Workington AFC- To Football's Finest...
The phone rang half way through the maths lesson I was teaching. Thankfully for me, the phone was on silent otherwise my class, as always when I forget to knock the phone onto silent, would’ve been far too distracted to do their work! I assumed it was just the wife asking me to call at Sainbury’s on the way home or something similar and mundane. I made a mental note to check the missed call at break time.
Break time came and I strolled down to the Staff Room checking the phone on the way. The number I’d missed the call from was local; definitely not one stored in my phone book. I didn’t have time to return the call in my fifteen-minute break and vowed to check it out at lunchtime.
I totally forgot about the call, when for my lunchtime swim and gulped some lunch down before returning to class for the afternoon lessons. It was only when the phone vibrated again, I checked it, and it was the same number. I wrote the number on a post it note and stuck it to my desk. “I must ring back at end of school, don’t forget!” I reminded myself, grabbing my jacket for break duty on the cold yard.
The upper KS2 were playing football on the netball court. I had my weekly torture session, berating the serious dip in the standard of football since I first moved into teaching ten years earlier. There were a couple of reasonably talented Y4 boys but the rest was mediocre – and that was being very generous! This was my third school of my career. By far and away the best of the three was my middle school. Four or five of the lads there were with Carlisle United age-group teams and they were a really good school team! My interest in coaching had developed through both cricket and football in my dad’s schools in my college days and then carried on after a spell as a professional cricketer myself.
I started taking my football coaching badges to help my teaching career progress and found I really enjoyed the role of coach and especially organising the feeder schools’ league, which involved nine schools and over one hundred children per-year. The standards had, admittedly, diminished quite a bit but the children still enjoyed the game and the league.
I glanced at my watch. In the midst of my daydreaming I had let playtime over-run! I hastily blew the whistle and everyone disappeared back into school for the last 45mins of the day.
3.15pm came and I waited the obligatory ten minutes for classroom clearance. I dialled the number from the 'missed call'. It rang five times and then it was answered...
"Good afternoon, Workington Association Football Club." A female voice said.
"Erm, hello," I replied, confused. "I've had two missed calls from this number today and I'm just returning them." I added.
"Okay," said the female voice, "can you tell me your name please?" She added.
"Certainly, its Graeme Bright," I replied.
"Ah, Mr Bright, nice to speak to you, I know exactly who has been trying to contact you, let me put you through to Mr Dobie's mobile now, am I okay to put you on hold?" She said.
"Yes, no worries," I added, even more confused by this twist.
As the phone dialled again being patched through, I couldn't help but wonder why the Chairman of Workington AFC wanted to speak to me. Then I remembered the letter I'd sent him... Could it be about that?! My thoughts were interrupted when a gruff, West Cumbrian accent answered the phone.
"Hello, Humphrey Dobie." The voice said.
"Hi Humphrey, it's Graeme Bright here. I'm returning your missed calls from earlier today." I replied.
"Graeme, how are you? I'm glad you've rang back, its been a while since I last saw you down at Borough Park. Everything okay?" He added, making me feel a little more at ease.
"Yeah, fine thanks Humphrey. Been really busy with work and the family, you know how it is." I lied. What I really meant was I thought £12 was extortion for watching the product on offer!
"I know exactly what you mean, been there myself and done it." Humphrey added.
"Did you want anything in particular?" I enquired. "I'm assuming you didn't just want a catch up!"
"Astute as ever I see," he laughed. "Actually yes. That letter you sent regarding the future of the club, I was intrigued. I know you as a person and I know your dad well, you both know the game of football well. I'd like to chat more about it with you if that's okay?" He asked.
I was relieved, I thought he might have felt it a little cheeky my writing a letter like that.
"Yeah, that'd be fine," I replied. "Where and when would you fancy?"
"Are you busy tomorrow night, around half seven?" Humphrey asked.
"No, that would be absolutely fine for me." I replied.
"I'll book a table for dinner at the Washington Central Hotel then, don't have tea!" He said.
"No worries Humphrey," I laughed."I'll see you there tomorrow.
I hung up. "Well, at least he's going to listen to my ideas at the worst case scenario," I said aloud as I sat down to mark some books.
I checked over the letter I'd sent the Reds Chairman and Board prior to donning my suit and making the short, eight mile journey along the A66 to Workington. Basically, I had questioned the long-term sustainability of the club in its current format and also suggested ways in which the club could maximise its revenue streams. In short; The Reds were paying out hefty wages, relying on small gates for income and not doing anything to improve their financial situation, which was running loss upon loss.
Upon arriving, five minutes early, I found retired Pharmacist Humphrey Dobie already waiting for me at a table in the restaurant.
After exchanging formalities we ordered drinks and food and began to chat about everything Workington Reds. Humphrey was a lifelong supporter who was honoured to fulfil the role of Club Chairman, representing the Board. Eventually, the topic turned to my letter and the concerns and solutions I had thought about for my local club.
"Okay then, how do you suggest we slash the wage bill AND stay competitive?" Humphrey asked...
I put down my knife and fork and replied. "Have Workington ever held a Trial Day? Have Workington invested time in scouring the youth market where players can be picked up at a far younger age for far less money?" I asked.
