Bravo 2019: Spencer Bishop

Spencer Bishop is the winner of The Incider’s 2019 Bravo award. This is an annual award to pay tribute to the people or persons who have gone the extra mile and made a significant contribution to the cause for Somerset supporters. The winners could be players, club officials, staff members, supporters or press representatives.  Previous winners include Lewis Gregory, Ben Warren, Jack Leach and, in 2018, authors and historians Stephen Hill & Barry Phillips shared the award for their excellent Somerset Cricketers series.

Spencer is Somerset’s Media & Community Executive and is, for me, one of the busiest people working away in the background at the club. In a highly varied role his ‘day job’ is to manage press relations with a multitude of media organisations of all shapes and sizes. From Sky Sports, national newspapers, the established cricket media outlets and esteemed local press – be they in publishing, radio or TV. And this can involve international media outlets too. He manages the communications in and out of the club, including press releases, content on the official website and has input into the various social media platforms managed primarily by Ben Warren. He is very much the club’s brand ambassador responsible for painting Somerset County Cricket Club in a positive light. And he does this very well in often demanding and time sensitive situations. 

Yet he still finds time for little independent fan sites like Grockles and us at The Incider. And this appears to be rather unique in itself in county cricket, as he explains: “Every year I get a call from the ECB, saying, ‘do you know who these people at The Incider are?’, and I say ‘yes, we work with them, they are an independent fan site’. They say, ‘but no other county accommodates independent sites like you do’.”

But Spencer does so much more than just press and publicity. You will see him throwing t-shirt’s into the crowd on T20 nights, he also arranges then hosts touring group visiting the CACG, manages player PA requests, autograph requests and fan mail – he is involved with so much, too many to mention. But it is the community work he oversees that makes his contribution so impressive and indeed makes our county club so special and unique too. And this is deserving of more recognition.

Although highly tasking, and as far from 9-to-5 as any job could be, it is a position that Spencer relishes: “The beauty of my role is I think I’m the only press officer on the county circuit that manages the community engagement bit as well,” he says. “What I enjoy most about my role is when I take the players to the children’s ward to give out Christmas presents and things like that.

“Any community stuff we try to do quite locally within the Somerset boundary if we can,” he adds. “Working with Selworthy School we have set up a special educational partnership where the players and school interact at least four times every year. We do some healthy eating and the players go over there and do some cooking with the kids, and the kids will come here and do some training and fitness stuff, the players do some cricket based maths sessions and one-to-one reading sessions and we bring them here for a tour of the ground for a literacy element. Then the children write it up and present a press conference back to the players.

“It’s fantastic; we are taking the players well and truly out of their comfort zone to work with these amazing kids. The fact that the children are loving it, the players are buying into it and the teachers say it’s amazing and has a profound effect on the kids. So to be able to say that in my job I am able to take some of the most vulnerable kids and make them happier via the cricket club is mind blowing.”

Presenting Christmas pressies. Picture courtesy of Somerset CCC.

He is helped by the playing staff at Somerset: “We’ve got such a great bunch of guys here. This year alone we have managed over 120 personal appearances – that could be going to a special school and handing out certificates, presenting some awards or doing some coaching – and the boys get it, they just get it, even the little things that kids will remember for years and years after. And that comes from the top with Tom Abell being one of those that contributes the most. People talk about the Somerset family, and it’s very easy to throw out that line but it is genuine here. And that makes my life considerably easier.”

For Spencer it is all about building long-standing and trusted relationships in the county. “The thing about the community engagement stuff is it would be so easy to treat it as something that ticks boxes; put it in the press and then think, ‘job done’, but with us if it doesn’t have any tangible benefit  then we won’t do it. We could do a lot more than we do but it’s not just about raising the player’s profile or the club in the press – it is about having a beneficial impact. 

“With Selworthy we could have gone there once and moved on but we have built it up each year. And the players that go want to go back the next time too. And we involve the players in the planning of it too. So it’s great.”

