HAVING generated momentum Brentford Football Club’s tale is truly remarkable. Behind the scenes a man born and raised in Mayo continues to occupy a seminal role at Griffin Park. Alan Walsh is Brentford’s Operations Manager, a testing, but utterly satisfying job.
Walsh, who worked for LOCOG at the London Olympic Games in 2012, explains how he ended up with Brentford. “After the Olympics I took a small bit of time out, but my wife saw that Brentford were recruiting an Operations Manager,” Walsh told The Irish Post. “My predecessor, Tony Ashley, was retiring, and the fact that Griffin Park was less than three miles from my house is ideal.
“I could see that Brentford had great aspirations and huge ambitions. The new owner Matthew Benham wanted to be successful and I felt that I would really fit in at the club with what I wanted to achieve in my own career.
“It was strange because at the end of April 2013 I joined on a Thursday. Two days later Brentford played Doncaster Rovers in a crucial League One match with both teams in the hunt for promotion. Brentford needed to win, but hit the crossbar, and then Doncaster went down to score at the other end to deny us automatic promotion. Maybe in hindsight it wasn’t a bad thing for me as getting ready for the Championship two days after joining the club would’ve been a real challenge,” Walsh jokes.
“I’m a big football fan, but had never been in the industry in a working capacity before. It was an action packed summer starting off. I remember in pre-season we played Glasgow Celtic, who had an incredible 6,500 away support at a game at Griffin Park. It was more of a home game for them. After the match there was a bit of a pitch invasion and I was there thinking this could be tricky, but everything has gone well so far.”
Undoubtedly that is the case for Walsh, who is also heavily involved in planning and plotting for Brentford’s new ground which could be ready in 2017. “I’m heavily involved in the planning of the new stadium,” Walsh says. “Everybody wants the transition to go across smoothly from Griffin Park.
“It will be the guts of two and a half years before it is ready. It is hoped that work will start on the project in November or December. We are probably looking at a scenario where we would move in mid season - maybe Boxing Day 2017 for instance. If we cannot reach that target we might have to wait until the start of the 2018/19 season which wouldn’t be bad either.
“It will be a hugely important thing for Brentford because the owner Matthew Benham is really trying to put Brentford on the map. Everyone at the club certainly thinks he is doing that, he is ambitious, and we want to be in the Premier League within five years. That is the goal.
“The club is growing quickly and there is a real sense of hope about the future. Beating Fulham home and away was the highlight for most Brentford fans. Getting to the play/offs is a huge achievement. To get fifth position in the Championship was brilliant.”
There is always an issue needing to be sorted, some problem to be resolved. That is why it is demanding, but it can bring delight too. “At the moment the role I have is quite broad. My title is Operations Manager, but we all work together well here. I’m in charge of facilities at our ground, Griffin Park and at our training ground on 100 Jersey Road.
“The matchday operation at Griffin Park is well planned out in advance. We have a capacity of 12,300 and we’ve been close to filling it at every game we’ve had in the Championship. To be hitting near capacity for most games is good, but on a matchday it can be quite busy.
“I work very closely with our safety officer, who basically is in charge on a matchday. What I do then is assist him. All clubs need to have a safety certificate issued, but on a matchday I work closely alongside the safety officer, who would be in constant contact with the metropolitan police and the ambulance services.
“On a matchday the safety officer makes the decision on when to close the gates on how to deal with different scenarios like an away supporter being in the home end. Stuff like whether that person should be relocated or ejected from the ground. He would be supported by a team on matchdays, but I would act as a sort of man on the ground to closely check a scenario if something was happening.
“I’d assist him on any major decisions which needed to be made. I’d get involved or oversee it from a club perspective. I would go to the scene to witness things happening and to make sure that our ground regulations were being adhered to. Throughout the day he’d be monitoring CCTV, talking to the stand managers of the four different stands, and keeping in touch with customer services.”
It isn’t only on game day that Walsh’s office is buzzing. “Outside of matchday then my remit I’d have to ensure that the playing surface is maintained at a good standard. We’d have different maintenance managers at the club and then we would have contractors working for us too.
“Regarding the pitches the ground staff maintain pitches. The facilities then we would have ground staff working all of the time to ensure everything is in proper working order. It would be similar at the training ground where we would be working to ensure everything is in place so that things run well for the club. It is full on overseeing Griffin Park and the training ground, but it is very rewarding.
“You could be dealing with something as trivial as a broken light bulb to upgrading facilities such as a dressing room upgrade or implementing a new ticketing system which is something we did for this season. We went from 3,500 season ticket holders to 5,500. At the moment the away allocation is 1650 which enables us to have 10,800 home fans.”
Before becoming part of Brentford’s dramatic revitalisation Walsh enjoyed a productive stint working for LOCOG. “At the Olympics I worked as an Arena manager at the Boxing and Weightlifting venues. I was fortunate enough that the only Gold medal Ireland won at the games was in my arena. So Katie Taylor’s medal is my claim to fame.
“I worked in venue management at the Excel between 2004 and 2006. I suppose I developed the interpersonal skills that the role demands while I was there. I knew the rules of the UK events industry so I ticked all the boxes when I got the role with LOCOG. I had previously overseen live professional boxing while at the Excel.
“For a while I worked in the exhibition industry, but where I worked I survived three rounds of redundancies so it was great to start work with LOCOG then. They contacted me less than two years out from the Olympics. LOCOG were putting teams together for the specific venues. When I got offered the position of Venue General Manager I thought about it for maybe 10 seconds.
“To be involved in the biggest sporting event in the world was brilliant. Boxing was on 16 days and weightlifting was on for nine days so it was extremely busy organising the arena. There were 750 people working in those arenas during the games.”
Brentford’s first team squad is nicely stocked with Irish footballers too. Alan Judge has received a welcome international call up for the June clashes against England and Scotland. “I see the Irish lads quite regularly,” Walsh says. “Alan Judge being called into the Irish squad is great, he is a lovely guy.
“Jonathan Douglas is very focused in everything he does and then you’ve Alan McCormack, who is a lovely lad too. He has been unfortunate with injury this season, be he is a real scrapper and he is respected hugely at Brentford. Jack Bonham is a goalkeeper who is developing too.”
Walsh is enthusiastic about where Brentford are going. Timing can be everything in sport. “I was fortunate that I joined Brentford at the right time,” Walsh acknowledges. “The goal is that the club gets to the Premier League. The staff and players are focused on that. I think that Brentford will get to the Premier League in the next five years.
“With the new stadium we want it to be Premier League ready. If you look around the area you see kids out wearing Brentford jerseys, the retail shop is turning over three times more money than this time last year. That is the difference of being in the Championship so I can only imagine what would happen in the Premier League.”