Brian Caldwell had spent 10 years at Ayr United Football Club ‘literally doing everything.’ They were ‘exciting times’ until one day he had a ‘bad experience.’
Three days before his wedding day he was made redundant and spent his honeymoon unemployed. Fortunately for Brian, he was approached by St Mirren who play in Paisley and were moving to a new £15m stadium. He was there for eight and a half years, but had always had a fascination about coming down to England.
He was approached to come to Shrewsbury to whom he had sold a player, Stephen Kerrigan, in his early days. “After that I always looked out for Shrewsbury’s results which was a bit strange,” he told a Zoom meeting of 19 members of Shrewsbury Severn Rotary Club.
He recalled having a four hour meeting with the Shrewsbury chairman Roland Wycherley, a former Rotarian, whilst his wife looked around the town which she afterwards described as a ‘beautiful place.’ He moved down in 2016 and ‘I don’t regret it for one minute,” Brian told Rotarians. “I couldn’t have landed in a nicer area. A fantastic place to live.”
He built a bar in the back garden for friends and relatives to go to celebrate a Shrewsbury victory. And it was from the bar that he gave his 45 minute talk to Shrewsbury Severn Rotary Club. The bar in the garden, in fact, has been his workplace since last March due to the virus. He has named it ‘Scotch Corner’ with momentos, including Scotch whisky and other Scottish drinks. “I didn’t expect to be sitting in a bar in the garden for 10 to 11 months having been used to working in a stadium.”
The Chief Executive Officer spoke enthusiastically about the success of Shrewsbury Town in the Community, a charity partner, which turned over £1m last year and has 20 to 30 full time staff. He said work started in the last 10 days on a new artificial pitch at the back of the south stand which will help to bring more people to the stadium and encourage more supporters moving forward. Brian told Rotarians that £1.4m had been spent on the training ground – “training grounds are the way forward. We have invested a lot of money to make sure we have an ‘all singing and all dancing’ training ground.
“The training ground has a gym, restaurant – for eating the right food – and sauna.”
He spoke of the effects of Covid on the club’s income and unfortunately how it had been forced to make staff redundant. “Not getting any income has meant that it has been a tough year for the football club,” said Brian. “In the last seven to 10 days it has got worse with the Covid we have had. I can’t go into exact numbers, I am not allowed to, but the majority of players and staff tested positive for Covid. It has been really difficult to deal with.
“We had to do mandatory testing last week and the vast majority tested positive. The majority of them were showing symptoms, but we have a few really suffering from the effects of Covid.
The older you are it seems to hit people more and we are really aware of the situation we have found ourselves in.
In the last seven to 10 days we have cancelled against Crewe due to positive tests and cancelled training last Monday. We picked up another on Monday of this week, mild symptoms, but this new strain is so easily transferable. Speaking to medics, this new strain was transferred fast around our players through training which has never been seen before. So we cancelled with Southampton on Saturday which was a blow because it was on TV.”
He said they were trying to arrange to play the game, but all the players were in full isolation. They hoped to return to training on Friday. Public Health Shropshire had closed the training ground down to minimise further spread. The club had brought in a chef to make food for players living on their own in Shrewsbury. “The chef is doing isolation packs on a daily basis for players in isolation – it is a major operation looking after everybody. “Potentially, we shall return to training on Friday. It is a really challenging time.”
He described new manager Steve Cotterill as a ‘larger than life character’ under whom the team had managed to pick up victories. He hoped they would put enough points on the board to take them up the league and then go for promotion next season.
“The transfer window is difficult to deal with in the current situation and to make sure the club is run properly is difficult with no money coming in. But we have been able to sustain ourselves in a tortuous year.” He said the chairman had ensured the club had money in the bank for a ‘rainy day,’ but he couldn’t have foreseen what Covid would do. Costs were being minimised which could be sustained. “We will be the last to go because our finances are one of the best in the Football League,” Brian told Rotarians. Although a lot of the staff had been furloughed, they had all been paid 100%. He said it was ‘unusual’ nowadays to find a local person and fan of a football club to become chairman – and chairman for such a long period of time.
Brian said that for him quality of life was as important as money – even more important. “I am still ambitious, but it is about quality of life, enjoying what you do and where you live, so why should I change that?” He added: “I am always ambitious, but it would have to be something absolutely right for me to move away because I am settled. I have never seen myself going back to Scotland where the weather is so wet!”