This week saw me speak with the Reading FC Community Trust’s General Manager, Dave Evans. I currently support the Trust as a voluntary digital marketing consultant which has been an outstanding opportunity to understand how their work impacts the bigger picture at Reading FC. Dave exclusively speaks on how his sports career began, the importance of building a sports industry network and how he’s overcome challenges through his career and working for a sports charity.
Q1) Dave, it’s fantastic to have you on Ash’s Sports Talk. Can you share how your sports career began?
Thank you for inviting me on and for all the help and support you are giving the Trust, appreciative by us all.
My sports career started very early, playing football since I was around seven years of age, I had an older brother; therefore, in my early years always played up a year in his team. I was brought up in Birmingham; football was massive with my team being Aston Villa, my dad and all my uncles were Villa fans. No one from my family was involved in sports professionally but all mad football supporters. My dad loved all sports. Therefore, we watched sports on TV, from showjumping to snooker, football to formula 1, all my idols were sportspeople – Muhammad Ali, Pele, Maradona, Daley Thompson, Ian Botham and James Hunt.
At the age of 12, my family moved to mid-west Wales; basically in the middle of nowhere, which was a bit of a shock. However, this was a turning point in my coaching career as I met a couple of gentlemen called Chris Franklin and Richard Holiday who were both English and ran a youth club/ football coaching centre. Every school holiday I attended the football camps, eventually started working as a coach and then full time all year round – Chris also took me to WBA where I had trials with the late great Nobby Stiles.
At the age of 18, I left home to move with my then-girlfriend now wife’s family and got a full-time job at a local Leisure centre, thus began my real apprenticeship. Over nine years, I was qualified in the following:
- Football coaching – preliminary badge
- Gym work
- Trampoline coaching
- Circuit training
- Step Aerobics
- Line Dancing
I ran several sports coaching sessions for both children and adults; I was also playing football at a semi-professional level; I was also going out to schools delivering PE sessions and coaching school football teams.
At the age of 27 [9 years at the Leisure centre] Neil Smiley spotted me coaching at his son’s school and asked me if I would like to do the same job but for Wycombe wanderers Community Trust at the football club. After successfully being interviewed, I became the manager alongside my colleague Nas Bashir. Neil had been a Reading FC legend and was/is an excellent coach, I also worked in the football academy and was able to watch Neil and other coaches coach, Nas himself was an ex-player and a great coach, I was like a sponge learning from good, bad and indifferent coaches.
Nas left after about five years [moving to Reading FC] leaving me to manage the Trust, I then completed both my A license [football coaching] and my degree in sports management. Fortunately, I had good relationships with both the owner Steve Hayes and the chairman Ivor Beeks, Steve, in particular, was a significant influence on me, and turned my interest to the business side of the sector, coming off my degree I was much more confident with budgets, accounts, business plans etc.
After 13 years as the Community Trust Manager, Reading FC came knocking with a colleague of mine Lee Heron moving from his position as Community Trust Manager to a role within the academy, I was asked to interview which I was successful, and in November 2008 I became Community Trust Manager at Reading FC.
Q2) I appreciate your role at the Reading FC Community Trust is a diverse one. What does your role consist of day-to-day and how integral are the Trust to Reading FC as an organisation?
As manager of the Trust, it’s my responsibility for the growth, development, overall governance and financial stability of the organisation.
Day to day, I work alongside my senior managers regarding their specific projects and initiatives, especially around KPI’s, management accounts, forecasting and monitoring and evaluation.
Day to day l work alongside the football club senior managers ensuring the Trust is in line with the club’s off-pitch activities and schemes of work.
I also work very closely with my Trustees, especially 3 of them who work as a steering group with me specifically around, finance and governance.
I regularly communicate with our primary stakeholders and funding partners-
- PFLC – Premier League Community Fund
- EFLT – English Football League Trust
- PFA – Professional Footballers Association
- FA – Football Association
- Local Authorities – Reading, Wokingham, West Reading, Bracknell
The Trust is a charity, therefore, a separate entity to Reading FC, however, we act as the Football clubs charitable arm using the power of football to impact our local and surrounding communities positively.
Q3) You’ve had a long-serving career in community football. Can you share some important lessons you’ve learnt throughout being a community manager?
- The power of football regarding positively influencing people’s lives – over the last 23 years I have helped develop/deliver/monitor/evaluate/produce several initiatives which contribute in a positive way to somebody’s health and wellbeing using football as the number one engagement tool.
- It’s a privilege to be in a role whereby you can help people positively change their lives, tackle issues around loneliness, obesity, drugs, violence, and other social problems.
