Derby County Football Club Women

“I Literally had to Rub my Eyes” Gibbo’s Memoir’s Part 2

Today sees Part Two of our seven part insightful and humorous look behind the scenes, in which CEO Duncan Gibb or ‘Gibbo’ as he is affectionately known to club personnel and supporters alike, shares memories of his time at the club.

Today he continues to reflect on increasing the clubs profile, a desire to win things in order to get noticed, a fantastic appointment and the clubs initial time at Borrowash Victoria.

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The clubs media footprint in terms of the website and social media accounts is a world away from what it was a few years back. How did that happen?

When I first joined the club a lovely chap called Brett Burnton oversaw this side of things. He’d done a great job and on the back of providing him with improved material, he definitely took things to the next level; however what was needed was a complete overhaul and someone with the time to commit to becoming a Media Director, in keeping with our vision of an Operational Board of Directors taking over from a committee type structure.

Brett was more than happy to carry on until we found such a person, which was hugely invaluable; however like many things in life, finding the right person happened by chance, which in this case was my being asked to do an interview with a Masters Sports Journalism Student from Staffordshire University called Andy Moore.

We’ve since reflected on that first meeting many times, with Andy rather nicely saying that he was encapsulated by my passion and plans for the club, whilst in him I saw someone who having turned to studying and a change of career later than most, was keen to make his media mark.

Having got a feel for his skill set and own ambitions, we soon had the clubs first Media Director and I think it fair to say that arguably the best website in the National League, and the fastest growing twitter account in the league with over 10,000 followers, point towards an appointment well made!

Another Awards Night, Another Celebrity!

You mention ‘winning things’ as being integral within building the clubs profile?

It’s been a key facet in so many ways. Basically a club can really get itself noticed if it wins awards and trophies and the bigger the stage or award, the bigger the interest.

Initially it was all about getting people within the club recognised for the work that they’d done over many years. On the back of that; we knew that we’d made significant strides on a variety of fronts as a club, and through the network that is football other clubs and some quite high profile people within the game were saying a lot of very complementary things about us.

We therefore knew that we were in with a sniff of winning some major personal and club awards; however I don’t think any of us could have predicted how well things were going to turn out!

That’s something of an understatement. For the benefit of our readers can you confirm what the club won to date, and do you believe there is scope for more success?

In terms of individual success, Sheila Rollinson our club secretary was named winner of the ‘Outstanding Contribution to Women’s Football’ category at the 2014 annual Women’s FA Awards, whilst Dave Cholerton our Academy Director was narrowly pipped by former England manager, Hope Powell to the same award in 2017. When you look at the people involved in female football those are incredible achievements.

Club wise we were named Derbyshire County FA ‘Club of the Year’ in 2014, Derby City ‘Club of the Year’ in 2017 and Derby Telegraph ‘Club of the Year’ in 2017. The former two are city based, whilst the latter is a county wide award; however we went one better in both 2015 and 2018 when we were named ‘Club of the Year’ at the Women’s FA Awards. In winning it twice, we became and still are the only club in the female game to achieve that, which is something we are hugely proud of.

As I said at the clubs 2018 end of season awards ‘recognition started locally, grew to regional level and then went on to us being acclaimed on the national stage’.

In terms of sponsorship, how difficult was it to attract investors, given that the season had already started when you joined the club and you had none at the time?

The key was the profile. Once local people and local businesses started to read and hear about us, it made it so much easier to get in front of them and get them to buy into what we were doing. Our strategy was simple, start low in terms of package price, and provide them with a tangible return on their investment, then increase the package prices year on year based on the age old golden rule of business ‘supply and demand’. 

Within three weeks every one of our teams from the U11’s upwards was sponsored, and again things have never really looked back. This season every one of our 13 squads is sponsored, every one of our first team players and staff are sponsored and in addition to that we have a main club, training attire and media sponsor. The dynamics remain unaltered; it’s just the numbers that have changed.

Our Annual Photoshoot Night at Pride Park

The next corner of the plan focused on the clubs junior section as it was then. What were the challenges at the time as you and the committee saw them, and what was the clubs ambition in terms of addressing them?

