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The highs and lows in the life of a college football president

Barney Andrews and Hasham Yaqoob speak to the football presidents of six of the nine colleges to gain insight into the challenges of securing kit sponsors

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Image Credit: Luke Snell

The pandemic has hit small local businesses particularly hard, they form a vital part of York’s economy and are a vital revenue stream for student societies and sports teams. College football is no exception and with some of the biggest membership on campus, the potential issues are potent. Stable finances are essential to support clubs’ equipment costs, hiring training facilities, and complement the social side of the game. Going beyond what happens on the pitch, Nouse’s business editors take a look at the financial state of each club.

Halifax College FC. President: Aintaine Elliot

What challenges have you faced in your tenure as president in terms of securing sponsorship to subsidise kits?
Elliot, like every college football president, emphasised the dire situation most usual shirt sponsors (bars, clubs, and restaurants) are in because of Covid. Small businesses in York with a budget surplus in York are simply a rarity. However, Elliot points to Halifax’s success on the pitch as despite “three years of no sponsorship money, we have secured three roses appearances” as either the Halifax 1s or 2s have won a division title.

He has had to respond to a difficult situation with the club being stuck in a 2-year contract with Streamline Taxis and still none of the £250 owed by Streamline has been paid. I asked him what he thought of the “Streamline scandal?” He expressed his frustration at the “lack of transparency as none of my emails or phone calls ever reached the boss.”

On a more positive note, what are you proud of so far in his time as president?
He enthusiastically pointed to the strong advertising campaign his committee led for trials. He believes because of the pandemic “football has reached a level of unprecedented value for freshers, hence the campaign to “streamline” freshers into the five teams of Halifax.” Elliot also points to the improved training slots he has negotiated for the teams though does not think this is “directly linked to the £18 per player membership system, it has been more out of luck that I secured a three-hour slot on 22acres in addition to our normal training sessions.”

What are your plans for the club going forward in the land of COVID?
He is upbeat: “the players are enjoying the competitive nature of college football and we have had good attendance at training” though does admit it is “touch and go over whether we will have a world tour (club trip abroad).” Regarding the streamline debacle, he has opted for no shirt sponsor as even if the club received the £250 promised, he points out “£50 per team? That’s two footballs.”

James College FC President: Joe Foggin

What challenges have you faced so far in your tenure as President?
Foggin first provides some context: “The club has two revenue streams: a YUSU grant of up to £400 which we apply for each year and a shirt sponsor.” James FC have maintained the loyalty of Mirchiz restaurant for the previous four years, however Foggin tells me this year “they were doubting they could sponsor James at all this year.” Entrepreneurially, Foggin managed to negotiate with the Mirchiz manager to get “£300 this year and in return we will have our team social meals there, including an awards night (when it is safe to do so). This more than pays Mirchiz back for their sponsorship with around 60 players spending £15 each on awards nights, which happen twice a year.”

What successes do you feel you have had as president?
Foggin refers again to Mirchiz, getting them to come off the fence and stump up sponsorship money for a relationship that has burned brightly for five years now.
I ask more about the YUSU grant, as few presidents have mentioned this. Foggin explains “Last year was the first year it was brought in but only James tried it. The £400 was used for kit subsidies, footballs and training gear”
Regarding YUSU, I wanted to get his thoughts on the £18 membership fee students pay to play college sport. He is distinctly positive about the new system: “I think it’s a really good price for members of the club, they can play any sport that the college offers. We often have guys go straight from football to badminton or tennis.”

Given his positivity about the price, I asked him what he thought the initial price of £30 YUSU were proposing would have done for college football?
“I think £30 might have deterred a few freshers, however, £18 is definitely worth it.”
Finally, I asked him what his plans were for James FC in the context of the club’s finances?
“We have another grant incoming which is positive. However, I feel we haven’t been as ambitious as we could have been sponsorship-wise. For example, James rugby secured three sponsors this year and we had Dylan’s barber sleeve sponsor last season.” He hopes that next year’s president continues the strong relationship the club has with Mirchiz but also enquires about sleeve sponsors.

