What’s Your Story? is a monthly series in which we find and talk to interesting people in our local community, whether they run a business, have an interesting job or do something else that we think is worthy of wider attention.
Kevin Miller is the Commercial Manager of Whitehawk Football Club, We spoke to him about Whitehawk, work and what the future holds for him and the club.
TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOURSELF – A POTTED HISTORY!
I’m Kevin Miller, lived in Brighton for ten years, born in East London so West Ham United fan by birth. Parents bought a small guest house and moved the family to Cliftonville near Margate when I was twelve, After education I moved back to London ten years later.
I always wanted to be a journalist/ writer, but you gotta start somewhere, so naturally the best place to start is shoe shop manager at Freeman Hardy Willis in Woolwich. (ask your gran about them, kids).
After that I took a couple of agency jobs, found a small flat in Westminster, and got a job at legendary punk/ mod shoe emporium Shelly’s just off Carnaby Street. (Cooler shoes). It was ’88/’89 and London was full of smiley t-shirts, kicker boots and wallabies shoes. Sigh, happy daze…
Then, a couple of years at a small record label in Cricklewood, selling not too popular classical, jazz, rock and easy listening (but some excellent 70’s Dub) to small independent record shops. That got me into big record retailer Tower Records in ’93 (I was a rep for the label). The rest of the decade was spent there in sales, management, marketing, PR, advertising and publishing. It was the height of Britpop, dance music was still huge, Euro ’96 and all that, great times…However, nothing lasts for ever, and I left Tower in 2001. Freelanced for a couple of years selling ads for the South Bank Centre and Jazz Cafe. Married in ’02, child in ‘04, and in ’05, Football beckoned. Watford (3 seasons), Palace (5), Lewes (4) and now Whitehawk…
So far, my football record is as follows: Three promotions, (one administration), two relegations, two play-off finals, three play-off semi-finals, one Sussex FA Cup Final, one FA Cup semi-final, one League Cup semi-final and one Sussex FA Cup semi-final. Never a dull moment…
WHAT WAS IT LIKE BEING INVOLVED IN THE COMMERCIAL DEPARTMENTS AT PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL CLUBS? ANY STORIES YOU CAN SHARE?
My first game of my first full season was at Watford – their first game back in the top flight – against Fergie’s Manchester United. The night before, all the staff including Chairman & CEO were at the ground making sure everything was ready – setting out all the corporate boxes and cutlery in the lounges, and attaching the last of the ad boards around Vicarage Road. This was pre LED advertising, and because we were ground sharing with Saracens, we had to use a kind of velcro system (stuck on what looked like A-frame gym mattresses!), that meant that whether was a ‘double-header’ (Watford on a Saturday, Sarries on a Sunday), every ad board had to be changed, which was a nightmare for the ground staff.
I’d sold a huge advertising site in the disused area of an old stand. We built a frame and the ad agency we were working with placed a huge sportswear brands name & logo on it.
The following day as I was watching the game from the stand opposite, I felt very proud that our first home game had gone off with out a hitch…
My phone buzzed in my pocket. I left it as I’d just replied to my wife who was asking me how it was going. It buzzed again. A couple of minutes later it rang. Irritated now, I took the phone out of my pocket and was about to bark ‘Hello!’ to my wife when I realised that it was the MD from the Ad Agency.
“Hiya? What’s up?” I answer.
“Kev, I’ve just had the CEO (of the sportswear brand) on the phone!” he replied. “He’s watching the game from his Villa.”
“Excellent!” I said “Did he call to say that he loves the big ad board?”
“No!” He said sternly. “He said, that if you don’t get that steward blocking the letter ‘A’, of the name, he’ll remove it and demand his money back!”
I looked up. Sure enough, there in front of the big A, was George, Watford steward of twenty years, doing his duty that side of the stand, and watching the game in front of thousands of pounds of global advertising.
“I’m on it!” I put the phone down and used the two-way radio to contact control, who relayed the message to George. I watched as he made two large comedy sideways steps to the left, revealing the ad board in full. A text followed with a ‘Cheers!’ from the agency, and panic over, I carried on with match duties.
