THE road from the Firhill dressing room to the boardroom has been a long and winding one for new Partick Thistle chief executive Gerry Britton, with more than a few bumps along the way. And more than a few diversions too, having filled the role of player, assistant manager and most recently, head of the Thistle Weir Academy.
And given the timing of his elevation to succeed new Scottish Football Association chief executive Ian Maxwell – on the back of the club’s relegation to the Championship – perhaps he should be strapping himself in for what is to come rather than simply settling into his new surroundings.
But Britton is an optimist, and far from being daunted by the task that lies ahead as he tries to drag Thistle back up by the bootstraps and into the Premiership again at the first time of asking, he is enthused by the clean slate that has greeted him upon his arrival in the hotseat.
“I first came here as a schoolboy in 1983 on an S-form, then I signed in 1992,” Britton said. “If you go back to that dressing room with guys like Don McVicar, Paul Kinnaird and Davie Irons, if you asked them if they thought I would be sitting here one day, I know the reaction you would have got. That’s just life, you never know what’s around the corner.
“I’ve been so privileged with what this club has done for me, and that just makes me all the more determined to give it back and give the support back the success they crave and deserve.
“The timing of taking this on was really good for me because it is a clean slate and a fresh start. We are looking at squad formation, season tickets, arranging pre-season, it’s all the nuts and bolts and the real solid foundations that you’ve got to get right if you are going to have a successful season.
“Right away on the back of what had happened, the board confirmed that we have one focus this season and that is getting back to the Premiership, and we will continue to function as a Premiership club.”
It was a relief to Britton that one of his first duties was to communicate that message to worried staff members.
“It’s the same at every club who gets relegated, people are wondering what is going to happen,” he said.
“To get that backing right away, you could see the lift that it gave everyone. They know they have got that conversation with their family when they go home at night, and for them to know that everything is ok, it was like seeing totally different people.
“That is the harsh realities of going down a division, so to have that worry taken away in one fell swoop was great, and now I have that base to move on.”
So, a fresh start at Firhill, but one that is marked by a lingering familiarity. Key experienced players like Kris Doolan and Chris Erskine have been retained. And crucially, as far as Britton is concerned, manager Alan Archibald has received the backing of the club to continue in his role.
There is no doubt in Britton’s mind that both he and Archibald are in their respective roles at the club because they are the best men for the jobs, with sentiment not likely to have come into the Thistle board’s reckoning.
“It was fantastic from the board making a strong decision and strong statement in backing Alan, a man who has done so much for the club on and off the pitch,” Britton said. “It gives us stability, and to see Alan accepting that responsibility to get us back to where we want to go wasn’t just a boost for me, it was a boost for all the players and all the staff. And I think the majority of supporters felt that way too.
“I don’t think that loyalty came into it. I think the board looked at the whole picture, the qualities that Alan has got, the impact of him not being there, and what that would do to the club and the playing staff.
“They decided that he was the right man for the job, and I hope that in terms of my appointment it was the same. It wasn’t a case of ‘there’s Gerry, let’s just get him to do it’. The board were obviously aware of what I had been doing at the club in various roles, but they probably weren’t as aware of what I have been involved in away from the club in the law and the player’s union for example.
“Maybe they also weren’t aware of the strategic plans that I have for the club off the pitch to take us forward to a different place from where we’ve been previously.
“I think they made the decision to put me in place because after a stringent process, they thought I was the guy to take the club forward.”
Among Britton’s plans to do that are improved communications with supporters, increasing attendances, and making sure that key areas of infrastructure – like the club’s Thistle Weir Academy – continue to flourish.
It is perhaps unsurprising given Britton’s background that he sees the development of players as central to their ethos, and he is keen to reassure supporters that the academy, as well as the new training ground, will be unaffected by the club’s relegation.
“The change in the club in the last five years, it is unrecognisable from the infrastructure to the academy,” he said. “There is a good base element for us to go and kick on again.
“The training ground is a totally separate entity. It’s the Three Black Cats company that is responsible for building it, so it’s totally set apart from the club and the goings-on within the club. It’s similar to the academy, which is a stand-alone project, so there will be no dissolution of what both projects are doing.
“The wheels of project planning and conveyancing never move quickly, but we are moving in the right direction.
“There will be no change to the running of the academy either. It’s horrendous what happened to Forth Valley and to Falkirk. One of the benefits of the way our academy is structured and funded is that it is stand-alone.
“These are massive parts of our club’s development programme, the academy and the training ground. They provide great incentive not only for players we are bringing to the club, but younger players as well.
“The club is in a fantastic place, and for now, for us, the task has got to be getting us up this season. It’s exciting times, and not just for me being a part of it.
“I’m sure when the fans see the innovations that we are going to have across the season, they will be excited about the way the club is moving.”