A Strategy for Stirling

In my saves on previous editions of Football Manager I’ve tended to set out quite structured aims and targets at the beginning of the save. This time round with Stirling we started out in the third tier and I knew I eventually wanted to grow the club and take it to the next level but one of the main initial aims I had was survival. We were part-time and forward-planning is a bit of a dirty word at that level like I said in my initial introductory post. Fast forward to the beginning of the 2026/27 season and we’ll be starting season ten with the aim of retaining the SPL crown after the clubs first ever top tier title win last season. Who’d have thought it?

The club has obviously come a long way in that time, and the restructured Scottish football leagues seem to have enabled clubs in the country to go from strength to strength. With all of these things in mind, plus the fact that Stewart Brown, our long-standing chairman in-game, stepped aside after the title win to be replaced by Graeme Mackay, I felt it was time to get some aims written down. I’ll be looking to keep these things front of mind over the next part of the save. Here’s my Strategy for Stirling.

Stirling Success

A culture of success needs to be created. This includes retaining the Scottish Premier League trophy, winning the Scottish Cup and securing our first Scottish Supercup. The first aim will be to secure the clubs first double, winning the SPL and the Scottish Cup in the same season with the aim then becoming to secure a treble. From there, winning domestic trophies needs to be maintained season-on-season.

The club punched well above its weight last season in Europe, reaching the Europa League semi final. Lifting a European trophy isn’t something a club from Scotland has done since 1983 so saying I’m setting out to win the Champions or Europa League is a bit too much of a stretch target. The minimum aim will be to qualify for the Champions League group stage each season, with the next step being to progress from it into the knockout phase.

Both of the above aspects will also lead to improving the club, the league and the country’s position on the continent. The club’s current position in the European Club Rankings is 42nd, the short-term aim is to be the highest ranked Scottish club (meaning we overtake Celtic who’re currently 26th), with the eventual long-term hope to break into the top 15 highest ranked clubs on the continent. The SPL has certainly benefited from the restructure and now sits in 9th place in the continents most reputable leagues, with the country sitting 9th in the European coefficient points too. This translates to the champions directly qualifying for the Champions League group stage, and a further team going in at the best placed 3rd qualifying round. The team in 3rd place qualifies for the Europa League group stage, with another two teams going into the early qualifying rounds. The immediate aim is to get the nation up to 6th in order to gain an extra qualifying place for the Champions League group stage, but this can’t be done solely on our own. We need Celtic, Rangers and whoever else qualifies for Europe to have positive seasons in order to build the nations coefficient points and overtake Belgium, Holland and Portugal.

Success isn’t just expected from the senior side. Stirling’s Futures (u21 side) have won the league two seasons running now, and secured their first domestic cup win last year too. The aim is for Scott Robertson to continue the winning feeling at youth level. Alongside trophy wins it’s also essential to continue developing players to make the move into the first team. Kevin “Cairnseh” Cairns is the shining light of the Stirling youth system so far. Young players coming into the club need to get inspired by his journey from young prospect in the third tier to making 204 appearances to date, earning a Scotland cap and playing in the Europa League semi final.

Underpinning the success and enabling the player development will be an elite coaching culture. Over the past few seasons, the club has massively improved the number and quality of coaches, and the backroom staff in general. There’s no comparison between the club I took over ahead of the 2017/18 season and now as I move into my tenth season in charge, with well-known international names Walter Samuel and Jaap Stam complemented by well-known domestic names such as John Kennedy and Gordon Durie. The aim will be to continue to maximise the number of backroom staff allowed by the board and to have the best quality of staff in the league on hand to aid our players to become the best they can be.

Stirling System

The way we play has been well documented here, and is often cited by other FMers (on Twitter and Slack) as a recommended way to set up. The side has been playing this way now for five seasons with zero changes to the way it was set up initially.

The style of play ties into the success category too. Stirling sides are solid and combative but the goal is always to win no matter what. There’s no desire to get a specific amount of possession or passes per match. There’s no pressing triggers or set ways players need to move into half-spaces. If we make a lot of passes or I see my players pressing the opposition into making mistakes, and we win, great. If we have an off day, don’t play well and lose, fine. We dust ourselves off and try to win the next match.

The system is less about the formation and roles, and more about the players. Nobody embodies an ideal Stirling player more than Edvin Horvat.

Aggressive, determined, hard-working and physical. Filling my Stirling side with athletes, who of course have a little bit of technical ability too, stands us in good stead over our domestic opponents. We lead the league in pace, stamina, aggression and teamwork, which is nice to see already. That needs to be maintained along with improving our collective determination from 3rd to 1st, work rate from 5th to 1st and acceleration and strength from 2nd to 1st.

A Strong Stirling

The club has grown considerably over the last nine seasons. That growth needs to continue though in order for the club to remain in it’s very strong position domestically, and to give us the best possible platform to do well in Europe. Coupled with the success we’re aiming for, the prize money that comes alongside that will help to enable the first growth aim, having £100m in the club balance. This also ties in strongly with another success aim, as developing, buying and selling on players, like we’ve seen in recent seasons with Rees, Gale and Freeman, will help add to the club finances. The club is currently valued at £114m and we’ll aim to continually improve that in the coming seasons too.

As we grow our reputation by being domestically dominant and competing on the continent, the commercial revenues the club brings in should grow too. £1.5m was brought in from sponsors at the beginning of season ten, and I’d like to see this double in the next couple of years with renewals and additional ones brought on board. The merchandising revenues will also increase. The amount we earned from sales of the kit last season was relatively small at just over £100k, but again as we grow in stature, it’ll increase. A way to bolster this amount is to sign up affiliate clubs from overseas. Ahead of the new season, a partnership with Newcastle Jets in Australia was announced, which will see us head over there for a friendly each season and grow the Stirling image abroad. Based on its success, similar tie ins will be explored with additional clubs over the next few seasons.

The 14,031 capacity Samo Stadium opened at the beginning of season nine, with the league average attendance in our first season of playing there being just under 10k. As soon as it opened though thoughts immediately moved to thinking about when it could be expanded further. It’s currently the ninth biggest stadium in the country, that’s in use by a club side anyway. It’d be great to get it to 20k and be on a par with Tynecaste Park, Easter Road and Pittodrie. The impact that would have on our revenues can’t be played down either, especially considering the season-on-season increase of 198% in gate receipts from the old to the new stadium.

The final aim is to have best in class facilities for our elite coaching culture to operate in. Significant improvements have already been made on this front since I joined the club, as you can see below, but with more still to be done. Our training facilities are still average and our youth recruitment could be improved too to ensure we’ve got every chance of attracting promising young players to the club and developing them to be the best they can be.

Summary

Want the too long; didn’t read version of the strategy in image form? That first SPL title win last season doesn’t signal the end of my time at Stirling. It just signals the start of another phase on the way to becoming one of Scotland’s biggest and best football clubs. I hope you’ll keep joining me as I document the progress on delivering the strategy aims and my attempts at building a dominating dynasty. Who the hell finds success boring? ??‍♂️??

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