A hectic football management week kicked off early on Monday with another call to Andy and a conversation with the Chairman, a man who has very much become a reluctant Chairman. A situation I can sympathise with, the pressure of the finance drains any enjoyment you might otherwise have felt. Your head tells you that the playing budget has to be cut, lots of things must be cut…but the heart, ah the heart, the most influential organ in the body – that tells you something completely different.
For Andy Leese it was like going back to the summer when there was mass communication breakdown. He is a sensitive fella, he is passionate, and it has been known for the toys to go flying out of the pram from time to time. For the Chairman it is a simple case of man-management, you must know how to talk to people, in particular your manager. Back when Mike Warrick and myself were effectively running the club, we would have regular meetings, normally on a Saturday before the players turned up, to discuss the current situation, how the budget is going and what else is happening round the club. They appreciated that, they reacted to that. It is not like that anymore.
Conversations about the playing budget seem to consist of just being told that the budget is being cut (which it must be), but the explanation and logic behind it is not there.
Mid-morning Monday I sent another email:
I hope you are well? Sorry to contact you out of the blue.
Obviously, we are moving into that time of year again when all clubs are taking a view on their season and starting to think of the next season, and I was just wondering, bluntly, how things were with you and whether you are in a position where you may be considering a “transfer” in the foreseeable future?
Our situation has changed in the sense that things are no longer so complicated, although the frustrations still exist.
Apologies again for being so blunt, but we are in a position now where the potential is massive to make the next step, but leadership and understanding of a club as a whole is lacking and holding us back.
Our current Chairman, whom I have no doubt now is very keen to stand aside from the title, is one of the best Football Secretary’s in the game, but he is not the ideal Chairman in this situation.
Our owner and “benefactor” is not happy at the lack of leadership but does not wish to lead himself. He would be happy putting £40-50k per year into the playing budget but does not want to be involved in the youth, the bar, the commercial side… he wants to come along, and enjoy the games knowing that he can make a difference. I believe you know him? If not by name, you will certainly have met him when we had the pre-season friendly the other year.
On the pitch I fear we risk losing Andy as manager because he has no real relationship with the Chairman and is therefore left confused from one week to the next as to what is happening, how much he has to spend and who to talk to. This proves to be a distraction from the job he is good at and may well be affecting our success on the field. Andy has an excellent understanding of the club as a whole and shares many of the same frustrations as myself.
In short – again bluntly, for which I apologise – I believe the club is crying out for someone like yourself to join the ship and help to get the crew all working towards the same goal once again with a bit of leadership. I honestly do not believe there would be any resistance to a suggestion of someone else coming in, and in my ideal world (that never seems to exist) we would have
- A new Chairman to give a bit of leadership, professionalism and respect
- Roger would welcome the extra help and improvements, whilst still contributing significantly to the club
- Roger is now the main shareholder, but if equity was a requirement, I equally have no doubt that he would concede shareholding
- The youth section has now become much closer to the main club and that will continue
There are many other positive things that I will happily go into and discuss, but I don’t want to go on taking up too much of your time, and I certainly do not want to go ruffling any feathers if you are happy with no interest in getting involved at another club.
I hope you do not mind me making contact, I just thought I would drop another note over just in case you happened to be thinking you would like to do something different, something like we desperately need, and the opportunity was missed because nobody ever asked!!
Thanks for taking the time to read this far, I really won’t be offended if you just ask me to go away!! But if you did want to talk further, please let me know…
The recipient replied that he is “always interested”.
We left the situation that he would have a chat with Andy Leese, whom he knows very well, and get back to me in a week or so; if he thinks there is anything he can contribute, then we will perhaps meet-up.
Meanwhile I turned my attention back to the Youth Section parents meeting that I was attending that evening. Despite more heavy snowfall on Sunday night, and during the day Monday, the meeting was due to go ahead as scheduled. Although I have in my mind an image of what the Youth Section needs to do, there is a lot I do not know about what needs to happen for the youth section to function, but I know about committees, and I know about boards and I know that is exactly what the section needs.
As it happens the structure of the meeting was for the outgoing Chairman to describe the various jobs involved and seek out volunteers. Personally, I would have gone through what is involved and then asked if there was a group of people that wanted to form a committee to take over the roles and get a new version of the youth and section up and running. However, much to my surprise, the idea of seeking people to specifically volunteer for roles worked in the sense that every position was filled.
