I am very proud to be an Ambassador of the Charlton Athletic Community Trust (CACT) and I have long-believed that football clubs have a duty to try to make a meaningful contribution to the community from which they draw their support. Football and sport in general, can and does play a huge role in combating social ills and if the required level of funding and corporate support can find its way to football club community trusts to address issues such as reducing crime, improving health, raising educational attainment and increasing pathways to employment; football will continue to make a real difference in society.
However, the importance of an excellent working relationship between a Football Club and its Community Scheme took a while to be fully embraced. When I was at The Football League I very well remember having conversations with some Clubs in the very early 90’s who didn’t really know how to work with their newly appointed Football in the Community Officer, a role created by and under the auspices of, the Professional Footballers Association. Indeed I remember one particular conversation with a senior Club official who moaned to me that their Community Officer ”just wanted free match tickets all the time”.
Back in 1996 Jason Morgan, the then Community Officer at Charlton, came to visit me at my office at The Football League with Colin Walsh, one of the Club’s star players who was planning for the next stage of his career. Here’s my diary extract from that day:
Friday 1st March 1996
Jason Morgan and Colin Walsh of Charlton Athletic came to see me in my office at The Football League to get my thoughts on the potential setting-up of a Soccer Clinic in Colin’s name under the auspices of Jason’s excellent Football in the Community Scheme, which is gaining a great reputation and is going from strength to strength. Jason is doing a great job and deserves much credit as he literally started the Community Scheme at CAFC all on his own in 1992.
Colin, who famously scored the first goal back at The Valley in that iconic match against Portsmouth in 1992, will be retiring as a player at the end of the Season due to a persistent knee injury and he feels that he would like to develop his own Soccer School. Colin and I go back a long way. When I was Charlton’s Commercial Manager during the Club’s difficult days at Selhurst Park, Colin was one of my closest friends on the playing staff; he was always very supportive of everything that I tried to do and, along with Mark Reid, was a regular on my ‘Charlton Chat’ Sunday night radio show on RTM.
After speaking to Jason and Colin for a while it became apparent to me that Charlton’s Community Scheme needed to work more closely with the Club in terms of developing the commercial opportunities that such a relationship would, I am convinced, create for both parties.
Jason told me that he has an active database of 10,000 people and yet it appears that the Club does not fully embrace this major marketing tool on its doorstep. As I explained to Jason and Colin, it is my belief that Clubs are being slow in realising that if they worked more closely with their Community Scheme it would pay dividends. In my eyes, the Community Scheme should be seen as the vanguard of a football club’s marketing activities. Jason and his colleagues are out in the Community and in schools every day of the week and, in many cases, the Community officers are a young person’s first introduction to Charlton Athletic. Clubs should recognise that these young people are the potential season ticket holders and possibly even the Club sponsors of the future. As I said to Jason, I could certainly have done with having the support of a Community Officer like him in place during my time as Commercial Manager of Charlton during the Club’s exile at Selhurst Park!
Four years after that meeting with Jason and Colin, I went back to work at Charlton Athletic FC and I’m pleased to say that I practised what I preached as I enjoyed an extremely close working relationship with Jason, who later became the CEO of Charlton Athletic Community Trust (CACT).
This was never more in evidence than in 2005 when we were negotiating the record-breaking sponsorship of the Club by Spanish property giants Llanera, who at the time were one of the major sponsors of Valencia. At every meeting I had with Llanera I was joined by Jason and the huge extent of the work that CACT does in the Community formed a major part of my sponsorship presentation. This collaboration between Club and Trust resulted in us signing the biggest sponsorship deal in the Club and CACT’s history.
All of which rather puts the aforementioned ‘all they want is free match tickets’ moan into perspective, don’t you think?