Following his recent appointment as Vice Chairman of Lincoln City Football Club, we caught up with Jay Wright, CEO and Co-owner of Virgin Wines, to ask about his new role with Lincoln City and his passion for the club he has supported since he was a boy.
A Director at the Club for three years prior to his appointment as Vice Chairman, Jay says it’s a little surreal to now be helping develop a football club which has been so close to his heart since he first watched The Imps back in the mid-1970s.
“The first game I can remember going to was in 1976, as a 6-year-old against Doncaster Rovers and we won 5-0. I think it was when we had the record-breaking season with Graham Taylor so that was my first memory.” Jay said.
Following his early introduction to the Club, Jay’s father took up a new job and the family moved away from the city to Houston, Texas in 1977. This made following his beloved Imps difficult but any snippets of news he could gather were treasured.
“As a kid I moved around a lot. We had a couple of years in the States so getting the news on Lincoln games was difficult. The media coverage was completely different then so as an international exile I didn’t get to hear lots about Lincoln City unfortunately.
“My whole family was born and bred in Lincoln, my mum, my dad, my sister - but I was born in Peru which was slightly different! My Dad started as an apprentice on the shop floor at Ruston Gas Turbines but did well and after 4 years working in Fiji he was sent out to South America, which was where I was born. So all through my early and teenage years I relied on my Grandad cutting bits out of the Echo and posting them to us so I could put them in my scrap book.”
Returning to his grandparents’ home in Lincoln regularly was always something which Jay looked forward to and he fondly recalls the feeling of walking to games and that sense of belonging he always felt when going to watch the Imps in action. “All through the years it’s been about the feeling you get when you’re a part of something. You become part of the Lincoln City tribe along with every other fan and you’re stuck with it for life because that’s who you are. It becomes tattooed on the inside of your heart for the rest of your days. Lincoln City has been the one constant thing in my life, no matter where we have lived it’s always been there.”
“It’s all the little things you remember, like being absolutely frozen at somewhere like Scarborough or Darlington, being 2-0 down at half time and wondering ‘why are we doing this’! Joking aside, the memories are made up of so much more than just the matches. It’s all the journeys to and from games – first with my Dad and now with my own 3 lads - the cup of Bovril at half time and meeting other fans. It’s the whole camaraderie and that feeling of belonging. When you follow a club like ours, you feel a part of something and are attached to it. You feel so committed and passionate because it’s a part of you.
“I remember when we were first relegated to the non-league in the ‘80’s, getting to midweek games with my Grandad and standing on the Railway End Terrace like that famous match against Barnet. It got a bit feisty that night with a mass brawl and Barry Fry coming on the pitch. I also remember watching Lincoln against Wolves when the fog came in. These days, it would have been abandoned. You couldn’t see either goal and we had to guess where the ball was.”
Discussing his move on to the Board, Jay recalls that it was Roger Bates who first invited him to join the Club whilst the Imps were still in the National League.
“Roger was working hard to keep the Academy going and he knew I was a big fan of the Club. He asked me if I had thought about getting involved in any way. My Dad was on the books with Lincoln City as a teenager so I felt I had a connection to the youth set up at Lincoln and as I sadly lost my Dad in 1998 I felt if I could help a little then I should. I was told there was no central funding available so it was down to Roger and his colleagues, who did a phenomenal job of fundraising, to keep the Academy going. Without a doubt, it wouldn’t have survived without his hard work. Roger asked if I would be willing to donate and that’s where the connection started. We became good friends and I was subsequently invited to the Boardroom to watch a few games as a guest and everything developed from there.”
Jay admits that taking on the role of Vice Chairman at Lincoln City fills him with immense pride. Having worked hard to learn as much as he can about the business of football, he is hopeful his business acumen can now help to play a part in driving the club to further success.
“Unfortunately, I wasn’t good enough to play for Lincoln City, so I guess the next best thing is to be on the Board of your boyhood club. It’s a huge honour and responsibility but I know all of us involved do everything we can to help the Club in a positive way. I hope that everything I have learnt running and developing my companies has given me a set of skills that I can use to help Lincoln City become even more successful.
“Our job is to ensure that the business model we have is sustainable and that we create the right strategies to ensure that the Club is successful and robust in the medium to long-term, as well as right now. That’s our responsibility as a Board and part of our strength is that we have a real unity and an ethos we all believe in and share.
“So, that’s all I can promise: I will do everything in my power to make sure that Lincoln City is as successful as it can be as a business and working with Clive, Liam, the rest of the Board, the staff and everyone involved in the Club, that we continue to work to a really clear set of values that ensures all our fans, and the community as a whole, have a football Club they can be really proud of.
“Who would have thought as a kid standing on the terraces watching my team play that one day I might end up in this position at the club? “
Congratulations Jay. We hope you enjoy your tenure as Vice Chairman at Lincoln City.