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Watford FC trip with UCFB

Updated: Aug 4, 2023

Hi everyone,

Hope you’re all well.

On Wednesday 26th April 2023 I along with around 30 other students attended a UCFB organised trip to Watford Football Club’s stadium for a private stadium tour and to hear some talks from industry professionals. The main takeaway for me from the event was the importance of experience, with Watford Creative Director Paul O’Brian emphasing this and how we should be starting to look to attach ourselves to clubs in the near future. He also said Watford have had a lot of UCFB graduates working for the club, with most people starting with match day experience work and working their way up.

Following the introduction our first talk was with Jimmy Gilligan who is Academy Head Of Technical Development. Jimmy is in charge of “everyone on the grass”, this includes players development, coaching staff and making sure their qualifications are up to date, the syllabus, etc. He started by sharing how he improved the culture within the academy from the bottom, expressing how when they first started they were getting red flags in inspections and after a few months got green, he implemented a ‘open door’ environment throughout the facility to show the players they always have access to the staff and should be comfortable going to them. He stated there are more opportunities nowadays rather than just being a footballer, this is very true as a few decades ago journalism wouldn’t have been a career and now I am able to study it at university! Just like some other clubs including Crystal Palace, Watford support their academy players even if they don’t make it at Watford they will continue to support them into getting into other teams. The club also provide players with life skills outside of football in classes to help make them a complete person. Jimmy spoke about some trips the youth teams have been on to promote team bonding, including Poland and Norfolk where players are encouraged to “face their fears”. These are fully funded by the club and/or backers, I was surprised to learn some teams including Watford prior expected the players parents to pay for trips. The talk then turned to the community expressing how Watford value their connections with the community and their fans, they have a campaign called Junior Hornet’s designed for supporters aged 0-15 created by Ann Swanson, who had the family stand renamed after her. Gilligan finished his talk by touching on the future expressing how Watford Academy are working on a Category 1 status and acknowledges how promotion would help although extremely unlikely this season. They also want more U18 and 23 players going out on loan to play senior football for experience. He finally with great pride shared their recent success stories with Tobi Adeyemo and Ryan Andrews making recent impressive first team debuts at 17 and 18 years old having come through the academy.

Next was a talk on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion by Dave Messenger who is Watford’s EDI Lead. In the 70’s and 80’s Graham Taylor and Elton John created an ethos of being the ‘Original Family and Community Club’, Watford still try to live up to this ethos today. Dave spoke about a campaign which began in 2018, Watford welcomes, was designed to capture everything they do to make the club equal for all supporters; the campaign has allowed the club to build relationships with local groups from different backgrounds. In 2020 Watford achieved the Premier League Equality Standard Advanced Level award (which only 9 Premier League clubs have managed to achieve). The EDI team is also in charge of issues such as racism, sexism, and discrimination, they have a process where punishments will be dealt with on an individual basis with options such as immediate bans or classes available depending on the severity. I have seen this at a few teams, but Watford have a designated number for supporters to text with issues of discrimination if heard at the game for immediate response from an on hand team. Finally, Dave told us about supporter and community run events.

The next talk was from Ben Newlyn, who is Watford’s partnership manager. Ben told us about his responsibilities which include develop partnership strategies, build relationships with potential partners, negotiating contracts and arguably most importantly generating revenues. He shared that partnerships bring in money for the club and highlighted how important commercial activity is with brands as this brings in the highest amount of money. As part of a partnership brands have access to pitch side led advertising, kit branding, players, content creation, social media branded posts, hospitality etc. Partnerships help both parties as the brands would gain a lot of exposure from social media, kits worn every week, etc. Ben also shared that because Watford are partners with Football manager they have access to stats which they can use for scouting, emphasing how technologically advanced football is becoming and will continue to become!

The final talk of the day was on Marketing delivered by Alex Cook the marketing manager and UCFB alumni Rohan Shukla their senior marketing officer. They shared how they’re currently in the process of turning all digital platforms (shop, app, ticketing, streaming, and hospitality) into one account, both making it easier for fans and to collect data. The data collected is then used to create specialised adverts for fans with the aim of creating more revenue for the club. They constantly monitor the data and identified it can be impacted by players from different countries joining the club bringing them exposure. Linked with the previous talk by ben, as a senior marketing officer Rohan explained how he works with partners understand their marketing wants and use social media and other platforms to achieve this. The marketing team are also involved in the upcoming kit launch and they spoke about the many different factors behind it ahead of the new season.

Sadly, we had to leave the marketing talk early due to transport but overall the talks were very useful and informative, with all speakers having great knowledge on their area and the ability to answer questions!

Stadium Tour

Our base for the day was the Press waiting room, as we were already near the Press conference room John began the tour there, explaining there were 96 seats but are never filled and normally they get around 10/20 journalists. Managers must do off script post-match interviews with journalists who have the ability to ask anything, unlike Watford other clubs may limit questions. The Stadium was redone 8 years ago to make it more modern and make rooms like this bigger.

The tour began in the manager room, this room is purely in use on match day, on non-match-days the manager would be based at the training ground. At the manager, Chris Wilder’s, discretion he is able to invite people post-match, this is normally his family, coaching staff, or the opponents manager to share a drink of widely varied wine on offer.

We then went into the referee room which was directly opposite the managers room. The room was designed to cater for both female and male referees, along with a range of food and drink offered to them before and after a game. Before every match referees meet with both teams’ manager and captain to outline their rules for the match, we were told that every referee works differently for example some purely wanting to go through the captain with issues on the pitch, even though we all know these requests are rarely met!

Pitch side was next on the tour, and we were given time to take in the stadium, I also managed to ask about the sensory room they offer for disabled fans. Unlike Palace the room has a view of the pitch with the windows being one way, so the disabled guests can see out all you can see from the outside is a flag pattern, I think this is a great idea from Watford.

We were taken into the interview rooms, which just like Palace were tiny! Our guide mentioned how broadcasters in the Premier League have the power to pick the players they interview, and if they refuse will be fined, whereas in the Championship normally only the manager is interviewed post-match.

Finally, we went into the away, and then the home changing rooms. The size of the away room was bigger than expected, with a plain interior and Watford didn’t try to put their opponents at any disadvantages like other teams opt for. The home changing room was expectingly bigger, but I was surprised how simple the design was, one thing I did like was how they have images of their fans in the recovery section which had masseuse beds, gym equipment and showers which oddly had see through doors!

Both UCFB and Watford staff were fantastic at making sure the day was accessible for me, so a huge thank you for the opportunity. I am yet to attend Watford for a match so that’s the next thing to add to the list!

Thank you for reading.

Ellie Xx

1 Comment

Nick Wilde
Nick Wilde
Apr 28, 2023

Another great article Ellie. Watford are a great club and I am so pleased that they made you feel welcome. Hopefully this will trip will help you on your degree.

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