The look that Humphrey gave me answered my question. The answer was clearly no.
I took the opportunity to continue. "If you can shave £500 to £1000 per week off the wage bill, that's potentially £50,000 a year less going out from the club. If you scout players properly, especially youth players, you can often find a bargain. Who knows, there's always the possibility to sell them on for profit further down the line. I've worked with senior and youth players, as you know and often the youth players show you more desire." I paused, giving Humphrey the opportunity to reply.
"It all sounds very good in theory, I agree. How do we convince the supporters that this is the right way to go?" He replied, quizzically. "Simple truth is Humphrey, the way things are going, they won't have a club a few years down the line. Reds can't keep operating with losses." I replied. "This is why I believe getting financial assistance and grants to install a synthetic surface on Borough Park is also vital. There's a huge appetite for locals to play in the evenings, the income for a club of Workington's size would be hugely beneficial and finally, Reds wouldn't have to worry about postponements quite so much, especially over Festive periods when crowds are slightly higher." Humphrey was nodding at this point. "Plans are afoot for this as we speak, in fact, we've got it sorted and the new pitch will be laid for next season. It's a new type, 5G artificial surface and, we think we'll have some money left over to move us into the black, which will be nice!" He added.
We continued to chat as we moved on to coffees. I was starting to wonder what the point of the meeting was really if I'm honest. I finished off my last mouthful and started thinking about getting home and to bed before a hard day at work the next day when Humphrey said something which would change everything...
"I've listened to everything you've said, I have to say I'm impressed by your ideas and knowledge. Not only that, your vision for the future of The Reds is sustainability. This is sadly the reason why we parted company with Darren Edmondson this morning. He wanted bigger budgets, he wanted us to gamble on winning promotion to the Blue Square Premier in order to progress. Simply put, we couldn't agree and Darren has left the club by mutual consent." Humphrey stated, folding his arms and sitting back. "Obviously now we have a managerial vacancy to fill at the club. Darren has done a great job as you know and we're very fond of him, however, as you have said, we can't gamble on the future of the club. As a result, I want to run something by you." He added, reaching for his business folder from beside the chair.
It clicked. He wanted to discuss potential candidates for the vacancy with me! I was flattered and intrigued. He opened the file. Lying there was a letter-headed piece of paper with the Workington AFC badge on it. I couldn't make out the writing so I waited for him to speak.
"We haven't invited any applications for the post made vacant this morning because we, as a board, feel as though we have already found the right man for the job." Humphrey said.
My heart sank slightly as I became unsure again of my role in all this...
He span round the piece of paper from the file and pushed it towards me. I started at the top and worked my way down to the title and highlights, which read:
CONTRACT OFFER FOR POSITION OF MANAGER, WORKINGTON ASSOCIATION FOOTBALL CLUB
THIS OFFER IS MADE ON 01/07/12 TO MR. GRAHAM ANDREW BRIGHT
DURATION OF CONTRACT = 12 MONTHS (EXPIRY: 01/07/13)
FINANCIAL REMUNERATION = £500 P/W (+ TRAVELLING EXPENSES)
It took a while to sink in. I was being offered the Manager's job at my local club! I looked up at Humphrey. "Well lad, what do you think? We would love you to accept the offer and put into action the plans we have discussed." He said. "I, I, I'm honoured really but I didn't expect this! I thought you maybe, at best, wanted to discuss potential candidates with me, not offer me the job!" I replied. "If we didn't think you were up to it, we wouldn't offer you it. You've got a Continental Licence, have great connections locally etc etc, it's a no-brainer for us. You have the club's future at heart." He added, persuasively.
"There's someone I need to ask before I can give an answer, may I quickly text the wife please?" I asked. "Ha, of course you can!" Humphrey replied. Within a minute of my texting home a reply appeared on the screen, in capitals...
FOR THAT MONEY?! OF COURSE YOU CAN TAKE THE JOB!
"Okay Humphrey, where do I sign? Let's get the ball rolling and down to business!" I said, smiling and signing on the dotted line to become the Manager of Workington Association Football Club.
STARTING THE WHEELS IN MOTION
As I drove home, I couldn't really believe what had happened. I knew I had to phone parents and tell them the news. My Dad, in particular, was delighted. He was a former Workington player having been semi-professional with the club in their old Football League days in the late 1960s and early 1970s. They were the club, along with Norwich City, who my dad had grown up supporting.
My text alert went off. It was Humphrey Dobie. The text read: 'great to have you on board, you've already saved us £12.5k this year as Edmo was on £750 per week! A good start, lets see the same on the pitch. Good luck.' It did make me chuckle but I wasn't motivated solely by the money.
That night I couldn't sleep for formations going round my head. I didn't really know many of the players in great detail, so it was going to take lots of discussion and first hand work identifying areas for development but I was determined to do the job properly and I knew that the Summer Holidays would be the perfect opportunity for this.
I knew attracting players was going to be tough and how could I convince the existing squad that I was the man to replace the popular figure of Darren Edmondson? I knew I could do it or I wouldn't have taken the job on. Making the players believe in me was a different matter entirely but I believed in myself. That's half the battle won there, I thought, drifting off to sleep.