Spencer was raised in the Chard area of the county and schooled in the town. He recalls long and sometimes sweaty bus journeys to and from Taunton to watch Somerset as a younger man – and having to leave for home before play had finished for the day. This in the days of Peter Roebuck, Roland Lefebvre, Andy Hayhurst and Graham Rose. And doing the job he does allows him regular contact with his cricketing boyhood hero, Keith Parsons, and admits to feeling a little starstruck even all these years later.

Upon leaving school Spencer undertook a number of jobs to get by, ranging from cleaning at the local school, painting and decorating and working at a local golf course. Then he attended Falmouth University for three years to sit Broadcasting Studies and there followed a job in local radio for roughly eight years before an opportunity at Somerset CCC came about. But it was a rather modest start to his career at Somerset in somewhat trying times.

“My work at the radio station unexpectedly came to an end and my other half was expecting our first child with no money coming into the house, so I literally wrote to everybody I know making myself available,” he recalls. “As part of my radio station role I did a sports show so built up a relationship with Guy Wolfenden, who was here at Somerset at the time. He told me there was no full-time work but could offer me part-time work in the summer. So I was working part-time here, selling jam part-time (elsewhere), doing some freelance radio work and other little things to make some money.

“I tried to make myself indispensable so was very flexible, often working at late notice and happy to do the jobs the others didn’t want to do,” he adds. “It worked and I was offered a full-time role at the end of that summer of 2010. So I started by cleaning pigeon poo off the seats in the Botham Stand and it has all gone downhill from there! And (I) have been here since.”

A part of Spencer’s role is to also prepare and train the players to manage media access and expectations and of course to keep out of trouble on social media.

“When the young players are on the Academy Steve Snell and Andy Hurry make sure they are put through appropriate training for press conferences and bits and pieces like that,” he says. “We brief them and prepare them, especially for any thorny issues that may arise. In the early days we tend to keep any interviews in house on the club website with myself and Richard Walsh to give them some experience and confidence.

“And they learn quickly. You can tell when they’ve been away with England and they come back so much more confident. But some players like doing it and some not so sure. But it’s part and parcel of the game now.

“The younger players are more aware now of what to do and not to do on social media. The players are pretty sensible they know what’s expected of them and are a good bunch.”

In any spare time Spencer simply likes to relax with his family. That’s not always possible when you consider his footballing allegiance is with the blue half of Merseyside, although Everton’s recent form included two draws and two wins in late December to raise some festive cheer.

But, let’s make no bones about it, Spencer’s job is challenging and all-consuming. News stories can break at the most inconvenient of times and the club’s highly passionate supporters often demand updates as a prerequisite, sometimes when there’s nothing obvious to report! And not all feedback that emanates into or out of the CACG is positive. But luckily controversies are extremely rare and Spencer takes it all in his stride.

“Gone are the days of the so-called glory years when the players finished training and went down the pub after – they have to look after themselves so much better these days,” he says with a smile. “They are smart boys and know what they can and cannot do and that comes down from instruction from the club captain. So we are really lucky in that respect.”

He adds: “I love the job of course, and you get time off, but you are always on it and doing little things all the time. When the Cameron Bancroft story broke I was in Leamington for a friend’s 40th hoping to spend time with Uni friends that I hadn’t seen for over six years. Suddenly I’m reading this (story) on the sports pages and having to fire up my laptop and suddenly writing press releases instead.

“And then you may be handling stories about Chris Gayle, which can be global, and there are other facets too. But that is just job – you love it so you do it.

“I still get a buzz when I come to work every morning. Even on a cold, foggy day the grass always looks so green and there’s the churches in the background – it is a great place to work and I work for Somerset County Cricket Club. That is huge. I love my job and I love the club.

“I’m never gonna play upfront for Everton or play fly-half for the British and Irish Lions so this is the next best thing,” he adds. “If you are happy in your work life then you are 75% happy in your life.”

Like any sports club, Somerset has a group of people whose efforts in the background go largely unrecognised. These good folk may not be in the spotlight by scoring the runs, taking wickets or holding catches but their contribution should not be understated. In Somerset’s case it is a small team in comparison to the bigger city rivals but highly dedicated, nonetheless. 

The champagne was awarded to Spencer before Christmas and I hope it was enjoyed over the festive season. It was certainly well deserved. Keep up the good work Spencer.