With all the positions filled, I volunteered my services to work with the committee in the early days to hopefully help everything run smoothly and to ensure that the club are offering all the support they can. Having made this point, some bright spark put forward the title of Vice Chairman…Five seconds later I had picked up the title of Vice Chairman of the Youth Section!
To be honest, as long as it does not become too much of a time drain, it is an exciting time for the section, and on a personal level it is good to see so many different people getting involved in, what is to me, Chesham United Football Club.
Tuesday night’s Board Meeting was never going to be as easy.
On the way over to the club on Monday night I had a phone conversation with the Chairman, we discussed whether we wanted to discuss the short-term cash crisis (because that is what it is) with the whole management board present, or did we want to have the management meeting to discuss the “12 Points of January” and then follow that up with a Directors only meeting. At the time I think we concluded that there was no harm in everyone being involved; by Tuesday morning I had changed my mind – Our problems were not going to be resolved by a large committee, it was time to cut the gossip and get down to some actions.
I dug out all the paperwork from just over a year ago when Mike Warrick and myself had effectively formed an “emergency team” with two other people from outside the club. The Emergency teams job was to seek a solution by scrutinizing costs, making cuts and managing every penny that goes in and out of the club. The original document from last season was quite lengthy and detailed, but for Tuesday night I condensed it down to one sheet of points. I sent the following to the Chairman on Tuesday afternoon, and run off another 4 copies for the Directors:
- End of Year Forecast Deficit: £38,000
Immediate Steps to be taken:
- “Emergency team” takes control of all cash payments and authorization
- Cut playing budget by circa £1500 per month (against budget, not current)
- Defer personal loan repayments /convert to equity
- Speak to bank about another 4-month repayment holiday
- Reduce ground maintenance by £500 per month
- Re-introduce Sportsman’s Dinner into the Forecast
- Cut bar costs / Return to part-time role, percentage payment
The Effect on End of Year Forecast:
- Save £3.5k on Players Wages
- Save £9.3k on Personal Loan repayments
- Save £4.7k on Bank loan repayments
- Save £2k on Ground Maintenance
- Gain £2k from Sportsman’s Dinner
Total: £21.5K (Revised Shortfall is now £16.5k)
Figures assume all bills cleared by end of year:
- Allow rolling bill deferment of £6.5k
Revised End of Year deficit: £10k
Proposal for dealing with £10k deficit:
- CUFC Board commit to surpassing budget forecast by £2k
- Roger makes one final, immediate, payment in financial year – £8k
Also, with that I produced a spreadsheet of how the players’ wages could be structured to make those savings. Compared to the wages today it was quite a dramatic cut, compared to the club’s overall budget, it was nothing too drastic – but that, along with everything else in the list, was sure to cause issues.
By the time I arrived at the meeting I was feeling pretty low, we had to go through the niceties of the first part of the meeting, various updates on the 12 points of January – some genuinely exciting progression, some attempts to fob the rest of us that something had been done and some just complete lack of activity. Whatever was being said, I sat their much quieter than normal…unless we sort out the second part of the meeting – cashflow – all of this was futile. Good stuff, but too late.
Frustratingly the cesspits seemed to dominate most of the meeting and the efforts made by Len Vockins, working with Waitrose, to set-up a number of theme days for home games over the remainder of the season is superb. It is exactly where I wanted to get the club as a supporters’ run organisation, but it is so much easier to talk about than it is to turn the talk into actions.
At just after 8.00pm half the attendees at the meeting left, leaving the Directors, minus the absent Mike Dragisic, and my Dad – the one who knows the day to day financial requirements, and who is shouting the loudest.
As expected the meeting kicked off with a long discussion about what we are going to cut the budget to. Nothing else, just the budget – Still we live in that isolated, disillusioned world where we are running a single entity football club, nothing else to it, no other implications. Even though I had circulated my thoughts previously to the Chairman, none of them were raised.
The Chairman wanted to stagger the decrease in wages, which on a purely football basis I agree with; Roger wanted to slash it pretty dramatically – by about £1,000 per week (nearly 50%). The arguments for both were pretty compelling. Brian’s argument carried no substance, whilst Roger’s sledgehammer approach alone would not sort everything, it would not be enough.
I too may be disillusioned but having spent hell of a lot of my time now talking to wealthy benefactors, potential wealthy benefactors and other people with the money to solve all my passionate football club requirements, I again think I pulled out my trump card at this point. Nothing deceitful, nothing below the belt, but there is something about my passionate beliefs and understandings of the football club – the one that sucked others in to the club in the past – that pulls the right strings with these people and makes them want to help the club.
For the first time all evening I spoke vociferously.
