Welcome to Industry Insider by Behind Sport. Our latest guest is Technical Director, Craig Cope!
Tell us about yourself, what is your current role and what roles have you done previously?
My name is Craig Cope, I’m 27 years old and I am the Technical Director at Solihull Moors FC in the National League.
My whole footballing background prior to SMFC involved working as an analyst. I had started out at Birmingham City in 2012 as an intern where I worked with Joe Carnall, one of the best in the business. That gave me a real passion to work within the analysis sector. Despite having the chance to stay on at BCFC following my internship, I joined Cheltenham Town to become the Lead Analyst at the club. I spent two seasons at Cheltenham and worked with 4 managers and that taught me a lot about the industry.
When I left Cheltenham in 2015, I had a hectic but very enjoyable few years working for 3 clubs in 3 seasons. I initially moved to Notts County, where despite not having the best season it probably taught me the most out of any club I have worked for and provided me with some of my closest friends.
From there I returned to work at Birmingham with Joe as the Opposition Analyst and it started off unbelievably, I was welcomed in by everyone at the club and I absolutely loved going into work every day, I was tested and my knowledge of the game and how to work to an elite standard improved drastically. At the end of that season, I was offered the chance to work at Nottingham Forest as their First Team Analyst, so I moved back up to Nottingham and spent a season there. Then, following a managerial change, I was made redundant. Although I was fully aware of the nature of the sport and I was expecting the outcome, it wasn’t a nice feeling.
Following that position and taking some time out to reflect on my career to date, I decided I wanted to try and venture away from the analysis role and work in player recruitment and a more senior role.
What do you do in your current role?
My role is a fairly unique one at our level, although more and more clubs are employing Technical or Sporting Directors in the lower leagues. It is a role we usually see higher up the league or from other countries. My main responsibility is to look after the medium- and long-term interests of the football club, I act as a buffer between the board and the Manager, but also endorse their relationship. I am also responsible for facilitating the recruitment process at the football club, I work closely with the management staff to plan and identify potential signings. I ensure the lines of communication between the football department and the board are clear and everyone is up to date with proceedings. This is vital, football is an extremely fast paced industry, and sometimes we need to act quickly to secure a signing, move a player out or other non-recruitment matters. If everyone is up to date with the latest information, we can act quicker and with the correct intelligence to make decisions and act. I am also overseeing the implementation of a development squad, something we are hoping to have in place in the very near future.
What does a normal week look like for you?
Prior to lockdown, a normal week would start off with an informal meeting with the management staff to debrief the weekend’s match and update each other on any new information that needs to be spoken about. We then meet a senior group of players, before getting on with the week. My week is mostly conversations and meetings. I am either talking to contacts within the game, agents or our own staff. I will have regular meetings with the board, the management and the technical staff at the club. I also oversee the budgets within the football department, and I am responsible for ensuring everyone is aware of any implications certain changes have on the budgets, from signing and/or releasing a player to purchasing a new piece of equipment.
Away from all the meetings, I do find time to keep all my recruitment databases up to date, watch players on video and produce documents and analyse data relevant to our team, players and league. Typically, in a week I will attend 2/3 games live. On a Saturday, I will either attend our fixture or go and watch a player, I will also watch our players out on loan as and when required. I try to pick up an U23 game on a Monday or a Friday as well as a game on a Tuesday night. We have a good team of scouts working at the club, who are committed and trustworthy so between us we manage to get all relevant games covered.
How did you end up where you are right now? When did you know you wanted to work in sport?
I have always wanted to work in sport, I have always enjoyed watching and being involved with football. I was never good enough to play at any real level, nor would I put in the hours of training required to become a footballer, even at Sunday league level. The reason for that was because I would never miss a live Birmingham City game, I used to travel up and down the country with my Dad and Brother every Saturday and mid-week without fail. Anywhere we went on holiday, I would look up the local club’s fixtures and we would go and watch some live football. I had a real thirst for information growing up, anything to do with football or cricket, I wanted to know.
I started university in 2011 as a natural progression, I didn’t really want to go but knew it was the last year before the course fees went up. That really made my decision for going. I attended the University of Worcester, these 3-years are where I really believed I could work in sport. I took an instant shine to analysis and pestered the interns tutor to get me a placement at a local club, despite my lack of experience. A placement at Shrewsbury Town fell through and I was gutted. But due to my sheer persistence the tutor offered me an interview for a role with Birmingham City’s academy. I didn’t get it. But they offered me the chance to volunteer for a year, I grabbed it and didn’t look back. I quit my part-time job and lived off my student finance, I drove everywhere and anywhere just to be involved. I was around that much that Joe Carnall (Head of Analysis) spotted me and asked if I could help with the first team. I loved it. I would help Joe at a game on the Saturday, home or away and then work with the academy on a Sunday morning. That’s how I got my foot in the door.
How I ended up at Solihull Moors after leaving Nottingham Forest was fairly simple. I knew that if I wanted to step away from analysis and take a recruitment role, I would need to drop down the leagues. I wasn’t afraid of that, I had a good appreciation for lower league football. I had a mutual friend with the soon to be Chairman and they had told me about the club and asked if I would be interested in working there. I initially thought, no! But I put together a presentation on how I would structure the recruitment process for a club in the National League, wanting to achieve league football and sent it to them. Within a day or so they wanted to meet me. I had a meeting with the Chairman and I knew there and then I wanted to be part of this project.
What are you excited about in your industry at the moment?
The most exciting thing I am looking forward to at the minute is safely returning to playing at all levels. It is good to see the Premier League and Championship returning soon, it would be good if we can get some sort of steer of when we can return to play. Something I am really excited about is the improvement of sports data and the constant evolution of ways in which we can help minimise risk in our decision making with the information we have available. We aren’t as well covered as club’s higher up the leagues with objective data and we have to adapt as a club to ensure we are getting the correct information. However, there is becoming a real demand for the information becoming available at our level and below as we continue to see players from non-league kick on and have excellent careers up the leagues.
What is the one piece of advice you would give to someone wanting to work in the sports industry?
Work hard and be passionate. I am assuming we all want to get into sport for a similar reason, there was a love for our favourite sports as children and we all want to be a part of it. It is a unique and fiercely competitive industry, so you need to give it everything you have got. Getting experience, regardless of the level, is critical to achieving employment. University degrees can open a door but to stand out from the thousands of graduates you will need to have some level of experience. I was lucky to have the chance to volunteer at Birmingham during my 2nd year of University but there are so many opportunities to go out and help out somewhere.
How to follow Craig Cope on social media…
I don’t really post too much on social media, but I am on Twitter @Craig_Cope.
Thanks for reading our Industry Insider feature with the Technical Director of Solihull Moors, Craig Cope!