Week 15 w/c 11th March 2013

A combination of Champions League Football on the television (Barcelona coming back from 2 down in the first leg to beat AC Milan 4-0) and a freezing cold night meant that the crowd for Tuesday’s game v Arlesey Town was not the best. It was bitterly cold, and it was all about getting three points… the footy was not pretty, but after Toby Little put us ahead on just 24 seconds with a majestic strike, we never really looked like losing.

To be honest, we never really looked like adding to it either, so, just like the Cambridge City match, we scored in the first minute and went on to win the game 1-0. A result that really does mean that we can sniff the backsides of the sides above us now.

The other development from Tuesday night is the agreement that the Red Lion will take over the running of the clubhouse bar. In true Chesham fashion the rumours had already spread and by the time I arrived for our 5.45pm meeting with them at the club, it was almost as though I was the last to know it was a done deal…which it was not of course.

The meeting was planned with one other Director, the Chairman and the couple from The Red Lion. I had spoken to the Owner the day before and, frankly, others had given no input into all the conversations building up to Neville’s departure and his replacement, it seemed like overkill to have a full Board just for the sake of it. Perhaps we should have all been there, but to be honest I did not think for one minute that we were going to come out of the meeting with an agreement in place.

So that is one weight off of our minds, though there seems to be no structure or detail to the arrangement at the moment… I wonder who is going to pick that up?

The rest of the week was a pretty quiet one on the football front. I back tracked down from my high horse regarding the youth set-up and had a good conversation with Stuart on Tuesday night and agreed that a better way forward was to update my blog and write a programme article that can then be referred to as showing the wants of the main club, without crossing the line into what the youth committee (to be) is actually up to.

The blog read like this:

Another area of the club that gets talked about as having potential to be a real recognisable part of the club and the community is the youth and mini section. It is the easiest words for any football club to spurt out: It’s all about the kids, we want the youngsters to be a part of the club – the players and supporters of the future. Easy words to say; not so easy to put into action.

Well I am delighted to say that at Chesham United the words are starting to become actions. Last week we had the first introductory meeting of what is going to become an interim committee for the youth and mini section after the decision of Ken and Jacqui Ring to stand down from their all-encompassing positions of Chairman, Treasurer, Secretary…and everything else that goes with it. My hat is tipped to them for taking on so many roles for such a long period of time – the break will be thoroughly deserved. I personally have become part of that committee to help with the transition and make sure that Chesham United Football Club is doing everything it can to support, and be a part of, youngsters playing football in Chesham.

When I became Chairman of Chesham United, having been a supporter since I was 8 years old, it was a childhood dream – A chance to put into practice the vision I have always had… but, the reality is very different. There is so much involved in running the club that there is a real danger that it becomes a burden rather than a pleasure.



Why?



All football clubs should be a community football club, that makes absolute sense and should be a given. Equally, once you get to the level Chesham United is at, it is also a business. A business that loses a lot of money unless it is lucky enough to have a good FA Cup run, or it has a facility at the club which helps to fund its running – a decent function suite, additional sport facilities, etc.



Whilst I was Chairman the club was effectively owned by the Supporters’ Trust and run by supporters. Huge strides were made towards becoming more community involved and the inclusion of a youth and mini set-up was always key to all of that. We need to find the future players, supporters, officials and directors of the club from within our own set-up – We do not want to become a play thing to a complete outsider who comes in and thinks his money alone can transform the club. It might do for a few weeks, months, maybe even years, but history shows it will more than likely kill the club – Ask Weymouth, ask Kettering…



One important point to clear up is regarding youth and mini league finances. When I first approached Ken and Jacqui with regards to bringing the youth and mini section under the club umbrella some months ago, I had this idyllic vision of it all being one club, with one board and one bank account…I do now realise that such a vision is beyond idyllic, it is impossible and a priority for the youth and mini section must be to maintain financial independence – I will even recommend updating any written constitution that completely safeguards the finances of the set-up.



I will be honest, the reason I say that is because I know that 14 months ago, when I was still Chairman, if there was money in the club account, even if it was allocated for the Youth/Mini section, there would have been a huge temptation to use/borrow that money – As soon as that happens, the whole relationship will breakdown. That is a very important point to make. I’m hopeful that one day we will reach a point where the mini and youth section is working so well with the club that there will be a financial benefit to the club, but it needs to be a voluntary arrangement, not forced upon.


As a supporters run club we got a lot right, but the truth of the matter is that Chesham United FC alone is not currently capable of funding a team at the level it is playing at. The extra income that has to be donated is eye-watering and unsustainable. Finding that income is the job of the Board and the Directors. Now, whilst it is all very nice having one person putting in such vast sums of money, it is not for the long term good of the club – the club must be looking to be self-sufficient, and that is something the Board has tasked itself with doing. The only way that can successfully happen is to get more local events going on at the club, having more people using the club, watching and supporting the teams and helping to create a good vibe around the club that becomes attractive to sponsors and advertisers that want to support the club. And it can work, but it needs balance.

