AFTER joining The Football League as Betting and Gaming Manager last summer, Mike Bohan spent four days at The County Ground last week to get an insight into day to day life at a League One club.
Here, he takes up the story of a busy few days spent behind the scenes at Swindon Town Football Club…
Swindon became my adopted local club last summer when I relocated to Wiltshire. My move west also coincided with the start of my new job at the Football League and as a result I’d been keeping a keen eye on The County Ground throughout the season. So when the opportunity came up to spend a few days with the club to gain experience of life behind the scenes naturally I jumped at the chance.
Day 1 - Wednesday 17th April
The club’s Media and Communications Manager, Chris Tanner, greets me at main reception and I follow him through to the club office which is housed at the foot of The Arkell’s Stand. I’m introduced to the team (the team behind the scenes I mean) and I’m surprised to meet just ten people in the commercial office, ironically a smaller headcount than a football team. Yet this compact contingent is responsible for so much of the running of the club.
I’m led straight into the action with a pre-match meeting for Saturday’s crucial tie against Stevenage. There’s an awful lot to get through before the big day; the Kid-a-Quid ticket offer needs to be promoted, as does the fact that fans must retain their Stevenage tickets in the event a play-off semi-final place is secured. Ticketing, hospitality, health and safety of fans, half-time entertainment, you name it, everything is discussed in meticulous detail. Chris then gives me a tour of The County Ground and later that afternoon we get stuck into the very important business of the matchday programme.
I’m amazed to find out that Chris, Derrick and Tom produce the programme in-house for every home game. This is no small undertaking and sadly fewer and fewer clubs make their programmes in this way, preferring to outsource the job to large publishing agencies. The dedication in producing each issue with the required knowledge of Swindon Town, and the care and attention they invest is something you’d only get from people that have the club running through their veins. It’s a real labour of love. I’d urge supporters to get behind their efforts and buy a programme at each game as I can testify to the considerable work that goes into making it.
Day 2 - Thursday 18th April
The anticipation and excitement for the weekend’s match is already palpable, but that can’t detract from the plethora of things that must be completed before kick-off on Saturday. I start the day meeting a potential service provider, one which can hopefully bring some extra revenue in to the club next season. The guys working on the programme are mindful of the 5pm print deadline and I spend the afternoon helping them proof-read each page. This means I get to read the entire programme before a Town fan even gets a peek.
It’s always good to arrive in any new job when things are going well, and the Robins’ 4-1 win over Crewe on Tuesday night seems to have put a spring in everyone’s step. The result means that just one more win will guarantee Swindon Town a place in the coveted Play-Offs.
As a football fan I know we’re naturally inclined to speculate about what’s around the corner. With the club on the brink of the Play-Offs fans almost inevitably start dreaming of glory. It sounds a cliché to say that everyone at the club is focused on the next game, but that really is the case. I’ve not heard anyone tempt fate by daring utter the name of our national stadium, and as a superstitious chap myself I’ll be following suit with my lips sealed and fingers crossed for a positive result on Saturday.
Day 3 - Friday 19th April
I spend most of the morning with Tom Otrebski, Website Editor, helping him record his new feature for STFC Player, Inside Red. This is a weekly Friday show and Tom has already written his script, and recorded interviews and features of players in and around the club. With the majority of the hard journalistic work already complete, I do my best as cameraman and help with the final finishing touches. Tom’s knowledge of Swindon Town is immense. When I query some old shirts which hang framed in the office he’s able to instantly recall which seasons they were worn, even though these must’ve been from about 20 years ago! He should definitely be on the ‘Phone a Friend’ list of any Swindon fan going on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.
Lunch is held in the Legends Lounge with the players. It’s a buffet of just about everything you could imagine; cold meats, salad, pasta, rice, soup, fish. Derrick tells me the only unwritten rule is that the first team head to the buffet first and then everyone else follows. It’s great to see the room full of players, management and staff all sharing lunch together. It’s just one example of how there is a real sense of community at the club. Players and staff all mingle on the same tables, there’s no hierarchy or separation.
We finish the day with a bit of fun, hiding two tickets near a local business for a social media competition. Chris updates Twitter and gives clues until they are eventually won by one lucky fan!
Day 4 – Swindon Town vs Stevenage - Saturday 20th April
It’s matchday and with so much activity in and around the office I’m trying my absolute best to not get under foot. I run some errands around the ground including helping the club mascot, Rockin’ Robin get his suit on, which is a two-man job. He looks absolutely sweltering in what I can only assume is the hottest day of the year so far. He tells me he’s actually run a marathon in the Rockin’ Robin suit before, unbelievable!
I later find myself pitch side and realise it’s only a matter of minutes until kick-off. I feel like something of an imposter standing in the home team technical area but I notice Adam, Jo and Kay from the office are also pitchside so decide to enjoy the magic of the moment, just hoping I’m not breaking any rules.
The players come out and there’s a minute of applause for Swindon Town fans who’ve sadly passed away during the course of this season, which I think is absolute class. Each name is read out over the tannoy and warmly applauded. This is the kind of thing which makes the club that little bit extra special.
Standing there in the sunshine I realise the club is really one big family. From the guys who work in the office who are lifelong fans, right through to the players and supporters. Everyone seems to know one another, and everyone does their bit. On the day the players certainly did their bit, running out 3-0 winners and securing their deserved Play-Off place.
My thanks go to Chris, Tom, Derrick, Kay, Jo, Adam, Mark, Hayley, Wendy, Gary and Steve for making me feel so welcome at The County Ground. I have my fingers crossed that we’ll all be meeting at a big stadium somewhere in North London soon.