- Educating football clubs around their social responsibilities, if you say you are a Community Club then prove it, use the CCO’s as a vehicle to get into the local and surrounding communities to help with their issues which in turn will grow the club’s fan base ensure the next generation of club supporters but also leave a legacy behind, engraving the club’s position within these communities.
- Listen to what people are saying, do not presume that you are the front of all knowledge – at my previous club I was told by the board that they didn’t see an issue regarding racism within their club, they boosted of the amount of black and dual heritage players that were at the club but oblivious to the fact that they had one full-time black member of staff [the cleaner] and one full-time Asian member of staff [Community Trust Ethnic Minority Officer] all other full-time positions were held by people who were white.
- To achieve change, hit your KPI’s and objectives; we must work in partnership. Solo work will only touch a certain amount of people; partnership work will help increase these numbers and ensure leading providers are all working to a similar schedule.
Q4) I appreciate the Reading FC Community Trust have a robust network of partners, stakeholders and organisations that contribute to your vision. How important is having a network in the football industry to achieve success?
As a charity, we are hugely dependant on funding. Therefore, a strong network of partners and stakeholders enables the Trust to increase its funding opportunities to a broader range of funders. By working in partners empowers the Trust to engage with a more comprehensive range of participants and helps to achieve maximum outcomes and objectives.
The CCO network spans over division 1 and 2, the Championship and the Premier League with 92 clubs. This network of organisations only makes the CCO’s stronger, sharing best practices, good governance, shared activities and schemes of work but more importantly, a support mechanism for heads of community and project leads.
To tackle social issues around racism, discrimination, social bias, gender bias and a whole number of national/local issues, the football network, as we have seen with both Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling, can be powerful, effective and be a catalyst for change.
Q5) What have been some of the most challenging moments during your time there? And, how have these challenges enhanced your sports career development and organisational development?
Changing from a limited company to a charity was a massive shift. From one perspective, it was a great decision; however, a few years down the line; parent football clubs see this as an opportunity to devoid any responsibilities or ownership to the Trusts. This made it occasionally a very lonely place to manage, both the EFLT or the PLCF have no power or authority over their membership clubs regarding CCO’s. Therefore, we are, at times, massively vulnerable.
Strong leadership and governance through senior management and Trustees help with this issue, with experience these scenarios become less surprising, a greater understanding of owner’s main priorities and objectives help to keep expectation levels at a realistic level.
Knowing what’s needed regarding community needs to what’s achievable is a critical factor regarding the football club. As soon as anyone mentions charity, peoples perspective is of a service which is free of charge; if you have a billionaire owner, then funders/supporters/potential sponsors will also have a different perspective on what you are providing.
Equality, Diversity and Inclusion can be words that are used to help receive funding bids or win awards, to make differences and to change opinions these need to be part of the DNA in both the CCO and the football club. This is a challenge which is being highlighted through various campaigns [black lives matter, rainbow laces] CCO’s naturally will demonstrate EQ&I through their workforce and diversity within their activities, linking this up with parent clubs can be a challenge. However, I feel in 10 years we will see a change.
Q6) What further support do organisations like the Reading FC Community Trust need to optimise maximum impact in hard-to-reach communities?
To engage with these so-called hard to reach communities, CCO’s will need to have useful contacts within them, create role models from these areas to educate and inspire young and older adults. Realistic pathways are required for participants to go onto, creating opportunities for employment, education and participation.
CCO’s get support from the PLCF and the EFLT regarding funding, especially for projects that impact participants from underrepresented areas, areas of deprivation or high-risk anti-social behaviour. Projects/schemes of work within these areas are complicated to become self-sustainable as income is meagre and secondary spend will be limited, CCO’s need national/local funding to be able to continue to deliver activities within these areas.
Community groups are also crucial for projects to become successful within these targeted areas, diversity in workforce needs to be looked at and assessed, and an understanding of the need for that specific community needs to be fully understood.
Q7) Dave, reflecting on this discussion and your sports career, what is your killer piece of advice for someone wanting a career in sport?
- Be prepared to work hard and be patient in moving forward
- Create good networking opportunities
- Develop good communication and personal skills
- One of my key mentors told me to choose my attitude before your day starts. If you know it’s going to be a busy or challenging day, do not take a negative attitude whereby you moan or complain all day, take a positive attitude to make the day successful. This has kept me in good stead throughout my career, I have recently been able to press the reset button and then choose my attitude towards a task or issue rather than keep going, take a moment to reflect, reset then move forward.
Wow, what an interview! Speaking with Dave has felt like producing a sports documentary with all the experiences he’s accumulated to get him where he is today! I’m astonished by his proactive attitude to make his sports career play out like the snowball effect. However, this is how the best opportunities present themselves!