Watching Derry City at Brandywell is a luxury that Billy Scampton cannot afford. While everyone else’s eyes are on the action, Billy is busy making sure that everyone inside the stadium feels safe and sound.
Billy, 48, is Derry City FC Event Controller and last week he and his team were presented with the FAI’s 2010 Matchday Management Team Award.
“I was delighted when I heard that the FAI had decided to recognise the hard work of the team with the award,” says Billy. “We were all over the moon.”
Billy was born in Derry in 1962 and was reared in Linsfort Drive in Creggan until the family moved to Carnhill when he was nine years-old.
Billy’s father, Ben Scampton, was from just outside Leicester in England and served with the Royal Artillery in Derry during World War II.
“My father met and married my mother, Vera Houston, in the Long Tower Chapel,” he explains. “My father loved Derry and he adored the people here; so much so, he stayed here for the rest of his life. He passed away last year. My father would have also been extremely passionate about the scouts. He and Reggie Ryan helped to develop the scouts in Derry.”
Billy has one older sister and one younger brother and three years ago he married Moira Doherty, the daughter of well-known former ‘Journal’ photographer Larry Doherty.
“I had a really happy childhood. I attended Holy Child PS, then Rosemount Boys School and then finally I went to St. Joseph’s in Rosemount. I really enjoyed my time at St. Joseph’s and I have to pay tribute to the teaching staff there both past and present. I was going to the school during the height of the Troubles and what those teachers must have had to deal with is unimaginable.”
After spending one year studying for his A-levels, Billy decided to leave St. Josephs and apply to study for a qualification in Mechanical Engineering at the North West Regional College.
“I met a lot of good people and made a lot of good friends during my time there. When I finished the course I was unemployed so I decided to go back to study for a BTEC in Science.”
As his science course was coming to an end Billy applied for a job at St. Joseph’s.
“I returned to the scene of the crime,” he laughs. “I spent a few years working at my old school and I really enjoyed it. After a while I applied for a job with the University of Ulster as a design technician and I got it. That was 1988 and I’ve been here ever since.
“Since coming to work for the university I have met so many nice people. Our head of school is Paul Moore and he did the Sunday Interview a few weeks ago - whatever Paul can do I can do better,” jokes Billy.
Billy works for the university’s School of Creative Arts and is based in the Foyle Arts building just off Lawrence Hill.
“I really enjoy working here. I have probably worked with and helped thousands of students over the years. One of the events that I look forward to the most is the end of year exhibition of all their work. It’s my responsibility to manage the area where the work is on show. This year we will be having the exhibition over at the new Ebrington site. It’s the first time that the event will be held outside the university in 22 years. When the exhibition takes place it’s nice knowing that you’ve helped in some way. I find that very satisfying.”
If working at the School of Creative Arts wasn’t enough to keep Billy busy, he finds time to indulge his workaholic tendencies by taking on the school’s health and safety role. And is also a staff representative for UNITE the Union.
“I came runner-up in the Northern Ireland Health and Safety Representative of Year awards last year. It made all of the hard work worthwhile.”
Since first attaining his qualification in mechanical engineering, Billy’s relationship with education has been a constant one. After completing a course in foundation studies he graduated with an honours degree in Sociology and Politics. Billy also has a post-graduate diploma and Masters in Irish History and Politics.
Billy’s love of all things football manifested itself at his place of work when he took control of the university’s soccer society in 1996.
“We won the league in 1996 and then the 1998 Northern Ireland Plate, a feat which has not been repeated since. We also narrowly lost out in the final of the 2000 Collingwood Cup.”
“I like to keep myself active. I also have all my health and safety qualifications as well as certificates in environmental management,” he says.
Billy’s job may be demanding but he still makes time to devote attention to his love affair with Derry City FC. His first experience of all things red and white was when he attended an exhibition game between Derry City and Finn Harps during the 1970s.
“I have memories of that match but I suppose my first proper game was watching Derry City play Home Farm Everton as they returned to the league back in 1985.”
In 1997 Billy became a steward at the Brandywell. In his early days he would have been in charge of the crowd control in the old ‘Jungle’ area of the stadium.
“Working in the Jungle was an amazing experience. I met some characters there and the way the fans there supported Derry City was second to none. They were so loyal and dedicated.”
Billy became Chief Steward in 2003 and greeted teams such as Barcelona, Manchester United and Celtic when they came to play Derry City at the Brandywell.
“I was on the bus with the Barcelona team as were coming across the Foyle Bridge,” recalls Billy. “I met Ronaldinho, Xavi and Saviola and they all signed a Barcelona jersey for me; it was a magic day.”
He says that when he became the club’s event controller a few years later it was as a result of his health and safety training.
“In 2005 I was asked by Estate Services to help them out with the events that they were working on with Derry City Council. They were a fantastic company to work for. Then in 2007 the board of directors asked me to take over from Danny Meenan as the club’s event controller.”
Billy describes himself as a Derry City fanatic but said that because he is so focused on the health and safety at the games he rarely gets the chance to watch any of the matches.
“While I want to see Derry get a result on the pitch I consider it a result off the pitch if everyone has come to the game and left again safely. I see the four disasters of Heysel, Hillsborough, the Bradford Fire and the Stardust Disaster in Dublin as my four main driving forces when it comes to stadia and event safety.
“I am extremely passionate about what I do but it means I seldom get the chance to watch any of the football. I get a real buzz if everything goes well.”
Billy cites the memory of leading Linfield FC to the Brandywell as one of his proudest moments as event controller.
“Derry City is a club that is owned by the people of the city. The way the fans get involved in the club is just amazing; I’ve never seen anything like it before. I have had some of the greatest experiences of my life working with Derry City. I am really proud of the fact that I was on the bus with the Linfield FC team when they came to Brandywell for the first time 21 years for the Setanta Cup a few years ago.
“I also have fond memories of all the times the team won the league cup and of the last FAI Cup win in 2006.
“After the team won the two competitions I visited many of the schools around Derry with the trophies. That meant I had to keep the trophies at my home. Waking up and seeing the FAI Cup and the league cup at the bottom of your bed is probably one of the best things for any Derry City fan to be greeted by in the morning,” says Billy smiling.
Billy is also involved with the event management of Derry City Council showpiece events such as the St. Patrick’s Day festivities and the Hallowe’en Carnival. And that’s not all - he played a role in the event management of last year’s successful Féile Peil na nÓg.
“I think if I had to sum myself up in a couple of words I would say that I am reliable and determined. If something needs done I’m the man to get it done.”