How we got caught up in Poppygate

Did we save the day for England? Well not quite but the way we’ve things have worked out with the England fans team has been great and we have seen once again the importance of developing relationships.

The saga over the past couple of days over whether FIFA would allow England (and the other home countries) to play wearing a poppy is the type of story made for the Daily Mail and the other tabloids and sure enough they’ve risen to the occasion. A happy by product of this has been the coverage we’ve received, as we host the England Supporters in their match against their Spanish counterparts.

We’ve got to know Garford Beck since we’ve been at Ruislip. One of his roles in the game is as manager/organiser of the England fans team. Garford brought the team to Grosvenor Vale for a recent game against the Welsh and as they had a good experience wanted to bring the team back for the games against Spain and Sweden in the coming days.

We’re very happy to help. Anything which brings people onto the site is normally a good thing and the bar take is most welcome too. Following the Welsh game , the two forthcoming matches were both allocated to one of the pitches run by Wealdstone Juniors at the top of the site.

However, as the poppy story broke, the Mail and others were able to report how the England Supporters will be wearing a specially designed kit with the poppy as an integral part of it. This really caught the imagination. Sky are now due to come down and the BBC are also showing interest. High ranking officials from the Spanish Embassy are coming, and we also expect some senior figures from the Football Association. So Saturday’s game is suddenly big news. It will be now played on the main pitch as well and we are keen that not only the players and organisers but all our guests enjoy their experience of Grosvenor Vale and want to come again.

From a practical point of view we might need some help too. Paul Rumens, Peter and Pauline Worby, Fingers and Leo Morris will all be making sure everything is where it needs to be but we might need some others to help too and would welcome any Wealdstone fan who can get along on Saturday to help – we will get any specific message about help required out on the website or Forum.

And these relationships are important. Notwithstanding fees received for use of the site and money taken over the bar, I have no doubt whatsoever that the more good relationships we have with people in the game, the more this can only benefit Wealdstone FC in the long term, whether through future commercial opportunities or just through added interest in the Club.

Stop press!  FIFA have relented and are allowing England to wear the poppy so maybe the press interest in coming on Saturday will fade but let’s hope for some coverage that makes us proud of Grosvenor Vale and Wealdstone FC.



A must read

Wealdstone manager Gordon Bartlett, together with WFC supporter Roger Slater (author of the Club’s History) have published Gordon’s autobiography “Off the Bench.

We got our copy of on the day it came out (when the Cray game was cancelled a fortnight ago) but since then my daughter Daisy has been reading it, which is not bad considering she typically doesn’t read books! Yesterday she said that I could have it now that she has finished though she did admit to only starting halfway through the Wealdstone years.

It’s obviously quite a feat for a non league manager to publish an autobiography and no doubt if anyone deserves to tell the story of his career then Gordon does. Let’s hope there are a few more chapters to write still.

I suspect that this book will get some really good media coverage and I’ve tried to attach a copy of the article that appeared in the Watford programme yesterday. Off The Bench Watford prog

So although I haven’t yet read it others are telling me it’s a great read so order your copy from the Wealdstone Megastore now.

Entertaining tomorrow

Although the news about Rick will cast something of a shadow over the day tomorrow we will still welcome Canvey Island to what is always a hard fought encounter.

We have a busy day though both before and after the game. Before the game we are providing lunch to a good number of sponsors and vice-presidents. A chance to say thank you and to welcome them more into the club. We have a couple of large parties involved in sponsoring the game tomorrow as well and in the evening Jon Taffel is belatedly celebrating his half century.

Could be a busy day, let’s hope the football doesn’t disappoint.

Funding success?

As well as what has been happening off the field I wanted to write about some of the decisions and struggles we deal with as we try to give Gordon as good a budget as we can, in order to be competitive in this year’s Ryman Premier League.

Let’s face it, last season’s near miss from the play-offs and the FA Cup run should encourage us that it shouldn’t take much more for us to achieve greater success this season. The apparently marquee signing of Scott Fitzgerald and the other notable signings help build the expectation.

