BEHIND every good team there’s usually another good team lurking in the background - and that’s definitely the case at Doncaster Rovers.
Sports writer PAUL GOODWIN speaks to Rovers’ Community Foundation chief executive Liam Scully about the club’s phenomenal recent progress off the field.
PG: Rovers’ Community Foundation have been picking up awards left, right and centre over the last year or so. It must be a great place to work?
LS: Absolutely. It’s nice for the team and myself to be recognised for the work that we do and if you speak with the guys here we all genuinely enjoy coming into work every day.
The whole place feels like it is going places. It’s really exciting to be a part of it.
PG: What short term and long term goals have you set for the Foundation?
LS: Short term it is all about an evolution of the Foundation in line with current local and national agenda.
Ultimately, we are a voluntary sector organisation that is reliant on government funding.
We are slightly different in that we are working on behalf of an established football club.
However, underpinning all of our good work with the fans and the fans of the future are the positive interventions carried out in the community of Doncaster.
An example of this would be the recent appointment of our first Police & Crime Commissioner.
The Foundation historically has been commissioned to combat crime and antisocial behaviour.
Now this focus is in the hands of the our elected PCC, Shaun Wright. It is important we are aligned to his visions.
Long term it is about contributing to making Doncaster the best place it can possibly be, engaging with young people and introducing them into the Doncaster Rovers family and creating the fan of the future.
This can be done through school visits, match day experiences, holiday sessions, everything we do we try to link to the club to generate a future fan.
In addition our intervention work is as varied as reducing the number of NEET young people (not in education employment or training), raising awareness and working to reduce childhood obesity, reducing anti social behaviour or even supporting the NHS in increasing the number of people who successfully exit substance misuse treatment.
Luckily football is a universal language.
Football gives us the opportunity to engage with people and do something positive, which other bodies don’t always get the chance to do.
Our work with NEET young people bucks national trends. National averages for progression from similar courses is around the 65 percent mark.
But for the last three years our average progression rates have been in the 90 percent plus range, with students going on to scholarships, university or employment.
This is down to the skill and innovation of our teaching staff.
But it is also most definitely backed up by the fact their classroom overlooks the Keepmoat Stadium pitch and that their attainment is rewarded by visits from the first team players who inspire the students to do well.
PG: You recently replaced long serving Eric Randerson at the helm. What is your background and what makes you the right man for the job?
LS: My background is in sports development and I worked under Eric for over 10 years in two spells.
I actually joined the Foundation as an apprentice coach in 2000 and ever since then have been motivated to make a difference.
I hope the thing that stands out when people see me is the pride that I have in Doncaster Rovers and the genuine belief in the work we carry out.
It would be inappropriate for me not to stress the phenomenal calibre of people whom I work alongside. It’s no secret our specialists are recognised as leaders in their field.
PG: You want youngsters in the town to develop an affection and an affinity with Rovers at an early age. How do you plan on achieving this?
LS: Firstly we need to accept we are in an era of football clubs being global brands.
It’s ‘cool’ to support the Manchester clubs or have their favourite players’ latest boots because they are relentlessly marketed on TV and in magazines, so nowadays choosing to support your local club is absolutely a conscious decision.
We need to give Doncaster’s young people a reason to support DRFC.
For example a couple of seasons ago we had the most player visits nationally at over 500 percent above national average.
When we used to take the players to school we would walk in the classroom and be besieged with Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea shirts.
Questions to the players would inevitably start with “have you ever played against Wayne Rooney?”
With time young people will realise getting to the Emirates is a difficult challenge at the best of time and certainly a costly trip.
However they have met Rob Jones and he was really friendly and encouraged them to read more when he visited the school.
We can’t compete with the global brand approach but we definitely have the human touch and hopefully and almost subliminally this will affect a Doncaster kids choice of team.
Another area we are working hard to improve is the match day experience.
There are many variables that influence not only the result of a football match but also whether fans leave the game happy win, lose or draw - it is all about the experience.
If we have conceded a sickening last minute goal and lost, but on the way to the game you have met Donny Dog, played on the Wii against Kyle Bennett and also got to go on the pitch you will remember the day as a positive one and be more inclined to return.
PG: How are Doncaster Rovers currently reaching out to the community?
LS: We are currently recruiting students to join us on the National Citizen Service project and also our Education programme as a full time student for the next academic year.
Because the programmes are so intense you really get the opportunity to shape a young person’s future.
Away from education it’s also worth mentioning the Premier League backed Kickz social inclusion programme.
Our team have done a phenomenal job in gaining the backing of the Premier League.
In fact we are the first club never to play in the Premier League that has been given such backing.
The project works in the Balby and Hexthorpe areas and not only is it influencing the life of the participants, hopefully pointing them on the right track, in addition it is hopefully making these areas a better place to live.
There is no doubt anti social behaviour effects lives. If we can play our part in reducing ASB across Doncaster then the impact this can have is huge.
PG: How important is the ‘In Rovers We Trust’ project to the work you do?
LS: Huge. The relationship between Doncaster Rovers and the Community Foundation is stronger than it has ever been and although separate organisations, our strategies are intrinsically linked.
Before ‘IRWT’ with our absolute best intentions we would attempt to make a decision on behalf of the fanbase.
It was always with the best intentions of providing what the regular fan would want, but there was no way of knowing how accurate our educated assumptions were.
We now have rational critique as well as a voice of reason to where our next focuses should lie. It gives us direction and ultimately a trustworthy measuring stick for success.
Our quick wins have been in match day provisions.
Looking to the future I expect IRWT to shape our engagement work specifically aimed at the future fan.
PG: You describe the challenge for Rovers as reaching the Championship and keeping the club’s identity in tact. What is the club’s identity in your view?
LS: For me DRFC is a club that operates with integrity. An ambitious and successful club which the community is proud, the mission statement reads. It sums it up very well.
As a young lad I used to come to the games with my dad and uncle. We would stand on the ‘pop stand’ and at half time I would meet a load of similar aged kids and kick around a polystyrene cup pretending to be Adie Mike and Perry Suckling.
It had a warming friendly charm to it.
I grew up in Sheffield where all the kids supported United or Wednesday and I used to go to school on Monday bragging that I went to Rovers against Telford and I got to meet the players.
Feeling like it is touchable and having pride in your team is invaluable.
There is nothing better than when asked who do you support and being able to state your team with pride.
For me that is how everyone and everything associated with the club conducts itself.
Fans that don’t tear up every away ground we visit, players that understand the impact they can have on young fans, a chief executive that listens to the fans.
I am proud to support DRFC and even prouder to say I work here.
Ultimately I believe Doncaster Rovers is about conducting ourselves in a respectful yet competitive manner.
Underpinning all of this is that we fully understand our obligation to the Doncaster community and respect that football is far wider reaching than 90 minutes on a Saturday afternoon.