Craig Salmon talks to new LFA chief executive Roger de Nobrega
Roger de Nobrega was faced with a hugely difficult life decision around 20 years ago.
On the cusp of going to university in Birmingham to study a sports-related degree, the Lytham man was offered the opportunity to take over the running of his parents’ popular Portuguese restaurant in Freckleton.
‘The Caravela’ was renowned among diners in the west and central areas of Lancashire before closing its doors in 2003 when Maurice and Grace de Nobrega took retirement.
They had arrived on these shores in the 1970s from the idyllic Iberian island of Madeira.
Looking to wind down as they edged towards retirement, the De Nobregas asked their two sons – Roger and Stephen, who were both born in the UK – if they fancied taking control.
Both sons – who had grown up around the restaurant – decided to reject the opportunity of a life in the food and drink industry to follow their own dreams, with Roger keen to pursue his passion for the sport of football.
Despite his mum and dad building a reputation for making the best piri piri chicken in the county, Roger – now 39-years-old – has never regretted his life choice.
In fact, it could be argued that his decision all those years ago has proven to be an inspired one.
Not only has he spent the majority of his working adult life involved in the beautiful game, but this year he has been appointed to the plum role of chief executive at the Lancashire Football Association.
When previous incumbent David Burgess decided to leave his post after 13 years to become the new managing director at Accrington Stanley, Roger was the standout candidate to replace him.
Having worked in a variety of roles and undertaken several voluntary positions as well, Roger’s rise to become the head of football’s governing body in the county is a reward for a long devotion to the sport.
But what about if he had taken up his parents’ offer back in the mid-1990s and continued his father’s tradition of serving the best Portuguese steak around?
“When we had the restaurant, the people would come from miles around for the food because it was the only Portuguese restaurant in Lancashire,” said Roger.
“The customers would love the piri piri chicken in particular.
“I sometimes get asked by people, ‘Do you not fancy setting-up the restaurant again?’
“But it’s a hard business.
“I did get actually asked if I fancied taking over the restaurant at one point, before I went to university.
“Me and my brother got asked if we would like to take it on.
“But I was big on my football and I wanted to see whether I could work in the industry.
“So I went to university, did my degree and it’s all worked out well for me in the end.”
Apart from providing his parents’ a great source of income to raise a family after emigrating to the UK, Roger has ‘The Caravela’ to thank for other reasons too.
“I did actually meet my wife Beth there,” Roger said with a smile.
“She used to work there, so in many ways the restaurant has been good to me.”
Roger arrived at the LFA in 2004 as a football development officer after holding a similar position with Blackpool Borough Council.
In recent years, he became the chief operating officer working more closely with Burgess in the business and governance side of the LFA.
It was a natural progression to become the chief executive, but his elevation to the role in January still came as a surprise to him.
“If I’m being completely honest, it came as a bit of a shock to me,” said Roger, who is based at the LFA’s headquarters, in Thurston Road, Leyland.
“I was obviously not expecting David to go.
“He had been here 13 years and if he was being completely honest, he could have stayed on and made it 20-odd years.
“It is a pressured job, but David could do it and he could have just carried on what he had been doing.
“But he got approached by Accrington Stanley.
“They wanted someone to take over the football side of things. He looked at his circumstances and thought, ‘My kids are grown up – what have I got to lose?
“That was in November.
“He said to me he was leaving and told me that he was going to suggest to the Board that I should be taken on.
“A few weeks later, there was a Board meeting and they agreed that I would get the job.
“We are sort of on a six-month period to see whether I like it and they like it, then after that the position is permanent.
“But up to now, at this stage, everything is going well.”
As a football development officer, Roger worked closely with clubs and players at grassroots level and above.
He helped to improve their standards and broaden their horizons – trying to offer as many opportunities for people – both young and old – to take up the sport.
As chief operating officer and now the chief executive, his role is less hands-on, but more strategic.
“The chief operating officer role was about the day-to-day operation of the site here in Leyland,” he said. “Getting involved with a lot the behind-the-scenes stuff.
“For example over the past 12 months, clubs have started to use an online facility called the Whole Game System.
“So they can go online and pay their disciplinary fines or affiliate their club every year or they can book on to a course.
“Everything is moving to an online portal.
“Traditionally, it’s all been paper and pen – and emails.
“In terms of discipline, traditionally it was all about filling in a form, writing a cheque and posting it.
