The next in the Hot Seat for our ‘Why I love Larne Football Club’ feature is Chairman, Gareth Clements.
Here he takes the opportunity to tell us about his background of growing up following the club, his journey to the boardroom at the club and aspirations for the future.
What’s your name and what is your role at Larne Football Club?
My name is Gareth Clements and I am very proud to hold the post of Chairman at the club.
What do you do within your role on a daily basis at the club?
My main role really is as the figurehead of the club, helping lead and deliver upon the vision we have, to build a successful, sustainable football club, whilst putting it at the hub of the Larne community. Whether it be helping change mindsets around the club, raising levels of professionalism in the boardroom, raising our profile in both Irish football circles and beyond, improving our engagement with the townsfolk and supporters or building relations in the business community, I am heavily involved.
What are the plans for the year ahead at Larne FC?
Until our enforced sabbatical we had been going along nicely in our first season back in the Premiership. All we can do at this time however, is plan to the best of our ability, focus and hope we get back to finish 2020 off with a flourish. If not, we are forward planning for next season in the hope that we can hit the ground running.
I don’t really comment on the playing side of things, that is very much the remit of Tiernan. For me however, the buzz words are ‘progress’ and ‘moving forward’, both on and off the pitch.
On the pitch, we have made the ‘top six’ split in the Danske Bank Premiership, we want to stay there and ultimately finish as high up the table as we can; the plan then will be to better that in the 2020/21 season.
Off the pitch we want to continue to develop our stadium to improve the overall match day experience for the fans, we want to increase our levels of engagement with the fans, through our Supporter Liaison Officers, continue to grow relations in the business community, promote and support the Brighter Futures charity in its work and really importantly we have a huge focus on investing and growing Larne Youth as the future of our club. Alongside Gary Haveron, we are four months down the line into a ‘root and branch’ analysis of what we need to do, to take the youth forward. The blueprint looks good but we still have a little work to do to refine it. We have created a monster, now we have to manage it and future proof it.
Ultimately, we don’t go backwards, that is the plan…
How did you get involved with Larne Football Club?
My first game at Inver Park was in 1979/80 to watch Larne against Cliftonville, after that I was hooked. I went to most games at home during the early 80’s and from about 1984 to 1991 I rarely missed a game, home and away, Scotland, Donegal, you name it I was there.
During this time, I was very active in the Larne Football Supporters Club, helping with the matchday programme ‘Inverview’ and being on the committee since I was 14.
My career as a chef took me away from Larne in 1991 but I followed on from afar, through my brother Paul and having the Larne Times on order whether I was working in Portrush, Groomsport or Lisburn I was watching on.
With the nature of my job and the time constraints it put upon me, my involvement in football was minimal from then until a change of career in 2006 when at this point I got involved with my son’s club, Hillsborough Boys JFC as a coach, volunteer and committee member.
In 2010 Pete Batey, the former Glentoran captain who was a neighbour of mine in Dromore, was appointed assistant manager at The Oval under Scott Young. Knowing my catering background, Scott and Pete approached me and asked would I get involved with them, helping to prepare the players more professionally on match days etc, in terms of pre-match meals/hydration etc. I did this under Scott Young, Roy Coyle, Eddie Patterson, Alan Kernaghan and Gary Haveron for seven seasons, until 2017 when I got the call from Kenny to come home.
The rest as they say is history, with the next more exciting chapters still to be written.
Do you have another job outside of Larne FC? If so, what are they and what do they involve?
Yes, I am National Head of Sales with Lynas Foodservice based in Coleraine. We are a business who turned over £156m last year. I have four Regional Managers in Belfast, Derry/Londonderry, Dublin and Galway who report into me; with a team of forty-five working under them, to whom I’m also accountable for.
I divide my time between the offices in Coleraine and Lusk, whilst supporting the team on the road in all of the regions. It is a highly pressurised environment, as is any target driven sales role. It is one however I embrace, enjoy and thrive on.
My forte is building teams, nurturing them and making them successful, touch wood my methods have worked over the last 14 years. My greatest challenge is yet to come however, as I try to help the business steer its way out of the uncharted territory that is Covid-19.
Do you find it easy to manage your other commitments along with your role at club, how do you do it?
It has its challenges, I’ll not hide that but you’re either all in or all out, there is no half way house. There is many a sacrifice that has been made, but the pride and enjoyment I get out of seeing this journey continue, far outweighs any negatives it may bring.
We have some great staff, volunteers, supporters and board members, who work tirelessly to help keep moving the club forward. They are played to their personal strengths; they know their roles and they work hard to carry them out.
Niall Curneen is my conduit to this, his appointment as General Manager to follow Gavin Clements was vital to us continuing to drive our plans through fluidly. I talk to Niall more than I talk to my wife, first thing in the morning, last thing at night and multiple times throughout the day, dependant on what we are working on. He knows what I want, I know what I get from him, we trust each other implicitly, as there is no agenda, other than success for our club, our town and our people. We’re tight as a drum and without him my role would be an awful lot harder to combine with the day job.
It would be remiss of me not to mention my family, Karen, Rebekah, Zak, Ellie and granddaughter Eva, it is they who suffer most. Husband, Daddy, Granda is only available on a Sunday, period.
I made this clear however at the outset before taking the role on. Karen asked me, could we lose the house or anything crazy financially, when we talked it through and I said no, it was an investment of time, passion, love and hard work, to that she said the family would back me and they have.
And finally, why do you love the club and what motivates you to carry out your role at Larne Football Club?
I’ve loved the club and the people around it since I was eight years old, I’m now forty-eight, so bringing pride and success to the club I supported as a boy and to the town that raised me is right up there.
From a purely professional point of view, I want to deliver upon the blueprint, vision, dreams and aspirations that Kenny Bruce laid out to me at our first meeting about the project in 2017.
Kenny brought me back home after 26 years away, he gave me an opportunity to lead something special and ‘round the circle’ to coin a phrase, I had unfinished business at the club as I hadn’t fulfilled the dreams I had whilst growing up, or the potential I knew I had. I will be eternally grateful for that opportunity and I will do all I can to help Kenny ensure Larne Football Club realizes its full potential.
Personally, I want to make my family proud. I would like my father and brother to be looking down on me and saying yeah, ‘the boy done good’. I want to bring more big nights to Inver Park, I want European football, I want silverware, Leagues and Irish Cups may seem like a pipedream but in reality, they’re not; if you can dream it you can do it.
Finally, I want the club to continue to grow, I want to see old generations continue to come back and a new young generation of Larne fans built. I want to help build a youth set up we can be proud of with facilities to match. Ultimately, I want to keep people smiling. The joy that seeing smiling faces on a Saturday afternoon gives me is priceless, it’s all the payback I need for what really is a labour of love.