In 2018, Danish side FC Nordsjaelland became the first club in the world to sign up for Common Goal. Their chairman and CEO tell the Totally Football Show how the initiative is helping both them and the game in general…
It’s about ten minutes into a conversation with Tom Vernon, and the chairman of FC Nordsjaelland is discussing how to avoid hyper-individualism in modern football by encouraging players to actively participate in charitable projects around the world.
Vernon does things a little differently to most owners, which is probably why last year the Danish Superliga side became the first club in world football to sign up for Common Goal, the organisation that encourages participants to donate one per cent of their annual salary to charity.
“We try to expose our players, in a manageable and practical way, to the impact their platform and finance can have on the world,” Vernon tells the Totally Football Show. “But also to be able to find things that are personal to them and resonate with them, rather than being just one project. That’s the beauty of Common Goal.”
Nordsjaelland give one per cent of their stadium match day revenue (including ticket sales) since signing up in May 2018 when fellow Common Goal pledgee Kasper Schmeichel visited to help with their announcement, while their players and other employees invited – although not pressured – to do the same. So far, 58 of the roughly 100 people who work for the club have done so, and their money goes to one of the three global projects connected to Common Goal, chosen as the most appropriate by the club.
Donating money, particularly in the volumes that could come from even that small amount of the sums that flow through football, is of course great. But while supporting Common Goal could become a souped-up version of the monthly direct debits that most of us have to charities, that isn’t quite enough for Vernon.
We're trying to expose our players to the impact of their platform and finance can have on the world.
More than anything, he seems to recognise that football has the potential to be such a force for good, that it would almost be irresponsible to do anything else. And that extends to encouraging his players to actually travel to and engage with the projects their money is going to: that way, they develop a more personal connection and see things as more than just figures departing their bank accounts.
All of which isn’t simply an altruistic gesture. Vernon talks about helping his players reach “a discovery of purpose”, by which he means playing for something other than just the game, to be motivated by greater things. Which by exposing them to whole worlds outside the game, is where avoiding that hyper-individualism comes in.
“When you find that your identity is so wrapped up in being a footballer, you wonder what else you stand for,” Vernon, who was a scout for Manchester United, and lived in Ghana for 17 years, where he founded the ‘Right To Dream’ football academy. “That journey to purpose should be linked initially to things that you can actually connect and identify with.
“So using football as the bridge to those projects is I think, pretty smart for young footballers…if you visit a project [and start] with having a kick around with the kids there, that’s the ice-breaker and where our players feel comfortable.”
“When I talk to the players’ parents about this, they love it,” says the club’s CEO, Soren Kristensen. “They think that we as a club do something different. You have to think about more things than just yourself, with the very materialistic, individualistic society that we have. We take a stance and try to educate, teach and develop the young people of today to become role models.”
All of which not is not only aimed at making players more rounded human beings, but also looking ahead and preparing them for life after retirement. “When we met Juan Mata, you just really got this feeling that here’s a guy who in some ways almost looking forward to the next stage of his life. He’s got something that is really exciting him beyond football.”
Maybe football has just lost a little bit of perspective. Common Goal is a great tool for bringing it back.
Vernon also believes that a connection with projects like this also makes for better performers. “I believe that to be true 100 per cent: history has shown that athletes and people who are driven and play for something greater than themselves are often more successful,” he says, citing examples from LeBron James to Diego Maradona to George Weah.
All of which makes you wonder why more clubs aren’t following Nordsjaelland’s lead. “My biggest problem is the none of them have signed up yet, which I feel sorry about,” says Kristensen, who confirms a number of clubs have contacted Nordsjaelland for advice about joining Common Goal, but have taken things no further. “They haven’t taken that step forward.”
Kristensen mentions that German clubs are the most likely to get in touch – “they understand that football is a platform to actually engage with people, drive social change” – but as of yet they haven’t received any calls from England.
“It’s difficult for me to comment on that,” he says. “What I would say is that, yes, I’m aware a number of English clubs have local charities, visit local hospitals and are something in the community. And a club must always be something in the community. But I would like to ask other clubs that they are also something for the greater society.”
Common Goal are quite keen to get away from the perception that it is Juan Mata’s charity: figures like Jurgen Klopp – who announced he had signed up as he accepted his FIFA coach of the year award recently – Mats Hummels and Megan Rapinoe will help. And so will other clubs who follow Nordsjaelland.
“If you engage with the projects,” says Vernon, “you could almost argue that it’s a selfish agenda, because you get so much more back than you can give with your one per cent. The more you engage, the more you get from it and the more…almost embarrassing the one per cent becomes.
“Maybe football, more than a lot of things, has just lost a little bit of perspective. And I think Common Goal is a great tool for bringing it back into perspective.”
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