Bonjour fellow Braves! This week, I’m on holiday in the south of France – it’s a hard life – but I’m still juggling football and business with the family, probably unsuccessfully! I keep thinking next year will be different… but I know it won’t! When you’re the owner of a football club, or an entrepreneur, you’re ‘always on’, and if the phone rings at midnight or first thing in the morning, wherever you are, you just have to deal with it – I got a text from a former Academy student at midnight last night… But, it’s all good, and I love it!
A couple of weeks ago I took a ‘day off’ to go to a beach in Normandy with the family. I’d forgotten that I’d arranged a call with a couple of American businessmen who’re involved with a fan-owned club in Austria, FC Pinzgau – I like the look of their model and wanted to chat about possibly doing something together. Anyway, once I remembered about it I thought I would find a hotel or a café there and do the video call from a quiet corner, but we arrived late so I ended up doing it from the beach! A Zoom call with two guys I’ve never met in America and me on a windy beach with kids running about and screaming and general madness going on – under any other circumstances I would’ve considered it unprofessional but I just thought, it’s my club and I am who I am, so I decided just to be me, and the guys took it very well. We’ll see how that pans out.
So, anyway, I’m writing this while having breakfast outside, watching the sun rising through the forest and looking forward to another beautiful sunny day with Eve and the girls, and my phone! By the way, Eve is constantly amazed at how many words we Scots have for rain – her favourite so far is ‘smirry’! – but there’s no danger of that here today! By the time you’re reading this the kids will be back at school, Eve will be back at work and it’ll just be me and my laptop and phone working away at preparing for the new football season.
Where have the last six months gone? There we were, back in early March, watching news reports of this horrible pandemic creeping across the world, but to be honest, I was probably more worried about our then upcoming home game against Spartans. We’d played really well against them back in October 2019, winning 3–1 away, but they’d gone on to show more consistency than us and were sitting in fifth position in the league, three places and 13 points better off than the Braves. In a way that comparison kind of sums up the season we’d had – frustratingly inconsistent. To be fair, last season was really about us still trying to consolidate our position in the league, while striving to push into the top six. That was our idea at the start of the season, and though we did well in some games we let ourselves down in others.
Overall, I suppose 2019/20 was decent enough for the Braves, but we do have to be wary that we don’t celebrate mediocrity by saying we did well to finish eighth – I think it’s important that we set our standards higher than that. But, when you bear in mind that, for the most part, it was a brand new squad playing in an increasingly competitive league, then some of the results that we had – away to Spartans, away to East Kilbride – proved that we can compete with the best. There’s a lot of positives to be taken from that. On the flip side, we lost far too many silly goals, goals that we shouldn’t really be losing, and until we get a level of consistency then we’re always going to be a mid-table team. So, the challenge we have for next season is building on all our good qualities and adding that consistency.
We also need to be more robust mentally, to help turn draws into victories and defeats into draws. Over the course of the season that all adds up and we just maybe lacked that wee bit of experience last year. Obviously, the boys now have another year at this level under their belts and we’ve also brought in a couple of players to add to the squad. New signing Andy Dowie will bring a lot of experience, and will help guys like Jack McDowall and Dominic Slattery, and we’ll also have Alan Reid back – he missed a lot of last season and wasn’t really fully fit when he came back, struggling to regain his match sharpness. But Alan is apparently looking really good now in pre-season training, so he’ll be like a new signing for us, as will Jean Guy Lucas, who’s another really important player who was out for a lot of last season. Blair Docherty too – he started last season on fire but missed the last part through injury. Getting all these players back and keeping the majority of the squad together means we’ve got a good platform to build on.
All of our summer recruitment has been focussed on improving the team and bringing in guys who will also help improve the players already here, to help them grow and develop as footballers. We don’t have a huge budget, so we always have to think differently, focussing on player development, getting the best out of the players we’ve got, and creating an environment where players feel good and want to play for the club and will give their maximum no matter what. Ricky Waddell and Richie Salveta both identify who they think fits those criteria and, if we can get them, then we try our best to get them in. I think Ricky sells them the vision of the club very passionately, and other players come because they already know some of the players here and they help to sell the vision too. Players want to come to an ambitious club with a good coach and they want to enjoy their football. That’s really important to us as a club, and to Ricky as a coach, that the guys enjoy the training and enjoy the dressing room banter – coming to play football should be a release from jobs and family responsibilities. It should be a happy place, and if we can provide that environment while being professional and ambitious then the guys appreciate and respond to that. Ricky would probably still like to add a couple of players – show me a manager who wouldn’t! – but we’re very happy with our recruitment and I think we’re pretty much there.
It’s difficult for me as the owner living in France, but I don’t really have anything much to do with signings. We’ll chat about it but it’s up to Ricky and Richie who they sign. But I always take the time to call the new guys up, introduce myself and welcome them to the club, and let them know that I’m here if they ever need anything. Most of them appreciate that, and I’m not sure a lot of owners do that. I come across to Glasgow once every 5 or 6 weeks, usually for a week, and I get down to training and games, which I really enjoy. It’s a real challenge though because although I’m the owner I also consider myself just ‘one of the boys’. I like to be in amongst it, in the dressing room before the game, but it can sometimes feel a wee bit awkward because that’s Ricky’s domain. I don’t say much unless I need to, but I’m a football guy, an ex-player, I enjoy being round about it and I think it’s good for the players to see that I’m not some faceless committee guy sitting in the boardroom wearing a tie. It’s important they see me as part of it and see how much it means to me. I wouldn’t embarrass myself by getting too involved in training mind – I did it in the first year of the Academy and I learned that was a big mistake! You still think you’re a player until you actually get the ball – your brain tells you that you can still do it, but it just seems to take longer for the messages from your brain to go down to your feet and by that time the ball’s away from you! Occasionally I’ll maybe do a crossbar challenge or a wee bit keepy-up or maybe join in a box game, but… it’s just too difficult to resist when you see the bag of balls lying there, it’s like a magnet!
Anyway, pre-season training is finally underway. Because of Covid the players still can’t use the dressing rooms, they have to come ready to train, and they’re not allowed to carshare. We appointed our physio, Ross Anderson, as our Covid Officer, and he’s in charge of making sure that the club and the players adhere to the rules and regulations laid down by the Scottish Government in terms of safe training. It’s clearly not normal circumstances but the boys are just happy to get back and see each other and start kicking a ball about again. The Lowland League is currently looking at a possible start date of 10th October, so we’ll just be getting through these next few weeks by being patient, pragmatic and positive. We don’t actually do any actual Covid testing, just temperature testing and making sure the players follow the rules. We had to buy masks and disinfectant but we’re all very well aware that this isn’t just about football, it’s about culturally and socially using common sense. If you know that wearing a mask reduces the risk of transmission by 80%, just wear a mask. If you know you have to stay 1–2m away from people in a shop or a confined space, just stay back. If you know that handwashing helps to control the disease, just wash your hands! Our guys know the score, so they’re all being sensible.
In the next blog I’ll tell you more about how training’s going, and how the Braves are shaping up for the big kick-off, if it happens! There’s still so much uncertainty and we can’t take anything for granted. Until then, stay safe and, if you haven’t already watched it, check out our documentary Brave Calling on the STV Player or online by clicking here. We’re really proud and excited about the programme and we’d love to know what you think. À bientôt mes amis!