The Di-Rectory Approach

Guisborough’s local community publication, the Di-Rectory, recently interviewed Guisborough Town’s Andy Willis and Chris Wood for the ‘Business in Focus’ feature. Read on to find out what they had to say.

‘Proud to be Guisborough Town’ is the much-used slogan associated with our football team and if you’ve got any involvement with the club you will no doubt agree with the sentiment of those words. It’s a club that has overcome some crippling times financially and today finds itself in a much healthier position with a sustainable model that allows them to focus on football at all levels, not just the first team. This is a family club with community at its heart!

Andy Willis, Chairman (front) and Chris Wood, General Manager

Andy, you’ve long been involved with the club. How did it all start and what lead to your recent appointment as Chairman?

Andy: It all started around 16 to 17 years ago helping run one of the senior teams.  I’ve been involved in several roles since then, mucking in where needed.  These have included looking after the pitch, operating the turnstile, applying for funding, editing, and producing the matchday programme to name a few.  More recently I have got involved in our fantastic junior section, helping run a team my son plays for. Taking over as chairman wasn’t a decision I rushed into.  I’d spent many years on and off the general committee but just felt it was the right time to put myself forward. You could say it’s been a long apprenticeship!  Our previous chairman Don Cowan did a sterling job during his time, so I’m fortunate that I take over the position with the club in a healthy position.

Chris, you’re the clubs General Manager, a position you earned by all your hard work over the years. Where does your love for the club come from?

Chris: I’ve been coming along to the Club for as long as I can remember, following in my Mum’s footsteps who has been involved with the club since its inception. Her parents were heavily involved so it’s very much a family affair. Starting as a young toddler running around after stray balls, then onto selling the raffle before match day announcing at 14. I’ve loved working as a coach for our juniors section and seeing it thrive so was a pleasure to take on the role as Junior Section Secretary in May 2018. 

How many volunteers do you have and what are some of the key roles they play?

Chris: Volunteers really are priceless and we’ve got a great team around us working on marketing, groundwork, coaching the juniors section and match day roles. We’re incredibly lucky to have our volunteers but are always on the lookout for new people wanting to get involved.

Andy: As Chris said, volunteers are the lifeblood of the club and without them running the club would be impossible. Just giving up as little as an hour a week can make such a difference. 

How did you make positive use of the lockdowns?

Chris: We had to make the most of the time without matches and training so spent a long period assessing our position and areas for improvement off the pitch. We’ve been able to improve our relationships with local businesses that support the club. The place needed a good makeover, so we knew we weren’t going to get a better chance to carry out improvement work in the clubhouse.  Feedback since reopening has been positive, so through improved marketing, we hope to be able to attract more people to attend on match days and increase bookings for the function room.

You now have youth teams at every age group for the first time and also growing the ladies and girls side of the game too. How does grassroots football impact the club as a whole?

Chris: The last 4 years has seen us increase to 25 junior teams with 2 ladies teams and 2 men’s teams now and it’s taken a lot of work behind the scenes to achieve this. We did make changes with the juniors section and love seeing all of our teams across the club in the same kit and training kit, especially now more and more are coming to the Club to support the Men’s 1st Team. 

Andy: Sport is so important in my opinion, it helps you keep fit, develop skills, make new friends and learn to deal with emotional highs and lows. The focus isn’t on winning and losing, it’s about participation, fun and belonging to one big club. You feel proud to be Guisborough Town when you see all the teams from under 7s upwards training and
playing matches.

There has been a long-running debate regarding fencing off part of the playing field. What’s the value of doing this both for the club and the wider community?

Chris: GTFC should be a hub for the community not just for football but socially too. Currently, we use the 3G and grass facilities at Laurence Jackson School who are incredibly supportive of our goals at GTFC. With the Club growing so quickly we need to adapt in order to accommodate and where better than the pitches next to our existing ground to use as well as the 3G at the school. Our grounds team have been maintaining and spending money to ensure the pitches are playable for the Sunday team. It was the poor state of those pitches that moved us to Laurence Jackson School over 5 years ago and the fence will enable us to invest in the facility to significantly improve the service.

Andy: It’s getting very difficult to accommodate more teams with the facilities available in the town and like Chris says LJS are fantastic with us but they only have so much space.  Bringing these pitches up to a safe and acceptable standard will not only benefit Guisborough Town FC’s
teams but other local teams in Guisborough.

Finally, what’s are the long-term and short-term goals for the club?

Andy: The long-term goal is to continue building a local football club that is successful and sustainable on and off the pitch.  Success for me isn’t just about results on the pitch, there’s so much more than that.  We need to deliver a high quality, multi-team set-up with excellent training and playing opportunities for all regardless of age, sex, religion, ethnic background and sexual orientation, placing the club at the heart of the community.  Development of the ground is also high on the ‘goals’ agenda, we need to improve and modernise the facilities at the club if we want to continue being sustainable.

Article & photo credit: The Di-Rectory

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