In February 2016 we sat around a table, under glorious Manchester sunshine, talking about the problems friends and colleagues were facing in academia. These included isolation, lack of resources, limited departmental support, increasing demands for teaching and learning, an incessant narrative of publish in high impact journals or perish if you can’t do this. For those of us present on this day, we knew that no-one was going to turn around and change this for us. No department head or manager was going to help – they had their own pressures, constraints, existence issues and ambitions. We had to start taking matters into our own hands.
This was where The Football Collective was born.
The industry was suffering from the marketization of higher education and many colleagues were on precarious contracts. Those in the group that day and in the conversations that followed, Hayton, Millward, Cleland, Rookwood, Doidge, Fitzpatrick, May, Hughson, Widdop and Parnell – knew something had to change and that ultimately that we could do more to help others. This was our why and remains our purpose: To help others.
Welcoming the first few members, who were gambling on our goodwill, was both daunting and exciting. We had no idea what those first members thought when entered our original wordpress blog. In the same respect, we suspect our most recent members were no-doubt intrigued by one of the first free football research conferences in lockdown, led by an undergraduate student from India studying (and firmly locked-down) in Sheffield (Sarthak Mondal) – exclusively for PhD and ECRs. This last event just shows the breadth of goodwill in the Football Collective and why we exist.
Every event, message, phone call, shared moment and small gesture has helped make my journey with The Football Collective one of the most rewarding and fulfilling experiences of my life. Everything about The Football Collective is about teamwork. Ask what you can do for the collective, not what the collective can do for you has always been firmly in our mind. And we should remember that.
Since day one, Paul and I have worked almost exclusively together. He is my closest collaborator and best friend. I am lucky to have met him although it was a friendship that was definitely cemented, with many of you too, during the Political Studies Association Sports Sub Group conference in Durham in January 2015.
I am incredibly privileged that you all have entrusted me with looking after The Football Collective as Chair over the past year. When I flick through the website and look at what is available for scholars starting off on their journey, I try to imagine what it would be like to be a PhD student entering our membership page. I would be looking for the small print, and asking what’s the catch? For me – it looks too good to be true. Little would any unsuspecting browser know, after they get past the most incredible mentorship programme, conferences, events, dissemination opportunities, running club [!] and much more – the real secret to joining The Football Collective is the relationships you develop. For me they are immeasurable.
As my role as Chair ends and I step away from the role, I will continue to remain an avid member focusing on securing funding to add sustainability to The Football Collective and will continue to co-edit our popular book series, Critical Research in Football with Routledge.
It is genuinely incredible to pass the Chair onto someone who is hard working, intelligent, collegiate, passionate and kind. Paul is one of the most creative people I have ever met and is able to continually develop ideas that others may never see. More importantly than all of these, he is completely focused on helping others and tackling inequalities. These are things I think are incredibly important to lead us forward in the future. Paul is a fierce friend, an accomplished scholar, a driven professional and a leader – I know that we will go on forward firmly into the future under his custodianship.
The Football Collective was, is, and always will be, about having a purpose, creating a sense of belonging, working together and taking responsibility. Manchester (2016), Limerick (2017), Glasgow (2018), Sheffield (2019) and Football in Lockdown (2020). The events, the people, the unknown graft, the new connections, the ideas created, the collaborations developed and the memories shared. No assessment framework or metrics will capture the impact of the connection and collaboration we create.
From 10 friends in Manchester in 2016 to our 420 members and friends of today. Every continent. Every football discipline. Undergraduate students, esteemed Professors, inquisitive Journalists and diligent Librarians. Each member has their own collective journey and memories. You have all contributed to getting us to this point. In these unprecedented times you are needed more than ever. This is not a false rally call. PhD and ECRs need you more than ever. Football itself needs critical discussion and evidenced informed solutions more than ever. The opportunity to make a difference has never been bigger. You have created us and you will all shape how we move forward as a collective.
I thank you for your time, and I am sure you will join me in both warmly welcoming Paul as Chair and getting fully behind him to drive us forward.
The strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack.
Power in Unity.