Week 14 w/c, 4th March 2013

Monday was pretty ridiculous. Upon completing a day’s work, I set out for an evening of Parents Evening at Boxmoor Primary School, a meeting with the new owners of the Red Lion and a meeting of the new committee of the Youth Section.

I dashed out from work to get home in time for our 5.40pm Parents Evening appointment. I should have known better. Eight years of doing this, never once have they ever been running to time. Sure enough, when we arrived at 5.30pm to start looking through Ben’s books outside of the classroom, the parents that were due to see the teacher at 5.20pm had not even gone in yet… Don’t they know I’m on a tight schedule?

When I did get to the Red Lion the conversation went a little further than just a quick drink, we talked in some detail about what the club does, where the potential lies and what opportunities lie ahead. It is that magical word “potential” again – God that word haunts me, when will we ever fulfil it?

We even got as far as talking about what the “package” might be. Fortunately, when we first heard about the interest from the Red Lion, I had done some preparation at looking at what the package could be, including sending an email to the Directors after it was observed that there was an opportunity to save money by paying them a set amount to run the place:

“Totally agree with the principle, my only slight reservation would be that there are no requirements to make a success of it at the club? They could potentially take the money and then take all the business to the Red Lion? Probably unlikely, but there is no protection for us?

I tried looking at it from a percentage share point of view. If our GP is now about 60%, would it work if we split that 30% each – they supply the bar staff and managements / we supply the facilities, utilities and maintenance (and supporters)

Looking roughly at the figures we have thus far that would be something like (on an average month):
Income: £10k
Bar Purchases: £3.6k
Red Lion: £3.2k
Chesham Utd: £3.2k

…It does mean that if the bar does better, we both do better, and if it suffers, we both  suffer…so there is an incentive there.

Difficult to be sure how that arrangement would compare – That is more than we made in October, November and December, but less than we made in September and January. Perhaps we ought to start with offering the Red Lion 25% of the take to run the bar. Roughly:
Purchase of Goods: 40%
Red Lion: 25%
Chesham United: 35%

…something to think about or pull apart….”

 

As it happened, the Red Lion would be looking for 35% to take over the running, but with that comes talk of doing so much more than just having someone run the bar – they will promote the club, get people helping out (those magical volunteers, could they really exist?) and also key to the conversation was food, and the provision of. Not just in the clubhouse, but on a matchday.

I’ve been here before, every time I sit down with a business person and have a serious conversation about the finances, the money we are potentially losing out on by having outside match day caterers come in and sell the burgers to the supporters becomes a serious topic of conversation. We could, and should, be making so much more money. Not for the first time since getting involved at Board level of the club I was hearing the words: “To be successful, you need to be a bastard at times”…But you also need the reassurance that whoever takes on the food is reliable and prepared to be there, week in and week out; big crowds, and small crowds.

Monday brought another humbling moment, not to mention another spanner in the works. Just as I arrived home from work ready to dash out of the door for parents evening. I got a text from our soon to depart bar manager, Nev, saying: “Call me when u get min, went into hospital by ambulance earlier, think I had a mini stroke, keeping me in overnight”. Hard to feel sorry for yourself when someone is going through that, but what is it they say about it never rains it only pours?

I gave Nev a call on my way to the Red Lion after Parents Evening, to be honest he was very difficult to understand, but he is staying in hosptal  overnight, but, bless him, he had the bar staff all set to look after the bar. I also rang the Chairman on the same journey, he was of course sympathetic, but I think his biggest worry was that Chesham United is hosting one of the league’s regional meetings on Thursday and what the hell was going to happen with Nev in hospital.

My meeting with the Red Lion was summed up in an email to the Board the following morning:

With Paul Campion, I met with the Red Lion last night. There is no doubting there enthusiasm and if we wanted to come to some agreement I think we could have them in place fairly quickly.

Paul – please chip in with anything you interpreted differently or any other comments you may have.

Learning every time we employ someone, there is a huge list of questions I think we will need to clarify the answer to if we wanted to go this route – separate to this, I’ll try and pull that list of questions together for us to discuss at a later date.

As mentioned last email, I think it is imperative that (if we want to pursue this route) they meet with the board, or representatives of the board at least. First impressions are that they could do a huge amount for the club, not just the clubhouse, but in terms of promotions and pulling in contacts for odd jobs etc.

