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Prince Edward Playing Fields Development
Interview with Paul Fairclough

With work on the Bees' new training ground and academy at the Prince Edward's Playing Fields site in Canons Park now well under way, the BFCSA sent committee members Ben Kentish and Sam Norris to check out the latest developments. They were shown around by Paul Fairclough and then caught up with Paul to discuss his new role and his hopes for the project.

Paul Fairclough's role

What does your new role as Chief Executive of Barnet Sports Development Ltd. involve and what have you been doing since you started in the role?

My role has been really diverse since I've taken over. It's been a real culture shock for me. In the football industry you tend to become quite insular because you only really deal with a certain type of people - football people. All of a sudden I've had to widen my vision because I'm dealing with architects, planners, designers, tilers, plumbers, groundsmen and others, so it's become very diverse and very different to what I had been used to. The role that I've taken on initially is to help with overseeing the development of the site itself. Tony [Kleanthous] has got his finger right on the pulse and I'm working alongside him with my finger right on it too.

Together we're making sure everything's done and talking to various people about various things, even down to the point of choosing tiles and colours of walls. That's what I'm doing at the moment. On top of that I'm also responsible for creating a Centre of Excellence and a youth structure for the club, and for making links between Harrow Borough Council and the football club. There are various strands going on at the moment. It's like I'm in a long corridor with plates all spinning, and I'm running along keeping them going and then running back to get the next one to keep them all going at once.

The plan was always for me to jump across to this but it came sooner than we thought it would. So that's what I'm doing at the moment, as well as trying to get the place ready for the first team for the start of the new season. Basically I'll be managing the site once it's up and running; everything from cleaners to coaches. I'm also chief executive of Barnet Sports Development, which oversees the cricket club – so I'll be looking at what goes on there – and I'll be overseeing what goes on here at Prince Edwards. And I'll be in charge of anything to do with youth football, because our link with PROTEC has gone now. It's very multi-faceted at the moment and it's frenetic.

Is there a team in place to help you?

At the moment it's just me, but I've just put some job adverts in the paper. Plus I've got some final interviews coming up for a Football Development Officer, who will be the link between me and the council, so that will taken some of the load off me. We'll also be having someone coming in to handle the commercial side of the new project – plus Kevin Mullen will be getting involved in this. He already has done, in fact – he's done some sponsorship deals already. We'll be looking for sponsors for the Centre of Excellence and so forth.

To run a Centre of Excellence like ours will cost in excess of £250,000 pounds per year, so that's a huge expenditure. We do get some funding but we've got certain criteria to meet. Dave Wilding is helping me with some of the logistics of the Centre of Excellence. The ladies football also comes under Barnet Sports Development so Graham Slyper has been helping me a lot with that. With regard to that, Stanmore College will be coming in and using this as a base for their girls' football. They'll be playing their matches and doing their training here and they'll get educated at Stanmore College. Those girls will feed into Barnet Ladies football team. Both Graham and Dave have done some fantastic, sterling work.

What are the main challenges of your job at the moment?

To have a Centre of Excellence up and running by July is a big task. You've got to employ coaches, but first of all you've got to find the kids. I'm expecting that, for the first year, we won't be particularly strong. But we want to get it in place and then grow it up. I've got a clean state to start with with regards to the Centre of Excellence, which is good because it means I can do things the way I want them to be done. We've just made an announcement on the website about the Centre of Excellence and there's a link on there for kids to download a form or fill the form in online and that will go straight into a database for trials. We can't have any Tom, Dick or Harry joining because it is a Centre of Excellence and so there have to be certain criteria.

How have you adapted to your new role at the club, especially considering it's so different from your previous job?

If I'm being truthfully honest, it's been quite difficult. I've found it quite painful going to matches. But there is so much of me in this [project] now. I've travelled the world looking at different coaching styles, techniques and organisations and now I've got this opportunity to use that to benefit Barnet. It's different to the buzz of a game and working with senior players, but I will be working with players down here at the academy. Plus I still get my management fix from the England C Team job, which is enhancing the set-up at Barnet because we're currently forging a link with a top club in Helsinki in Finland. That'll benefit us through the transfer of players and ideas between the two clubs. We're going to cement that and make an announcement about that fairly soon. I can't give names yet but it's a good, well-established club over there.

Will you be the hands-on manager of our youth system, working with the players and doing some coaching, or is it more about making decisions at an executive level?

Most of it will be about making decisions but I will probably end up playing a cameo role in the coaching side of things. I won't be taking a specific team but I'll be here making sure the model that I want to take place is being implemented. I've been quite specific on what I want and how I want them to be and I'll be overseeing it all.

How long do you plan to stay in your current role? Do you have hopes of one day returning to club management?

If you look at my record, I'm a very loyal person. I've only had two clubs – Stevenage and Barnet - plus the England job. Barnet have been good for me and I've been good for Barnet, and there's no reason why that relationship shouldn't continue. I'm very happy about what I'm doing here and very excited about it all. I'm looking forward to growing the project and if I'm here in ten years time to see the first youth player coming out the other end – the Barnet Wayne Rooney – then I'll be really excited about that, but you just don't know what's going to happen in life and in particular in football.

I've got a passion for football and by doing this I'm still working in the football industry. I'm just pleased that the first team have continued to improve and grow. We're safe now and we've got a club that will be in the Football League next season, which is going to help what we're doing here at Prince Edward's. So job done for this season. It wasn't a fantastic start to the season – everyone could see that. I don't really know why that was, because we had real expectations at the start of the season but I don't think we coped with that poor start very well. It took a lot of confidence out of a lot of players and it wasn't until we got the likes of Gary Breen in – the senior, more experienced players – that we began to see the immediate impact. Thankfully we've come through that and the team has grown. Ian has done a good job.