It made me realise that, despite being in a small part of a small suburban town watching a game of football, the whole world was watching, and so everything – everything! – had to be perfect. It also made me realise that this was not a job of glamour and status, it was a passion. It never happened again.
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE PROFESSIONAL GAME’S RELATIONSHIP WITH NON LEAGUE?
England has the most vibrant and successful football pyramid structures in the world. Some matches in our divisions six & seven, attract more fans to their matches than Italian French and Spanish second divisions. Grassroots football is attracting a new generation of fans, a little disenfranchised with the Premier League experience, despite it being a world class product.
That said, professional football needs a strong structure behind it to continue the production line of great talent, as does the FA, and the game in this country is more than just the professionals. The Premier League’s cash is filtering down to grassroots level, but its not enough, nor is it quick enough.
I would love to see an organisation created that can utilise some of that Premier League cash, to set up a kind of ,’help centre’ for non-league football clubs. A place to learn about new marketing techniques, social media, planning, budgeting, health & safety…
A lot of non-league clubs are still run on effort, energy, passion and tradition, and it is essential that we maintain the pyramid structure, and offer the thousands of small football clubs around the land the chance to survive and change in the modern era.
HOW DOES YOUR ROLE WITH WHITEHAWK FC DIFFER FROM OTHER CLUBS?
Every club is different, and has its own needs and delivery. Whitehawk FC, despite being Brighton’s second biggest football club, still suffers from being tagged with the reputation of the nearby estate within East Brighton, once the biggest and most economically deprived in the country. The club is branded as a place that business finds a little unattractive. Crowds at matches are modest at best, and there’s a lot of ‘upgrading’ to be done.
That said, there’s a new vibrancy and sense of purpose on the estate, and at the club, there’s an amazing group of volunteers making it all work and have been doing so for a long, long time.
We’re re-structuring the marketing, commercial, online and social media sections of the club to make them a little fitter, a little more productive. Next summer (2020) begins year of the club’s 75th Anniversary, and I hope that some of the elements put in place now, will maximise the opportunities for the club to grow by then.
It’s hard work but very rewarding…
WE KNOW THE HAWKS ULTRAS ARE A VOCAL, VISIBLE CROWD WITH A STRONG AND CLEAR MESSAGE, WHO ARE THEY AND WHAT IS YOUR RELATIONSHIP LIKE WITH THEM?
The fans, the ‘Ultras’ are keeping the flame burning right now. They are a group of locals and Brightonian’s who a few years ago set up the fan base as an ironic gesture, but have nothing whatsoever to do with those big global near army-style Ultras. They have set themselves up with an incredible set of social and moral values. Anti-racism, homophobia, sexism, violence – they don’t swear on the terraces, design and sell their own merchandise, run the club shop, their own fanzine, and bang their own drums, (and store them in a shed at the ground).
I first met them at the first pre-season friendly when I arrived last July, and I quickly recognised that they are the lifeblood of the club. I’ve been working with some of them to create some amazing social projects. Earlier in the season they raised funds on-line to bring 30 kids from Grenfell a day out at the seaside. I worked with them to make the kids mascots, we gave them complimentary hospitality, and they loved it. We’ve worked with local charities, setting up soccer schools for kids on the estate, and there are plans to do a lot lot more.
It’s a family, and we’re all doing it together because we love it.
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD FOR WHITEHAWK FC?
Big crowds, a vibrant, culturally diverse, socially aware young, cool, tech-savvy fanbase around the region and around the world, and crammed full of everything that this amazing city has to offer. A junior section, a re-instated womens team, mens and womens vets and walking football teams, and a pathway for young people who love the game, to be inspired by the club and play for the club until they become legends.
We want businesses to want to join us, we need businesses to help us, and we want the city to be rightly proud of two clubs, one attracting a global audience, and one that can celebrate everything that the city offers…
One game, Two teams, two different objectives.
Football is the Winner…
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