Another area they raised – which everyone I have ever approached about the club has raised… food sales. We need to be making the money that the caterer makes, plus some. If we had the kitchen and fitted the equipment (back of club shop, or club shop itself and move that) they would staff that too. As I have been told many times, to be successful and make money, sometimes you need to be a bit of a bastard.

Talking Turkey
I didn’t really want to get into the details of any arrangement, however the conversation did progress that way. They are very enthusiastic and could be a revelation behind the bar… though this can only be first impressions.

Anyway. The suggestion would be that they could genuinely drive extra income into the club – they will be driven by money and, ultimately, so are we. Based on previous email I sent, when asked about percentages, I “hypothetically” said 25% to manage and staff the bar… They were at 35%. We never went any further, but I reckon we might be able to agree on 30% – give it a trial and see how it goes. I have added another sheet to the previously sent spreadsheet proposal.

This shows 3 tables covering last year, and the first 5 months with Nev. They are very round figures without drilling into the details of other costs

The first table is Actuals, looking at cash and percentages.
Much of what we have saved by improving the GP – the margin between cost of goods and sales – is being lost in extra staffing costs (and probably cleaning materials). However, our cut is up from 24.5% to 31%

The second table is if we took those same sales figures and split it 35%, Red Lion, work on a 40% cost of goods and 25% to the club.
This shows that if we did this split, assuming the improved GP too, we would have been marginally better off in 2011/12, but would be worse off over the past 5 months.

The third table is if we took those same sales figures and split it 30%  Red Lion, work on a 40% cost of goods and 30% to the club.
This shows, again assuming the improved GP, we would have been a lot better off 2011/12 and only very slightly worse off this year (£500) so far.

..I guess that then leads us on to the host of questions that we need to clarify the answers to, the potential is there for our 25% to become 25% of a lot more, and have a better operation and extra people working to promote the club, etc…or it could fall flat on its face.  My gut instinct says the former, and I think it will bring some of that enthusiasm and drive that we have been lacking of late; but there are no guarantees.

As a board, we need to decide the next steps. It is now only 19 days until Nev leaves, and obviously we do not know his current health status, but I think we must assume that his current bar staff will keep things moving until the 24th March.

The attached and my comments above are not flawless and only my workings and thoughts, they need double-checking and more eyes looking over it, but hopefully it is a starter to get the thought process going? We need to act on this over the next couple of days.

 

The final part of my evening was relatively simple, a meeting with the new committee that is taking on the running of the Youth Section. The purpose of the meeting was to start the transition over to the new committee. Maybe it was the day I had had, or maybe it is too much of my life spent in board or committee meetings, but there were times when I felt we just needed to take our shoes and socks off and jump in with both feet to start getting things done. Stuart Wandrag had mentioned to me on Saturday that a few people were starting to comment about the lack of change or follow-up from the previous meeting in The Chess Suite – a little bit harsh I thought, after all the new committee is not even in place yet, it is still all being run by our predecessors.

One breakthrough was having the meeting at the club, in the Boardroom where I had the pleasure of playing host (making tea and coffee!). A date for the next meeting has been set in April, and then hopefully we can announce a date for the AGM and an official handover to the new era. In the meantime, we need to look at addressing the communication out to others involved in the youth section who are waiting for news on what has changed…or that should be, will be changing.

Continuing my move towards becoming a part-time supporter (Andy Leese’s words – cheeky bastard) I was to miss Tuesday night’s return clash with Leamington, a big crunch game as we looked to complete the double over them in a short period of time, and continue our sneaky little climb up towards the play-offs. I believe we can do it, but the money worries me. Still.

In fact, I had an email exchange with Andy Leese on the morning before the game where he was questioning the fact that the Chairman had mentioned in discussing the wages that he was the one batting to keep the wages where they were whilst I was merely saying “we can’t afford it!”. It seemed to have been portrayed as negativity from me towards my belief in the team’s chances of pulling off the results. I forwarded Andy my email to the Board where I had questioned how we can afford it when some of the changes discussed at the last Board Meeting had seemingly failed to move forward (see previous posts – Ed, me)..

Have we cut the wage bill? No

Have we got another holiday on the bank loan for 4 months? Not that I know. Last I heard the bank wanted to do some due diligence on the Directors first, this was a couple of weeks ago that I heard this from Giles, but I have still not heard or received a thing from Natwest.

Have we cut the ground maintenance bill? No. They came back with a long email of why we cannot do that, a discussion needs to happen, but somehow I feel as though I am being hit with a sense of it being my fault for even suggesting such a thing!

