Exclusive: Sheffield Wednesday’s Liam Dooley gives his first interview - talks Premier League ambitions, floodlights and that surname

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Sheffield Wednesday aren’t just breaking records on the pitch this season, but with the help of Liam Dooley and others like him, they’re being broken behind the scenes too. Here’s Part One of an exclusive interview with him.

Wednesday’s Chief Operating Officer looks up from his notebook and smiles as I arrive, a few minutes late, for our interview in the heart of Sheffield. He’s already taken off his big Owls coat that you’ll rarely see him without, and has ordered a coffee ahead of his first interview since taking on the role.

Just over two years have passed since he was appointed by Dejphon Chansiri as the club’s new COO. Fast forward things a bit, and Wednesday are one step away from a return to the Championship.

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It’s safe to say S6 is a pretty good place to be right now, and you can feel the positivity emanating from anybody you talk to – whether that be Dooley, his right-hand man and general manager, Alastair Wilson, the commercial team featuring James Todd, the media team or catering staff that consistently turn out press food that should be the envy of League One.

“Here at Wednesday we all wear lots of hats at different times,” Dooley explains to The Star. “And the whole team has a feeling of togetherness and working as one. Because of that, I like to think that we understand each other’s situations better… It doesn’t mean we always see eye-to-eye on everything, that’s normal, but we’re all for the common goal, and more than 90% of the people here are Wednesdayites – so everyone works incredibly hard for the same cause.

“For us, to go to work every day and try to make something better that you’ve believed in all your life, that you care about so much - it’s the best job you can have. There are unique challenges in the football industry but we all want things to be the best they can possibly be.

“People care so much about the club, and that really does help.”

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Sheffield Wednesday’s Chief Operating Officer, Liam Dooley, at Hillsborough. (Image provided by Steve Ellis)Sheffield Wednesday’s Chief Operating Officer, Liam Dooley, at Hillsborough. (Image provided by Steve Ellis)
Sheffield Wednesday’s Chief Operating Officer, Liam Dooley, at Hillsborough. (Image provided by Steve Ellis)

‘Dooley’ is a name engrained in Sheffield Wednesday culture – in Sheffield culture. There’s a statue of the great Derek Dooley MBE in S2, an executive lounge commemorating him at Hillsborough and a road named in his honour that every person in this city has driven on at some point in time.

So I had to ask…

“As soon as I became COO I knew my name would get attention,” he says with a wry smile. “So I went to my mum and dad and asked them for the family tree. I’ve never had to evidence it before, but yeah, my grandad and Derek were cousins… My mum printed it out for me in case I ever got asked!”

Wednesday’s in the blood, then. Quite literally. He’s sat in those stands, he’s stood in those queues, and alongside numerous other committed people at the club he’s trying to improve things.

“I think after we were relegated in 2021 it gave us the opportunity to press reset and go again,” Dooley explains. “I feel like we’ve made some good decisions since then – from the chairman, and from the management team. There have been critical decisions that we feel we have got right…

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“The strategy in mind is for us to not only get back to the Championship, but – as the chairman has always wanted – into the Premier League again. But you have to balance these things financially at each turn.

“There’s been significant investments along the way… For instance with the kiosks, we’ve improved the systems and our staff and supporters are reaping the benefits.

“The previous till system was taking 45 seconds to process a transaction – which is only about 20 per half time per till. So we trialled a range of new systems, and now we have one installed that can facilitate 4x more transactions.

“Our top five highest ever takings on the kiosks have all been this season… We’re now maximising what we can, whilst speeding up the process and reducing queuing times. The people here are continuing to grow with us, too, and it will keep getting better.

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“But everything is a big investment, especially structural things like piping and heating in what is a traditional stadium. We have a long-term plan, and each year we work our way through that piece by piece to keep moving forward. Last summer it was about the floodlights, the Fan Zone, the kiosks and the staffing. We have significantly reduced agency staff, which in turn reduces costs, brings the matchday operation in-house and benefits the local community in terms of creating employment opportunities.”

None of that would be possible without Chansiri and the money that he’s pumped into the club, of course, and Dooley insists that fans are being listened to more than ever so that they too can benefit.

“We always want to listen,” he says. “We work here to make things better. If you buy a ticket you’re a supporter of this club, if you buy a shirt you’re a supporter of this club, therefore your feedback should always be taken on board.

“You can’t fix every single problem, of course. You have to prioritise things and deal with them on an individual basis. With the floodlights for instance, we did our diligence and commissioned a state-of-the-art system that is future-proofed. The new floodlight system works out 15x cheaper per game and is far more economical.

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“We have to make decisions for the club and the fans. We won’t get everything right, but we will always try to do what we feel is in the best interests of the club and the fan, with both the short and long term in mind.”

Part Two to follow on Saturday…