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The Key to New Changing Facilities at Ness Football Club

Netty Sopota, editor of fios community newspaper on the Isle of Lewis writes about the trials and tribulations of the local football team.

Black and white pic of the Ness FC league champions team, 1984
The Ness FC league champions team, 1984

The view from the fios office is panoramic and encompasses machair, the North Atlantic, and of course the grounds of Ness Football Club and the Ness Football Social Club. The presence of which, the service they provide, and the characters connected to them have become woven into the social fabric of the community.

It is easy to forget that the facilities the Football Club has today have not always existed as they are, and it’s fantastic to be able to report that the passion, drive and determination of the current management structure will ensure they continue to develop, not only on a sustainable footing but also a progressive one.

This is not intended to be an in-depth historical analysis of Ness Football Club (I am by no means qualified to attempt such a task,) but to appreciate the present and look to the future, the past needs to be acknowledged.

In the 1970s, the changing facilities were, to put it mildly, a bit breezy, and provided additional entertainment for spectators. At this time, it was acknowledged by the committee that if the club was to progress and compete on an equal footing with Back and Point, facilities were required. This led to funding being secured and the development of changing rooms and spectator housing.

A decade later, additional funding enabled the development of the pavilion and the infrastructure as we recognise it today. Every stage of development within an organisation requires hard work, commitment and an eye on the future, and as I listened to Donald Macrury (Chair of Ness F.C.) provide an overview of the new plans, it was more than apparent that all these attributes are not only in abundance but are aligned.

The ambition of Ness Football Club is to fully develop the club for all age groups offering excellent facilities for players, officials, spectators and visitors. As the size of teams have grown and the popularity of girl’s football develops, the changing space requirements for a progressive and competitive club have altered.

It is from this perspective, that the committee have secured £8,000 in funding from the Crown Estate Fund and £5,000 in funding from the Urras, which in turn has enabled them to appoint consultants (MJC Inspection & Design LTD) to look closely at the club’s requirements, begin the process of design development and forecast build costs.

And therein lies one of the many hurdles that any community organisation tackling a build project needs to negotiate. Costs. It is not just time and commitment that contributes to projects being successful, finance always has an influence, but I was not surprised to hear that there is a fundraising plan.

At this point we need to step back in time once more. The 1980s. An era of big hair, big shoulder pads and the arrival of ‘Open the Box’ in Ness. Anecdotal accounts are invaluable in the documentation of social history, and with some triangulation of information from different, fully verified sources, fios has established that the idea for ‘Open the Box’ travelled from London with ‘Murchadh Beag’, after witnessing the popularity of the event in a London pub frequented by Ness tradesmen.

Upon returning to Ness, he established it in Cross Inn, and it was later established at Ness Football Club by Zebo. For those of you reading this that do not know, ‘Open the Box’ is effectively a raffle by which participants buy a ticket, and should they be successful in having their ticket drawn as the winning one, they are then presented with a number of keys to choose from, only one of which will open a box containing a cash prize. Chose the wrong key, the box cannot be opened, and you cannot claim the prize. Instead, it rolls over to the following week, similar to the Euro Lottery with lower, but not insignificant escalation.

Being present in the Social Club when someone selects the key that opens the box is part of the appeal, and recognising the tangible significance of those moments has been key (pardon the pun) to how the Ness Football Club committee have approached the introduction of the new Season Ticket option for ‘Open the Box’. It is not, Donald Macrury made clear, about removing or reducing the physical presence of the game, instead it is about increasing its accessibility and ability to raise funds: “Open The Box has been a success at Ness Football Club for many years, we are excited to expand its reach and make it accessible to all of our supporters.”

Supporters will be able to purchase a block of 25 tickets which will guarantee entry into the Saturday draw for 25 weeks, with the key number being automatically generated. This new method, designed to reach out to supporters who are unable to frequent the club, has been successfully trialled and was officially launched on Monday 24th September.

Not many organisations have a fundraising model as unique as ‘Open the Box’, and as significant as it is, the committee are very much aware that additional funds will be required to execute new development plans. Over the next six months, they plan to explore all external funding options and develop additional community fundraising events, all of which, including the ‘Open The Box’ season ticket launch, will be promoted via the Ness F.C Facebook page.

The economic climate within which these plans are being made is not a settled one and yet this does not, by any means reduce their feasibility. There is a reason why Ness FC ‘became one of the most successful amateur clubs in the North of Scotland’, and it is not because of an ease of access to vast amounts of financial investment.

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by Zara Grew, Migrant Women Press