WAISTCOATS AND POTS OF GOLD: GRIFF TALKS TO ENGLAND COMMS BOSS
For those who weren’t previously aware, there’s an England national team connection at Solihull Moors.
England's men’s team’s Senior Communications Manager is Andy Walker, one of our own from a long way back. Our roving correspondent, his playmate Griff, managed to convince Andy to spend some time talking about his role with the FA, Solihull Moors, and football more widely. Andy sometimes used to be seen hanging around outside the men’s toilets with the Number 2 Crew, but with that area of the ground having disappeared, you’ll just have to look out for ‘that well-groomed guy who sits next to Gareth Southgate’!
Andy on England duty (A Walker/Twitter)
Andy, you’re a familiar face down the Moors but for those who don’t know you, could you give us a quick introduction to yourself and your connection to The Moors?
Thanks for having me. I'm a born and bred Silhillian who currently works as the senior communications manager (in other words, press officer) for the England men's football team. My connection with club started back in 2003 when I had a stint as Solihull Borough's programme editor. That opportunity led to me landing a job as sports editor at the Solihull News & Times which by its nature saw me regularly follow the trials and tribulations of both 'The Boro' and Moor Green for the weekly titles (also, my best mates are Mark and Peter Faulds who played for each club respectively during this period so I had a connection in both camps). I was the first journalist to break the news of the merger in 2007 so have firmly been a Solihull Moors fan since day one. My career after the Solihull News & Times (three years working for the Birmingham Post, Mail and Sunday Mercury before four and a half years as head of media & communications at Birmingham City F.C) meant I couldn't really attend the club's matches as often as I would have liked. However, since joining The FA in 2014 and no longer having to work weekends outside international windows, I was able to show my face more often and even became the club's media and communications consultant on a voluntary basis from 2015 to 2017.
(ed – A search of M00R5’s old emails actually turns up Andy’s input as a consultant for the Moors, in this case offering a little advice towards the setup of the live match commentary that would eventually evolve into Switch Radio’s coverage of every game.)
How’s life been at the FA since the pandemic?
Like all walks of life, it's been an incredibly challenging time for us all. We were gearing up for an exciting summer with UEFA Euro 2020 so to have such a huge project taken away – albeit temporarily – was a huge shock to the system for us all. However, we didn't feel sorry for ourselves for too long and instead started focusing our efforts on campaigns that could make a difference during a period of uncertainty. Our 'Football's Staying Home' campaign helped reiterate important Government advice in a fun and engaging way using current and former England men's and women's players. And more recently, we've rolled out our Lionhearts initiative where we'll be naming a 23-strong squad of real heroes who have gone above and beyond during the COVID-19 pandemic.
We’ve already seen the pandemic affect football in so many ways, in your opinion how do you see the future of the game going forward?
There is no doubt that it's an uncertain time for us all and recent updates from the Government has only added to that anxiety. Sadly, it looks as though a financial black cloud will continue to hover over many clubs until fans are allowed to return and nobody can predict what is around the corner. However, we should never look beyond the unique strength in depth this nation has in terms of love and dedication for football clubs throughout the entire pyramid and that won't diminish - if anything it has only been strengthened during the pandemic.
Like many of us, you’ve followed the Moors since the start. How would you describe the transformation of the club?
I think only in the last 12 months has the reality of that dramatic transformation hit home to me. The ground is unrecognisable and the professional set-up throughout is clearly evident, but I still find it strange to hear the words 'Solihull Moors' and 'EFL' uttered in the same sentence. It only seems like five minutes ago that we were winning the National League North title and hoping to just hold our own in the top flight of non-league football. What I'm most pleased about is that within the last three years, the club has finally started to embrace its own identity and with that develop a following that no longer just see The Moors as a second club behind Blues or Villa. We are Solihull's club. For the first five or six years following the merger, I don't think anybody really knew what the club was about and, as a result, we could have easily gone out of existence with no clear direction. Now, The Moors are recognisable (and no longer regularly referenced as Solihull Motors!), on stable footing and only looking upwards.
What do you think of our chances this year?
I think we will have as good a chance as anybody in this league to get promoted. From what I've monitored from afar during this extended pre-season, the club has genuinely left no stone unturned to ensure they are as well prepared for not only the season ahead but what could be in store beyond promotion. I honestly think promotion would have come too soon for the club had it been achieved in the last two seasons. However, I now think we're not only ready to mount another promotion push but we're also ready to take our place in the EFL.
Will we be seeing you at many games this year or does work take over?
I certainly hope so – but it's not just planning for a postponed Euros that is going to keep me away more than I'd ideally like, the arrival of a new baby brother or sister for our three-year-old daughter at the end of this year is also going to limit the availability of those day passes.
I have a fond recollection of the both of us celebrating a Jimmy Armson equaliser at North Ferriby years ago whilst amongst the Ferriby fans! What’s your favourite away ground and why?
My favourite away ground of them all is Fulham's Craven Cottage given its unique look, feel and location on the bank of the River Thames, so hopefully it's not too long before Solihull Moors are enjoying away games in that part of London. In terms of away grounds in Moors' league currently, I strangely have a soft spot for Bromley. They've got a cracking club house and a trip there always allows for a bit of a London adventure given its location. I'm a self-confessed ground hopping geek (currently on 187 as per my footballgroundmap.com profile) so chalking up new away days is always one of the most enjoyable aspects of following The Moors.
If you could go back in time and relieve one moment of Moors history what would it be?
It may sound strange, but I think I'd relieve the Emirates FA Cup second round home tie against Blackpool in 2018. The atmosphere that night was unreal, and I genuinely think the Tangerines were there for the taking. I'd want to relieve that moment in the hope that we'd sneak that deserved winner – and finally earn a place alongside the Premier League big boys in the third round.
The Birmingham Mail once described you as ‘that well-groomed guy who sits next to Gareth Southgate’… is it true you both share a wardrobe full of waistcoats? Who, in your opinion, is the most groomed England player?
Ha – it is true that we share waistcoats as we were all given the same through The FA's commercial partnership with M&S… although not quite a wardrobe full and I don't think I pulled it off in quite the same way as the main man. In terms of 'most groomed' as a man hurtling towards my 40s and working with arguably the youngest England team of all time, I genuinely no longer know what qualifies as good or bad fashion sense anymore!
And who’s the worst?
Pete Faulds or Jamey Osborne?
Sorry Pete but I'd have to go for Jamey – how that lad has not had a more prolonged spell playing in the EFL is beyond me.
Should music be played after a team scores a goal at home?
Personally, no, as I just don't think it quite fits with British sporting culture. However, I can see the value of goal music and why some clubs would explore it given the impact it has in American sport.
Brown sauce or red sauce?
Brown, all day long.
And finally, you must have loads of stories from the England team, can you give us an exclusive?!!
Certainly not – it's my job to try to keep those closed off, ha ha!