Recently, Chairman Kelvin Thomas, Chief Executive James Whiting and Manager Keith Curle took part in a season ticket holders forum, hosted by the It's All Cobblers To Me podcast team. The questions were submitted by season ticket holders and put to the club by the podcast guys and supporters can listen back to the recording by subscribing to the It's All Cobblers To Me podcast feed.
For those who haven't yet heard the event, some of the issues discussed are here:
JW: We face daily challenges and it is an ever changing picture. Only a couple of weeks on from supporters attending matches we were then straight back in to a national lockdown. I am proud of way we have dealt with it as a club and we will keep on doing all we can.
KC: We all face different challenges but the communication to the players from the club has been excellent. The club breaks the information down in to small parts so that I can tell the players and how it impacts the squad so they get the right information in a relevant way. The squad have dealt with the changes very well.
KT: It has been very challenging. I went back to the US in March thinking it would be for a few weeks and we are now almost 10 months on. I was due to come back to the UK for a couple of weeks recently but I have pushed that back because of the lockdown. I want to get back ASAP, when the rules allow, even if only to meet some of the new players as we are making decisions and talking about players I have never met. I am very proud of what we as a club have done through this period but it has been and continues to be very challenging.
SEASON TICKET HOLDERS
KT: It is a challenging situation and to come up with a simple plan on how to thank season ticket holders is not easy. I said a month ago in my interview on YouTube that once we knew all of the information we could start to make decisions and that remains the case but we are not at that point yet. In the media it looks like the bail out from the Premier League has been completed but that isn’t the case. We have had an interim payment from the Premier League which we really appreciate but we are awaiting formal ratification of the second payment. To give supporters an idea of where we are at, all clubs had to show the EFL the potential losses, and since March 2020 our ticket income loss is around £1.75 million. What we expect from the bail out is just over £500,000 so we are talking of about a 30% recovery of our lost ticket income. Then you add all the other loss revenue we have suffered, we think that is about £1.3 million so we are talking of lost revenues of about £3 million and only recovering a fraction of that so we must be clear, the bail out, while appreciated, isn’t anywhere near replacing all what we have lost.
We really appreciate what the Premier League have done and I have written to all Premier League Chairman to thank them, but it is only a fraction of what we would otherwise have received and it doesn’t mean things are back to normal by any means.
The biggest other help we have had is from season ticket holders. A lot of them have already been in touch to say they don't want any refund this season and that is great. There is a value to iFollow, and we will continue to make this available to season ticket holders for as long as required and I cannot stress enough we really appreciate the support of all season ticket holders. We have even had a season ticket holder come in to the ticket office, at their first game they attended this season, to pay for their match ticket again because they wanted to support the club. It was very humbling and we are so grateful. As owners, we recognise we will be covering some pretty big losses and it remains a challenging time financially. The position remains ever changing and we can look to put information out in the coming months as we receive more information and as things become clearer. Supporters have been very patient and we appreciate that. Our immediate challenge is to make sure we keep the club steady, focussed and encompass what we do as part of an overall plan. The overriding feedback we have had from supporters is that we trust what you are doing, focus on looking after the club and we will be right behind you. On top of that, we are trying to do what we can in terms of supporting Keith to retain League 1 status. Things have changed very dramatically in just a couple of weeks, we went from 2,000 fans attending to a total lockdown in the space of a few weeks and no one could have predicted that.
JW: When we were not able to complete the final four games last season and we announced refund details, only between 5% and 8% of season ticket holders wanted refunds. We are mindful that we need to show our appreciation but we still don't know how many games season ticket holders will get to see this season and how much we will receive from other sources so there are still a lot of unknowns and ideally we need clarity to base decisions on. We are mindful of the issue and we are having conversations internally, it is important thing to get right and the clarity we are looking for will help that.
KT: Matters have moved on politically in Northamptonshire. Northampton Borough Council (NBC) won't exist after April 1 and it will become the West Northants Authority (WNA). That authority will have new management and a new leader and a lot of the staff will be new. We have formally notified NBC that we are no longer working with them and that we are now working with WNA. That is an official formality and we had to formally give that notice. We are now in conversations with WNA and we have had some very professional and productive conversations. WNA are not bogged down by any political baggage, and they come in to control on April 1st. There are local elections coming up which will complicate things a little, and will mean there will be no external communications for a couple of months around that, but we would hope to have made significant progress in the next couple of months. Myself and David Bower have commissioned a ground condition report and there was some plant machinery on site last week to produce that. For us, that was a significant investment and a significant step. Covid has impacted things of course but we have used this time to have online meetings and moving things forward with WNA.
JW: The 22 man squad limit has really added a new dynamic to the recruitment. Younger players have become more of a premium as they are over and above the 22 man squad and that is a new dynamic and we have to have that squad size limit in mind with everything we do.
KC: We do have to consider things carefully. What we don't want to do is sign players now and then, come the end of January, they are taking up a place in the squad when other players become available later in the month so we only really want to move for players who we think will be part of our squad moving forward. This is a very difficult window, not just for us but for all clubs. We are trying to get the best value deals we can and so is everyone else.
KT: There is more regulation in this transfer window but a lot of the rules are there to protect clubs and to protect spending and to create room for younger players. It makes things more difficult but the rules are for good intentions.
KC: We see young players as very important and there is a pathway that is open. We have seen academy players make 140 first team appearances since I arrived at the club and the most recent once to come through is of course Caleb. We identified him at the end of last season as someone with potential. He has untold ability in possession of the ball, he needs to develop and learn more out of possession but the lad wants to learn and we are working with him to develop him and to develop his game and he is progressing.
JW: Caleb is under a scholarship agreement with the club until 2022 and we are in discussions with Caleb and his representatives to try and agree professional terms and have made a number of offers. Over a 10 or 20 year period, the player pathway hasn't always been good enough but it has improved a lot in the last 5 years. We get reports through from the EFL and we are ranked highly in terms of players produced over the last few years and that shows we are progressing. Under EPPP we do lose some of our better players, Hornby, Middleton and some younger than that and that has to be considered when looking at our academy.
KT: Scott Pollock has been a big miss this season, I am sure he would have played a lot of football. Shaun McWilliams is developing, so is Caleb and Morgan Roberts and we have a very good pathway at this club, something that has improved in the last 5 years.
MAKING THE CLUB SUSTAINABLE:
JW: No club is really sustainable long term based on the current income levels with matches behind closed doors. What has helped though is a lot of the work that we have done over a period time has to be as competitive as we can be on the pitch while also making the club sustainable and that has been crucial, particularly so now we are in this pandemic. Things are tough for clubs right now and our work to make the club sustainable has proved vital.
KT: What is sometimes frustrating is when people look at things in isolation. When people say we don’t do this or that as well as others that may be true, but then we do plenty of things better than other clubs and the reason for that is that each decision has a knock on effect in to other areas and you need to look at things as a whole rather than decisions in isolation.
MEETING PLAYERS BEFORE SIGNING THEM:
KC: Covid has made that harder, scouting is not as easy as it was as access to games is reduced, as you can only go and watch games that include your next three opponents at first team level. In terms of chatting to players, we have had meetings online and you can still get a good idea of the character of a player. Sometimes we click straight away, other times we meet and decide a certain player is not for us. Covid means we have to do things differently and think about things in a different way but it is still possible to do things right. When we sign a player we need their buy in. We can’t buy our way out of this division, we will have to fight our way forward and battle our way though and we want a group that accepts that challenge.
JW: Each window we have a very long list of targets and different options in each position. Our aim is to end each window stronger than we began it.
You can listen to the forum below.