Second year UCFB Burnley student Toby Gray has taken up a fantastic opportunity to work alongside Albany FC in New Zealand introducing him to the challenges, structure and history of a grassroots football club on the other side of the globe. BA (Hons) Football Business & Finance student Toby shared his experience with UCFB.

What were your first impressions on the differences between grassroots football in the UK and New Zealand?

“On my first day I engaged in a lengthy discussion about how grassroots football in New Zealand and the UK compare. I was surprised to learn that grassroots football in New Zealand receives no funding from the New Zealand Football Association or from local federations, so all money generated by a football club has to come from sponsorship, gate receipts, registration fees and fundraising.”

How is grassroots football developing in New Zealand, particularly at Albany FC?

“During my placement I was given the Albany FC grand tour from Bill Pittman who has been with the club right from the start in 1977. Back then, registration fees were the sole revenue stream. However the resources available to the club have improved dramatically since the club opened. I was even shown the lonely old field, a hut used for changing rooms, a building made out of corrugated iron surrounding a hole in the ground for toilet facilities and a stream next to the field for players to take a shower.

“It was thrilling learning about how the club overcame major external issues in order to survive. One such problem arose when the government planned to build a bypass from the main motorway between Auckland and Whangerai which would have cut right through Albany FC’s pitch. After a turbulent few years, the club moved to its current home in Rosedale and is now on a much sounder financial footing. Without the dedication of people like Bill back in 1977, the club would not be around today.”

What work experience did you gain during your summer placement and how did this supplement your academic teachings at UCFB?

“During my placement I was fortunate enough to experience a match day for the first team. There were approximately 120 spectators at the fixture, which is very impressive for a grassroots level football match in New Zealand. I was excited to speak with Club President Rashaad Vahed after the game, who was very responsive to my experience. Later in the week Mr Vahed talked me through club finances, including the key revenue streams, outgoings, departmental budgets for the year and the registration fees paid by players. My new found knowledge from UCFB complemented the practical application of Albany FC, ensuring that I could get my head around the complex financial systems of this grassroots football club.

“Amongst other areas of football management and administration, I was introduced to a detailed breakdown of the club structure comparing it to other clubs within the area. Albany FC operates a model of which we are quite familiar in the UK, a focus on training talent through the club’s youth programmes instead of selecting readymade senior players from other clubs. I was pleased to hear this as I personally see the value and advocate this concept.

“During my time at Albany FC I was involved in discussions around club development. The plans seemed ambitious but realistic and would make Albany FC a club with an admirable ethos and top-end facilities. The plans included the appointment of a Director of Football to help improve the quality of coaching for all teams and the development of four new all weather, floodlit pitches.

“I’ll always be grateful for this opportunity from UCFB; not only did I get a whole new perspective of grassroots football by travelling to the other side of the globe, but the passion and hospitable nature from the club ensured that I had an insightful, fun and motivating experience.”