As we all continue to fight our way through the global issues regarding the Coronavirus, we spoke with Club Secretary, Taymour Roushdi to get his thoughts on the Pandemic whilst discussing his arrival at the club and a 'crazy' first year at Oakwell.
Tell us about your career to date. A bit about yourself, where you are from and how you got into the industry.
I was born and raised in England to Egyptian and Lebanese parents. I moved to France aged 9 and then chose to attend University in the United States at the University of Washington in Seattle. As a first-year student I wanted to get involved with the Men’s Football team as sports at universities in the U.S. is well funded and a pathway to the professional game unlike here in England. I reached out to the Head Coach, Jamie Clark (Son of Aberdeen goalkeeper legend Bobby Clark) to see if I could volunteer in any capacity. He was reluctant at first as they already had another student helping at the time but I insisted so he let me come out to training twice a week and I was just picking up cones and balls as well as filming a few sessions. Clark later told me that at the time he had hoped I would get bored and just stop coming. Instead with time as I kept showing up, I was getting more and more responsibility. I took over the kit room and managed all the kit and was also organising all the team meals and helping with logistics for home and away fixtures. By the time I graduated I realised working in the football operations department of a football club was the career path for me and I never looked back.
How did you end up at Oakwell last summer?
After graduating from the University of Washington my student visa was due to expire so I started searching for jobs in football in the UK. However, a week before I was due to leave, I got a phone call from the then-General Manager of Real Salt Lake and the former Assistant Coach at Washington men’s soccer, Craig Waibel, who I had worked with during my time at University. He invited me to apply for a ‘Team Administrator’ position within the organisation. I got the job and promptly changed my plans and moved to Salt Lake City.
A year into my time at Real Salt Lake the club hired Dane Murphy as a scout and then promoted him to Technical Director. I worked closely with Dane and we developed a strong working relationship. Ultimately, my dream was to one day move back to the UK and work in professional football here. When the Club Secretary role became vacant, Dane reached out to me to see if I would be interested and I was very grateful to be given the opportunity to get my foot in the door at a professional club in England and work alongside someone I know well and have worked well with previously. It was too good of an opportunity to turn down and I am so happy to be here.
What has been different in terms of working in English football compared to the States?
For me the most glaring difference is the meaningfulness and importance of football clubs within each community. Especially in towns like Barnsley, football means everything to its constituents and I find that to be very special. The mood of the town can be measured based on the performance of the team whereas in the U.S. I find that sport is much more of a social gathering and the result, whilst still important does not hold the same importance to the city or town as it does here. Quite simply put, football is a religion here and I love it because you feel it around you everyday and it adds an extra incentive to give 100% in everything we do knowing how much it means to the town around us.
From a football operations standpoint, there are also big differences. First and foremost, the MLS own all the player contracts and the league is operated under a strict salary cap. Here of course there is no salary cap. From a logistical standpoint, the biggest difference is the travel. Given the size of the U.S. every away match is a minimum three-day trip. Fly out the day before, play the match on day two and then travel home on day three. There are so many more elements that go into an away match in the MLS because of the travel. That is where I think I have been able to introduce my expertise and improve the experience for our players.
Overall, I would say that I am learning so much from the people I work with every day because as I mentioned previously, there are so many differences to how clubs operate. A lot of the traditions and English sensibilities are magical and very special. I have been so grateful to my former Assistant Club Secretary, Michael Beech, who welcomed me and really made sure I could hit the ground running. We made changes together to the logistical operation of the first team that were all in keeping with the positive traditions that make football in our country so special.
Both yourself and Dane couldn’t have asked for a more crazy period to start your careers at Barnsley. Tell us a little about how the season has been for you.
Rollercoaster is the term I would use to describe this season. I arrived the day before the team departed to Germany for pre-season and the mood was positive. We had good performances in the friendles and then opened the campaign with a brilliant victory at home to Fulham. At 5pm on Saturday August 3rd we were on top of the world. Then came the 18-match winless run which was the first time I had ever been part of a team at any level to go through that sort of run. Mentally, that is very taxing and you start to wonder if the run will ever end. Within that period the club parted ways with the former Head Coach and the discontent within the fanbase was a new experience for me.
We then hired a new coaching team and getting them bedded in and trying to help them settle was a big part of my job. The FA charge for discrimination and the January transfer window came at the same time whilst I also lost my Assistant Club Secretary in early January. The Coronavirus on top of that just adds to list of obstacles we have had to face. However, through it all I have done my best to remain positive and keep the spirits high around me. I am a big believer in the saying ‘positivity breeds success.’ I think if you ask the people that work around me, they will all say I almost always have a smile on my face and try to bring positivity to the work environment. All these obstacles and challenges are a great learning experience for both Dane and myself. This is how we will get better and improve. I always want to be better and help those around me to get better. If we come together as a team and work together as a team through the tough times and the failures we will appreciate the future successes so much more.