Do we have a date for a Sportsman’s Dinner? No

Have we converted any of the loans to equity? Well, bluntly, we have gone down the leave the head in the sand path with that one, although Roger did say to me at Leamington that one loanee had agreed to write off his £5k. Result.

So, still paying the same player and ground maintenance bills, no bank loan holiday and no Sportsman’s dinner in the pipeline… Do you see why I might have expressed a little concern about being able to afford it?

I had told Roger that we will do all of this and his £10,000 will be the last contribution of the season. A financial pickle lies ahead I fear.

My reason for missing the Leamington match was a prior engagement at an office supplies dinner, the Society of Old Friends (of which I am a member) was holding a West End Musicals themed dinner in London, just up from Marble Arch. I dropped my car home from work and walked down to Hemel train station, walking up towards the entrance I spotted a recognisable face, but not where I would have expected. A quick rattle of the brain and I realised it was Nigel Biddicombe, Chairman of Weymouth FC!

Weymouth were playing at Hemel Hempstead that evening and Nigel had travelled up from London; we had a brief chat about the league, recent results, ground facilities and contract players before I had to cut the conversation short to get on my train going into London.

The dinner was at the Victory Services Club in Seymour Street, a cracking venue and fortunately one where my phone still picked up a signal, despite having to descend down several flights of steps to the theatre style dining area.

It was an enjoyable evening that became even more so when news came through that James Potton had put Chesham ahead just before half-time. Get in there! I was sat next to a Sales Person from Robert Horne paper merchants, he was a huge football fan who lived out near Wroxham – needless to say I relayed the tales from one of my favourite away trips of all time when Chesham played a pre-season friendly at Wroxham. Arriving on Thursday lunchtime for a Saturday kick-off; hell of a lot of drink was drunk over those few days before going to the game on Saturday and hiring a boat on the Broads on Sunday.

He was also a huge Manchester United fan – his night was spoilt by Real Madrid knocking them out of the Champions League, mine was spoilt by an 87thminute equaliser for Leamington and a cancelled 11.27pm train home from Euston which led to me boarding what felt like a cattle truck from Euston to Hemel Hempstead.

 

Thankfully Nev seems to be recovering and seems to be spending far too much time worrying about the bar, he needs to make sure he gets his health in order first…even if I am hugely grateful that he is still digging us out of a hole.

I have now arranged for myself, the Chairman and another Director to have a follow-up meeting with the Red Lion next Tuesday – I’m not sure what I expect that to achieve, or what decisions it will lead to, but I feel a need for more people to be involved in the decision, and time is not on our side.

The rest of this week for me I have tried to dedicate to my sons’ rugby. There was extra training under floodlight at the club on Wednesday evening in preparation for the Hertfordshire County Festival on Saturday. During the session I did take a call from a Chesham fan, following up a Facebook message I had left him about the bar – I owe him another call back, which I feel bad about, to arrange a meeting to discuss his thoughts on the bar. I provisionally said Tuesday again, but have not got back to him…wanting to spend some time focusing on my boy and his rugby.

There was more rugby training Friday evening, though I confess that I missed it, accepting the offer from one of the Mum’s to take my Ben so that her husband and I could get down the pub earlier for our night out! A few beers and a curry the night before the Festival was probably not the best idea; but enjoyable nonetheless.

On Saturday morning Heather gave Ben and I a lift to Harpenden for the tournament. I was actually really looking forward to it, even if it did mean missing Chesham’s trip to Bedford – I knew I would be following intently on Twitter, and although I was watching rugby my mind would be on football… Well, actually that was not the case! I had a really fantastic day at Harpenden and loved every minute.

Ben was playing for the Camelot (Hemel Hempstead) Wizards, the second team of the Under 9’s. The club was finding the transition from “tag” to “contact” pretty tough and expectations for The Wizards were not all that high.

The Wizards opened their Pool B campaign with an emphatic 7-2 win over Welwyn. Leading 5-0 at the interval, it gave a chance for the whole squad to have a run out with a number of changes made to the team during the second-half, as the Wizards displayed a new found zest for tackling and good use of the ball in the attack. Little were we to know at the time how important that opening half would prove to be in the final standings.

Next up in the group were the OA’s Wolfpack, a much tighter, bruising encounter in which both defence’s were on top as neither side managed to get more than one score ahead. The match finished 3-3, a fair reflection on the game.