The Project

How much say is Harrow Borough Council having in the project?

There is a Service Level Agreement, which stipulates, for example, that we have to offer a certain number of hours a week to schools in the local area. When I say offer, I don't mean give them it for nothing; we'll give them use of the facilities for a reduced rate. Our rates will be divided into priority users and standard users. A priority user is someone who works or lives in the area, or goes to school nearby. I'm hoping to conclude a deal this week for around £30,000 with an organisation who want to come in and use the astro-turf pitches for the whole year.

What did the players of think of the project when they visited?

They were very, very impressed. There were a lot of open mouths because they didn't realise how big the project is. They're looking forward to training here. I'm sure having this will help us attract players to the club. A lot of players will look at this and think 'Wow'. Certainly when I was a player if I'd seen something like this I would've been blown away – I would've paid to come and play here!

There has been talk of the England national team using PEPF as their training ground – is this a possibility?

Tracey Kevins, who runs the Barnet Ladies, is the England Ladies Under-17 manager, I'm the England C team manager and Tony Kleanthous is now on the FA International committee, so we've got massive links with the England team. We'll be pressing all the buttons and pulling any strings we can find to get England down here to train. On the news you see them using London Colney, but let's get them down here - it's only a stone's throw from Wembley.

Just how much of a difference will having this training ground and academy make to the club?

I've been manager of the first team so I know how difficult not having a base has been. We've been like nomads for the last 5 years – literally lugging balls around in the back of a car. This project will give us a totally new professional outlook. We've never before had anywhere that we can call home. This will be home. Any club has got to have roots and we will now have firm, positive roots. It'll be somewhere we can look at and say 'let's grow from here'.

The Academy

How much will having our own academy help the club?

The dream is to have a group of players who have come through the academy system; that would be wonderful. One day I'm sure we will. With that comes that extra loyalty and that extra spirit – that desire to play for the club. We'll have organic growth, which is something we've not been able to have before, other than PROTEC. This way we'll have real organic growth from the ages or 6 and 7 years old.

We'll have players who, if you cut their arm off, it would say Barnet – that's what I want really. It'll help financially too – that's not the be all and end all but you can sell one player who has come through the youth system and it can pay for your academy for years. You look at Wayne Rooney – he came right through the system at Everton and they sold him for £30 million, although that type of player comes along once in a lifetime. If we do sell players that'll be a bonus, but the main intention is to get them ready for the first-team.

Arsene Wenger recently claimed that only now after a decade at Arsenal has he got the academy up to the standards he wanted. How soon do you think our Centre of Excellence can be producing players good enough for our first team and what is your ultimate target for the Centre of Excellence in terms of how many players it produces?

The most important age groups for me will be the development centres – that's the younger ones, between the ages of about 6 and 9. If you imagine a boy coming on board at the age of seven, it's going to take ten years before he's making the first team. But that seven-year-old will have been exposed to the type of training and the type of philosophy that we want and he'll come out with that at the end.

Whereas if you take an eleven-year-old player, you've got to unravel everything he's already done and often it's difficult to do that. People have dislikes of things by the time their eleven; for example, if you're a kid aged eleven who hates maths at school then the likelihood is that you're never going to like maths again. Obviously we'd like to get young players coming through instantly and bring through a couple of scholars each year but to get the real results of what we've produced, it's going to take ten years at least.

How many youth teams will we be running, i.e. which age groups?

There will be an under-18 team, a combined under-15 and under-16 team, plus under-14s, under-13s, under-12s, under-11s, under-10s and under-9s, so that's eight teams in total. And then for the kids younger than that we'll have development groups, which will play games against each other.

What kind of scouting network is in place to find youngsters with enough potential to join the academy?

None at the moment, but we will have one. That's something that we will have to grow. One of the things I'll be doing over the next few weeks is meeting the SSCO's – the School Sports Co-ordinators. These days in education you have a cluster of about 6 primary schools and one person in the middle will be the SSCO. He or she will be responsible for sport and PE in that cluster of schools. So I'm going to meet with these guys and they'll be my talent identification people because they're in the schools. But even if there's a kid who's a star at the age of 7, it's very unlikely that he'll be a star when he's 17. Initially this will just be with Harrow schools but Janet Matthewson will be looking at some kids in Barnet and eventually we'll branch out and have a monopoly – we'll knock Arsenal and Tottenham out of it!

When will the PEPF project be completed, and is it being built in phases?

There are four phases. It's difficult to give exact dates because things are constantly changing. Although the development will open in mid-May, there will be lots more work following that over the next few years, when we get the funding. We'll keep extending the development. By May all the changing rooms, astro-turf and reception area will be ready and the grass pitches will have been seeded, but obviously they'll need time to grow.

The Future

Will there be a reserve team next season?

Probably not. It's not in my plans, unless the first-team manager comes to talk to me.

Where do you see the club in 5, 10 and 20 years?

In five years time I see us just about ready to go into a brand new stadium – we're looking at various sites at the moment - and I see us in a higher league. In 10 years I see us as an established Championship club and then who knows after that…Europe in 20 years time! After all, Wimbledon did it in six years. I've always had dreams and ambitions for this club and that hasn't changed – I still have.

Interview by Ben Kentish.

Sam Norris has put together a video tour of the Prince Edward's site.

 
     
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