I know it can work, our operating income last season (without donations and prize money, etc) was actually over £25,000 more than it looks like being this year. Yes we are still in recession, but a lot of our support came last year because local businesses bought into the vision of the community club that the Supporters’ Trust set out.



That vision still exists and needs to get back on track. We are very fortunate in that we have a financial safety net that will stop us getting into a dire financial position, but it is not the long-term solution having a Board that turns to one individual – it needs to come from the club, the town, the community. One Club. Chesham. United.

 The Trust alone could not do it, and Roger Payne’s generous input alone will not do it. The club went through some very difficult transitional changes in the close season and some backward steps were taken, but things have moved on and we can start to look forward again. It has taken nearly a year, but at last I think the club is starting to point in the right direction – the current themed family days and the desire of the club to get involved with the Youth and Mini Section’s transitional period are further indications of this.

 Apologies for waffling, but I’m trying to explain: “What does the club get out of working with the youth section?”

  • The club will benefit from having a thriving youth section with kids and parents that feel a part of the club.
  • Kids in school telling their friends that they are playing for and supporting Chesham United is the best advertising we could possibly get.
  • Financial benefits will come from parents attending games, drinking in the bar. And yes, who knows, there might be parents out there with their own businesses who may become sponsors of the future
  • We may find some fresh blood that takes an interest in the overall club as supporters, helpers, volunteers, officials or even board members

In addition to that, I personally have always thought it a little crazy that there are loads of kids and parents every weekend representing Chesham United FC, and the club itself actually knows very little about the kids or what is going on. I’m sure it doesn’t happen, but the parents, coaches and players could be out there fouling and swearing and damaging the name of Chesham United, and we would not have a clue! Doesn’t that sound bonkers?

So that is what the club should be looking to gain, in return there is much that can be done to improve the communication between the two sections and make better use of what the club can offer. I know that Andy Leese and Gary Breedon have made a good start with the coaches training course, we need to make sure that continues; we have also now got some special youth/mini section season tickets printed up that will be available for the children in the youth and mini sides; conversations have started about a junior (Match / Shoot style) newsletter next season for the younger sections (and of course schools) that are another target for the football club. If we have newsletters going into local businesses and community groups (which we do now), that should also be a voice for news and recruiting drives from all areas of the club, not just the senior section.

I’m sure from the forthcoming meetings and discussions there will be numerous more ideas and opportunities raised. We now have a new committee formed ready to step in and take over from the end of the season, this committee will work with the club to not just keep the youth and mini section running, but work with the main club to make Chesham United FC the football club that all kids and adults alike want to be a part of, be it as a player, supporter or volunteer.

I am not saying it will be achieved, but I think this is our best opportunity and the right moves are being made. I have been on the Board for more than ten years now and in that time I have seen how the club works with a financial benefactor that dictates how things work, and I have seen it run by supporters who know how it should be run within the community, but cannot afford to make it happen. As we stand today, we have a chance to put both of them together,  a combination that I hope can work.

 

Unfortunately the cold weather during the week turned into a torrential downpour on Friday night and Saturday morning, the result of which was our Saturday morning pitch inspection deemed The Meadow unplayable and the home game v Bedworth had to be postponed. Ironically the rain stopped by 11.00am, the sun was shining at lunchtime and maybe, well…

…I honestly do not know if the pitch might have been playable at 3.00pm, never at any point had I seen it. However, arriving early on Tuesday night I did take the opportunity to have a little walk on the hallowed turf and was a little surprised at the lack of grass, and actually the pitch was not in the same good quality as we have come accustomed too. Which is probably no great surprise as payments to the groundsman have been getting later and later, which will no doubt have an effect.

A theory that was confirmed on Sunday morning when standing in the freezing cold at Luton Rugby Club I received a text starting that someone in the know had been telling people at the club that no work had been done for 10 days because of the lack of payment, and that is why the game had to be called off.

God, can running this bloody club get any more depressing?

On Saturday evening, just as I was going to bed, I picked up an email from the Chairman, pretty much saying:

I am now at my wits end. Last week when returning from Bedford the Owner said it will obviously cost him more money now because we are within reach of the play offs. Since then we have gained a further 3 points and with Weymouth losing at Stourbridge today we are even nearer the play offs. Today I went to St Albans with him and on the way home he stated he wasn’t putting any more monies in this season!

Then in the next few minutes he said the Supporters’ Trust should put in an amount of £5K to pay something towards the playing budget until the end of the season. When I said that they do not have that kind of money he retorted that he has still not signed the share agreement and wants them to call him. I then phoned the Treasurer of the Trust to get the share agreement signed this week and phone the “owner” over the weekend. He will phone him tomorrow and said there was a Supporters’ Trust meeting this week.

