Strengthening the connection between Kilmarnock FC and the community
By Iain Ferguson
Billy Bowie’s commitment to Kilmarnock Football Club has never been in question, but recently
revealed plans for a state of the art training facility on the outskirts of the town is further proof – if it
was needed – that the club’s owner and majority shareholder is determined to lift Killie to a new level.
The Bowie Park Training Facility which will initially cost around £1.5 million will enable the first team, youth academy and ladies’ teams to be housed together under one roof.
An added bonus will be the part it will play in attracting senior players to the club, therefore, further strengthening the squad.
The groundworks on the development are due to commence in August and the Facility comprises four pitches (two full-size and two five-a-side) and a stand. There will be a two-storey training facility housing a gym, dressing rooms, canteen, café, seminar room, offices and a players’ lounge. In addition there will be a large laundry to meet the demands of keeping training gear and strips in pristine condition.
It will be designed in such a way that the first team training pitch will be secluded allowing the players to train in total privacy.
The fledging Killie youngsters will be encouraged to strive for the day they graduate from the Academy changing rooms to cross the threshold of the ‘golden door’ taking them to the first team dressing rooms area, signifying they have earned the right to train with the senior squad.
The facility will be built at Struthers Farm, east of the A77 between Kilmarnock and Crookedholm. It is only a short drive from both Rugby Park and the town centre and Billy even plans to build a new road into the site.
Surrounded by plans for the exciting project he outlined his vision in the Killie Museum that traces the history of the club that dates back to 1869.
Sitting alongside pictures, trophies and memorabilia from bygone days, these architects’ drawings plot the long term future of Scotland’s second oldest senior football club and it’s something that has the owner and majority shareholder barely able to contain his excitement.
So why a state of the art training facility and why now?
Billy stated: “We revamped our youth academy two years ago and have recruited a lot of good people, but we were using different pitches for training and I feel you have got to have everything under one roof.
“This means the coaches can have an eye on all age groups and gives players and staff alike a base from where to work, and I feel the new facility will achieve that.
“We have been told over the years that our youth academy is not fit for purpose by various managers who feel we should be producing more young players, although, in fairness we have had one or two players in the first team from the Academy every year but the aim is to have more. It’s picking up but it can be better.
“As well, we are a feeder club offering players the opportunity to move on to bigger teams and if we sell the odd player every season that money would go back into the training academy.
“This bespoke facility at the heart of our homeland will lay the foundations to continue the club’s long-term growth from grassroots level upwards and see the men’s, women’s and Academy teams develop within the same purpose-built environment.”
A major spin-off of the facility is that it will provide a carrot to dangle in front of would-be signings as Billy explained: “When a player sees training facilities like we are going to have it could persuade them to sign for Kilmarnock. If they have other clubs calling you have to convince them yours is the best and this will help greatly.”
The teams who will play their games on the new full-size pitches include various Academy age groups, women’s teams and also Stewarton United a local amateur club sponsored by Billy.
He said: “One pitch will solely be for Kilmarnock Football Club but the other pitches can be rented out to local teams and groups. It has to earn a lot of money to break even. The Academy and ladies’ teams will play their home matches there and the stand will run alongside that pitch.
“I honestly feel that by the time we have the two full-sized 4G AstroTurf pitches in operation there will already be a need for a third, and by then we will probably be two years down the line from now and it will be a grass pitch to coincide with Rugby Park reverting to grass.”
Billy first started sponsoring Kilmarnock in the late 1990s through his company Billy Bowie Tankers and was appointed to the Board in 2013 investing significantly in the club. Six years later the then owner Michael Johnston sold him his remaining shares in the club and Billy became major shareholder and the club’s owner.
Looking back to the when he first joined the Board he recalled: “At that time the team trained in Glasgow and that was the main reason for changing the pitch to AstroTurf, allowing the players to train at Rugby Park on a daily basis and bringing them back into Kilmarnock.
“By keeping the new facilities local we are further strengthening the connection between the team and our community. In addition to renting out pitches at the training facility, there will also be a café where locals can go and that will also add to the community feel.”
There was a public consultation on the plans at the Killie Museum in December with Roddy Dunn from Thomson Hunter Associates, the Kilmarnock-based architects responsible for the plans, and Billy present alongside other Board members.
One of the issues brought up at that consultation was quickly fixed by the forward-thinking Kilmarnock chairman. Concerns were raised about a stand potentially attracting several hundred cars to the site but Billy quickly allayed these fears.
He said: “I own 20 acres at the site so there is plenty of room and I’ve elected to build a road. There is one at present that could have been upgraded but I’ve decided to build a new one so we are in total control of traffic management.”
Billy also intends hard-coring part of the area so that anyone wanting to hold an event can do so bringing more money into the coffers to help fund the facility.
He has another plan to raise funds adding: “I have built up a fair property portfolio in Kilmarnock both at Rowallan and at Quarryholm Road and if I rent them out some of the proceeds will go into the training academy as well.”
The wheels are very much in motion on the Bowie Park Training Facility with East Ayrshire Council being very supportive, and Billy is confident the centre will be the envy of many clubs throughout the country.