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By John McCallum
Spending the school holidays in Davaar Avenue, playing massed games of football in the street, will always be a special memory.
One football-fanatical onlooker in those days was the late John Viola, who while not tending his garden in summer bloom, told us proudly about the exploits of his nephew, his namesake – and one of Scotland’s most successful football agents.
Near his Glasgow office, from where he manages the needs of a wide network of top professional players, I met with John Viola, who recalled many happy trips to the Wee Toon to visit his uncle John, and aunt Nan, who still lives in the town.
He said: ‘The family visited Campbeltown a lot, and I remember going as a young man to visit my aunt and uncle.
‘Even when uncle John came to visit my family he talked a lot about Campbeltown.’
John, originally from Easterhouse in Glasgow’s east end, worked in financial services before entering the football business.
Since starting out as a full-time agent in 1995, he boasts an impressive list of clients past and present.
They include Chris Sutton, who transferred from Chelsea to Celtic in the summer of 2000 for £6 million, and a World Cup-winning duo, Brazil’s Roberto Carlos, and Christian Karembeu of France, both playing with the mighty Real Madrid.
Earlier his year John helped bring World Cup-winning German, André Schürrle, from Borussia Dortmund to English Premier League side Fulham.
But on taking his first steps into the football industry, it looked a very costly career path for John.
He explained: ‘At the time, football’s governing body FIFA required £100,000 to grant an agent’s licence, perhaps to discourage those not serious about the profession.
‘I scrimped, saved, sold – it was a big risk – but I worked hard to establish myself and my agency, Viola FC.
‘What also helped was there were less agents around then, with only 50 to 100 operating in the UK. Now, with less regulation in place, there are thousands.’
True to the name, Viola FC is a family-run agency – his son Johnny joined its ranks in early 2017 – with their main work both in representing players coming to the UK, and ‘brokering’.
John explained: ‘We mostly represent footballers transferring to the UK, while brokering involves working with clubs, players and other agents to help bring those players here.
‘That said, we have done a lot of work in countries such as Brazil and China in recent years, where there is a huge appetite for football. You make valuable contacts and get to see some exciting players.’
However, for John the image of the football agent thrashing out a lucrative deal for himself as well as for the player, fails to tell the whole story.
He explained: ‘Of course working in football can be financially rewarding, but it’s a hard job. People think you’re just walking around in a suit with a laptop and phone, but so much goes into being a player representative.
‘You need to travel a lot, and that means lots of airport lounges and hotel rooms.
‘You’re working long days and doing lots behind the scenes, and all year round, because that’s what it takes.
‘The public see the excitement of the transfer windows on TV and then think that’s all agents do.
‘If an agent does their job properly, they are available day and night, looking after the whole package for the player, like houses and children’s schooling.
‘We’re more than a ‘necessary evil’, we do an important service for both the club, and the player.’
Thinking about Campbeltown visits again, John brings up a memorable trip to the Wee Toon, where his son Johnny (who in another Kintyre connection has Carradale’s Cameron Willis as his flatmate) became an unofficial pool champ.
John said: ‘My uncle John took us to the Commercial Inn to watch a game of football on the TV. Johnny was only young but he ‘won’ a pool competition in the pub.
‘Of course, the adults had let him win, but he believed for about ten years he was the pool champion of Campbeltown!
‘That’s just one but I have lots of good memories of visiting Campbeltown, and the surrounding areas, such as Machrihanish.
‘For me Kintyre is a special part of Scotland.’
Reflecting on a career in football of more than 20 years, including representing many Celtic and Rangers players, his hunger as an agent remains.
John, whose recent travels include talent-scouting missions to Portugal and Ghana, added: ‘I am blessed to do this job. I have made some great personal connections and am even godfather to some players’ children.
I grew up in Easterhouse, and now I get to work with top players and managers, visiting great stadiums. It’s not bad to be able to say that.
‘At the same time, I know I have worked hard for those opportunities and I don’t take them for granted.’
John Viola with his son Johnny centre and former client, and now colleague, Craig Moore in Ghana.