Point One. Let’s forget all this crap about the fact that Andy Leese has overspent. The club has overspent. The Board has overspent. “If I went to my boss and asked for an extra £500 this month and he gave it to me – is that my fault?” That needed clarifying.
Let’s not go throwing out blame on the manager here, not with that one anyway.
With that point made, I started to spill out my thoughts, my emergency situation that I had formalised during the day and sent to the Chairman before the meeting. It’s shitty, but we just cannot afford everything at the moment and the Board need to show some steel and make some very difficult decisions. I presented all the points on my document…I may be wrong, but I sensed appreciation in Roger’s eyes. I am not sure I will ever see eye to eye with Roger, but for the first time (and possibly the last) I had pushed the button with him – At last he had found someone that was not just going to sit there and expect him to pick up all the tabs. Someone understood the situation and had given some thought to it.
I was the only one, or if I wasn’t, nobody else spoke up with a suggestion.
So, it came to the crunch.
“Bearing all that in mind” I began, looking Roger in the eye “is it beyond the realms of possibility that there might be just another £8,000 that you could put into the club this year?”
“No, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility” he declared. Bingo.
Bin-bloody-go. I was ecstatic. Not because he had agreed to give yet more money to the club, but because my vision, my understanding, my efforts, my explanations, my – yes my, though not Chairman anymore – had found a resolution (albeit possibly short term) to what was a very serious problem.
That evening I had been on a rollercoaster of emotions, one I had not expected to feel was sympathy. I totally understood Roger’s stance. I don’t believe for one minute that he had run out of “risk money”. I think he was totally and utterly pissed off with the way the club was being run. I believe I went some way to changing his view of myself, maybe, if not the whole board. That shouldn’t be important, but human nature (and I’m quite a sensitive guy) makes you want people to think that you have done a good job. Maybe I have for the past twelve months been too much on the defensive.
I still believe I did a good job as Chairman, and the figures are backing that up at the moment. I don’t think that Roger ever believed that, and maybe that has always been my problem; he never wanted to see the cash management accounts, he never wanted to listen to the why’s and wherefores – my era as Chairman had fucked up, and I felt he (and others) revelled in that. This board meeting MAY have changed that.
Selfishly, that is important to me. For Chesham United, it meant that three and a half hours into the board meeting we finally had a plan.
It was tough, and it is just the beginning; but the blurred vision has become clearer. I felt like the Chairman again…and I enjoyed it, even in the face of adversity. Maybe it is because I had just felt as though I had done the Chairman’s job, without having to carry the responsibility. In fact yes, that is definitely the reason. It was the Chairman that now has to speak to the manager and the groundsman. Tough jobs – At least twelve months ago, when I was talking to an alternative potential owner, I had a very harsh businessman with whom I could play Good Cop/Bad Cop.
For the Chairman, the problem was that he was not going to be around the following day (still only Wednesday, it felt as though it ought to be the weekend already!) so, with the best of intentions, but against his better judgement (he and Andy Leese never seemed to communicate well by email!) he dropped Andy an email to explain the outcome of the meeting and the fact that there was to be a budget cut of £360 on what was originally agreed pre-season (though a lot bigger cut compared to what is being paid currently).
It was just before 8.00am Wednesday morning when Andy rang me, I was still on the drive to work.
We chatted for over 45 minutes, way past my time of arrival at work. I spent the last 15 minutes of the call sat in the car park, explaining what had happened the night before, but having to admit that I had not yet seen the Chairmans email (In fairness, when I did read the email it was a lot fairer than I had first imagined from Andy’s description!).
Much of Wednesday was spent having on-off conversations with Andy, explaining where the figures had come from, what they meant in real terms and how they might be interpreted. It was difficult because as a Director I had to support these cuts and had to be harsh on the manager’s spending, but equally I have an excellent relationship with Andy and I value and respect his views. After lots of conversations Andy confirmed that he and Jon Meakes would meet that evening to discuss the situation.
The next morning I received an email from Andy. It was his first draft of a response to Brian. Going back to the fact that, at heart, I am just a massive Chesham United fan, I did feel something special, rightly or wrongly, to think that the Manager was contacting me to discuss things before he spoke to the Chairman. I know that has been the case for the last twelve months in reality, but it was a reminder that I do get a sense of satisfaction out of it, despite the stress it puts me through. As a Director, Andy’s email was a reminder to me as to why I think it would make sense to have him on the Board of Directors. God I need someone else who understands the bigger picture. His response involved a very constructive alternative, harboring hopes of maintaining a play-off push through re-scheduling the proposed wage cut and looking at alternative income streams for the club.