With Datchworth having pulled out of the competition, The Wizards went into the final game against Hertford C’s knowing that a draw or win would take them into the semi-finals, anything else and they would be going home. They got off to the worst possible start, conceding an early try and never really getting into the match for the rest of the half, conceding a second try without really threatening themselves. At 0-2 down at the interval – it looked to be all over.

The second period started in the best possible fashion, a Hemel kid burst through to score an early try. 1-2, with most of the second-half still remaining. The play swung from end to end, the referee regularly having to stop play following some uncharacteristically high tackles from the Hertford side. As the clock ticked on into overtime, The Wizards were pushing and pushing for one final score – an equalizer; a try that would take them through to the semi-finals and knock Hertford C’s out. Just as it looked to be all too late, my Ben burst through a crowd of players, using his strength to muscle through and bundle the ball over the line for a try. The very last play of the game. The Wizards and their parents were ecstatic, the Hertford C players were disappointed…and their Coaches were fuming. I was glowing with pride.

Hertford C were complaining that the referee had played too much time in the second period and lodged an official appeal. Ironically, I guess, the time added on came about because of the referee regularly stopping the game for high tackles and having to talk to their players about it. The Wizard players remained disciplined and focused throughout, a credit to Hemel Hempstead, fully deserving their place in the semi-finals.

The final pool finishing places remained under dispute for a long time after the match, presumably whilst the appeal was looked into; but eventually it was confirmed that on the back of that last gasp try, The Wizards had gone from going home to winning the group! With Hertford C’s, OA Wolfpack and The Wizards having all drawn with each other, it came down to who had the best win over Welwyn B’s…and that was Camelot. That in itself ended in confusion, because of the delayed confirmation that The Wizards had won the group, it was assumed that the OA’s Wolfpack had won the group and they had already started their semi-final against the runners-up of Pool A, who should have been The Wizards opponents!

Rather than cause more turmoil in the competition, it was agreed that The Wizards would instead play the winners of Pool A, a much tougher match against Hitchin B’s, who had won all of their pool matches. I think I am going to have to get used to these festivals becoming a source of frustration, I should know better than to complain about things organised by volunteers!

The semi-final was another game of high quality and tough tackling, the defence’s very much on top with superb tackling from both sides and regular seven tackle turnovers. Amazingly at half-time the scores were still level at 0-0. After the break, The Wizards stole the initiative, a long pass out wide by Ben found Oli in space, he outran the whole defence and made his way to the line to put The Wizards 1-0 up.

Hitchin B’s came right back at them and equalised almost immediately, only for Oli to once again find space out wide and storm home to put The Wizards ahead for the second time in the match. With the clock ticking on, legs began to tire and Hitchin again found their way through for an equaliser. Both sides pushed for a winner, and unfortunately it was Hitchin B’s who scored it. Despite some desperate last-minute pushes for an equaliser, it was not to be, and The Wizards County Cup journey was over.

A fantastic all-round team performance though, and a display the whole squad should be very proud of; the performances in all the games highlighted how far they have progressed as a team even since the recent round of friendly matches, and the performance bodes well for forthcoming festivals. Maybe, just maybe, had they got to play the runners-up in the other pool rather than the winners as they should have done, they might just have come home with a medal…but we will never know!

By the time I got home. Just after 3.00pm, I was absolutely buzzing and, I hate to say it, not even a Chesham defeat would spoil my day. As it happens, Chesham did not lose, we won 1-0 through a Chris Watters strike, both sides missed penalties and it moved us up to 8thin the league.

Saturday evening Heather and I sat in the conservatory, sipping our beer and wine, chatting about the day and I could not help thinking that it was time I gave up some of my football responsibility. It’s very easy to say, but my day at the Harpenden Festival was so special, so nerve-wrecking, I had a lump in my throat at times, beaming with pride when Ben scored that try…This is what life should be about – not worrying about bar managers, football players wages and getting newsletters done for sponsors… shouldn’t it?

Sunday morning, I was still buzzing, but managed to get back into football mode. I had to ghost write some Chairman’s notes for the Chairman as he was away and would not have time to meet the deadline for Tuesday’s game v Arlesey and then in the evening I caught up with a few chores – circulated some notes from the new youth committee, shared some documents and thoughts with the Board about the bar manager and another meeting with the Red Lion this week and I responded to Nev who is still chasing pay slips and clarification on bonuses and holiday pay. Another can of worms that I seem to be the only one realising it needs to be opened.

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