We all read about other Clubs in financial troubles, cutting their budgets. We also know that there are more players than ever before available as the pro clubs particularly let more and more promising players go. Remember though some of our opponents can make some fairly significant cuts to their budgets but still comfortably pay more than us. It just shows what the gap was before.

It wasn’t just the performance on the field that was good last season, our financial performance was exceptional. As always with a Club budget some things were much better than expected (FA Cup prize money being an obvious example) but other things did not perform as well as hoped, such as our commercial efforts in a particularly difficult market and even the lack of Saturday games meaning crowds and income down on what they might have been. However, prudent management meant we more or less broke even last season, for pretty much the first time in many many years (other than the year Jermaine was sold to Leeds). You can see the important role 100:400 played last season.

Our goal at the end of last season was to keep the budget at the same level as last season. When we set the budget we knew that we could not confirm that we could continue to afford this level of investment through the season. This is a worry. We have built up an excellent reputation among players as a club who always pay players on time and who have never thrown money at the start of the season and then cut the playing budget hard after the FA Cup exit. We treat people the right way and as a result players are interested in us even if we can’t compete with some of the other offers they receive.

Some generous donations meant we could confirm to Gordon that we would achieve the playing budget that we wanted and, according to our forecasts, have some money in the bank for the start of next season. Our goal is now to raise both the amount that will be there for the start of next season and we are working hard to do that, as well as – if we can – the playing budget for this season.

I’ve said previously that after 100:400 last year I didn’t want the Club to ask Supporters to put their collective hands in their pocket so soon. I am acutely aware of how difficult it is for many people and the Club has no right to expect people to keep supporting the team with extra cash. However, by the same token, I’ve also regularly said that we are one of the original ‘fans’ clubs so to some extent the quality of the team on the field will always be impacted by how much supporters want to help. In that vein, I am delighted that Dominic and Jez amongst others have launched TaskForceTen. The money they raise will be a big help to the team Gordon can put out – and it is genuine supporter led activity for which we are very grateful.

The Club works very hard to generate funds. There are certain monies we need to have simply to run a football club at the level we are, keep the stadium in reasonable working order etc. Most of the money we receive is earmarked for the playing side – this is the way it has always been and will always be – there should not be any doubt about this, though we must continue to be prudent and not chase success that cannot ever be guaranteed.

We continue to be tough on costs and without wanting to sound like a broken record it is all about income. The more we can raise commercially, through the gate or through other means ultimately the more we can put into trying to have a successful team.

It is a constant balancing act – and ultimately it is about trying to raise significant new income streams. This is easier said than done but I am content that we are mobilising as many people as we can to give this a very good go. If anyone else has some ideas or some time and can help generate more income please come and talk to me. I believe Gordon has the budget to fashion a competitive team this season, and I am excited to start watching them tomorrow night. See you there.

Getting back to business

The summer is almost over. It’s seems a bit funny to say that this side of August but three months after we played Carshalton in our final Ryman League game of last season, tomorrow night we play our first ‘proper’ pre-season game against Dagenham and Redbridge, followed quickly by Watford on Wednesday night.

Not that the summer has meant time off for many involved with the Club. Speaking personally, pressure at work particularly, has meant that something had to give and for me that resulted in the blog staying quiet. With the football starting I will try and start posting again and I can now take the opportunity to write a couple of posts while I sit in the departure lounge at Dusseldorf airport following a weekend trip over here for a wedding.

In this and the following blog post I want to comment on some of the things that have happened at the Club since we last met. In the next post I will focus on our financial situation and how we are trying to support Gordon to have as competitive a team as possible, but in this post I wanted to review some of the things that have happened off the field this summer.

The big news of course, as was well reported was the refusal of our landlords to renew the lease. Not much more to say about that now but plenty in the future. For now all I will say is we have formulated some initial plans, we are talking to the right people about our next steps and we will share more about this in due course, perhaps in a Club meeting sometime soon.

