so amateur clubs should be putting these rules in place too. They have a duty of care and attention to their player.
Whilst social media can help promote amateur sides – which I find extremely positive – they need to be mindful of the damage it can do too. Davie at Tally Vics also feels that keeping the Twitter feed up and maintaining the relationships with followers and sponsors can be too time-consuming. I suggested he gets Joey Barton on board, as he seems to have loads of time on his hands! Perhaps he could forge a relationship with a French amateur side? Always thinking eh?
But more importantly, the amateur games can flourish through social media as long as they use it professionally.
With that, the game too will flourish. Football in Scotland is not all about shiny stadiums and Sky TV contracts. This is the sharp end. This is real.
This blog is dedicated to amateur footballer, Adam Bain of Gartcosh United, who collapsed on the pitch playing the game he loved last week and sadly passed away shortly after.
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