Welcome to Industry Insider by Behind Sport! We’re speaking to Colin Millar, Operations Manager at Hibernian FC.

 

Tell us about yourself, what is your current role and what roles have you done previously?

I joined Hibernian in September 2014, initially in a supporter engagement role. The club had just been relegated and were at a real low point – there was a significant rebuilding job to be done but we slowly rebuilt trust and supporters started to fall back in love with the club.

A year later I was asked to fill the vacancy of Communications Manager, and then added the overall marketing responsibility in 2017. In November 2018 I moved into operations and now head up our ops team.

I’ve been fortunate to be given a rounded experience across the club. When we were in the Championship it was all hands-on deck and we had to achieve a lot with a small group of staff, so you got yourself involved in most things to support your colleagues. We’ve grown the club over the spell and now have greater resource across all departments to deliver what supporters expect of us.

 

What do you do in your current role?

I head up our operations team, who are responsible for the overall running of matchdays and our two facilities (Easter Road Stadium and Hibernian Training Centre). I’m fortunate in having a very experienced team of experts who do a great job in their areas, so for me it’s keeping an oversight of what’s happening, supporting where needed and joining dots with other departments.

We changed ownership last summer and our new owner has ambitious plans for what he wants the club to be across a number of different areas, so I’ve been involved in shaping that vision for matchday experience and others. Whilst some of those plans will undoubtedly be impacted by the coronavirus epidemic, the principles will remain for what we want to achieve.

Because I’ve had a bit of experience across the club I can also be a bit of a sounding board for others in marketing, communications, ticketing etc.

 

What does a normal week look like for you?

There are elements that are consistent across the season and some challenges that are new week-to-week.

We’ve worked on the processes around our matchdays to make them as efficient and well-organised as possible – each game will have its own idiosyncrasies but by-and-large you’re delivering a consistent matchday and everything that entails, so go through the same planning cycle for each game, scaling up for larger games against Hearts, Celtic and Rangers. We’ll have internal and external planning meetings and go through the usual matchday countdown of checks to make sure we’re ready to host games. Away matches are less onerous, but some of my colleagues still have a lot of planning to do for those.

We had been gearing up for significant investment in our infrastructure, including a new PA system, big screen, lighting and a host of other improvements around the ground. Some of these projects will be paused given the current climate, but before the break a lot of my time was tied up in the planning and delivery of these projects.

Another project of major importance to us is our sustainability plans. We want to be the greenest club in Scotland and are already delivering in several areas, but we want to do more to be responsible citizens and ensure all our operations are sustainable and considerate of our environment. It’s taking a bit of my time at the moment.

Since the epidemic and lockdown I’ve been working from home, keeping things ticking over and starting to plan for our return, whenever that might be.

 

How did you end up where you are right now? When did you know you wanted to work in sport?

Sport has always been my passion and I probably always knew I wanted to work in the sector. However I wasn’t particularly talented as a player and had no real interest in coaching, so options when in school appeared to be pretty limited. I got my grades and went off to study accountancy and finance, thinking I could develop there and eventually take up a finance role within football.

I was working at a professional services firm after graduating and started to do some voluntary work with sportscotland and Young Scot which opened my eyes to both the range of jobs in the industry and the enjoyment the staff got out of their work.

I decided to leave my job once I’d achieved my professional accountancy qualification and had planned on doing a 9-month Sport Management post-graduate course to get something directly relevant on the CV and bridge my knowledge gap. At the same time Hibs were in the process of getting relegated and had Leeann Dempster, a new Chief Executive, joining from Motherwell.

I chaired a supporters meeting with her and the new Head Coach at the training centre early in the summer and took a chance by asking Leeann for a lift back to Glasgow. She probably couldn’t say no but it gave me an hour in the car to pitch ideas and talk myself into a job – thankfully we shared thoughts on how to progress the club and she took me on.

I joined the club at the start of September 2014 and the club allowed me to continue with my post-grad plan, albeit part-time over a few years rather than 9 months.

 

What are you excited about in your industry at the moment?

Everyone’s world has been turned upside down with the epidemic. We all know that football pales into insignificance with what is happening and there are more important things to be concerned about just now.

However football will hopefully play a big part when we get back to normal. The sport can bring people together like nothing else – it creates communities and gives people something to look forward to, a release from the pressures and strains of life. Supporters have missed going to the football, partly the action but mainly the social experience – meeting family and friends, the pre and post-match, the rituals and routines. We will all cherish them that little bit more when we’re back.

Perseverance is in our club’s DNA and our unofficial anthem, Sunshine on Leith, has been used by the local community to keep morale up during the lockdown. That moment – first game back, 10 minutes before kick-off, a full Easter Road singing Sunshine on Leith with all the emotion they can muster – that’s what excites me and keeps me going through this period.

 

What is the one piece of advice you would give to someone wanting to work in the sports industry?

Be ready for when the opportunity arises. I didn’t have a conventional route into sport but did everything I could to build knowledge and experience and put myself in the position to get noticed, so that when the opportunity opened up I was ready to take it.

My background wasn’t exactly textbook and if I was applying for jobs in sport I might not have reached the interview stage based on CV alone, but I created enough of a case to be given a chance and I hope I’ve been able to repay that show of trust in the years since.

 

You can follow Colin Millar and Hibernian FC on social media…

Twitter: @ctwmillar

LinkedIn: Colin Millar

The club are on @HibernianFC on Twitter and all other social channels with plenty to keep you entertained in the current lockdown.

 

Thanks for reading our Industry Insider feature with Operations Manager at Hibernian, Colin Millar!