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Thoughts on club and financial strategy

Before I start on the main content of this piece here’s a few words on the football. As those who were there will testify the performance at Preston was awful with hardly a redeeming feature – it was the play-off games with Huddersfield but far worse. During the Tuesday press conference Carlos put it down to the players being over-excited which I am sure most fans would struggle to comprehend. During that same presser Rob Staton asked all the right questions about lack of crosses into the box and how to get the best from Jordan Rhodes to which he didn’t get a straight answer. Anyway the Chezzie game did produce a better and more energetic performance with lots of crosses (not always the best quality though) and Bannan back to his best. We should have won by more than three goals, however there was a dodgy spell mid-way through the 2nd half when Chezzie got behind our defence a few times and could have scored. A welcome improvement then but the context of it being against a League 2 side has to be remembered. We have 3 very important games ahead from which 5 points is the minimum haul required with 7 being really needed to restore confidence. But it’s not just results: performances need to improve too as, over time, results tend to follow performances.


The negativity that followed the Preston defeat was the opening of a safety valve of frustration that had built up since the play-off defeat and then a summer of silence from the club, modest progress on recruitment and the kit business. We are told by some that those who complain should remember how bad it was under Dave Allen and be grateful for what we have. So, for the record I want to acknowledge that under DC there has been significant investment in the team, the academy, the training ground and the pitches at both Hillsborough and Middlewood. He has demonstrated a strong commitment to the club and is determined to ensure it is financially viable. Overall there has been major improvement and we are grateful for it.


On the other side it has to be recognised that player recruitment has not always been up to scratch – we have wasted money on players who don’t fit in or are deemed not good enough. The move away from stripes is a personal DC whim and not something fans wanted. The commercial side of the club and shop needs a re-vamp. Communication with fans has been patchy. Outcomes on the pitch are outside DC’s control but we blew a massive opportunity to get promoted in May and thereby transform the club’s finances. A 5 hour Steering Group meeting led to a club statement which effectively set out the financial and FFP challenges we have and apologised/explained the major delay with new kit. So, what does this mean for our prospects?


Let me start by saying that I have never asked that an owner/board member put their own money into our football club, in my view we have no right to ask this and nothing in this piece constitutes such a demand. DC has spent money on buying the club, clearing debts and investing in it via loans of £18m. I don’t know how wealthy he is personally but it is a considerable commitment, I also don’t know if he has the capacity or willingness to invest more but is limited by the FFP rules. FFP dictates that we have to live within our means plus a loss of £39m over 3 seasons without risking a transfer embargo and/or large financial penalty, the fact that the club is now saying that FFP is impacting on the club must mean that we are close to those limits. Hence the limited transfer resources available this summer. Further increases to season ticket or match day tickets might be self-defeating. TV income is out of our hands largely. Can we get better value from other income sources such as sponsorship of shirts and stadium? Could the commercial arm be doing better? This search for income has led to the ‘1867 Club’ plan which is surely targeted at wealthy people/corporates who are only interested in PL football but might be prepared to stump up cash now on a promise that they will get 3 season tickets guaranteed for PL football if it happens. It’s football but not as we know it!


I believe that staying within FFP rules is the right thing for the club to do – we don’t want a repeat of past crises or a replication of other clubs travails eg Forest. But that might mean a different strategy towards achieving promotion with less players on £25k - £35k per week and more towards recruitment of younger/cheaper players who are led by an innovative, high quality coach. The Huddersfield model is interesting here with attendances of 14k, a tight wage budget, an astute Director of Football, clever signings, a very good manager and they achieved more than we did whilst spending far less. There might be other alternative models but surely if we don’t get up this season there will have to be some serious thinking about the model we are to follow in future to try to be successful and sustainable? There would also have to be a corresponding debate about what expectations we have of the club if we are to maintain sustainability in the context of other clubs having PL parachute dosh and/or being willing to take a gamble with FFP. Or, are we willing to take the FFP gamble, if DC had the cash and was willing to fund it?


Food for thought and your thoughts are welcome.
 

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15.12.2017
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