He also played the emotional card very well, as he does, and also gave a lot of thought to the reputation of the club that would follow as players lose faith and word spreads. Of course it was all a desperate attempt to hang on to the playing budget, avoid difficult conversations and further his ambition to take the club up to the next level. The thing I loved was the fact that it was all backed up by numbers. Facts. Not enough people go into the all important detail that is needed to make the club work.
I confess that my response was anything but sympathetic. Thursday was a bad day for me, I felt pretty crap and I was sick of trying to carry the weight of responsibility. I had fulfilled the role of Vice-Chairman by standing in whilst the Chairman was in Norfolk yesterday, but it now needed him to takeover again.
I got no reply to my response during the day. That was a massive relief. I needed a break.
That evening whilst all my family were at Scuba Diving, my mobile rang. It was Andy. I ignored it. I need a break.
I felt guilty.
I called Andy back.
Andy wanted to know if I had spoken to the Chairman during the day, I had. he was feeling terrible and totally not wanting to be Chairman anymore. It was not just the beer and skittle and hob-knobbing in the boardroom, being Chairman is pretty shitty at times, a point that I can make with some experience. I suggested that Andy tries to speak to him before just sending the email, have a few words to get a sense of how you were both feeling, but still send the actual email to make sure you get all you points across fairly and squarely.
By Friday morning Andy had sent the email. I don’t think they spoke, but that didn’t matter. The Chairman forwarded the email to Directors to ask their opinion, but his feelings were already clear. He was not yet ready to go slashing the budget, he was not ready for an emergency situation and he was growing very fed up of feeling like a “puppet”.
Fair play to the Chairman, he was talking with some emotion, and feeling.
He and I spoke a couple of times during the day. We even reached the point where he admitted that he was considering subsidising the players wages and was wondering if the rest of the board would consider following suit. That is an absolute non-starter for me, even if I could afford it my testicles really would part company with the rest of my body courtesy of Mrs Calder!
At this point I confessed to the Chairman that I had this week contacted an owner at another club, and I confessed that it was not the first time. The Chairman was more despondent than I had ever known him. We talked about David Pembroke’s heart attack, neither of us wanted to be next. If there was a glimmer of optimism, it seemed right to share that with the Chairman.
At 21.48 on Friday 15thFebruary I got a text from Andy Leese: “Thanks for your help last few days. Fantastic. I’ll enjoy tomorrow now”
Saturday was Andy’s 50thbirthday, nearly exactly ten years older than me, but I was not there to celebrate. I had sacrificed watching the home game v Frome to go and watch Arsenal, and everything I hate about Premiership football.
The tickets for the Arsenal game came from my MD at work (the proper job). He has three tickets at Club Level that he uses for hospitality, but he was away this weekend so offered me the tickets to take my kids to see the FA Cup game v Blackburn Rovers. Thomas was never going to want to go, but Ben was really excited and I was going to offer to take his mate who is an Arsenal fan. I wanted to make sure I had the tickets before I made promises of them, I was going to mention it to his friends Dad at rugby training on Sunday, but, because of the finger injury and us leaving early, I didn’t.
I’m glad I didn’t. It saved me making a complete arse of myself by inviting the boy to a football match on the afternoon that Ben had already accepted an invite to his swimming pool party in Berkhamsted!!
Having already accepted the tickets, I was now obliged to miss the Frome match, which was fine by me, I need some time away from the club. I contact Stuart Wandrag and Dave Jeffrey, who I knew were both Arsenal fans, to see if they fancied a day away, they did…and we had a great time.
Despite earlier plans to the contrary, by matchday my travel arrangements to the Emirates involved getting a lift up with Charles Manchester, dropped off by his “Driver” a couple of minute’s walk from the ground and picked up from the doorstep several hours later.
I must admit it was a great day. Even if it was me getting chauffer driven to a game, spending £4.50 a pint in the corporate area, missing the start of both halves and then being chauffer driven to my door having watched players earning £100k per week… everything I hate about Premiership football – there I was, living it.
Between us we followed the happenings back at The Meadow. Going a goal down (again!). JP equalising (again). Frome having a player sent off. JK getting sent off, along with another Frome player.
After all the week had delivered, everything we had gone through, a 1-1 draw is simply not good enough. But that is football, it is not unique to football… Hell I enjoyed joining the Arsenal fans in booing Arsene Wenger at the final whistle at The Emirates!!