Q and A - Inside Taipei's Expat Football with The Mighty Shane F.C

Our third and final instalment of Q and A weekend is with The Mighty Shane Football Club (click here for the Mighty Shane website) as we speak to manager Sam Thompson. The Mighty Shane play in Taipei’s expat league the OTPL (On Tap Premier League) which is named after the league sponsor Tap. Last season the league had 13 teams which mainly consist of expat players based in Northern Taiwan.

Next season the league will add a team to the league to take the number to 14, and the league will split into two divisions eventually having a promotion and relegation. This weekend (27th January) will be a pre-season tournament with 8 of the league teams taking part.

We ask Sam about the difficulties of running an expat team:

First of all, how did you get involved in playing for and then eventually managing The Mighty Shane?

When I arrived in Taiwan in 2012 I was working for Shane English Schools (the company our team is named after and since 2016 sponsors us) and on the first day of training was told about the team. I think I then joined the team within a couple of weeks of arriving and have played regularly for them ever since. The way we go through managers is usually the same process; the existing manager feels he may have done the job for long enough and thinks the time is right for someone else to have a go. That’s what happened with us mid-way through the 2016 season, and as one of the longest-serving members of the regular squad, I was asked to take over and have been the manager since.

What do you think is the main attraction/benefit for expats to play in an expat football team?

First and foremost I think it’s great for our social lives and lots of the friends I’ve made since moving to Taiwan I’ve met through football. It’s a great way to meet people who have similar interests, particularly in a country where football is far from being among the most popular sports for the locals. I’d say this can be especially positive for people who’ve just arrived in the country as it really helps them settle joining a team of people who’ve been in Taiwan for many years.

What is the biggest challenge in managing this kind of team?

There are many challenges considering that we are just Sunday league players in an amateur league. This is because there’s a surprising amount we need to organize for the team, and also it has to be done in our own time due to having day jobs. I’d say the biggest challenges would be player recruitment, given the limited numbers of people who are into football in Taiwan and holding regular training sessions due to the relative lack of pitch availability in Taipei. These two issues can also affect each other as it can be difficult to assess a new player if you’re unable to arrange training that week, for example.

Is financing an expat team a difficult task?

From what I’ve seen, there have been teams that have really struggled financially in the league. This is because of the high costs of pitch rental and additional costs such as referees. The costs have been rising over time, which I think is out of the league’s control, unfortunately. I can only speak for ourselves, but we follow the Sunday league model of players paying ‘subs’ for each game, which really helps over time. Our biggest source of financial aid comes from our generous sponsors though. Without sponsors, any team competing in the OTPL will massively struggle.

How easy/difficult is it to attract sponsorship?

I’d say generally it’s probably quite difficult to attract sponsors. Again this goes back to the fact that football doesn’t generate a great deal of interest in Taiwan, though we can see this slowly changing. We are very fortunate in that we have two sponsors who are great supporters of the Mighty Shane. On Tap, who we have a very positive and long-standing relationship with, have been sponsoring us for many years and are also central to the league’s success, being sponsors of the league in addition. As mentioned earlier, we’re also now actually sponsored by our namesake Shane English Schools. Again, this is a long-standing relationship as the team was started 20 years ago by Shane teachers and they’ve always helped to promote the team.

Is player recruitment straightforward or complicated?

I’d certainly say it’s different to back home! You have to have your ear to the ground for new potential players arriving in Taiwan. Rather than seeing guys play and approaching them to join your team, you have to rely more on word of mouth or the new players actually getting in touch with you themselves. This is where our social media and website plays a big role. Due to the fine work of Zach Paruch (former manager, current assistant manager and player) we’ve been able to attract many new players over the past couple of years who’ve got in touch with us online. Our sponsors also help with this too as new teachers joining Shane English Schools are told about the club and the opportunity to join.

With most of the OTPL teams being mixed nationalities are there any clashes of football culture?

I’d say actually that having a team of players from many different backgrounds can only be a positive thing. We probably have a mix of around twelve different nationalities, maybe more, and enjoy fantastic togetherness and team spirit among ourselves. I think if anything, it broadens your horizons generally but also in a football sense too, as players will give their different opinions on how we should play and that helps us become better.

Has there been one major incident or event that has stood out as being the most difficult since you took charge of The Mighty Shane?

Not really an event, but during the 2016 season we were really suffering from a lack of players and as a result were taking heavy defeats week in, week out. It was a really tough time as we were sometimes struggling to get 11 players together to start a game and were even concerned about the future of the club. This is an issue that has affected various clubs in the league due to there not being a limit on match day squads, which means certain teams can hoard players and makes it hard for other clubs to manage.

Is there any standout moment since managing The Mighty Shane you consider the best / most fun?

It would probably have to be our final standing in the 2017 season. After such a difficult 2016 and finishing in the lower reaches of the table, we were able to vastly improve through the hard work of everyone at the club and managed to finished 7th (exactly mid-table) in 2017. We take a great deal of pride in the fact that it was our best season since winning the league in 2012, and we were also able to take some big scalps along the way, beating the then reigning champions Red Lions being the standout result. We’re certainly taking nothing for granted though and will need to work hard next season if we are to improve further, especially given the new two-tier system should make the league more competitive with much more to play for.

What advice would you give for anyone interested in managing or joining an expat football team?

For anyone joining a team, consider first what you want out of playing football in Taiwan. Some people see it as more of a social thing, whereas others take it more seriously, while some are in between. The same is for the teams, so have a look round and speak to a few managers first.

In terms of managing a team, be prepared to have to spend lots of your free time working on it. I’ve found that it’s best to have people you trust in the squad helping you with it so you can delegate tasks and share responsibility.

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