What does the captain of Spartans Football Club have to do with Edward Scissorhands or fighting crime? Ask Dan Gerrard:
A couple of seasons ago Dan Gerrard was managing two of Scotland’s most prolific theatres, overseeing productions from Edward Scissorhands to The Singing Kettle. These days, the box office has been replaced by turnstiles and prima donnas on the football pitch. His auditorium is Ainslie Park, home of Spartans FC, and his audience a band of loyal fans who consider their team Edinburgh’s third football force.
The macho reputation of the game is perhaps something that sits uneasily with a job in the arts. Gerrard was used to these two worlds colliding in his life – for a while he was captain of Spartans whilst also managing the Festival and Kings theatres in Edinburgh. If he was ever goaded by his teammates he explains he had a foolproof plan to keep the jokers at bay: “A few guys gave me stick. A lot of the guys had kids and wanted tickets for shows like the Singing Kettle, and I was usually able to sort them out so I didn’t get too much stick.”
His new day job is working as community football coach in the area, as well as leading the senior team out on a Saturday. Dan Gerrard lives and breathes Spartans FC, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Waiting in the reception area of the Spartans community football academy, the first impression of this thriving community is defined by the playful childlike voices emanating from upstairs. On entering the canteen we are greeted by a handful of local children. In the corner is Gerrard himself, entertaining them with a game of pool. We are told to wait as he completes his match. The wall is filled with images of Spartans past and present: a real sense of legacy radiates from the four walls. Before we are overcome with nostalgia, however, our super relaxed interviewee invites us downstairs to an empty dressing room in the heart of the academy.
Gerrard explains why he took up the captaincy: “I took over from Stuart Hurley from Edinburgh University when he left. I’ve filled in on his absence since he’s been out due to injury”. He pauses and proudly states: “It’s always a privilege to take the team out”.
Dan has been at Spartans since he graduated from Edinburgh University, part of a tradition which has been in place since 1951. However, Dan states that this is changing now that the club have progressed to a more advanced plane: “It had quite often been the case that once players graduated from Edinburgh University they went to play for Spartans. There’s a lot of history involved with the founders of Spartans being at Edinburgh University and it originated as a club for graduates. That’s not strictly the case anymore”.
In addition to his time on the pitch he also works as a Spartans community football coach, helping children take interest in the game from as early as the age of three. The aptly named “Play like Gerrard” course is testament to the work he has done to promote the sport he loves. “There is a football club perspective but also the community football academy, in terms of providing the local kids and community with opportunities to further themselves”, he says. “They can come, be safe and play sport while enjoying themselves”.
He is also keen to reveal how the academy has helped in a way which local residents may not have expected: “You can speak to the police about how the crime rate has plummeted since we’ve been open. The kids have just got somewhere to go rather than out on the street bashing the ball off a shop window”.
Dan also feels that similar projects aimed at enhancing grassroots football should be established on a wider scale throughout Scotland. He is realistic to the plight of many involved in education who are falsely targeted for the failings of our international team: “I still think we can do a lot more. I think it’s not enough of a habit for kids to be involved in sport and I would like to see that in schools. We go to some of the schools and it’s hard for the teachers, trying to cram in everything they have to into their curriculum. I think it’s vitally important that kids have access to sport”.
Speaking about the need for grassroots football, I begin to wonder how Dan himself was introduced to the game as a youngster. He recalls that his biggest influence in football was his primary school janitor who helped him develop a deep passion for the game: “I think it was in terms of harnessing our initial interest just feeding on his enthusiasm and the fact that he was able to generate so much interest from a group of wee boys, even though it would be bitterly cold outside, playing with a Mitre mould-master football. It was just something to look forward to every Saturday morning. The bug just spread from there”.
As we reminisce over hard footballs, cold Saturday mornings and muddy pitches, the conversation takes on a lighter tone. I am naturally curious to know which of the players is considered the biggest dressing room joker. Dan replies without a moment’s hesitation: “Dean Hoskins, not because he means to be but because it’s a bit of a running joke. Sometimes, his punctuality (not that mine is fantastic) takes it to a new level, sometimes forgetting to turn up at all for various things”.
He also recalls that some of the “adventurous” Spartan banter tends to happen most frequently during away games: “We’ve had some interesting bus journeys back down from the Highlands after some good results up there as well so they’ve been very memorable”.
Lastly I asked Dan something every football fan wants to know – which current footballer would he love to play alongside in defence? He responds with an answer which indicates he has spent much time preparing it: “I think that would be Ricardo Carvalho”, he sniggers. “The no-nonsense approach, he could do all the dirty work for me while I ran about behind him at the back”. Certainly, it would appear Dan Gerrard’s idealisms are not too dissimilar from the ethos of his Spartan namesakes.
To find out more about Spartans Football Club, got to: https://impulse2010.wordpress.com/2010/03/03/spartansclub-together
Words by Christopher Hall
Photography by Agnieszka Gryczkowska