If this was the bad news, plenty of other things have been a struggle too. We have seen the summer remedial work around the ground stop and start due to a whole range of reasons. I’m grateful to everyone who has given their time and helped out with the work that needs doing but I do think it is fair to say we have learnt plenty from this. I am not surprised by the apparent lack of volunteer help. We have been very lucky with the help we have had from people since we moved to Ruislip but we cannot depend on it and we will need to be much smarter in the way we organise this work in future close seasons.

Commercially this summer, I have been delighted by what I believe has been some of the best organisation and dedicated hard work we have seen in recent years. The trouble is it is very tough out there. As we come out of recession, advertising with your local non league club is not top of many organization’s priority list.  But it has not all been doom and gloom on the commercial front and hopefully within the next few days we will be able to announce an excellent sponsorship deal for the Club.

Two decisions made by the Club seem to have come in for some discussion with supporters; our new away kit and the launch of the Vice Presidents Club. Taking the new ‘Roma’ kit first. One thing I have learnt is that if you get three people in a room and ask them to choose a new kit from a catalogue and you will get three different views. This is the same on the Board as it is with supporters.

Our initial decision was to try to update the home kit with a bespoke design that was not in a catalogue but the economics of this were not favourable. Therefore we used our Prokit allowance to update our away kit.  When we announced a new away kit at the AGM there was a less than favourable reaction and again I have to think that the way the kit was announced this summer might be improved upon in future seasons. I am keen that we wear the blue kit wherever possible but we do need something different and I hope that this new kit will grow in popularity especially if we win plenty of games in it.

I have been a little surprised by some of the comments I have read to do with the VPs club. Clearly one of the main duties we have is to try and find different income streams – this is the same for any commercial entity. At the same time I am very keen not to go back to the same people (the supporters) for money year in and year out.

Launching a VPs Club, something we have done in years gone by, is an attempt to offer something to a relatively small number of people who maybe can afford a little more, or want something extra on matchdays. Maybe these are people not always on the forum? We do know that when we have entertained good sized groups as match sponsors the feedback has been excellent and we have people still who tell us how successful in many ways the Vice Presidents Club was at Lower Mead.

Do people really think we shouldn’t be offering this? I don’t really see that.  Given we now have the facilities and two years experience of running a ground it seems the right time to try this. Our target is to get 10-15 members this season – no more – and we see this as a stretch. We are already nearly 20% there, before even speaking to people directly. So I don’t know whether this will prove a good thing or not. What I do know is we will try things if they have been well thought through and have people committed to run them. I hope we do get a few more signed up for the Vice Presidents and I hope it is a resounding success – because that will mean satisfied people, potentially more new people being attracted to the Club and more money raised.

Plenty going on then, and this is without mentioning many meetings, with people like the Ryman League, Hillingdon Council as well as our ongoing correspondence with Everton FC and all the other things. Nick’s press releases will have kept people up to date with player signings and other things too. I will try and keep blogging, especially over the coming weeks but I hope you get a sense of some of the issues we have been dealing with as we try to keep the club progressing the right way off the field.

Thanks to so many

Rather than write a new post thanking so many people I thought I might post my article due to be in today’s match programme. So if you are not at the game or didn’t get a programme read on.

Programme notes for Carshalton game (ever so slightly updated)

A warm welcome to all for our final game of this memorable season, and a special welcome to all our successful juniors, both boys and girls who are with us today.

In many respects I can’t really believe how quickly this season has passed. So much has been packed into it, as always at Wealdstone, both on and off the pitch.

The good news is that coming into the 42nd game the season is still alive with hopes of getting into the play-offs resting on today’s results here, at Boreham Wood, at Kingstonian and at Aveley.

So the best memories may be yet to come, but whatever happens it will take something very special to beat the fortnight back in late October / early November that followed us winning at Aylesbury, beating Harrow and then culminating in what was such a great day against Rotherham. It took us 23 years to get to the First Round of the FA Cup, hopefully we can do it again next year. Other highlights include getting to a Cup Final (if not the penalty shoot out), and a Leeds United themed set of memories that include the pre-season friendly, the pride of Jermaine’s performances against Manchester United and Tottenham though also the disappointment of realising he was not going to be sold after all. I bet they wish they had done now!

