When you hear the term ‘Chairman’ or ‘Chief Executive’ you don’t normally associate many positives. Whether it is in the world of banking, business or football it is common to see headlines and news stories about those at the top making huge mistakes or being awarded obscene bonuses. In football it is usually when you hear of a chairman who has alienated a fan base or one who is trying to change the name and the image of a football club. In this day of oil rich owners and multi-million pound investments it is often easy to forget about those at the other end of the scale.
All football clubs are extensions of the local area they play in. They represent the people of that community and carry with them the reputation and image of that part of the world. For big clubs it is difficult to maintain this kind of connection with fans but for smaller teams it can make or break a club. With that in mind it is essential that the people who run the smaller clubs try to work with local people and engage with their small, but dedicated fan base.
This moves us on to a man who has, in the last year, managed to do that with passion, enthusiasm and an eye for unique opportunities.
John Devlin first became involved in Albion Rovers way back in 2007, but it was in 2013 that he was given the opportunity to step up to role of Chairman. He had a vision to transform the match day experience for Albion fans and to try and convince those that didn’t attend Cliftonville that they should. He wanted to reach out to the local Coatbridge community and encourage fans to engage with Albion Rovers.
“We have to give fans a 2 hour experience at Albion Rovers that is better than going to the Cinema or ten pin bowling. That is what we are competing against.”
Devlin knew that Albion Rovers was at the heart of a small community so he wanted to ensure that local people felt part of the club. This vision was helped immeasurably by last year’s Scottish Cup run that brought in enough investment to the club that they could launch schemes like the “pay what you can” season ticket. This was born out of the “pay what you want” match day they trialled in January that saw an additional few hundred on to their usual gate. These kinds of initiatives gave Albion Rovers a huge boost in season ticket sales but also a fair amount of media attention. Devlin himself said that he knew a club like Albion Rovers could not compete with bigger teams so they never planned to. He used an analogy from a small businesses competing against big companies, “they don’t try to compete. They try to differentiate.”
The local community partnerships continued recently with the announcements that the club were to donate £10,000 to the local ‘Cash for Kids’ charity. The money was part of the Scottish Cup cash they had received in their matches against Rangers.
The relationship with Radio Clyde’s Cash for Kids continued into this season with the launch of a new third kit that featured the logo of the local charity. With these kinds of gestures and the initiatives put in place by John Devlin it was always clear that he knew exactly what was needed at a smaller, community based team like Albion Rovers. The club are now in a good position for the future and can look ahead towards the next few years and potential promotions.
The reason that this is all written in past tense is because the decision was taken by Devlin yesterday to step down as chairman and director of the club. He has cited additional personal and business commitments, leaving this message on the Albion Rovers website –
It has been a summer of change at Cliftonhill and we can look forward to the season ahead with a renewed optimism as we channel our efforts towards a successful league campaign.
Away from football, my own situation is changing too and I have a number of other personal and business priorities that increasingly require my attention.
With that in mind, I have taken the difficult decision to step down as a director of the club and as Chairman.
This past 12 months has been something of a rollercoaster ride and the club as a whole has certainly developed both on and off the park.
There is a now a board of directors and an experienced wider management committee in place who will provide stability, continuity and see through some of the innovative ideas that have been established.
Pat Gillooly has received the backing of the board and will take over as chairman with immediate effect.
It has been an honour and a privilege to serve the club on the board across the last 6 years and I would like to thank you all for your support and kindness.
Hopefully I will see you all from time to time on the terrace.
Once a Rover always a Rover!
This decision has been a bit of a shock for Rover’s fans, but one that is maybe not completely surprising given the turnover in the boardroom in the last two or three years.
Being a club chairman is never going to be easy. You can never really be in it to make money and you need to give it your full attention. You will never please everyone (John Devlin knows this) plus you have to make difficult decisions regarding managers and players. The Albion Rovers fans have seen a conveyor belt of directors and boardroom members over the last few years so maybe this announcement might frustrate a few supporters but the bigger picture has to taken into consideration. The team is in a better position now, the fans are happier now and the club has made improvements off the park. The influence of someone like John Devlin has to be appreciated and there are more than a few clubs that would be lucky to have someone like him at the helm.
I’m sure the majority of fans would wish their former chairman the best of luck in the future, and they will maybe be hoping that they have not seen the last of him.