Steven Jackson converted himself from defender to goalkeeper for a day and in the process may have kick-started a brighter future for East Stirlingshire.
The club’s longest-serving player may only have been in the line for fire from a group of kids from Langlees Primary School taking penalties, but the Shire’s presence at the school’s annual fun day could be the start of a process that helps give the club a long-term future.
Club chairman Tony Ford is adamant that for the Shire to progress it needs to find a community and that search has begun as they prepare to open a new shop and office in Bainsford.
But he says it has to go much further than that and that events like the one at Langlees on Friday are only the start.
“There is no real point is just moving the club offices back into Bainsford and leaving it at that,” he said. “People who are involved with the club are well-versed in how the Shire’s roots lie in that community. But not everyone knows the history and it is up to us to spread the word and make sure that people in the area know that the Shire are their team in their community.”
Tony admits that one thing the club has lacked over the last few years is a proper relationship with schools and community groups. Part of the reason, he says, is the dislocation the Shire suffered on leaving Firs Park but he is also aware that a lack of a proper plan and structured approach has hampered an area of potential development.
“When I speak to people who have been involved with the club for many more years than I have what is striking is the lack of any strategic thinking,” he said. “Well-intentioned people have begun things but over the years they have dwindled away to nothing. Our most recent problems have brought into sharp focus the need to plan ahead and make sure that we do not start off with grand ideas which simply wither away.”
To that end the club is in the process of putting together a long-term vision and a review group is being set up to develop strategic goals. It will be headed up by Shire’s current first team coach, Arthur Bell.
“Arthur is more than just one of John Coughlin’s assistants,” said the Shire chairman. “He has a wealth of experience of football administration at bigger clubs than ours and we would be daft not to use it. The intention is for the plan to set goals for every aspect of the club’s activities from the first team down.”
But it is the need to forge good community links that is currently at the forefront of the chairman’s mind. He says Shire lag behind the rest of the clubs in Scotland to such an extent that they are in danger of being left behind altogether, with potentially damaging consequences.
“We can see a time coming, and it is coming soon, where the old system of clubs waiting for their cheques from the SFL and the SFA to bail them out of trouble will go.
“Increasingly we are going to have to demonstrate that we are giving something back to access vital funding from the football authorities and we are starting from almost zero. That cannot be allowed to continue and, to be honest, we already have a lot of catching up to do,” he said.
“We were delighted to go along to Langlees Primary School and we certainly enjoyed the afternoon as much as the kids did, but we cannot afford to let a day like that become an isolated incident. The club will be actively seeking the support of stakeholders in the local community to develop links which we think will benefit everyone.”
Meanwhile, Shire now know the identity of their first opponents of the 2012/13 season. They will face Ayr United at Ochilview on Saturday, July 28, in the first round of the Ramsdens Cup.
The game is a repeat of last season’s League Cup match which the Honest Men won 3-0 at Ochilview. Since then Ayr United have been relegated back to the Second Division and have lost manager Brian Reid who has been replaced in the Somerset Park hotseat by former Falkirk striker, Mark Roberts.
“It will be a good early test for us,” said Shire coach John Coughlin. “Ayr will be in a process of change much like ourselves. But it is the opening game of the season and both sets of fans will be raring to go, so hopefully we can generate a decent sized crowd and a good, competitive match,” he said.