Future Trends, Sport Business | Jun 8, 2021
A window into the working worlds of people from across the sports industry now that nothing is as it was.

Holly Murdoch is General Manger of St George’s Park, the FA’s National Football Centre. She lives in Sutton Coldfield with her husband and two young children.

– How are you feeling now on a scale of 1-10?

Today, I feel really good. A nine.

– Why?

My team and I have spent the last two years planning for the Euros and delivering the England Team’s basecamp for the tournament and the players started arriving this morning. We also welcome a large selection of media on site today who will be housed in our custom-built Media Centre. The sun is shining in Burton, which doesn’t happen that often! And there’s a really nice buzz around the place, particularly after the last 18 months of lockdowns and being generally pretty quiet on site. It’s a really exciting time for St. George’s Park over the coming weeks.

– Who was the last person you spoke to before me?

Our Comms Director, Louisa Fyans, at the Media Centre. We were just running through everything ahead of the player press conference this afternoon. It looks absolutely fantastic. Following what the team did to engage with media in Russia at the 2018 World Cup, there’ll be lots of exciting stuff for the players and the media to get involved in during the tournament.

– Are you working from home or the office? If both, what’s the split like?

Over the last 12 months, both home and office. I think I’ve been really privileged in having the best of both worlds. Running a venue means we were never going to be a fully remote working team. My team has been split, with there always being an on-site presence. There’s 15 grounds staff at St. George’s Park, who’ve had to come in every single day, even during the national lockdowns, plus facilities management teams. Then we also have sales and marketing, finance, HR and other departments that were able to work effectively from home.

I think having the split has really worked; being able to interact with members physically, which so many people have missed, and being able to get out of the house. But also, I’ve seen the benefit of working from home, that extra time you get in your day that you may use travelling and the peace and quiet you can use to really get your head down and get on with things. My working from home days are reducing, particularly given the next few weeks are going to be extremely busy here on site, but I’m looking forward to getting the team back into SGP.

– How have things changed since Covid? How has your employer adapted?

We’ve had to flex to follow government guidance. From shutting everything down to reopening in quite short periods of time and just reacting constantly to the guidance we are given. We were lucky enough that our core customers – elite sports teams and players – were able to restart quite swiftly. After the first national lockdown, we started to take elite football teams back at St. George’s Park, so we only had a few months that we were completely lost. And then we’ve had a period of opening and closing different aspects of our business depending on what the guidance was.

So, with regards to what has changed? Our whole business model has had to adapt and flex over the last 12 months, and we’ll continue to adapt because some of our customer groups’ behaviours will amend and change as a consequence of the pandemic.

With regards to The FA, they have been superb throughout. Great at communicating with the workforce, which is not always easy in a big, multifaceted organisation covering the many different roles we play in administering the game. Being able to have a little bit of autonomy on how we did things at St. George’s Park has been fantastic. But we are in constant dialogue with the wider group as to how we are managing the situation. I think The FA have been hugely accommodating to all its employees and put employee welfare and wellbeing at the heart of every decisions.

– Where do you work? What’s the environment like?

We’re really privileged at SGP to be set in 330 acres of countryside, in modern buildings and surrounded by huge amounts of outdoor space. It’s been really easy to adapt with social distancing with the facility that we’ve got having a spacious office building and the vast outdoor facilities to be able to work within.

– Who do you share your ‘home office’ with? 

I’ve been lucky as my husband’s a teacher. He has been in work, rather than at home for the most part. I think it would have been really challenging to have all been at home at the same time with our two young children. We’ve always kept our work and home lives separate, but that’s almost impossible if you are in the same space at the same time.

Given the age of our children, for the last 12 months, they’ve been back at school and nursery, which they’re genuinely much happier doing, being with their friends. And my husband’s been at work, so I’ve had the privilege of having a very quiet space to myself. I know that it’s not the case for everyone so I’m very fortunate in that regard.

– Who are you looking out for at the moment?