I then gave the Owner a print out of the financial statement this week and he gave it back to me saying he did not want to read it.

I am going to Bashley with him on Tuesday (subject to the weather) and told him that he can tell Andy the budget is being cut from Tuesday evening. I appreciate that he has put a load of monies in since last February BUT to cut the budget now with play offs in sight seems very stupid to me. 

However, if he sticks to his words we are all going to look mad. To be the chairman of Chesham United is not what I would wish on my worst enemy. Any comments Mr Vice Chairman?

I hear that you are off to Finland this week and wonder whether you need anyone to carry your cases.

 

I dropped a note back to the Chairman saying that I will get back to him in the morning. By Sunday evening, after a rain abandoned rugby morning, the best I could reply with was the following:

Not really sure where to start without turning it into a massively long email. Without repeating the old, there are some key points:

The Beginning
The impact of the way the bar management was handled on the eve of the youth tournament has – as I have said before – had a massive impact on the willingness of people to help. That, together with the only programme article Roger has ever written, has turned a huge part of the support against the Owner and the club. Most importantly, it is the part of the support that were “do-ers”; people that get things done, people that mix with the community and spread the good (or bad) word of the club.

That situation has never been recovered and has made managing the club almost impossible.

To be honest, I’m not surprised the share issue has not been resolved – The Owner (to be) has pee’d a lot of people off. Yes – as you acknowledge – huge sums of money have gone into the club…but I cannot work with someone holding the strings that refuses to even look at a financial report of the club or grasp any understanding of how the club operates.

His comments you say about the Supporters Trust are the ones that make my blood boil more than anything – He has not grasped the Trust at all or what they have looked to do, or the thinking behind them giving their shares to him…and, bluntly the feelings towards him.  He has caused ill-feeling amongst some of them beyond what you could possibly imagine…If they knew he was making some of the comments he does, well…He cannot lead the club without that knowledge and understanding, and he certainly cannot expect you to either.

The Middle
No ‘I told you so’s” or anything, but my recommendations that the board and structure of the club needed changing, urgently, back in October were not meant as a “wouldn’t this by nice” or a me trying to be clever – I could see this coming, and I feared this coming. And my Board reports made it very clear every month.

 The Board is too weak, and we are unable to generate a level of support and help around us. The Board must change… it might even be too late.

We need Directors that Direct, Management that Manage and Helpers that Help… the mix of all of them is horribly wrong at the moment.

The Now
I don’t know. I honestly don’t know anymore.

If Roger is putting in no more money, then we are at massive crisis point. To be honest, I thought we were at the last board meeting, and I approached it in that way, but… I don’t know what more I can do other than what I put forward at the last Board meeting. If we are not following my proposed plan then we need someone to come up with an alternative. Very fast. Or we need to go public and say the club is dying…

It is totally unfair that my Dad is being asked to do what he is having to do with paying bills etc – it was one thing doing it for his son as Chairman, but not when we have a millionaire playing silly buggers. I refuse to have my Dad staying in that situation – He is 71 now – having seen Neville and Dave Pembroke hit with illness – I can’t have my Dad going through all of that. Bluntly – if my resignation is the only way to get him out, then it might have to come to that – he won’t admit it; but we cannot leave it until too late.

(On that point – I heard secondhand that someone was telling people that yesterday’s game was off because we had not paid the groundsman and they have done no work on the pitch for 10 days…not sure that is why the game is off, but I bet that is true both those bits – embarrassing for the club, and typical of the gossip mongers).

The Future
What do I think should happen next?

Bluntly, I think you, Andy and I should do everything we can to get the guy we have been speaking to (Not named in this blog for obvious reasons – Ed) over from XXX (Again – Ed) It won’t happen overnight, but if his current club stay up, I reckon we might get him in the summer.

If I’m honest, my suggestion would be to offer him the Chairmanship and you revert to being in charge of football and all the bits you enjoy, Roger can be a benefactor who sees his money going where he wants it to (the pitch) and I will see if I can justify a position within the new set up, or revert to going back and helping the Supporters Trust… An organisation that I set up in the first place, and, despite what people might think, it hurts me to see it not thriving.

If the new person does not come, or something similar, than where do we go? I know we have made the odd half-joking comment in the past, but I really cannot work with the current Board as it is. If we get out of this hole, we will be straight back in another one next year, and I just cannot do that with someone who does not take enough interest in the club as a whole.

Sorry, not a great solution in that lot.

Give me a call if you read this in next half hour, if not we can talk tomorrow – I don’t go to Finland until Tuesday…

 

Not really sure what else I can say? The Chairman is desperate to arrange a Board Meeting next week, unfortunately with my wife in Liverpool on Monday, and then I go to Finland on Tuesday, back Thursday when my wife is away again, my availability is non-existent, but that should not stop the meeting going ahead. In fact, if anything, it might be a good thing to get used to a Board Meeting without me!

Next week should be interesting.

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