“All the county FAs are now using this Whole Game System and it’s made life easier for clubs and volunteers.
“Obviously from our side, it was a new system for the clubs to get used to and so it was a big thing for me because I was in charge of rolling that out across the county and supporting the clubs.
“So I have gained a broad insight and experience into both the development and governance side of things.
“I have had an overview of pretty much everything and so that will help me in this new role, although obviously there’s one or two things which do get thrown at you which surprise you and you have got to deal with it.”
Over the coming months and years, Roger – who has a four-year-old daughter Freya and a son Max (one) will be presented with the opportunity of putting his own stamp on the job.
He would like to continue the work of improving the LFA’s image among clubs and players.
“I think there is still that perception of the only time players and clubs hear about the county FA is when they’re getting fines or they have to attend an appeal hearing,” he said.
“There is a lot of good work that we do and it’s about trying to create that perception that we are not just about fining.
“We can help clubs and teams grow.
“Our job is about growing the game in Lancashire and to try to support volunteers with funding.
“We have a number of funding schemes which clubs can tap into.
“The LFA works in conjunction with the Football Foundation, which is one of the biggest funders of football.
“So if a club wanted to develop for example an Under-18s team or a women’s team or a disabled team, they would work with one of our development officers who would support them all the way through the process.
“We would provide them with the funding to get people on coaching courses and enable them to pay for criminal record checks.
“Ultimately, what we want to do is get more people playing or involved in the game.
“That is what we are about.
“We are not about fining people, although that is part and parcel of football.
“There has to be rules and regulations which obviously we are governed by the FA.
“I think for me, it’s about trying to create that wider communication.”
In order to reach out and communicate with its member clubs, Roger is intent on increasing the LFA’s presence on things like social media.
“We use social media a lot more these days,” he said.
“We have more than 9,000 followers on Twitter and more than 2,000 likes on Facebook.
“It’s about getting our message out there that we are doing things a bit differently.
“For example, one of the things we did this year was do a live ‘FA Cup-style’ draw on YouTube for our County Cup competitions.
“We have 17 competitions from Under-12s right through to the seniors.
“Each competition has its own sponsor, but instead of just getting the sponsor involved for the final, we got them involved right from the start.
“We would get them in and do the draw like you would see for the FA Cup on Match Of The Day.
“As we pulled the names out of the hat, the clubs would tune-in as it was happening.
“That is something no other county FA has done.
“Doing it live was a bit of an experience, but it made it exciting for everyone who was involved. These are the kind of things we are trying to do.”
Roger’s love affair with football began when he was a young child and began playing the sport.
He was good enough to sign schoolboy forms with Preston North End, although his dream of becoming a professional ended in the managerial office at Deepdale.
“I always played football but I never really got close to becoming a professional,” he said.
“I was actually on the books at Preston at one time.
“It was Sam Allardyce who told me I was not good enough to make it.
“I would have been about 16 and it got to the point where I would have been an apprentice if I had been accepted.
“Preston still had the plastic pitch at the time and I went down to train at Deepdale one Thursday.
“Sam called me in and said, ‘I’m sorry Roger – we are going to have to let you go’.
“I was gutted at the time – anybody would be.
“It was my dream to be a professional footballer, but looking back I knew I was not good enough – I had no left foot!”
Roger continued to play the game as an amateur, but then got involved as a volunteer at junior club Lytham YMCA.
“If there is any little bit of advice I can give to anyone – it’s get involved in volunteering at grassroots level,” he said.
“If you want to work in football, you have got to learn what encompasses football at grassroots. Some of the lads who used to play for my junior team are now working in professional football and that’s because they have a background in volunteering.”
Although still on the committee at Lytham YMCA, due to an increased workload, Roger has reduced his voluntary commitments over the last few years
But the bug of being in it at the sharp end saw him take the club’s newly-formed girls’ team under his wing a couple of years ago.
Meanwhile, the first few months of his tenure at the helm of the LFA has certainly been a challenge, especially as grounds, pitches and fixture lists have been badly affected by this winter’s floods and bad weather.
“It’s been a challenge,” said Roger. “We have clubs who have not played for 13 weeks and there’s been clubs like Garstang, whose ground was flooded.
“There has been funding available to help those clubs who have been badly affected, but ultimately you cannot dictate the weather.
“Next year we might have one of the mildest winter – you just don’t know.”