Fermanagh man relishing new role with Manchester United icons
Gareth McClelland used to cheer on Manchester United. Now the Fermanagh man is working for five of the club's most renowned stars.
Last month the 33-year-old from Maguiresbridge became the Head of Player Recruitment for Northern Premier League Premier Division side Salford City, who are part owned by Old Trafford icons Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Phil Neville and Nick Butt.
The aim for the club is to progress to the Football League and McClelland has been asked to play a key role to fulfil that ambition.
McClelland, who has a two-year-old son Theo with fiancée Lydia, has made a name for himself in non-league circles, both as a coach and in the recruitment of players, ever since he began managing at Wilmslow Albion in the Manchester League at the age of 22.
Five years later the Manchester Metropolitan University graduate became the youngest boss in Unibond League history at Stockport-based club Woodley Sports.
And previous to his current post he was Head of Recruitment and caretaker manager over the course of four years at Halifax Town, where he says former boss Neil Aspin and chairman David Bosomworth looked after him and his family extremely well.
When meeting Gary Neville, who this week became manager of Valencia, and Scholes about his appointment, the Manchester United legends told McClelland they wanted to utilise his expertise in Conference League football.
The Fermanagh man is relishing the challenge and says while he will largely watch Conference and League Two games he won't be afraid to cast his net wider to the Irish League if any gems can be unearthed in Northern Ireland.
"It's great being at Salford. The owners are all winners. It is not a toy to them. They are adamant they want to get in the Football League as soon as possible," says McClelland, son of Hazel and Albert who still live in Fermanagh.
"It is big a challenge for me and one that I am delighted to have.
"There is talent in non league football and it will be up to me to bring players to Salford who can help us achieve our aims.
"The number of players released from Premier League or Football League clubs at 18 is unbelievable and some of them drift towards the Conference. I think it is better for their development to be playing regular football against men compared to reserve team football or under-21 football when results don't matter as much.
"Personally I think it is a realistic dream for Salford to make it into the Football League. I have seen it with other clubs like Fleetwood Town so it is possible.
"When you have successful people at Salford like those who own the club and they are putting their reputations at stake there is only one way the club is going to go and that is forward."
Tonight Salford host Hartlepool in the second round of the FA Cup with the match live on BBC television. McClelland says everyone at the club is buzzing at the prospect of repeating their surprise victory over Notts County in the previous round.
"The interest in the game is huge. To attend the Cup game you need to be a season ticket holder and all the season tickets were sold last Saturday," adds McClelland, who combines his Recruitment role with being Head of PE at a school in Stockport.
"The fact that it is on television will add to the atmosphere."
As for Neville's much talked about move to Valencia, he says: "I respect him. He has great knowledge and is spot on with everything he says. I hope he does well."