THEY strolled into the press conference together, stood together on the training pitch and generally demonstrated a rapport which Livingston Football Club hope can underpin their future.
Richie Burke and Mark Burchill, the club’s new management team, are firmly in sync and already plotting a course to the Scottish Premier League in time for next summer.
The pair were appointed yesterday on two-year contracts and instantly targeted the SPL as their aim. Neither of them intends to wait around, either. They will complete this season hoping to keep Livingston in their current position of third in the First Division. Thereafter, promotion is the aim, although not if their philosophy to promote an attractive brand of technical football needs compromised.
Burchill is a local lad, but he is still a surprise appointment in a player/coach capacity at Almondvale. Formerly of Celtic, Portsmouth, Hearts, Dunfermline and Kilmarnock amongst others, the 32-year-old left Scotland in 2010 and spent the intervening period playing in Cyprus and, most recently, Thailand. He and Burke initially met on a UEFA B Licence coaching course and formed a bond which Livingston now intend to utilise.
Burke has been promoted from his role as technical coach, having been lured to West Lothian from the United States last summer. He offers some continuity following the sacking of interim manager Gareth Evans and the resignation of John Collins as director of football. Livingston haven’t had their troubles to seek recently and suffered a 6-1 trouncing at Partick Thistle on Saturday. There is a feeling, however, that a new dawn has now begun.
“Burchy and I had a conversation on Sunday night,” explained Burke. “We were talking about being target-orientated and we spoke about promotion. Next year that is a big target for us. We want to win cups, get silverware, get recognition and grow this club. We want to increase our footprint in this community. Burchy is a local boy and he really wants to connect with the community. We want to put bums on seats, trophies in the cabinet and get some recognition for what we’re doing here.
“We want to do it playing good football. We don’t just want to win for the sake of winning. Burchy and I have both talked about our international experience. Abroad, people have a passion for football, but it’s a different passion. In Scotland, people are passionate about their team winning irrespective of the value of the product. Burchy spoke about his experience in Asia because, when you go overseas, both sets of fans applaud all the players at the end of the game. You wouldn’t necessarily get that in Scotland.
“We want people looking at us, even if we’re losing games, and being passionate about the football we play. Hopefully we’ll win more than we’ll lose. We’re focusing on specific goals with our performance and our development of players. We want economic growth, squad growth, visibility, all those things.”
The same message emanated from Burchill. “I had a few chances to go into coaching in Cyprus, but the set-ups there weren’t right for me,” he said. “If you lose three or four games, you’re out the door. When I made the decision to come into coaching I knew it had to be the right club who could match my ambition.
“I’ve had good conversations with the board and I believe we all want to really do something special here. We’re looking to produce good players, good football and good people. I wouldn’t say the SPL aim is for away in the future. I’m looking for it next season if I’m honest. That’s got to be the aim. We aren’t under any illusions it’s going to be easy because money is tight and budgets are getting cut. If you work harder than everyone else, believe in what you’re doing and stick with your plan, then you have a chance.”
Liverpudlian Burke spent most of his playing career in the US playing with Washington Diplomats and also coached at DC United. He describes himself as “an anomaly” because he didn’t subscribe to the stereotypical British footballing values of grit and fight. Might that different approach be to Livingston’s benefit?
“If you ask some of the players they will tell you training sessions have been a bit different to what they’re used to,” he explained. “We took our under-19s down to Ayr United on Sunday and, even though the weather was horrendous, a parent stopped me in the car park and said our football was enjoyable to watch. The reason it’s enjoyable is because our players are comfortable on the ball. We spend a big percentage of training time promoting ball comfort.
“In America, I used to love spending time on the sidelines with the South American players just juggling the ball, doing tricks and getting comfortable with it. That’s what they translate into performances. They are so good on the ball because they love having it. I want that to be the case for our players.
“We want this to be a central theme and an ethos that we develop as a football club. Players who come here to join our youth ranks aspiring to play in our first team should enjoy playing football and enjoy the ball, rather than simply enjoy winning. We want our players to be more artisans than just hard-working grafters. Those traits are prominent in every Scottish player because every professional footballer should have a great work ethic. Players should want to express themselves.”
As well as guiding the Livingston first team, Burke and Burchill intend to coach youth players and even reach out into the West Lothian community by attending schools and children’s football clubs. Expanding Livingston’s reputation is vital to their vision. “Mark and I have both made a commitment to really jump on board with the Livingston Youth Foundation (LYF) and use that model to get out into the community. We want to have a close bond with the LYF,” said Burke.
“We believe it is a great vessel, as the Foundation’s mission is to help young kids in the community grow through football. Burchy is very keen because he has family in local schools, he played just up the road and he’s got friends at clubs in the area. I’ve made a few connections and well and we want to capitalise on them so that people actually care about this club and what we’re producing.”
Again, full agreement comes from Burchill. “This is a must,” he said. “I’ve lived here my whole life. I said to the board when I spoke to them that every board who had been here before thought short-term only. They didn’t care about making any progression with the kids, the schools or anything. Any manager who came in used this as a short-term stepping-stone.
“Now we have a board and management team who really want to produce something and really build for the future together.”