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Fans' Q & A: The Answers
On Thursday 24 May, Margate supporters were invited to take part in a Question and Answer session at Hartsdown Park. In attendance, were Chairman Terry Painter (TW) and Directors, Ricky Owen (RO) and Chris Chambers (CC). They were joined by First Team Joint Manager Mike Sandmann (MS), General Manger Deny Wilson (DW), Head of Operations Tom Morris (TM) and Head of Marketing and Communications, Charlotte Richardson (CR).
Fans submitted questions in advance and the panel were able to get through them all before opening the floor for any further queries.
Why are a multi-millionaire pound owner and directors involved with Margate Football Club? What is the agenda for progress and the facilities?
TW: The obvious answer is that the club was in a destitute situation and I was asked by the Chairman at the time to meet for lunch and I offered to help. I introduced an investor who was able to save the club at that time.
That was the main interest. He didn’t know a lot about football but he loves it now and I’ve said on record before, that I don’t know everything about football, but I do know people.
And that’s the important part of my job, to put the right people together to help the club grow. Eugene is a quiet man, he is unassuming and he is very measured in what he does and the decisions he makes. We hope the ones he has made so far have been good for Margate.
Will the lack of communication from the club and sponsors in the Sponsors Lounge be addressed?
CR: Any football club will try to distribute information when it’s accurate and timely to do so. Online sources can be rife with gossip and potential news but as a football club, it’s important for us to ensure our communication channels are updated with factual news that fall within legal guidelines when necessary; especially when to do with contractual matters or things of a sensitive or personal nature.
We need to make sure our communications are delivered at the right time and I’d like to think – certainly when I compare us to other clubs within the Bostik League – that we communicate frequently. We try to do something across our social media channels and website every day and I’m quite proud of how that has grown over the last season.
With regards to the Sponsors Lounge, of course we’d love to see a packed Sponsors Lounge every single week at Hartsdown Park. Generating commercial interest is a challenge for any football club; that’s from the Football League – even during my time at Gillingham it was always challenging to find new sponsors – and especially down to Non-League.
Our Commercial Strategy is about more than filling hospitality spaces. It’s about putting together innovative partnerships like we’ve done with McDonalds, where we go a little above and beyond to reward our community. We’re always open to new ideas and fans would have seen last year, how we used the Sponsors Lounge to welcome more charities, more veterans’ groups than we ever have before. So, it’s not always about commercial gain, it’s about using our spaces for the community.
Those who have seen the launch of our Season Ticket sales this week, will have noted how we’re planning to host 50 fans in our Sponsors Lounge. So sometimes, it’s about a little more than getting money. However, it is something we need to generate. Word of mouth is often key, there are people in this room who may be able to connect us to businesses who’d like to work with us.
Is it true the playing budget has been cut by 60% and if so, why?
RO: The budget for this season, as you’ll have seen from our signings so far this season, is very competitive. It won’t be the largest in the League but it will put us in a position where we should be competing for the play-offs.
Having said that, there has been a slight reduction from last year. We don’t think that will hinder our chances for pushing for play-offs but it’s a little bit more realistic. It would be unfair not to tell you there has been a slight reduction and it would be very unfair on Mike and Browny, not to tell you there’s been a slight reduction. I think Mike will agree it’s still a healthy budget.
Has there been any discussions with Ramsgate or any other club about a ground share or merger this season?
TP: We can put this one to bed right away. We are not thinking of merging with anyone else. We’re Margate Football Club and that’s what it’s going to be.
What are the long-term plans for the club; what’s the two-year, five-year, 10-year plan?
TP: We all come here to enjoy a good game of football and we want to make it as pleasurable as possible and we need to increase the development here in due course. Our major shareholder is committing to that and we have major plans for development. It’s a very slow process getting the right terms from the council to move that forward.
He has made investment as you know with the pitch, the north stand and maintaining the facility here. The ground is being used more often and he wants to make it a real community here; with the academy and schools projects. I know him personally as I introduced him here and he’s a very genuine guy. He’s got the bug for the game and the club and he knows more about the leagues than I do, and he’s only been here a year. His long-term plans, I’m sure will be for the benefit of Margate.
CC: In terms of two-year, five-year plans, it’s pretty fluid. What we have got to do is make this club sustainable, or at least as sustainable as it can be. To do that, we have to increase commercial activity and as Terry said we have been negotiating for year with the council in terms of a lease, and I would say to you to keep your eye out over the next two to three weeks as we should have some news on that.
The plan is we then start to look at how that development takes place. It will be a phased approach. Our planning consent is in place, it’s enacted, and we have got things we want to do different but that is the plan. It will be fluid because investment will be fluid. There’s no point throwing millions at it, you’ve got to do it over a period of time.
Can you confirm there are no plans to move away from Hartsdown?
TP: Too right!
Who is the lead advisor on running the football side of the club?
TW: As I’ve said previously, I don’t know a great deal about football, but we’ve got the right people in place who do. My job as chairman is to chair the board and management team to give you – and what we all want – which is a good facility and a good team that is hopefully very successful.
MS: Steve Brown will stay on the Board of Directors and join me as Manager . We’re really looking forward to continuing to build the club. There was a question about keeping the players together and we’re in talks to keep as many of those players together. As Ricky mentioned, there has been a slight budget cut, we are still very competitive, but it does mean we are not able to keep every single player we’d have liked to.
Every single player who has re-signed from last year have done so on reduced terms. They didn’t have to and there are some who were on contracts as well, who have reduced their salaries, so they can stay at the football club and we can bring in more players.
