MARK ROBERTS DISCUSSES HIS TRANSITION FROM THE BOOTROOM TO THE BOARDROOM
- Mark Roberts charts his journey as he prepares for a move from the bootroom to the boardroom.
When Vincent Kompany called for ticket prices to be slashed the world of football sat up and took notice. The Manchester City captain has graduated with a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) so there is little surprise that he is gaining the kind of respect off the pitch that he has long commanded on it.
Not only does the Belgian centre back (pictured) understand that educating himself enables him to protect his best interests but he is also part of a growing contingent of professional footballers that have an appetite to stay within the game by helping to re-define the industry from the inside out.
I've recently been appointed as a Non- Executive Director at the Professional Footballers Association (PFA) but have long held the belief that the 'footballer' can prove to be a valuable asset to a football club beyond their capacity on the pitch. The modern club operates as a global entity with all manner of departments that vary from community to commercial, media to marketing. Wouldn't it be great if more players could act as the bridge between the action out on the pitch and the organisational structure supporting it?
Many will argue that football has now become a business first and sport second but with this evolution comes greater opportunities for players, like myself and Vincent Kompany, to give something back to the beautiful game in more ways than one. Supporters identify with familiarity so if more former favourites were steering the corporate direction of the club it could prevent our beloved football teams from becoming faceless and heartless institutions.
My own passion for what goes on behind the scenes at my football club probably stems from the time I played for a team that went into administration. It's difficult to turn a blind eye when the bailiffs are circling around the stadium and you're trapped inside. I can recall the doors being locked, the lights were suddenly cut and there I was, helplessly hiding behind a plant pot, contemplating my very existence in the game. For a player in the infancy of his career, still trying establishing himself, it was extremely tough to comprehend but given the time to reflect I couldn't help wondering the circumstances that had led my club to that moment.
What and why had things gone so terribly wrong? Was there anything that could have been done to prevent it unravelling so badly?
That sequence of events had a profound effect on me. Not only did it test my resolve as a young professional but it also gave me the necessary motivation to ensure that I viewed my personal development with the same level of dedication as I did to that of my football career.
When I graduated from Staffordshire University with a degree in Sports Journalism I continued my studies, with the excellent Sports Business Institute Barcelona (SBI), gaining two football-based business qualifications.
On completion of those courses I introduced the programme leader, Diego Valdes, to one of my contacts at the PFA. Hopefully that was the beginning of what will become a fruitful partnership because the PFA are now offering the same SBI opportunities to their members as I have previously taken advantage of.
That is just one example of how I've been able to help people within my own network. Football might well be an ever-expanding industry but you realise very quickly just how important it is to be well connected. The strength of your network can determine the power of your influence but it wasn't until a conversation I had with a former teammate of mine that discovered how I could raise my own profile.
We were sat together on the team coach when we starting chatting about the topic of transition.
He'd left his native Liverpool to complete a football scholarship over in America and had returned to play in England via the MLS with a very different perspective on the game.
He explained how he'd met and made some incredible contacts following the advice he'd been given by his own business mentor which was to use his status as a professional athlete and reach out to the people he wanted to learn from. His current occupation had opened doors to potential future career pathways but he was quick to stress the importance of asking the right questions, understanding the art of listening and valuing your time so that you are able to invest it in the most profitable way.
Feeling invigorated, I began my research and started to arrange meetings with former players who had ventured into the business world after they had retired. One man I met was the fascinating Paul Fletcher MBE, the former CEO at Burnley Football Club. Fletcher has been at the forefront of football stadium design for over two decades and is also the co-founder and director of the world's first dedicated football university, University College of Football Business (UCFB).
Seeing how Fletcher had become CEO of the club he had once played for inspired me to take action and, having been involved with the PFA as a union representative, I jumped at the first opportunity to put myself forwards for the management committee. There are 19 current professionals that make up the board and we represent all four English professional leagues as well as the Women's Premier League.
Our job as non-executive directors is to help determine the long term strategy of the PFA, appoint and remove directors where necessary, act as ambassadors, have a clear understanding of risk management and financial controls, scrutinise the executive management team by offering constructive advice and evaluate both the performance of the board and ourselves as individual board members.
It's a diverse and stimulating role but in order for me to carry out my responsibilities to the best of my ability I've also undertaken the Effective Board Member (EBM) On The Board programme which is run by the inspirational course leader, Karl George. This has given me the chance to work closely with a group of like- minded individuals from all areas of the game to tackle the subject of corporate governance and I certainly feel I'm now better equipped to apply for further board appointments in the future.
It's a while since I spoke to my teammate that helped me on that long coach trip up to Carlisle but I've never forgotten it. We exchanged emails a few years ago but he had retired from the game and was working for an exciting start- up company back in America. That company is now known to the rest of the world as Uber!
It just goes to show that footballers can change the world even after they've stopped kicking the ball.