After an hour-long conversation with their CEO, one thing that appears clear is that Stenhousemuir FC are a club on the up. Whilst an aim to push up the Scottish leagues is an obvious ambition, 37-year-old Blair Cremin instead speaks with a steely determination to push Stenhousemuir to a “world class” level off the field.
“Whilst clubs like Celtic and Rangers are massive institutions and will always exist as long as football exists, for me, part-time clubs, our future lies in our relationship with our community. Ultimately, a club the size of ours, with the level of investment we can attract, we want to be the best part-time football club in the country.
“For clubs our size, the level of investment it would take to be world class on the pitch, it is just realistically never going to happen. I hate saying never cause I am an optimist, but with the level of investment it takes to get there and stay there, I can safely say we won’t be. However, we could become world class off the pitch. I mean in terms of the impact we make on the community could be world class, it could be industry leading and change how the community looks and lives. For me personally, clubs our size need to look at that area for growth rather than season upon season trying to reach the holy grail of whatever they think that is on the pitch.”
Amidst a season in which, at the time of writing, part-timers Arbroath sit at the top of the Scottish Championship, it would be all too easy for Blair and other clubs to aspire and mould their club on the unprecedented success the Angus team have experienced this season. Instead however, he believes Stenhousemuir, whilst allowing the Arbroath story to let them dream, should build their own pathway for success.
“I think it’s really easy to point to Arbroath and just say that’s what all part-time clubs should be like. I actually think Arbroath are the outlier, the exception as opposed to the rule. Their success is based on a number of complex things from the manager they have, mixed with a group of people there at the right time and the right club. It’s magical what they are doing and everyone wants Arbroath to do well, but they are not what we should role model ourselves on because of how much of an outlier they are. There are other clubs of our kind of size who have grown in a sustainable way, doing a slow and steady approach.”
Such honesty and realism takes bravery in such an emotive arena like football. It would be so easy to simply say what the fans want to hear with cries of promotion to the top tier within three years and competing for the Champions League by 2027. Instead, Blair shows caution when discussing on-field prospects, but optimism relating to Stenhousemuir’s offield development over the coming years. With his track-record and the skillset he brings to Ochilview, it’s easy to see why.
“I would describe myself as a sport development professional, which is a really unglamorous way to describe yourself.Those parts of sport though have always intrigued me, the development side of sport like getting people into it and promoting the benefits of a healthy lifestyle. For me actually, sport is a bit of a life hack. I don’t think there is a personal or social issue that we deal with that participating in sport isn’t at least part of the solution.”
Whilst an injury prematurely ended his playing career at Stirling Albion, a period studying Geography and various job roles saw Blair decide upon working within the development side of sport.
“I worked in netball, obviously a female sport and fencing, a minority sport. The biggest lesson for me was that regardless of sport, we’re all dealing with the same problems. The sport is actually relatively irrelevant-ish, but the key thing is the same between all of them, it’s people. That has actually been the biggest learning curve for me, when I was working in netball for example, I was concerned at first going in that I didn’t have a great understanding of the game and that would affect my credibility when speaking to people within the sport. The reality is, and the best piece of advice I was given actually, was that you’re not speaking to a netballer, a fencer or a footballer, you’re speaking to a person that plays these.”
Viewing these athletes, as Blair points out, as people first and foremost can be a challenging thing. Naturally, sport and competition plays a pivotal part in the perception someone has of you and, oftentimes, your own identity. Blair was forced to develop his ability to do this after branching out from his footballing background.
“When I played football when I was younger and even when at Stirling Albion and whilst coaching, I was quite overawed with people I came into contact with if they had a reputation in the game. Going on coaching sessions with the SFA, guys who were playing professionally I would almost be in awe of them as people and their knowledge and what had achieved. I can safely say now, with a bit more life experience behind me, whilst my respect for those people is still there, they are just people. That has really helped when having conversations with people. I’ve not found myself getting overawed with anyone I’ve met so far in the job, but maybe that would change if I bump into Leo Messi.”
Take one look at Blair’s Twitter or LinkedIn profile and you will see that not only does inspiring sporting action and increased wellbeing come naturally to him, it is something what gives him a sense of purpose and genuine fullfilment.
“For me, in this job, it’s about looking after our corner of the world. This little part of Falkirk. We’ll do everything within our power to make this part of Scotland the healthiest, happiest and highest achieving part of Scotland. We’ll do that through engaging the local community in physical activity. Not necessarily just football, but we are a sporting organisation and that is how we can positively affect our little corner of the world. These things have ripples, so if we can achieve that and make a real impact in people’s lives by making one person healthier, then how far can their ripple go? They may engage one of their pals or someone else will see how they are living their life and they’ll want to do that. The power of sport and the influence we can have is incredibly strong.”
Whilst having this desire to better the community and, in a wider sense, the world, you can tell that this mission won’t divert any of Blair’s attention from helping Stenhousemuir.
“I’m really trying to use these first six months to gather information, not in a clinical way, just to hear what people think about us, the work we do, what we do well and what we don’t do so well. As a leader, I don’t think there’s anything worse than changing things just for the sake of it. I’m here because I want to add value to something, be part of something. I am in a really fortunate position at Stenhousemuir because they already have a brilliant reputation for the work they do in the community. The work that the club did during the pandemic probably crystalised to us, the club, this was before my time, what our why was and purpose, which is to be here for the community.”
How would you describe yourself in three words?
Curious, open-minded and reader.
How would your friends and family describe you in three words?
Fun, reflective (a positive spin on over-thinker) and contrarian.
Are you more introverted or extroverted?
Introverted, I gain energy from introverted activities.
Biggest personality strength?
Curiosity, which I think is an undervalued strength.
Biggest personality weakness?
I think I can overthink or overanalyse things.
This is a cop out answer but I’d say just read about what you like. I’m currently reading ‘How to lead with purpose and make an impact’ by Alistair McCaw and I’d also recommend ‘The Daily Stoic’. It’s a page a day and it’s a good way to start my day and puts me in a better place to start the day.
Best piece of advice ever given?
Probably what I mentioned earlier, “you’re not dealing with a footballer, you’re dealing with a person that plays football.” That was from a gentleman called Bob Easson, a former school teacher and rugby coach.