Debbi McCulloch

Debbi rose up from groundsman to Business and Operations Manager at Spartans Academy.

BSc (Hons) Sports Coaching and Development, 2002

Tell us more about your job and what it involves?

I’ve been with Spartans Football Academy, a social enterprise for 10 years.

Our job is about making an impact on our local community in north Edinburgh and on young people’s lives and to do that we have to run a business.

My day-to-day job is very much about running operations and running the business side of the facility, ensuring we’re generating as much income as we can to invest in our social impact programme.

What was the road like from your degree to where you are now?

I was actually on the dole for several months after I graduated, but fortunately Dundee Utd gave me an opportunity. I worked part time as ground staff at Tannadice and part time as a community coach. So from 8 o’clock to 2 o’clock I would do grounds work, and then after that I would do coaching.  

That was my passion, but I understood that getting a full-time coaching job would be difficult and I didn’t have much experience at the time. I’m very grateful to Dundee Utd for that opportunity.

I ended up getting a move to Ross County, and I was there for 5 years working in the biggest community coaching programme in the whole of Scotland, doing lots of travelling, meeting different people and working in schools.

In the end, I wanted to move closer to my family - I’m originally from Glasgow – and I was fortunate enough to get offered a post at Spartans. I accepted it, and I’ve not looked back since.

My course was great and Abertay was a brilliant university to learn at. It was a challenge I thoroughly enjoyed.
Debbi McCulloch | Spartans Academy | Business and Operations Manager

How did it feel to land the job?

Brilliant. We do so many unique things to help the community and our social conscience here is so strong. I love the way it’s set up and I love the people I work with here.

Poverty and deprivation is a real concern in this country and unfortunately a lot of people turn a blind eye to it.

Recently, a local police officer told me they’re getting a lot of house break-ins in the area where people aren’t stealing Playstations and TVs – they’re stealing food.

That’s the seriousness we face. North Edinburgh is one of the most deprived areas in the city and Spartans has always focussed on providing opportunities to young people.

That can range from providing them with the chance to play football in a safe environment, to providing them with a volunteering opportunity that could turn into the chance for a paid job.

We provide pathways, a journey and a memory. That’s what we’re all about.

You were head coach of the Spartans Women’s team, what was that like?

I was fortunate enough to have a good friend in Shelley Kerr, who was manager at the time and is now in charge of the Scotland women’s team.

I became her assistant, and when she left I took over as manager.

The game here has grown massively and its very focused on developing players and youth players.

If I’m honest, it can be difficult. If you’re successful, teams from down south can come in and take your players, meaning all of a sudden you’re back to square one.

It’s hard, but I think we still have to take responsibility for that, as we have to provide a better product. There has been more investment recently and that’s great, but we still have a long way to go to compete with the likes of the super league clubs in England.

How important was your time at Abertay in helping prepare you for what you do now?

I left in sixth year of school without particularly good grades. I wasn’t academically strong and I went to do an HND in Nautical Studies at Glasgow College for two years. That got me into university.

I wanted to push myself and Abertay gave me the opportunity to do that. It was a fantastic two years. The course was very new and I’m sure it’ll have developed a lot since I did it, but it was great and it was a brilliant university to learn at. It was a challenge I thoroughly enjoyed.

Do you have any advice for our students?

It’s very, very difficult to get a job in sport – there’s a lot of competition. I always look back at my time working with the ground staff at Dundee Utd. I didn’t want to do that job but it got me where I am today. When I tell people about it they laugh at me, but my parents always told me that no job is too great and to be humble and have integrity in everything I do.

That really taught me the value of hard work. If you do something like that and you’re in with the right people in a great learning environment, you never know where you might end up.

I’d encourage people to volunteer and get work experience to see how different sporting organisations work and operate. Meet people and build relationships. At the end of the day, it’s about who you know and how you come across as a person. 

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