As always, and in his testimonial year we need to salute our manager Gordon Bartlett with his excellent team behind him. Gordon puts so much time into the Club and yet his passion burns as brightly now as ever. In this packed last week of the season a bumper crowd celebrated Gordon’s testimonial on a great Wednesday evening – it was all so well deserved. I am delighted that Leo Morris will be celebrating his testimonial next season.

It has been a hard season in many respects, especially with the challenges of the weather and Fingers particularly has done an amazing amount of work, often with little recognition or reward. The pitch remains a big issue for us and one we will look to get right – though it will take time and money and patience.

Off the field there are so many people to thank as always – so I won’t even try and thank everybody – other than divide it into three groups.

First to my Board of Directors for all the time, effort and energy they give without much thanks – but in some respects with everyone’s thanks. We have so much going on at the Club and I really believe that with the right breaks anything is possible and much of that is due to the work of a few on the Board.

Secondly to everyone who helps, whether on match days or not, in the Social Club, the Supporter’s Club, the Stewards, the ball boys, those who help with the Board Room hospitality, the press, the programme, the tannoy, the photography, the gate, the Reserves, the Youth, the Juniors, the catering, the kit, the works in the ground and so on (apologies if I missed you out). So many people, giving up their time to help our Club. That is why so many others will always be jealous of what we have in abundance – passion, a desire to succeed and a love of the Club. Dare I say, more of the same next year please?

Finally, a huge thank you to all our supporters, young and old.  Thanks to everyone who contributed to 100:400, to all our Club sponsors, match sponsors, kit grid donors, match ball donors and so on. Thanks to all those who travel home and away, or even just to home games. You have been immense and of course, we need you all, as much as ever, starting in August when we do it all over again.

But you know, as much as we need volunteer labour down at the ground through the summer months, and we do, I urge you all to take the opportunity to spend some time with your loved ones and get some brownie points because the new season will be with us before you know it.

Have a great summer

There is nothing like a good debate about kit

On Tuesday evening we had the football club AGM. We had a very good turnout and covered much ground as we tried to set out the many things of what is going on at the Club.

Yet unless I’ve missed something the only subject (literally the only subject) to get an airing on the WFC Forum is the potential orange away kit that we displayed.

If I know anything about kit it is that if you show three people a new kit you get three different views. The feedback we got on Tuesday was helpful and informative. We haven’t made a final decision so I cannot say whether or not we will definitely go orange.

No doubt some will criticise us for sharing the kit samples at all but it’s better to be open as a rule and get some opinions.

However, listening to the debate and reading the comments there are some myths around this subject. Let’s remember the replica kit that most of our people buy is the home kit – the yellow kit has not been a big seller though it is quite popular, and the Argentina kit is proving popular with the Junior club as they purchase some second kits.  The decision on which 2nd or 3rd kit we have is not made with replica sales as a main determinant.

I also remember that when we launched the blue kit we copped plenty of criticism about getting rid of the quarters yet this blue kit has undoubtedly been very popular.

Anyway we have some time yet and we will consider the best decision for the Club and then let everyone know.

News re Dennis Byatt

This evening Andrew Lane and I met with Dennis Byatt to conclude the process of his redundancy from the role of Commercial Manager.

This is without doubt the hardest thing I’ve had to do at the Football Club.  I certainly didn’t get into this role to make people redundant.  It has happened to me before and I can appreciate the likely impact on Dennis and his family.

However, when in this role you have to be prepared to take the right decisions for the Football Club.  The simple fact is we do not believe the targets we set for income will come close to being achieved this season, and given this we cannot justify the cost of employing someone to carry out these duties.

This is not about Dennis, he is a good guy, a popular guy and someone you would like to have around the place.  It is about the position and the fact that for many reasons, selling a non league football team is very hard work at present, particularly in this economy where many of the companies you might hope will support you financially are themselves laying off people and cutting costs.

