Four-club partnership is just the beginning for Burnley chairman Alan Pace

Burnley are in discussions world-wide with clubs with a view to strategic partnerships, on the back of last week's announcement of a link-up with Portadown, Ayr United, Cobh Ramblers and Llandudno.

Friday, 28th May 2021, 7:00 am
Pictured: L-R: COBH RAMBLERS Chairman Bill O’Leary, BURNLEY Chief Operating Officer Matt Williams, AYR UNITED Chairman David Smith, LLANDUDNO Chairman Andrew Croston, PORTADOWN First Team Manager Matthew Tipton

That launch was just the start of the club expanding their footprint, as the new ownership look to tap into a number of different avenues to build the Burnley brand.

It is something new chairman Alan Pace has been eager to explore since completing the takeover of the club in January.

In his first press conference, Pace was asked about partnering with another club, and, whether that could be in Major League Soccer in America, and he said: “Yes, it’s crossed our minds.

“There’s probably some opportunities, especially in America, for Burnley that I can see that would be really great going forward. I’d like to see that.”

And he added, on the idea of partnerships across the UK, Europe and beyond: “Every club in the Premier League can benefit from the international scope of this league – how you do that is the most important part.

“It is hard for people to realise that vision when you are spending most of your time just staying (in the Premier League). When you are just staying afloat in an ocean, you don’t get time to see what is around you and what you can do.

“You have got to give them a reason to connect with things that are happening here – that may be a player, that may be a style of play, maybe a manager or the atmosphere (in the stadium).

“There are a number of different things that can absolutely have that level of impact, it is about how do you not artificially create it but make it genuine, real and long-lasting.”

He added: “If I was a player, I’d want first team minutes, if I can’t get that at my club but my club can get me opportunities at other clubs, then I would see that as an opportunity for me to develop as a player.

“We see that as important but for other clubs it may be branding, other commercial opportunities.

“For us it’s probably more on the player development side – those relationships could be anything from ownership through to strategic relationships.”

Speaking after the announcement of the four-club partnership last week, Chief Operating Officer Matt Williams admitted: “We want to expand - this is the start of our partnerships, we're in discussions world-wide on a different type of model.

"We're regularly having calls with people who want to partner with us and give us opportunities, be it players, commercial, development, and this is pretty much the start of that.

"It's something the chairman and the new board are keen to do, to expand our brand nationally and internationally - this is the start of that.”

Branching out further will take time, and the club are eager to dismiss the notion that what they are working towards is “a poor man's City Group” - City own 11 clubs, including the MLS’ New York City FC, A-League team Melbourne City FC and French second-tier side Troyes.

Williams said: “We want everyone to retain their identity. A partnership where we look to help the clubs, and they look to help us, and move everything forward.”

But, asked whether he expected more partnerships outside of Britain and Ireland, he added: “That is a longer term project. It is a different model because it is not as easy in the current climate to go out to Singapore or Oman, even Malta.

“We had a club from Malta keen to partner with us but we have to make sure they are the right club.

“We have done our due diligence on the four clubs and they fit what we are as a club and our ethos of what we are as a club and being a family club and one at the heart of the community delivering honest football, honest commercial packages .

“We are not changing the DNA of Burnley and the partner clubs have definitely got the DNA of Burnley.

“Moving forward we have to find those clubs and I think that will be more commercial.”

Williams feels the partnerships announced last week will be win-win on a number of fronts, in terms of players moving back and forth, and sharing insights into all aspects of the business: "When you look at Brexit, and the impact of Brexit on our recruitment, it's important we have partnerships and eyes and ears in other areas of the British Isles, which we've now got.

"Historically we've not been particularly well represented with scouting staff in these countries, and I think the relationship I've got with Matthew Tipton at Portadown has already reaped some rewards, with Dane McCullough coming in as a youngster, and we had two players across from Portadown last week training with the Under 23s.

"As a bigger picture, we had an Under 16s tournament at the training ground at the weekend, with Llandudno, Ayr and Portadown, with our own Under 16sm so that gets us eyes and our academy staff linking with their academy staff to bring the relationship on the younger players' side together.

"Moving players out on loan has historically been a challenge, getting players some game time - we saw Lukas Jensen move to Bolton and he didn't play any minutes, as they won promotion.

"It's important we put players out on loan and give them some life experience and some men's football.

"The fact Cobh play in a summer league really, allows us to move some players out for five/six months of the season, coming back in November, train with us and hit the ground running in January, so that's a benefit.

"It's a good standard as well.

"So we might have two players go to Portadown for six months, and their next loan might be the Scottish Championship, where Ayr have aspirations to get up to the SPL.

"If we can help them, that's brilliant.

