“We can’t dig anyone up as they are all doing something and all pulling their weight” – Chris Ross proud of the job the SPFL Trust is doing within Scottish Football

Naturally, clubs across the content who have bigger budgets come out on top against Scottish football clubs, however, there is one area in which the Scots can boast about. Chris Ross spoke to jordanburtfootball.com about the job in which the SPFL Trust and it’s 42 current member clubs are currently doing and how Scotland’s Community Programmes are being looked upon in awe by many others.

Chris, who studies Community Education at University, has been involved in football for many years.

“Once I realised I wasn’t going to become a professional, I wondered how I could stay involved in the game. I done my degree before starting out with Clyde where I was doing the Community Relations – I was doing stuff on the Foundation and Charitable Arms work there. Then, I went to Stenhousemuir, after they were relegated: I went in over the summer and undertook a review of their community programmes to see how they could be better sustained. Since then, I have been working part-time between roles at Ross County and Kilmarnock; I have been doing things around funding, community initiative as well as looking after the Charitable Arms.

Community Education, in itself, is about being socially responsible – it is about being more [than just a football club] and doing more within the local community. For me, football clubs can do a lot more, but, particularly in Scotland, they do a brilliant job already. You will see clubs doing dementia mornings, coffee mornings, walking football…these are all social activities. At Christmas, you may see a lot of clubs doing something called ‘Festive Friends’ which allows elderly people to get some lunch while spending some time, for example, so, for me, football clubs are a very attractive proposition, in terms of we can bring people into our clubs who maybe wouldn’t get involved in any other way – that could be through employability programmes, through looking after disengaged youth…the most exciting thing for me is a number of clubs are experienced in this area and are leading these programmes. Up at Ross County, I have been working on a project which tackles social isolation in the Highlands and Islands; that is a pretty rural area so, for me, that is very exciting.”

So, what are the main differences between part-time and full-time clubs from a community aspect?

“When I first came into Clyde, I was brought in to see how I can help them sustain their community programmes. I came in on a voluntary basis for around 2 months and then, after that, I was then brought in as their Funding Officer before becoming their Education Officer. Compare that to my role at Ross County, where I am the Programme Co-Ordinator and I plan all the activities with the Charitable Arms, so the roles are diverse in that sense. However, it is very interesting as, whether you are part-time or full-time, that status doesn’t actually dictate the amount of work you can do within the community. Of course, being at a full-time club possibly allows you to have a bigger image and a wider reach, but, certainly at the smaller clubs, you can still have that ability [to run a successful community programme] even if the club is part-time footballing wise. That doesn’t necessarily mean the community side of things can’t be full-time and that is one of the most exciting things about it all, right there.

It sets you up, when you start at a lower, more local, level. As, for example, going from the local area which we covered with Clyde to the reach we have with Ross County which can go as far as Wick, Skye and Orkney! While these places are still far away, these are areas you still need to look after. It is easier, having a bigger reach, in the sense that you have a wider target audience, but, also, it is difficult as some people may be so far away, they wouldn’t want to travel over, so, instead, you would then need to try have a chat with them over the phone or meet with them in a more practical area as it may be the fact that it just isn’t realistic to expect people to travel from, for example, Orkney all the way to Dingwall and the football stadium.”

Where are those clubs that Chris has worked at in their efforts off the pitch, now?

“Just now, I am still involved with Kilmarnock and Ross County. We have seen a tremendous growth in their Community Arms: they are expanding the amount of staff they are taking on; they are expanding the amount of participants they work with every year, so, we are now doing more programmes, we are getting bigger and the community aspect is now quite a large focal point at either club. Obviously, the playing side will always come first, but, I don’t think we will ever see a stage again where either Kilmarnock or Ross County would go without a Community Arm, because it is doing so much good for them. It gives them a good, positive, chunk of press coverage due to the work they are doing in the community. That, in turn, then brings more fans in to the stadium on a match-day as they are excited by all these new initiatives, thus, getting people who may not necessarily have willingly got involved, get involved with a football club as they are taking part in an art club or a music club or whatever takes their interest.

I think everyone is now wisening up, as, if you go back even just a couple of years ago, not every club had a Foundation, a Trust or a Charitable Arm. Now, you have got the SPFL [Scottish Professional Football League] Trust, who publish each year what every club is doing and it is great to see that all 42 current member clubs have a Community Arm now. It is good that all parts of Scotland are now getting some social responsibility with the football clubs serving their own local communities. I think this side of things has really taken off and it is only going to get better.”

Social Media has become the ‘go-to’ for many over the past decade or so and Ross believes that Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube and many other of these online mediums have helped both areas come together to create what Scottish football has today.

“Social Media has made it so much easier; you can just pop online and see what is happening at your local club or what programmes they are running. But, I also feel that we have established partnerships that we maybe didn’t have in the past. We now link in with partnership organisations and get direct referrals – that can be from places such as a local leisure centre to the NHS. We can reach people in different ways in 2018, that we probably couldn’t in times gone by.

It can be more than just football: you can have cycling, or, you can have literacy trails for school children, which Montrose won an award for earlier on this season. They were taking children, aged Primary 5, and they were taking them out the classroom and into the football stadium, to teach them English. They would get the kids doing things like participating in Press Conferences, Match Commentary; it makes things more interesting for those who are learning, but, it isn’t necessarily teaching them about football. It is purely showing them how a football club works, in an educational way and I think that is a very clever way.”

So, where are Scottish football now and where can we still go with the community aspect?

“It has taken off and it is fantastic to see. Now, in terms of Scottish football and the clubs within the SPFL, we can’t dig anyone up as they are all doing something and pulling their weight. Every club has great staff who are helping these programmes grow year upon year and I think that is partly why I feel it is exciting for me to be going away and getting a new challenge, to help build that support up over in America which doesn’t presently have what we have created here in Scotland. I think we have put Scottish football on the map: last year, Aberdeen won the ‘Best Corporate Sociability Programme Award’ at the European Club Awards. What that means is, they have a programme which works with hundreds of dementia sufferers every week;  that programme has beaten everybody – whether that be in Scotland, Holland, Germany…they are a role-model for clubs wanting to work within their community and I think that is testament to Scottish clubs investing their time to create these programmes to help look after people within and around their community, so, yeah, I think overall Scottish football is doing really well.”

Now, Ross is preparing to take on a new role with Atlantic City in the United States.

“The owner, Andrew [Weilgus], has been looking at expansion plans for a long time now, and, I first reached out to him and then we started putting plans in place on how they can build a community programme. Similarly, to Glasgow, Atlantic City is very much an industrial city. It is in need of a lot of regeneration and there is a lot more which can be put in place in that town, at times. The club has been announced as the latest expansion team to the NPSL [National Premier Soccer League], which is the largest league in the U.S., and, it has many other big teams in it such as Miami FC, Detroit City FC and Jacksonville Armada FC, so, there is some pretty big teams involved and that we are going to be competing against.”

To find out more about Chris’ journey to America and his plans for Atlantic City FC, stay tuned to jordanburtfootball.com as we have more exclusive content coming up over the next few days.

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