Langwith FC Presidents: Brad Hodgson and Shayam Suseelan.

What challenges have you both faced in securing sponsorship in your tenure as co-presidents?
Suseelan neatly sums up the local economic climate: “Most venues are not interested due to their poor financial circumstances from Covid. Brad and I tried every restaurant and bar in York; we sent a sponsorship brochure out on email but 50%+ didn’t even reply. It’s been a tedious process of speaking to a manager in person at each venue.”
Hodgson points to the miscreancy of last year's sponsor, Lowther. “Last year we had Lowther’s sponsorship, they promised us £600 but never actually paid. There was a contract signed by both parties, we have contacted them more than ten times but each time the owner said he was busy and gave no contact details.” YUSU were not able to help either despite their new system clubs have to go through when looking for sponsors. Hodgson despairs that “They (Lowther) still paid Langwith netball, apparently it was a lot more than £600!”
I enquired about whether Langwith also received a YUSU grant. The presidents explained nothing was forthcoming last year, but they are supposed to receive a yet unspecified sum this season.

Despite Lowther’s mistreatment of the club what successes have you had so far?
Suseelan proudly speaks of how he “eventually secured my local hairdressers, Dylan Barber’s sponsorship. He is willing to pay £500 to be our main kit sponsor.” This has heavily subsidised kit costs, especially important given each embroidery or print costs £3 to £4.
An innovative aspect of the deal is the new membership card the presidents have brought in, which costs £5 for Langwith players who then get a 20% discount on their haircut at Dylan’s Barbers. Hodgson adds “This means no one can come in under the veil of Langwith FC, it authenticates our relationship with the sponsor.”

What are your plans for Langwith FC despite the pandemic?
They are both enthusiastic as Suseelan highlights “we are going to push for more socials and events, for example a formal where LFC alumni can attend and even play a game that weekend.” They are still deciding on a venue but are optimistic to kickstart the club’s social scene next term.

Derwent FC President: Thomas Morton

What challenges have you faced so far in your tenure as President regarding securing sponsorship money?
Morton outlines the difficult situation he initially found himself in: “Obviously this year is a near scenario for any president, but I was shoved in at the deep end. We (college football presidents) were only given a lot of information as we arrived at university in September. Over summer I had been in contact with our old sponsor Masala Craft, a deal for this year fell through because they fell through (due to Covid).”
Since then he has been focused on securing sponsorship from restaurants that can hold 50 people. “Derwent’s main sponsor will usually be a restaurant that pays for sponsorship and helps with training costs. In return the committee and teams will have meals there.” The social aspect is clearly important for Derwent FC, the club has an end term curry social each year with 40 or more players paying at least £15 at the restaurant, 3 times a year. Masala Craft easily recouped their £750 sponsor money given the club’s socials totalling roughly £1,800 spent there.

What are your thoughts on the new £18 per player membership fee introduced by YUSU and the initial £30 that was proposed?
Morton holds strong opinions about this. “I actually ran my campaign to be president about the initial £30 fee proposed by YUSU, I told DCFC members I would refuse to be part of this scheme. £30 is only slightly less than some university sports and we don’t get anything in return. We referee the games ourselves!”
He still feels £18 is a bit steep. “I calculated the costs myself and worked out it could have been £12.50, last year the average college sport membership in Derwent was £5.75. Last season our football club had a £15 membership fee to subsidise kit, training and socials, on top of kit costs.” That is still less than the £18 introduced by YUSU though this system was unique to Derwent last year.

What do you feel have been your successes as president?
Morton replies “I’ve been in talks with smaller companies set up by some University of York students and it's looking positive. I have also emailed a few curry houses and Chinese restaurants.”

What if you get no sponsor?
Morton is still optimistic but thinks “even if we don’t get a sponsor, I would like to have DCUK on the front of the kit as that is what our first ever kit had on it in the late 80s.” Indeed this would be an anachronism its members would surely appreciate.

