1Tell us about your role as VP of Football Operations at the Halifax Wanderers Football Club. What does a typical day look like for you?
My role is fairly all-encompassing in terms of our football operations. I summarize it as managing everything off the field. No two days are the same but to break it down a bit there are immediate and longer-term responsibilities.
Day to day, I work closely with our Head Coach, Stephen Hart, to identify the right calibre of players to meet our vision for the team.
Once he identifies who he wants to add or retain, I’ll handle anything from contract negotiations to a signature through to overseeing a move and living arrangements in Halifax for our players.
Once they’re here it’s a matter of ensuring the players and Stephen’s coaches, medical and sports science staff have everything they need to achieve as much success as we can on the pitch.
My role also involves managing the daily operations of Wanderers Grounds, our 6000 seater stadium. One of my first tasks, when I joined in January 2019, was to manage the stadium build in its current ‘semi-permanent’ state and ensure it met the vision of our founder and President, Derek Martin.
Now that it’s in place, I oversee the upkeep and improvements as well as our team managing the game-day stadium preparations.
Looking beyond the immediate tasks, I’m also responsible for the club’s long-term footballing vision. Those include our player pathways, youth development programmes and working with Derek to develop plans for a more permanent stadium and training facility.
We are also underway with integrating a more data analytical approach to our playing decisions which requires custom digital platforms. I’m currently busy nurturing international club partnerships to help with player loans or acquisitions and knowledge-sharing for all we are trying to achieve as a club.
2Halifax Wanderers played their inaugural season in 2019. What has it been like to be a part of creating a team and workplace culture from scratch? What role do you play in creating that positive culture at the Wanderers?
It’s been a dream come true to do all this in the city I’ve called home for nearly 20 years. Building anything from a standing start takes a ‘roll-up-your-sleeves’ attitude to pitch in wherever needed as well as a willingness to try new things.
By the time I joined, the Wanderers brand was already well into development so my task was to ensure from a footballing perspective, we embodied our values and that we continue to be a proper reflection of the club we promote ourselves to be.
I think any new organization needs cultural architects in all the key roles so those beliefs and approaches can be consistent and then filtered down to everyone else who gets involved with the club.
In our case, we’re very lucky to have a passionate, confident staff who are tremendously aligned in what we’re trying to achieve. We have quickly identified players, coaches and medical personnel who carry through our club culture onto the pitch with the same pride and dedication.
3You spent over 13 years in the film and production industry. You mentioned that you continued to volunteer within sport so that your dream would stay active. How has your volunteer experience prepared you for your career in the sport industry?
I’m a massive believer in putting in your time in any capacity. You simply never know where an opportunity can lead.
Even if it’s volunteer hours while you’re earning a living elsewhere, the experience and insights you gain from that time can inspire you to pursue a career - or even just make you realize the industry is not for you!
Looking at the sports management field from the outside, it does appear somewhat glamorous given the attention it gets.
But there is a lot of blood, sweat and tears that goes into making any sports organization tick. My volunteer experience helped me realize the effortrequired and only served to pique my interest in going further.
4You recently penned a thoughtful note on LinkedIn titled “Keep Showing Up”. You talk about the importance of volunteering and putting yourself out there, no matter what the job is. Could you elaborate a bit more on this topic and provide a few tips on how to make the most of each opportunity.
Well, I’m just glad someone read the article!
I think the crux of what I was trying to convey was for anyone who is thinking of taking on a volunteer role - or anyone who has done a bunch of volunteering but wants to pursue the career path in sports management.
Stick it out and see where any volunteer opportunity can take you. You have to throw yourself into the role.
Obviously, know your value, don’t be taken advantage of, but recognize the chances to learn and to meet people. Never be afraid to ask questions and treat it like a job evaluation.
In the Men’s World Hockey Championships in Halifax, I managed a team of other volunteers handling “Team Services”. We did everything from replenishing locker room stock to organizing team laundry and towels.
There was ZERO glamour in it - except we had a chance to rub shoulders with the professional hockey players and staff behind the teams to see how they prepared for games, how they managed the ups and downs of competition and how they conducted themselves post-game.
I was never going to become a professional athlete but I learned a thing or two from how to put in the graft to reach the top of my own career path.
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5Since you’ve reached your dream and found a great career in sport, what have you learned about the industry? What are 3 skills or attributes that you think are crucial for aspiring sport professionals to have?
The sports industry is there for the taking. By that I mean, there are so many opportunities that you can truly define your own path if you’re prepared to put in the time and give it everything you’ve got in all you do.
I always remember a conversation I had with an executive I met at Loblaws when I was early in my professional career. He had started out bagging groceries in South Africa as a teenager and just climbed the ladder in various jobs in grocery chains right to a very high rank in the industry.
He lived and breathed almost every role so he understood what it took to succeed at every level of the business. There are stories of people in the sports world who started as interns and went all the way to GM.
Get in at any level and don’t look back. If you can apply passion, dedication and a willingness to learn, you can go anywhere as a sports professional.
6You recently launched a podcast called "Game Changer" that gives listeners a behind the scenes look into projects going on in the world of soccer. Tell us about your inspiration behind this and what your overall hopes for this podcast is.
My job gives me the opportunity to meet lots of different people in various roles behind the scenes in football clubs.
It crossed my mind while chatting to them that some of their projects and their stories are so seldom told that others may find them interesting if we created a platform to share them.
"The Game Changer" pod was part of a 2020 challenge I had given myself to step out of my comfort zone (as an interviewer) a little more and to create something new.
It's been good fun as a side project and I can't wait to see where it goes.
Emma's Final Thoughts
Matt Fegan's determination and passion eventually landed him as VP of Football Operations for the Halifax Wanderers FC. He never let his dream of working in sport leave his focus, even when he was in a career in a different industry. Volunteering has allowed him to learn valuable skills and life lessons that can transfer to his current role. Matt's experience really pushed him closer to his dream as it motivated him. He emphasizes lending your time but making sure you always know your worth. Matt has some extremely valuable advice and guidance for aspiring sport professionals!