Mike Gilham: Director of Football in the eighth tier
Written by Simon Austin — February 24, 2022
ONCE viewed with skepticism, the Director of Football (or Sporting Director or Technical Director) role has now been embraced within the upper echelons of English football.
Sixteen Premier League clubs currently have the position (or equivalent), with Newcastle and Everton expected to follow suit soon. So too do 11 teams in the Championship.
The further you go down the pyramid the rarer it becomes, which is hardly a surprise when you consider the drop-off in staffing numbers, finances and resources. However, there is a Director of Football in the eighth tier: Mike Gilham of Basingstoke Town of the Isthmian League South Central Division.
He’s been doing the job since last September, albeit on an unpaid voluntary basis. But is it really needed?
“The best way I’ve heard the role described was on your podcast, by Dan Ashworth,” Gilham told TGG. “He said he was in the middle of the wheel, co-ordinating the different spokes and keeping the wheel spinning.
“I don’t think many clubs have all of the spokes, especially at our level, because the resources aren’t there. But we do have a men’s team playing at a decent level of non-league, a women’s team that’s quite new, a full-time Academy, other multi-disciplinary staff and loans and recruitment.
“What was happening before was that these things were happening in silos. The first-team manager was making decisions around loans because no-one else was around those conversations; the first team was playing one way and the Academy another; and so on and so on.
“It was about recognising that if you can join these things together it will be better for the long-term sustainability of the club. Doing this will hopefully make the club more competitive and sustainable to its community, which is particularly important.” (More of that later).
“Unlike the manager, whose priority is rightly preparing the team to win the next game, my main concern is about next season and the season after that, whether that’s related to player recruitment or the growth of the Academy. My role is more forward planning."
Gilham has also received the backing of a prominent Premier League manager since taking on the job.
“Brendan Rodgers was at one of our games to watch his son Anton, who plays for us, and we had a chat about the Director of Football job," he said. “He told me, ‘You’re doing the job. There might be a few more zeros on the end in the Premier League but the principles are the same.’”
Gilham’s role is voluntary and unpaid, as are those of all the other members of the Hampshire club’s Board.
His full-time job is as lead on the MsC in Performance Football Coaching at St Mary’s University and he also coaches part-time at Fulham’s Academy. Combining all of this, as well as being the father of a young daughter, can be tough, but he’s passionate about the position and has done a Masters in Sporting Directorship at Manchester Metropolitan University.
“I’m unpaid at Basingstoke and a lot of people don’t believe me when I say that,” he said, “but it’s an area I’ve been interested in for a while and and I’m getting the opportunity to do it for real, which is fantastic.”
Most weeks he does 15 to 20 hours as Director of Football and sometimes it can be as many as 30.
“I will probably watch the Academy play tomorrow, go to men’s training the following night, game on Saturday, game on Sunday,” he said. “I do have a day job and a little daughter, so I have to balance that, but ultimately you get out what you put in in life.”
Because of the club’s resources - or lack of - he also has to be creative in terms of the other spokes of the wheel that Ashworth talked about.
“We have a relationship with Southampton Solent, where they supply us with sports therapy students, so we’ve now got a medical department,” he said. “We now watch the opposition and create reports on them, so there have been opportunities for students there.
"Rather than our player recruitment being about who we know, which it often was in the past, we now identify areas for improvement and are able to layer in some data along with scouting reports. I don’t think there will be many non-league clubs doing that. We’ve just found a centre back from the league below through that process.”
Another major current project involves establishing the club’s DNA.
“If somebody asked, ‘What is your club about?’ I’m not sure we’d be able to answer that fully. It’s something I’m in the middle of working on and certainly by the end of the season we want to be able to answer it properly.
“It’s important because it informs everything you do. This is a consultation and we have even asked the kids what it means to play for Basingstoke, with two from each group forming a leadership group.
“We’ve had a couple of 10-year-olds round the table with myself and the manager talking about what the club means to them and what the DNA should be.”
After a difficult recent history in which the previous owner kicked the club out of their own ground, Basingstoke Town are now member-owned, like AFC Wimbledon. This is at the heart of their identity.
“There are about 300 members and this is fundamental to what we do and what we’re about,” Gilham explained. “To give you a flavour of what the DNA is looking like, it’s very community focused.
“We’re in a relatively big town and don’t have any other clubs on our doorstep, so people are very proud of Basingstoke Town. We always have to remember that. We also want to be known for how we behave and how we treat people.”
In future, Gilham does hope to do his job full-time higher up the football pyramid, but at the moment he’s enjoying what he's doing at Basingstoke and proving the impact that a Director of Football can make, even in the eighth tier.
CLUBS WITH DIRECTOR OF FOOTBALL (OR EQUIVALENT)
- Arsenal: Technical Director - Edu
- Aston Villa: Sporting Director - Johan Lange
- Brentford: Director of Football - Phil Giles
- Brighton: Technical Director (Acting) - David Weir
- Burnley: Technical Director - NONE
- Chelsea: NONE (Petr Cech is Technical and Performance Advisor & Marina Granovskaia is Director)
- Crystal Palace: Sporting Director - Dougie Freedman
- Everton: Director of Football - NONE
- Leeds United: Director of Football - Victor Orta
- Leicester City: Director of Football - Jon Rudkin
- Liverpool: Sporting Director - Michael Edwards
- Manchester City: Director of Football - Txiki Begiristain
- Manchester United: Football Director- John Murtough
- Newcastle United: NONE
- Norwich City: Sporting Director - Stuart Webber
- Southampton: Director of Football Operations - Matt Crocker
- Tottenham: Managing Director, Football - Fabio Paratici
- Watford: Sporting Director - Cristiano Giaretta
- West Ham: NONE
- Wolves: Technical Director - Scott Sellars
- Bournemouth: Technical Director - Richard Hughes
- Barnsley: NONE
- Birmingham City: Technical Director - Craig Gardner
- Blackburn Rovers: NONE
- Blackpool: Head of Football Operations - John Stephenson
- Bristol City: NONE
- Cardiff City: NONE
- Coventry City: NONE
- Derby County: NONE
- Fulham: Director of Football Operations - Tony Khan
- Huddersfield Town: Head of Football Operations - Leigh Bromby
- Hull City: NONE
- Luton Town: NONE
- Middlesbrough: Head of Football - Kieran Scott
- Millwall: NONE
- Nottingham Forest: Director of Football - Kyriakos Dourekas
- Peterborough United: Director of Football - Barry Fry
- Preston North End: NONE
- QPR: Director of Football - Les Ferdinand
- Reading: NONE
- Sheffield United: NONE
- Stoke City: Head of Football Operations - Andy Cousins
- Swansea City: Sporting Director - Mark Allen
- West Brom: NONE