It was 3pm on a sunny Saturday afternoon. This was not just any Saturday afternoon as our captain and vice-captain, JC and Bill led the boys out in their first game of the opening of our new stadium, Murray Field. Not only was it our first match at the purpose built ground but it was our first game in the senior ranks. The 5 year project was coming to fruition. A dream to get a town of just over 10,000 people, into the professional game with a structure and philosophy which was like no other. Early on we had adopted our strapline of Mes Que Un Club (MQUC) and we were determined to do it differently.
The team who took to the pitch that day were mostly players who had come through the player pathway which took 5 year old boys and girls and gave them exceptional individual coaching from day 1. Indeed JC and Bill had both joined the club as 5 year olds and were now the rock solid central defence the team was built on. They were at their peak and the rest of the team had the energy, skills and bond that allowed them to progress through the amateur ranks to get to the professional game. 80% of the squad had followed a similar route. The other players who came in had to match these values or they wouldn’t last long here.
The stadium had been built by a community partnership involving all the local businesses, the local people and our main sponsor the Murray family. Indeed they had taken an active interest in the whole project as it aligned with their values of a strong work ethic, developing talent and a community with sport at the heart of it. Today, the stadium was full with over 5,000 people coming out to add support. The town had effectively shut down as we moved to the outskirts where the stadium had been built. The catering facilities were run by the local butcher and baker. The club shop was staffed by our younger players and the pre-match entertainment was provided by DMC, our local cheer champions. Not only was it a fantastic stadium but it was also built in line with our goal based on 100% renewable energy. The solar panels on the roof and the wind turbines and the mini CHP plant meant not only was this benefitting the stadium but provided free electricity for the local residents.
As the players did their warm-up, it was noticeable that it was exactly the same as I had observed earlier in the day when a few of the players on the field were coaching some of the younger teams in the morning. No lines, no boring drills but a ball for each person and working on technique as part of the warm-up. Individual development has always been our goal, even at the expense of winning. This is part of our DNA, this is how we do it here. From 5-18 we couldn’t care less if we never won anything. The plastic cups that are so revered by many are inconsequential. We aim to make better people and better players by giving them a lifelong love of the game. We aim to have as many local people playing as we possibly can so whether you are 5 or 55 or even 85 then there is an option to play. Our local health record is the best in the country because we believe wholeheartedly in this ‘system view’ where everything is connected.
Our crowd and environment at the side of the park is very different from what you would expect. The spectators which are all local people understand our culture so there are no shouts of abuse at players or refs. Supporters are mixed together and we hope our approach will rub off on others. You will never hear a spectator telling a player what to do. Only encouraging shouts of ‘well done’ or lots of clapping are heard. Indeed the communication from the coaches is very similar. No berating players or telling them. No joystick coaches but a nurturing and calm environment where players are allowed to make mistakes and learn. We have no separate dugouts but an area where our coaches and our opposition coaches stand together and compare notes, providing feedback to each other in a constructive manner. A rising tide raises all ships is the aim.
The match starts on the beautiful hybrid astro/grass pitch. The football is a joy to watch. The ball is always played on the ground. No big hoofs up the park and hoping. The players are comfortable on the ball. The movement is great and the supporters who have learned over the years to appreciate this is how football should be played. We know this doesn’t always result in winning the match but we have never bothered with the scoreboard and we won’t start now we are in the professional game. Indeed, our aim is still to be part of the process where we can produce players with the correct values and behaviours that would allow them to get to the top. Better people generally make better players. We work on this religiously and follow some All Blacks principles like ‘Sweeping the Sheds’ and ‘Play with purpose – Ask Why’ plus ‘Follow the Geese’ to create a ‘One Club’ feel.
As the match progressed, we continued to try to apply our game. It was so pleasing to see this team progress from a group of amateurs 5 years ago to a well oiled machine, led to by our two stalwarts at the back and our 16 year old creative playmaker in midfield. The boys did great but unfortunately the more experienced team got the better of us in a 5-4 defeat which had everything that is good about the game. Generally people equate sports success with winning but why does it need to be? We came off the park having witnessed a great game. Loads of good football with entertainment in a friendly environment. Most clubs will be disappointed in a defeat but not us. We rejected that notion years ago. There is a deeper meaning to sport. This meaning and purpose is developing our players as better people first. This took time and many players and coaches left the club to chase trophies elsewhere. We set out to convince players, coaches and parents there was a different way of doing things and to adopt a developmental and healthier outlook within our club. We are now seeing the results of this ‘road less travelled’
After completing our warm down, we were joined by our opponents players, coaches and supporters in our adjacent sports cafe. The place was buzzing as we spent a good few hours recollecting the great moments from the match as the area became the focal point for the whole town. At around 7pm, the local band set up which comprised a few faces who were part of our football programme and indeed some were still playing at the club. This kicked off the second part of the day as we enjoyed a night of community spirit, chat and dance. A brilliant day was ended around midnight as we bid fairwell to our guests and got tidied up to prepare for Sunday’s match where our Woman’s team are hosting local rivals Stirling University in their first game at Murray Field.
As I wandered home and fell into bed, I reminisced about today and thought this is more than a club (MQUC), we are the community. I drifted off to sleep with a big smile on my face.
As I woke up from my Field of Dreams. There was only one reaction. ‘Build it and they will come’
Footnote: My next blog will cover what would kill this dream.