After a stellar career, major general Lamont Kirkland CBE left the army to become CEO of Team Army, funding competitive sport in the armed forces.
Lamont Kirkland says that one of the reasons he joined the army was to pursue his interest in sport. Now he is helping others to do the same as founder and chief executive of the charity Team Army. Kirkland, who climbed to the rank of major general, was commander of the army’s 4th Division and chairman of the army’s winter sports, rugby and boxing associations when he realised that the success of sport in the military depended on it becoming better organised and better funded.
He says: ‘I had just had a conversation with a sponsor about rugby, then a week later met him again to talk about funding for boxing. He said: “Haven’t I just seen you?”, and I thought there had to be a better way of doing things.’
This resulted in Team Army, which was set up to raise funding for, and distribute money to, serving men and women. Both serving personnel and those who have recently retired from the armed forces through disability qualify for consideration. And it covers a wide range of sports; the 52 sports currently within its remit include paragliding, kart racing and angling.
Unlike charities such as Help for Heroes, Team Army helps fund those who are able-bodied, as well as those who are disabled, to compete in sport. Among those it has supported are captain Heather Stanning, gold medallist in the women’s coxless rowing pairs at the 2012 Olympics, and sergeant Mick Brennan, a Team GB athlete and member of the Combined Services Disabled Ski Team that took part in the 2014 Winter Paralympics in Sochi, Russia.
More than 100 serving personnel have represented their country at elite level, but most of those benefiting from Team Army sponsorship compete at grass roots.
The armed forces place a high value on sport. General Sir Nicholas Carter, chief of the general staff, says: ‘My starting point is that it helps our army win in battle. It plays a vital role in welfare, morale, operational effectiveness and recovery. Sport produces soldiers who build and lead teams by habit and reflex.
‘It generates and maintains cohesion. It nurtures pride and that essential corollary – humility. It encourages leaders to think clearly, confidently and positively when under pressure. And fundamentally it feeds a winning culture and ethos that inspire hunger for success on the battlefield.’
Kirkland has experienced these benefits at first hand. He joined the army straight from school, training at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, before taking a commission as second lieutenant with the Royal Engineers. He played hockey and rugby; and he represented Scotland at junior level in athletics – sprinting and field events.
During his first few years in the army he pursued his sporting interests, representing Hampshire in both athletics and rugby. And he was offered the chance to play rugby for the England Under 23s. ‘I turned it down because I am Scottish. Not playing rugby at international level is one of my lifelong regrets,’ he says.
After 12 years with the Royal Engineers, Kirkland suffered a career crisis. ‘I wanted to spend my career at the sharp end – where the opportunities lay. My instinct told me to get close to the front line.’
He transferred to the infantry in 1991, serving in the Falklands, Northern Ireland, Sierra Leone and the Balkans before returning to the UK to oversee operations in the Balkans. He took command of the 4th Division in 2008 and worked on Team Army in his ‘spare time’ for a year before deciding that serving at a senior level and running an organisation with a £1 million turnover was not a comfortable combination.
The early years were nerve-wracking; he risked £250,000 of his own money on hiring Chelsea FC’s Stamford Bridge for the first fundraising event in 2010 – a boxing night. In fact the night, organised with help from major Simon Roffey, now an Associate Partner with St. James’s Place and Kirkland’s financial adviser, covered its costs and raised £100,000 to help launch Team Army. But the experience persuaded him to set up a limited company – Ethos – to absorb trading and reputational risks.
Before founding Team Army in January 2011, Kirkland was raising about £150,000 in sponsorship each year for the three sporting areas he represented. Now he raises more than £1 million a year; and Team Army has distributed more than
£3 million in grants to nearly 80 service sports associations.
It’s not just the sportspeople who benefit, however. Kirkland meets the 35 sponsors and organises a sporting event every month to enable them to network. At Twickenham, where the army and navy hold an annual match watched by 82,000 people in the stadium and five million on TV, the army rugby shirt is a huge seller, second only in numbers to the England rugby shirt. ‘Sponsoring Team Army is not a donation so much as a value exchange,’ Kirkland says.
Team Army has just signed an ‘affinity’ relationship with St. James’s Place to provide advice to military trustees and service personnel. Any funds raised through this arrangement will also go towards supporting its sportspeople.
Kirkland is still a keen sportsman himself, spending much of his free time in the Alps skiing, hill walking, mountain biking and game shooting. As a Harley-Davidson owner, he is also a patron of Ride to the Wall, and takes part in its annual ride to the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire – an event that enables motorcyclists to pay their respects to the 16,000 servicemen and servicewomen whose names are recorded there.
He may not compete anymore, but he is still contributing as much, if not more, to ensure that competitive sport in the armed forces goes from strength to strength.
Born 10 August 1957
Educated at Strathallan School, Scotland, followed by training at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst
Commissioned to the Royal Engineers as a second lieutenant in October 1976; promoted to lieutenant in March 1978, captain in September 1982 and major in September 1989
Transferred to the Green Howards in December 1991,(and was promoted to lieutenant colonel on appointment as commanding officer of the Green Howards in June 1994)
Appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in December 1997 for his service in the former Yugoslavia
Promoted to colonel in June 2000, and brigadier in June 2003
In the 2005 New Year’s Honours he was promoted to Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE)
Became commander of the 4th Division in November 2008, receiving promotion to major general; he also became chairman of the winter sports, rugby and boxing associations
Retired from the army in January 2012 to become full-time CEO of Team Army
Married, with two children, a working cocker spaniel and a Harley-Davidson