We have always been clear with Dennis that the only way we could afford to employ someone was if we believed we were going to see considerably more incremental income coming in as a result of having someone in that position.  This means not just more income than his basic salary, but also more than the amount we could expect to raise ourselves.  So it was always a tough ask.

Perversely of course income remains our priority.  But we need to find a more cost efficient and a different way of organising ourselves.  This we are doing now and will announce soon.

Dennis will always be welcome at Wealdstone Football Club, and I hope that when the pain subsides he will not be a stranger.  He leaves us with his dignity in tact, with his popularity high and with our best wishes for the future and I genuinely thank him for all he has done for the Club over the last 18 months or so.

I hope people reading this post understand that sometimes tough and difficult decisions have to be taken for the good of the Club.  I will be happy to explain our plans further at the Supporters Club AGM on 9 November.

In the meantime let’s get the focus back on Saturday.

Welcome Stuart, a local lad

The papers are currently full of the current machinations in Premier League boardrooms.  Liverpool are talking to Saudi investors, just days after other gentlemen from the Gulf ‘rescued’ Portsmouth.  And today the Independent suggests Saudi’s could be looking to take over a further 10 clubs in the English league in the coming months.

It is easier these days to count the clubs in the Premier League who have not attracted investment from some far flung place overseas (Just 9 remain in British ownership).

Now in saying that I am not saying that ownership of a club by someone from overseas is necessarily a bad thing.  The question has to be what are the motives for getting involved.

I’ve written before about my distaste for the way the Premier League is funded and how Clubs in some cases are becoming mere baubles of billionaires, this year’s ‘must have’ so I don’t want to go on about this anymore – but it is a link into what I wanted to write – somewhat tenuous perhaps.

On a relative basis money pays equally as important a role at our level. It was no accident that AFC Wimbledon, Chelmsford City and Dover dominated the past two seasons in the Ryman Premier and Dartford now appear to be treading a similar path.

I tend not to take much notice of what other clubs are supposedly paying, as interesting as it is.  Our focus needs to be on what we can afford, and how we believe we can best support Gordon to have the most competitive squad we can, playing in front of ever improving facilities with a structure across the Club that enables us to progress on and off the field.

There are many aspects to how we try and derive income.  Our commercial operation is a crucial part of this.  Dennis Byatt, with some support from Leo Morris, has been tasked with hitting some tough targets this season, targets made all the more difficult because of the economic situation which impacts on many potential sponsors as well as individuals.

Given the challenge we must constantly look for ways to improve our commercial structure.  That’s why I’m delighted to welcome Stuart Coutts onto the Board of Directors.  Stuart is just the type of person we need to bring to the Club, a successful businessman with real commercial nous, someone passionate about his football with (hopefully) the time and the contacts to make a difference.

As a close friend of Quentin Fox, Stuart has been around the Club for many years and already in the past 2-3 weeks he has made a positive impression on us.  His first major task is to take a good look at how we are operating commercially and make some quick recommendations about where we can improve.  I am hoping this is the start of a process to give us the best commercial operation that we can have for what we can afford.

This is very important area – perhaps the most important for us and we need to get it right.  I know Stuart will be happy to talk to anyone reading this who might have a view to how we can improve the way we make money.  If you want to be introduced please let me know.

And, returning to the opening remarks of this post we haven’t had to travel the world to find Stuart, he lives in Pinner.

Haven’t gone away

An apology for being quiet on here recently.  No reason – just busy, will try and keep updating regularly.

As always plenty going on.  Notwithstanding the two big games (Watford and Leeds) we are preparing for the new season on and off the pitch.

The board meeting last week had a long agenda and there was plenty that we didn’t get round to discussing.  We will make some announcements soon on our sponsorship arrangements for this season, and also there are some exciting plans being discuss for the Grosvenor Vale site which no doubt will be made public soon enough.

One other thing we have kicked off is something I am describing as a strategic review for the Club.  This entails a full review of our priorities and how we are placed to deal with these priorities.  We are planning a full round of consultation so more about this later in the year.

Oh, and the football is starting too…