How has this pandemic affected you personally. You’re a big family man, you love your friends across the globe, it must be tough to navigate through, as it is for us all I suppose.
It has definitely been a challenge but that must be true for everyone, even those who have their entire family and friend group within a few miles of them. We all love our families and friends and want to spend as much time with them as possible and I think the hardest part about this pandemic is resisting the urge to do exactly that. The beauty of the 21st century though is we have the technology to talk and even see one another virtually. We do a big Zoom conference call every Saturday evening with my whole step-family which I look forward to every week. That includes family on both the East and West Coast of the United States, the UK and Lebanon. We time it right so that it is at an acceptable hour for all of those time zones and although we are all talking over each other and having a laugh just being able to see everyone’s face is amazing. I am so thankful that all of my friends and family are safe and healthy at this time and if this Pandemic has taught me anything it is that I need to make the most of our time with all our family and friends. So next time I get to see them all I will be giving them big hugs to make up for lost time!
Tell us how you’re maintaining your day-to-day working, throughout this lockdown and can you give us your thoughts on the return of football?
It is certainly different working from home. I am not someone who typically enjoys working from home. I would rather stay in the office till very late and get my work done than go home and continue working from home. So that has been an adjustment. I am fortunate to have access to all of my files on my laptop, so I am able to keep working as normal and am on top of my emails throughout the day. I do believe football will return, I am just unsure as to when that will happen and under what circumstances. There are very difficult decisions to make but the longer it drags on the more uncertainty is being created which I believe for a lot of clubs could be detrimental. Unfortunately, every way you look at it is ugly but I do hope we are able to get beyond this virus sooner rather than later so we can have our beloved football back.
Do you stay in contact with the players and staff, first team and office – how are spirits right now?
Absolutely. Again, the beauty of modern technology has really helped. We have a team group chat with the players in which we relay messages and that has recently seen a lot of challenge videos being shared amongst the players and staff. Separately we have set up a group chat with the office staff which I think has been great. It is an open line of communication and allows us to stay in touch as a group. There is some great banter in both groups and that in my opinion has kept spirits high. We spend so much time with each other usually that we have become an office family and it is so heart-warming to see everyone wanting to help one another where possible. We are reaching out to each other individually to check in on each other. Several colleagues have messaged me personally to make sure I am ok as I live alone. It is one of the things that makes this club so special in my opinion. We are a very family-oriented club and that transcends to all parts of the club.
In a non-work capacity, how are you occupying yourself at the moment? Are you home alone for example?
I spent the first seven days alone at home in an effort to completely isolate and make sure I had no symptoms. After the seven days I drove down to London to be with my aunt, cousin and her husband who live right next door to each other. They had also been in self-isolation for two weeks, so we have all been quarantining together which I have been so grateful for. I am okay being on my own, but it is such a blessing for me to be able to be with them and have some human interaction. My cousin is an amazing cook and makes dinner for us every night. My aunt and I are seemingly the only people in Britain who hadn’t watched ‘The Crown’ so we have been binging that as well. I was inspired to bake a Nutella banana bread last weekend which was delicious so I will have to make that and bring it in once we are all back in the office!
How has this pandemic affected you on a personal level?
The most difficult part for me has been staying away from my friends. I love to spend time with friends in any capacity and not being able to do that has been tough. The Pandemic has also made me so grateful for the countless people that are risking their health every single day in order to help the greater population get through this. Of course, all of the health workers around the world are the first people that come to mind but then I think about all the people in supermarkets and delivery drivers that are risking their lives to ensure that we still have the basic necessities to survive. Each of them heroes in their own right.
And finally, do you miss it? The games, the work, the crazy hours, your colleagues?
I miss it more than anything in the world right now. I love my job and love the people I work with. I consider myself so lucky to do something I love and I am passionate about. Working six or seven days a week and the crazy hours is never a problem for me because I am enjoying what I am doing. I miss the atmosphere at Oakwell on a Saturday and the passion of the fans in the ground. It is so special to be a part of. I miss my colleagues tremendously. I miss Beth and Lee teaching me Barnsley lingo, the comms team making fun of me for my American twang, Karen and Ian arguing over who is in Sage and Ian’s biscuit supply.
I think what this lockdown has taught me is that it is okay to love the everyday normal. I cannot wait for the everyday normal to be back.