What are your plans going forward in the world of COVID?
Morton speaks proudly of the term so far: “The last five weeks we have managed to have two training sessions per week alongside track and trace and every single player has played a game. We have also introduced Freshers only training sessions, so the first years really get to know each other.”
He sums up nicely: “I’m looking forward to more of the same effort next term, anything you do on top of nothing, is a positive.”

Vanburgh College President: Robert King

What challenges have you faced so far in your tenure as President?
King nonchalantly responds: “Well Barney, thanks for the interview first of all, it’s the kick up the backside I needed. Normally we have kit delivered by the start of January and ordered around December time. I had planned on securing sponsorship in early November but then all pubs/bars/non-essential shops shut after the lockdown was announced.”
He goes on to detail previous sponsors: “2 years ago we had Efes pizza but last year one of the captain’s dad’s company Galan gold was our sponsor, it was only £70 though and they were based in Surrey.” After the lockdown was announced King has been trying to rekindle the club’s relationship with Efes pizza, but to little avail. He decided it was time to branch out.

What successes have you had this term?
King enthusiastically says “I had a hit list of pizza places around the Heslington area. It was a no from Vikings but is looking like a yes from Dominic pizza. I am finalising the deal Tuesday 17th. After negotiating I climbed down from £350 to agree £300 on a one-year contract for them to sponsor us.” The sponsor will be on the front and middle of the shirt. This will subsidise the kit, encouraging more players to buy it.

What are your thoughts on the £18 membership fee for college sport?
King explains “Last year our membership also cost £18. I think it's fair if everyone pays £18, the money has to come from somewhere to pay for the facilities.”

Did you receive a grant from YUSU?
King is a little murky on the details here but essentially yes. “By January 2020 we had £193 left in the pot of money received from YUSU, though this money was only used to pay for balls and equipment, we couldn’t use it to subsidise kit costs.”

What are your plans for Vanburgh FC going forward?
He seems ambitious and cautiously optimistic: “with matches returning next term presents us with something like a fresh start.” He is also determined to kickstart the club’s social scene as he says “Its annoying having to put more effort in because of Covid but it's definitely worth it.” Admirably, King also wants to get involved in “Charity work in spring term, we’ve missed out on Movember but I am keen to continue VFC’s tradition of work in the community.”

Goodricke College First Team Captain/President: Lucas Rettori

Hasham: So, what are the challenges you have faced securing sponsorships?
Rettori outlines the obvious difficulties: “Because of Covid, not many businesses were not even interested in sponsoring a university team, let alone a college team.” After visiting many local restaurants or businesses the situation was looking bleak. However, he points out “the only place we reached an agreement with was Revs [Revolution Bar] but we really didn’t get any economic incentives, only a discount off Rev’s tickets.” Moreover, who knows when college teams will be able to safely conduct a full-blown club social.

Hasham: Moving on to a more light-hearted question, what do you think are your achievements during your time as Goodricke’s football president.
Rettori is proud of the cooperation between the college’s different teams. “At a Goodricke 1s and Goodricke 2s meeting we managed to secure three hours of training with YUSU compared to just one hours last year.”  He also points out Goodricke’s flat structure on the committee: “I didn’t secure a sponsor on my own, I had the support of three other great captains. Coming to an agreement about the kit was really hard.” The democratic nature of Goodricke is to be admired, though perhaps a figurehead solely focused on securing sponsorship would benefit the captains who already have many responsibilities.

Hasham: Going forward in a post – Covid world, what are your plans?
Rettori is still ambitious for the club: “I want to get more people involved, in case people get Covid I want enough people to sub in for them. Once it dies down I hope we can secure better sponsorships with more economic incentives.”

What has been fascinating in this project is the vastly different responses to how each college football team is run. Football has the most teams at any college and Presidents have great responsibility to ensure a club’s finances support the essentials such as kit and training equipment, but also a duty to facilitate the ever more important social side of the sport. What is clear is the dedication each president has for their club, but they all keep one thing in perspective: money matters but you do your talking on the pitch.  As Halifax’s president puts it, “£50? That’s two footballs.” Maybe if more leaders of societies and organisations expressed money in terms of what they are passionate about, we would all benefit.

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