Without question the biggest issue we had was that we had all these teams; however they were operating in a ‘silo mentality’. By that I mean that we basically had eight clubs operating under the umbrella of one club, with each pretty much doing their own thing. In addition to that the words ‘Junior Section’ very much pointed to an amateur set up, whereas in order to retain and attract players we needed to look and feel like a top end club.

It didn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that we needed a figure head to ultimately bring the squads beneath senior level together into a cohesive unit and production line. We also needed a change of name for the set up, that reflected our ambitions.

That man was Dave Cholerton; however there is quite an amusing story behind it?

At the time our Technical Director, John Griffiths only wanted a maximum of two coaches per squad. The clubs then U15’s were about to move up a level; however John already had a coach lined up to lead the U16’s, so advised me that one of the two U15’s coaches would need to stand down. In my view he needed to have those conversations given his role; however he asked me to do it.

I’m not sure if he didn’t fancy having to deal with potential confrontation; however I prefer to call it ’divine intervention’, as when I sat down and looked at the two coaches, in one of them, Dave Cholerton I saw a coach that had coached at every level within the club, carried himself diligently and diplomatically, at the same time as not being one to shy away from tough decisions and conversations.  

The cost of an evening meal and two hours of my time later, and the club had its first ever Academy Director, as we’d agreed in principal (subject to committee approval) to change the name of the Junior Section to Academy, and equally importantly Dave had agreed to lead it.

I’ve been quoted on this on numerous occasions in the media; however I’m still happy to say that whilst I like to think that I’ve made some great calls in terms of appointments in both my work career and time at Derby, Dave Cholerton as Academy Director is without question up there with the best that I’ve made.

What have been the key academy successes?

Commitments elsewhere mean that I don’t get down to anywhere near as many Academy training sessions or games as I’d like to; however when I do, I can’t put into words the pride that I feel when I see the synergy between squads and coaches, and in more recent times the interaction between Academy teams and the first team squad.

We’ve just implemented a revised structure that will intrinsically link with the RTC that will very shortly be announced, and I can only see things getting better. It’s certainly a far cry from the ‘silo mentality’ that was in situ back in 2013/14.

Playing at Borrowash Victoria

You say that senior training facilities were dire when you joined the club. Just how bad were they and what did you make of the clubs home ground venue at Borrowash Victoria?

I literally had to rub my eyes and do a double take the first time I witnessed first team training, given that the players were training on 2/3 of a rock hard sand based all weather surface up at Mackworth that had clearly seen better days.

In terms of the clubs playing venue, it’s fair to say that Derby as a city isn’t blessed with a great deal of choice. After Pride Park, you’ve only got Mickleover and Borrowash as grounds able to host Tier 3 women’s football.

My view and that of the clubs then committee was that we needed an alternative venue for training and we needed to give Borrowash a leg up in terms of our match day venue, as it was far removed from those that we were travelling to for away fixtures.

So how did the club go about that in terms of the training facility element?

In terms of the training venue side of things we were able to lever a deal with Derby University initially, before eventually securing a stake hold in the facilities at Merril Academy as part of a collaborative partnership strategy, which saw the school and its pupils able to access and formally align to the club, and the club able to secure prime time usage of a brand new 3G pitch, indoor sports hall, fitness gym and physio room that carried club signage.

This meant that we’d gone from having the worst training facilities in our league to the best within a three year period. In addition to that we felt that it was important that the players felt at home in these new surroundings; hence our spending the best part of £1,000 on club signage that adorned the reception area, the gym and the 3G pitch.

Moving on to the clubs playing facilities, the club did much to endeavour to improve things at Borrowash Victoria?

Like I said, as a home venue it was probably the worst in Tier 3; however John Griffiths takes a huge amount of credit for the work that he led on in terms of the changing rooms. Over £2,000 was invested in the home changing room including the creation of a physio room; however given the labour time invested, it was more like a £7,500 project.

In conjunction with that we facilitated a meeting with the Derbyshire FA and Borrowash with a view to looking at opportunities to improve the ground further. We made it very clear that the ground needed to improve if we were to remain there and with the investment and work that we’d done we were basically saying “here’s a tangible example of what can be achieved”

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Join us tomorrow for Part 3 of Gibbo’s Memoirs as we discuss the departure from Borrowash Victoria and an anecdote about our legendary Announcer!