The pandemic has made me acutely aware of looking out for my team. Not physically being in an office with people every day, you can find it hard to judge how people are feeling. I have consciously tried to check in with each of my direct reports on a daily basis over the last 12 months. I often just start a conversation that is deliberately not work related to ensure people with more challenging situation are feeling ok and coping with everything that is happening.

– How have you changed as a manager? As a person?

As a manager, I’ve definitely developed a better sense of empathy and an appreciation that you don’t really know what’s going on in everyone’s lives, particularly when you’re not in each other’s pockets every day and seeing people physically. So, just making sure that you’re very conscious of that. The last 12-18 months, have been stressful for many people on many different levels. I definitely make it more of a priority to ensure I’m checking in with the people around me.

We definitely haven’t had it as hard as some businesses, and I definitely haven’t had it as hard as some people. But adversity helps you build resilience. And I really do think that I have built up a huge amount of resilience over the last 12 months and that can only help in terms of dealing with other challenges ahead.

– How would you describe your work/life balance?

My husband and I try to be really disciplined. We always try to have a small amount of time with the children before they go to bed in the evenings. And we always try and leave our weekends free of work so it’s pure family time. We may not see each other too much in the week, but we try and protect the Saturdays and Sundays for each other and for the children.

– What does your daily routine look like? How do you run your job and your life?

On a good day the children would sleep until at least half past five, six o’clock. We’re early risers in our household. I normally do the children’s drop off at school and before arriving into SGP for 8.30am. I always try and make sure that I’m home by 6pm to be able to spend a little bit of time with the children before bed. If I need to work, then it will be after the children have gone to bed, but trying to separate my work and home life is really important, finding a balance that works for us.

– Early mornings or late nights?

Early morning.

– How do you focus? 

Without distraction. If I need to quietly do some work, I’ll turn my emails off, put my phone on silent.

– How do you cope with stress?

I feel like I’m quite a resilient individual. So I try and keep extremely calm, particularly running a venue where any manner of things could go wrong at any minute. Being at the helm, I want the team to be calm if there were things concerning them. One of my coping mechanisms is trying to provide perspective: that actually there were very few things that are truly disastrous.

– How do you unwind?

I love spending time with my husband and the kids. We’ve just had a week on the beach in West Wales, which was lovely. It was great to forget about the stresses of everyday life. Being with the family is really important and being very present when we get that time together.

– Who do you consider your mentor to be?

I think I’m really lucky that I’ve worked with some amazing people throughout my career. David Sheepshanks was the Chairman of St. George’s Park when I first joined the team and I still speak to him regularly and he continues to give me great advice. I also speak to Julie Harrington, the current CEO of British Horseracing Authority. She is someone I can always look to for advice, support or guidance. There are also a huge amount of people within our own organisation that have great experience and I converse with on a regular basis on all manner of topics.

– If we started these 18 months again, what one thing would you change?

I’ve talked about how I manage my work life balance, but haven’t always been hugely successful at it! Particularly in the first throes of the pandemic, when there was so much unknown. I think I would try and be a little bit more disciplined with that. I suppose another thing that I’d probably look to change, and something I’ve definitely learned over the last 12 months, is the mantra of controlling the controllables.

– What one thing will you take with you into the ‘new normal’?

I think one thing to take forward is the flexibility within the team for the way we work and operate. Everyone has put their heart and soul into managing the venue in the last 18 months and it’s been great to see people take personal responsibility and immense pride in what they do. We’ve built a huge amount of trust as a management team and we want to drive that forwards knowing that it doesn’t matter if we’re not all in the office every day, people are moving things forward and taking things on. So I’m definitely continuing a more agile approach, both to mental and physical challenges in the workplace.

– Who are you speaking to next?

Andy Gray, our Head of Grounds and Estates. I’m going to have a walk around the site with him and take a look at the pitches prior to the first team training session. His team have done an incredible job in preparation for base camp and it’s great to see it up close.




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