"But it's more than just football, it's all the other aspects of the other businesses within the business, retail, commercial, operations, groundstaff, even sending our media team to these clubs to get some experience.

"There are so many things we can do with these clubs, Mark Howard from the sports science team has spoken to them about how we can help them with some of the zoom programmes we did with the players in the first part of lockdown last year, which will help them.

"Portadown are not full time just yet, they have aspirations to go full time, but they are going to encourage their players to go into the gym and do a programme before they go to work.

"If we can help them, the players coming to us on trial will be fitter and stronger than they have been previously, which helps them to get to their goal to challenge at the top end of the league.

"This is across all the clubs, if we can help Llandudno become more professional and get into the League of Wales, then that's an aim for us.

"And they can work together as much as we will work together, Portadown will go down to Cobh, and might go across to Ayr.”

He added: "The one thing they've all got is a good women's set up, and that is a massive part of what we're trying to do and get to the WSL in time.

"The plan is to invite the women's teams to Burnley in pre-season and have a tournament like the Under 16s, which gives us eyes on players, and gives them experience of a Premier League training set up.

"There are so many things we can do to work together, and the biggest thing is communication - it will only work if the communication is good and the clubs make it work.

"We have to have regular dialogue, and we're all used to zoom and teams calls now.

"It's about developing relationships and seeing what these clubs do well. We're not arrogant to think we know it all, because we don't, we can always improve, and there might be a scheme in Ayr on the community side that we can deliver in Burnley, and likewise across all the clubs.”

Much of the thought behind the partnerships is attracting new followers- hopefully fans of each club will keep an eye on each other’s fortunes, and maybe take in the odd game whenever possible: "If we can pick up additionally supporters in these towns and become their second club or favourite Premier League club, because we're delivering something back and not taking from them...everyone's concern is we're just going to be nicking their best players, but that's not what we're about.

"Player identification isn't the key aspect, it goes beyond that.

"As a club, we want to be everyone's favourite underdog.

"Likewise, we want Burnley fans to show an interest in them.

"Cobh wear Claret and Blue...it's a natural progression, our supporters will go and watch Llandudno play in an international break maybe - it's all part of that.

"And if we can bring people down to watch games, it's a really good tie-up.

"For me, there's no one single area we will focus on, we will focus on all areas.

"I think the main area is to maintain these partnerships, develop them and take them forward, and we can all reap the rewards.”

Burnley, of course, qualified for Europe in 2018, but potentially the route to continental football is somewhat more realistic at the partner clubs, and young Clarets could benefit: "In the League of Ireland, League of Wales, if you finish in the top two or three, you can get into Europe, and that's an incentive for us to make this work as well.

“We could give some of our players the opportunity to play in European competition potentially, that's something an Under 18/23 is going to find tough at Burnley, as we know how difficult it is to get into the European positions.

"We can give players some real experience then.”

As mentioned, this is something Pace has been keen on establishing from day one, and Williams said: “Alan drives everything. As a club we are moving at pace if you pardon the pun.

“We are a newsy club at the moment and are looking to improve everything.

“I think we probably stood still for four or five years under the previous board of directors and there is a real commitment from Alan to move things forward.

“He was instrumental in this and he understands the benefits of it.

“He is also instrumental in other partner clubs on a more global basis. There isn't a day goes past when he isn't thinking of ways to improve this football club.

“He really is a passionate guy about the club. He is not one to sit in an office, he is at the coalface every day as are his fellow directors.

“They are hands on in every way shape and form.

“They don't want to miss anything or miss an opportunity. They have a real desire to push the club forward.”

One question that arises, is that if Burnley are looking to attract young talent from Britain and Ireland and, ultimately beyond, what hope the likes of local lads, such as Jay Rodriguez, coming through the ranks?

And on that front, can the club make sure the likes of Chris Casper, Oliver Norwood - Burnley schoolboys who joined Manchester United - and several of Blessed Trinity’s 2013 English Schools’ champions, who signed for Blackburn Rovers, don’t slip the net?

Williams added: “We are looking to develop our domestic recruitment, grassroots and local recruitment and there are various initiatives Alan is involved in currently with our community department to make sure that we don't lose players from Burnley and the surrounding areas to other clubs.

“I think historically we have lost too many players to not only the perceived bigger clubs but to League one sides and your Oldham's and Rochdale's and have lost players from Burnley simply because we have not known about them and we need to know about them.

“We need to know about every single player at any level within the area so we don't miss out on them.

“There is a whole host of other things that will come out in due course to do with the Academy and we are looking to push it forward.

“We are not resting on our laurels after having a relatively good start to being a Cat One Academy. That is far from it.”