North East football club Spennymoor Town are making headlines nationally and internationally this week ahead of their historic FA Cup First Round tie against League One’s MK Dons. Ahead of the game, we speak to GAS employee Joe Tait as he prepares to step out onto the turf in the world’s most historic football competition.
As sponsors of the club, this has created a buzz at Great Annual Savings Group (GAS) and given staff something excitingly close to the business to discuss. None more so than Spennymoor centre-half Joseph Tait, who is preparing to step out onto the turf in the world’s most historic football competition for the second time in his career.
It’s a career that is now divided between football and his position as GAS’ Compliance Manager – a split-profession that he’s relishing.
Like most non-league players, the 26-year-old’s time in football has been a rollercoaster packed with stories from within the sport and around the globe.
“I received a phone call out of the blue from Ray Wills, who was a coach at Lindsey Wilson College and wanted to offer me a scholarship,” he remembers, “which was a huge relief after being released from Hartlepool United.”
Joe had spent three years at Victoria Park after finishing school, learning academically at the same time as developing his game.
“Football was always the focus – I didn’t want to be in a classroom, I wanted to be on a pitch. After being released my only thought was where else I could go to play football. So when Ray phoned and offered me the chance of a lifetime to go and live in the USA, I was thrilled.
“After being released from Hartlepool I had to ‘earn’ my amateur status in America, so I couldn’t play a competitive game for a full year. It’s a process called ‘redshirting’ and is common in the States in all sports. While there I studied for a degree in Communications, picking up more academic knowledge as I played.
“Looking back, I didn’t do enough of that. In my job now I can see where it could have benefited me, but I was there to play football as far as I was concerned.”
Joe soon moved on to play for Baton Rouge Capitals in Louisiana. They played in the fourth tier of the American soccer system, the USL Premier Development League, where Joe made his name in USA soccer.
The team went to the National Championship semi-finals – a huge achievement similar to Spennymoor’s qualification for the FA Cup.
“We were an amateur team playing against seasoned professionals and it was a great run to be a part of, which I revelled in and contributed to being named Defender of the Year.”
But with such an accolade, came extra attention from teams higher up. “A great coach called Brendan Burke had just been named the youngest ever Assistant Manager in MLS history at Philadelphia Union and wanted me to join them.
“Of course, I jumped at the chance to go professional again. But things don’t always work out the way you think they will – football is as unpredictable as any career you can imagine.”
Joe spent most of his six months in Philadelphia on the fringes of the first team and only ended up playing one senior game in the MLS, albeit capping his performance with a goal.
After four years in the USA, he returned home to Nunthorpe with the intention of carrying on as a footballer. But a spell at Gateshead never really took off for him due to injuries, although they did give him his first taste of an FA Cup run when they reached the third round, losing away to West Bromwich Albion.
“I think I needed to mature. Looking back on these opportunities that I had I think I’d have done more with them if I’d had the life experience I now have working at GAS and playing for Spennymoor.
“It’s obviously a different life in the world of work and it teaches you a lot. Brad [Groves], the Chief Executive, has given me a fantastic opportunity here and I’m doing everything possible to repay his faith. I’ve got a long-term plan with further qualifications and I’m still playing football to an excellent level with Spennymoor. I’ve got the best of both worlds.”
By a quirk of fate, Joe’s teacher from his time at Hartlepool is now his boss at GAS. Craig Shields heads up the Group’s Compliance department and has nurtured Joe’s enthusiasm for his responsibilities.
“I don’t seem to be able to escape the bosses! I’ve got Brad keeping an eye on me at football and at work, then I have Craig who’s guided me through two very different stages of my life. I’m sure I’m a better student now than I was at 17.”
Joe now spends his week days handling compliance calls, cash forecasts and invoices, while his Saturdays see him travel across the country with Spennymoor.
“GAS show me brilliant support, just as they do with Spennymoor Town as a whole. If I need to leave early to make a mid-week trip to an away fixture or to handle media commitments, such as the ones we’ve dealt with this week, they’re very understanding. But I always make the time back with earlier starts and late finishes later in the week.
“The dressing room and the board room are very different places, so when I’m going between them in the space of a day it gets disorientating. But, despite never being able to hide from the boss, I wouldn’t swap it for the world. I’ve matured since I started working here and have a long-term outlook which I can build into a career beyond football.”
Joe and Spennymoor will face MK Dons at 3pm on Saturday, looking to make club history.