Behind the scenes: Turning a team into a club

Groundsmen prepare the pitch at the Hawthorns Stadium, home of West Bromwich Albion
Groundsmen prepare the pitch at the Hawthorns Stadium, home of West Bromwich Albion

While the cameras are pointing at the gates to see who the latest signing might be, there is a world of work going on away from the spotlight in every club across the land to prepare them for the coming season. From board level to the ground staff, here's the inside track on what it takes to get a club ready for the coming season.

When you scan your ticket through the turnstile, find your seat in the stands and cast your eye over the freshly assembled squad on day one of the new season, you're experiencing the product of maybe a year in the life of an English Premier League club.

For players, the campaign may literally kick off the instant the referee holds the whistle to his mouth and signals for play to begin. For everyone else connected with the club, the new season may have started 12 months earlier.

Notice the new playing strip? Someone has been working on that sleek design with the manufacturer for 12 months. Love your new member's cap?

The idea to include it as part of your season ticket was conceived well before the end of last season.

And doesn't the pitch look pristine and fancy with those patterns? That's because the groundsman never stops tending to it and treats it as if it were a player.

While fans enjoy a three-month hiatus from the game, for most at a club, the off-season is a period when they head into overdrive.

Just like any other business, sports clubs have reviews of every department.

Not surprisingly, the most rigorous involve the post-season analysis of the football section - regardless of the team's overall performance - and membership department.

Balancing act

As for the football, an entire 12-month calendar has to be mapped out. Every individual day is planned, juggling fixtures, travel, recovery, conditioning, preparation, diet, promotional appearances and pre-season games. But for all the preparation, this cannot be completed until the league fixtures have been released.

Football changing room with kit laid out
Liverpool dressing room

Pre-season overseas tours, featuring tournaments such as the International Champions Cup, just add to the balancing act.

Meanwhile, their counterparts in the membership team are busy producing plans and brochures to ensure as wide a take-up as possible in the coming season - and, of course, they have to deliver those plans.

Co-ordinating membership cards and merchandise appears straightforward. However, all those products have significant lead times. A lot needs to come together in the off-season for this department, which is vitally important to the club for establishing and maintaining a strong and loyal membership base.

Over in the commercial and marketing sections, work for the following season will also have commenced many months ago. Long-term planning is an essential ingredient in the creation of a strong brand and culture, as well as in helping the club overcome the hard-to-predict obstacles that may arise.

For example, a club cannot produce playing strips if major sponsorships have not been signed off, and the membership department cannot use a team photo for a promotional pack if the squad is not yet fully assembled.

Liverpool FC scarves
Team merchandise on sale at a match

Club philosophy

The close season is also a good time for negotiating new sponsorship deals. So when you see the starting 11 out on the pitch waiting for the referee to blow his whistle, it's worth taking a moment to consider the people behind the scenes who book their coach transfers, organise their accommodation, work with other clubs to arrange the crucial pre-season fixtures, co-ordinate the catering at training and on match days and ensure all the kits are pressed and pristine.

Just as the players have bought into the manager's outlook, all employees of the club have also subscribed to the broader club philosophy and culture.

Together, not only do they help create the team who stand before you, but the club. And as you admire the finely manicured, immaculate pitch, you might like to tilt that cap that the marketing department designed for you in the direction of the unseen ground staff, who have probably been at the stadium since 7am and won't finish their duties until at least 45 minutes after you've all headed for home.

Optus hold the broadcast rights to the English Premier League in Australia.

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