Harborough’s Ryan is the youngest chief exec in English football

Ryan McKnight (picture courtesy of Stockport County)
Ryan McKnight (picture courtesy of Stockport County)

A Harborough man is aiming to lead a revolution in the way football clubs are run after joining Stockport County FC as its chief executive.

Ryan McKnight says he plans to implement all the best practices he learnt as editor of football trade magazine FC Business and from his work with the World Football Academy alongside Dutch coach Raymond Verheijen.

Much has been made of Ryan’s relative youth since his appointment to the Blue Square Bet Premier club earlier this month – at 30-years-old he is thought to be the youngest male chief executive in English football.

But Ryan, who moved to Harborough four years ago after his partner got a teaching job at Robert Smyth Academy in town, said: “There’s a presumption that the older you are the more you are equipped for a job.

“I look at people running clubs who are making the same mistakes now they were making ten years ago. They’ve not got ten years’ experience – they’ve got one year’s experience 10 times. I believe I have 10 years of experience.

“People think I’m opinionated. But Raymond [Verheijen] said something to me once that really stuck. I’m not opinionated because what I’m saying isn’t an opinion. It is based on universally accepted facts. I don’t feel the weight of expectation because when I think about the calibre of people we’re going to have at Stockport I feel really confident.”

Ryan, who grew up in Tamworth, enjoyed a playing career at Telford Utd before moving to New Zealand to play for Stop Out, based in the capital, Wellington.

After his playing days were over Ryan decided to use the business and economics degree he had gained while playing at Telford.

“A lot of youngsters devote their life to football but 99 per cent of them get to 16 and nothing happens, and the game has given them nothing back,” he said.

“I was very conscious that I wanted the game to give me something back.

“I came back to the UK after my contract finished in New Zealand and I realised that my life had to be in football. It wasn’t a eureka moment - it just felt very natural to me.

“I had always questioned a lot that went on in football, especially from a fiscal point of view. I knew if I was going to be able to carry on having a playing career then the business side of the game was the next best thing.”

Ryan said his next job - editing FC Business - allowed him to see where clubs were getting things right and wrong.

“I had unrivalled access to UK football during a time of unprecedented change,” he said.

“I realised I was in a very fortunate position. Within two or three years I was the most networked individual in the industry. I had access to the coal face of almost every football club and could see where it was going right and where things were going wrong.

“I started to ask myself the question ‘what would happen if you took the best practices from each club?’

“That became the agenda for FC Business.”

Ryan said he became very outspoken about governance in football, criticising the lack of football knowledge in the big decision makers at most clubs across the country.

Ryan also owned Revo Coaching with his dad - a coaching firm dedicated to producing more technically-gifted players - and became chief executive of the World Football Academy, working alongside respected Dutch coach Raymond Verheijen.

He will continue in that role alongside the job at Stockport County.

“I met the Stockport County owner about nine months ago,” said Ryan.

“He was the kind of guy I’d been searching for - he was a successful businessman and had implemented things that he knew about but he had the humility to know he needed to get football knowledge in.

“It’s a great place to introduce the philosophy of best practice. It’s been one of the perfect examples of what not to do at a football club in recent years.”

Ryan has already attracted new boss Darijo Kalezic, who has managed in the Dutch first division.

“That’s not a rabbit out of the hat, it’s a herd of elephants,” said Ryan.

“We’re about to make two more appointments too. These are people who should be at Premier League clubs but they are here because there’s a feeling that their good work is being undone at higher level clubs by people who don’t know about football.

“We want to show football that there’s another way to run a club and be successful and it’s not just about throwing more money at it.

“It’s the art of working with the resources you have.”

At the time of publication, Stockport sit 16th in the Blue Square Bet Premier - one division below League 2.

“People ask about the aim,” said Ryan.

“The main aim is not promotion, the main aim is not survival, it’s not progression through the leagues.

“The main aim is to create a culture in which there is constant improvement in performance across all aspects of the club. Traditional success will be a by-product of that.

“Football clubs exist for the betterment of their supporters and their local towns or cities. If you were to ask most people they would say it was to win trophies - that’s the result, not the reason to be there. We want to help the supporters fell better about themselves and their club and help the town rejuvenate itself.

Ryan, who plays football at Welland Park College on Monday evenings, says he has no plans to leave Harborough.

“It’s a great place,” he said.

“I think it’s the most northern London commuter town. It’s close to the midlands. I can get to Stockport in less than two hours, London is an hour away - it’s the ideal place to be based.”