On Thursday 24th November were delighted to host a conversation about how football works off the pitch with alumni working behind the scenes at top British football clubs.
We were joined by Arsenal Loan Manager Ben Knapper (Sport Coaching and Performance, 2008), Sheffield Wednesday Chief Operating Officer Liam Dooley (Politics, Philosophy and Economics, 2008), Middlesbrough Head of Fitness Franky Hunter (Sport and Exercise Science, 2010), University of Hull Sport Development Manager Sophie Johnson-Read, and James Hoggarth, Presenter and Producer at BBC Radio Humberside.
Below you can read our event write-up, see the event photographs and watch the video of the event.
Over almost two hours, the discussion covered a range of topics and issues, from what made the University of Hull such a good place to learn, to what it takes to get a job in football, the relationship between the media (particularly social media) and football clubs, female representation in sport, the everyday business decisions that impact (or are impacted by) results on the pitch and what sort of areas will become more important in the coming years behind the scenes of football clubs. Below we’ve written about a few of the subjects covered but be sure to watch the video to see the whole conversation.
“Don’t just leave University with a degree”
The event started with a conversation about how the University of Hull was the starting point for the careers of many of the speakers. Ben talked about the attraction of coming to Hull – the campus offered everything he needed, the facilities were what he was looking for and the University afforded him opportunities that were the ‘difference maker’ for him in terms of his career. Indeed, those opportunities were the key for Ben as he recommended that those students present ‘don’t just leave University with a degree’ but make other things happen for themselves and take any opportunities that come their way.
“I knew I should go to university, but no one from my village had ever been”
Liam echoed some of Ben’s points about taking opportunities, but emphasised that when he started his Politics, Philosophy and Economics degree he had no idea what he wanted to do or where he wanted to be. For Liam, that’s okay, and it’s something to be embraced: ‘you’ll get there’. But on the way, at University, you’ll make friends for life, and have opportunities that will take you places.
“The middle point from finishing your degree to getting to the place you want to be can be quite messy”
Franky talked about the point when you leave University and have to take the skills you learned from university into the professional world to get where you want to be. Franky took a gamble after her studies ended and travelled to Southampton to work, unpaid, for a year. The gamble clearly paid off for her, but the industry is, she says, in a much better place for new recruits from Sports Science degrees than it was when she graduated.
“I’ve seen a massive growth in female participation, particularly in Hull”
The conversation moved on to representation and equality of access to sports and careers in sports, particularly looking at women in football. Sophie Johnson Read talked about an initiative she was involved at here at the University of Hull as part of Sport England’s This Girl Can campaign. Fabulass was set up to encourage girls who weren’t taking part in sports to take up new activities and get involved. Sophie was particularly proud to see girls involved in the initiative go from taking part in no sports or physical activities to representing the University of Hull in rugby on a Wednesday evening.
The Business of Football
One of the most fascinating aspects of the evening was when Ben and Liam went into depth about the running of football clubs as businesses. Ben talked specifically about how the big clubs use the loan system for two reasons – player development and asset management. Acknowledging it was crude to refer to players as assets, he talked about the balance between helping players develop both on and off the field, whilst also acknowledging their impact on a club’s finances. Talking specifically about the operational side of running a football club, Liam highlighted the contradictions in paying a footballer however many thousands of pounds a week but also looking at how much money to spend on toilet roll and other things in order to save money that could be put to use on the football pitch. Interestingly Liam and James discussed the cost of living crisis and the rise in heating costs and how they affect football clubs and stadiums.
“I’ve noticed that the top radio stations are looking for new talent”
Throughout the evening James offered lots of great insight from his perspective working in local radio, and towards then end of the evening was asked what someone who wanted to get into sports journalism should be looking to do to get started on a career. James was upbeat about the prospects of people willing to take a chance and ask for opportunities and then to make the most of whatever came their way. ‘Reach out to people,’ he says. ‘The power of social media as it is today, we’re contactable. Hit me up with a dm – if I can’t find the answer, I can find someone who will.’
Overall the conversation was a fascinating journey through careers in football, the ways that things we take for granted in the game work (relationships, transfers etc.) and the actual day-to-day life of working in a football club. The audience was a mix of alumni and students, all of whom would have taken away a different view of the beautiful game from the one they arrived with.