We just missed out on the play-offs and we’re hoping to build a competitive squad so that we can make the play-offs this time around. It’s credit to the supporters and the club that these players want to stay at the football club and it’s very pleasing.
Why is there no promotion of club events outside of the Facebook group? If you’re not a member of these channels, you’re unlikely to know about them.
CR: In terms of our resources to promote a variety of different things, digital marketing is a key one. Our audience of Twitter alone was 70 million during last season, it’s not a tool we should discredit but of course we have to use other methods. Posters around the place, utilising our Match Day magazine, employing our good relationship with media outlets such as the KM. We’re always looking to build upon our contacts, but these things come at a cost and everything we do needs to be cost-effective.
Word of mouth is ultimately the best tool, but we’ll continue to work to used other methods.
RO: We always used paid adverts to take messages beyond our usual audience.
CR: Everything we put out does have a real strategy in place. We’ll continue to build those relationships and hopefully more and more people will begin to know about all the positive things happening here.
DW: We’re always happy to hear people’s suggestions and the channels you want us to communicate on. Please do suggest them, we will listen and we will act upon it.
Can I ask for clarification about the departure of the manager following a season that exceeded expectations?
RO: There’s not a lot to add really. We had discussions about the forthcoming season, formed from those discussions between the board and Steve, it was agreed he by mutual consent that he was going to leave. As you’ve seen, he’s recently moved to Maidstone and we wish him well with that. It’s a big step for him and it’s his home club so he is delighted to be back there. But there’s really nothing to add, anything you’ve read online or rumours; it is what it is. He left by mutual consent.
Will the club be running an U23s, a reserves and development team next season?
MS: We had a discussion with a coach this evening who we’re looking to appoint. I won’t name the coach at present as we still need to have a conversation with him. We’re looking to run an Under 23s team that will link with the Under 18s and into the first team and Academy.
We want players from Margate to be a part of that. We want players to come through into our first team and we think with this appointment, it will bring the youth, under 18s, academy together as one. We want that natural progression for when these kids come in aged 12, 13, 14 to have the aspirations to be part of the first team. Hopefully, you’ll see that this year as we plan to have more young players in and around the first team.
DW: It was mentioned about Jay Stubberfield being released. Jay wasn’t released, he has been appointed as Assistant Manager at East Grinstead. So for him, it’s a step up.
RO: To touch on the reserve team. We are not running a reserve team. There is potentially a Saturday club going to hire the ground to play here when we’re not around. That’s no real link to the football club as such, they’re a customer hiring the facility.
Does the board plan to develop the ladies team and to what extent?
DW: Obviously everyone as seen, we’ve parted ways with Jim as the Ladies Manager and have appointed Evan Parris as the new Manager of the side. Hopefully, he will bring and develop the Under 18s he has worked with previously but that is in no way, of kicking out the current ladies team.
We want the current players to work with the youngsters coming through. They’re a very good side, as are our current team and we want to merge together to get the best squad possible for Margate. We are also doing it for the benefit of the club. When we change players in the first team, it’s not generally questioned as long as we’re trying to push the club forward.
In the same respect, we’re doing the same with the ladies and we believe by appointing Mr Parris we can do this, amalgamate the two teams and put a really competitive ladies team out there next year.
TP: I’d like to put on the record again, that the club appreciates the efforts Jim and his coaching staff put into the ladies team during their time here and sometimes change has to happen. Chris reminded me the other day, that there is nothing more certain in football than change. Managers change, players change and performances change. But change can be inspiration and that’s what we’re looking to do. Bear with us, we’ve got a good team here working for you and I’m sure the results will show in the coming months.
What is the role of the Supporters’ Club? What is the board’s view on this and would they consider having a representative on the board or monthly meetings? What can supporters do to help the club?
TP: Deny and I try to get to Supporters Club meetings when we’re invited of course.
DW: The chairman of the Supporters Club and myself are going to set up monthly meetings. We will work around the dates set up by you guys…
There are rumours going around that Thanet Council won’t give you a lease on this place until something is done with Southwood in Ramsgate? Can we clarify if this is the case? And if not, why is it taking so long?
CC: I have personally been negogiating with them for a year and during that year, I’ve dealt with four different officers who have all left and it’s been a case of starting the process all over again. That’s one reason.
They did offer a lease in 2014, which Bob Laslett didn’t sign and thank god he didn’t to some extent. There is the opportunity of that lease being offered again but we didn’t want that, we wanted something better to help us with future investment.
That is the process we’re going through at the moment and as I said earlier, over the next few weeks…wait and see.
Now it’s been announced that Mike Sandmann and Steve Brown will be joint-mangers, will Mike continue his role at Dover and if so, how will his time be split between the two?
MS: I’ll be continuing my role as Academy Manager at Dover Athletic based at the Abbey School. I’ve now got two full-time jobs; one at Dover and one here but I don’t see it as being anything other than a positive. The link between Dover and some of the players we’re able to get in is a positive. You’ll have seen that last season, with Big George who became a fans’ favourite. A few years ago, Dover wouldn’t loan any players to Margate Football Club, so that’s been a positive.
In terms of me and Steve, we have other jobs and other things going on but nothing will get in the way of producing for this football and getting this club to where it should be. The phone has been non-stop, we’re working hard to get the players in and believe me we’re doing what we can to get the best players in on what we have got.
So far, the signings that we’ve made are building a base and we hope to confirm some more over the next few days which I know everyone will be pleased with.
DW: It’s probably worth noting that Steve Watt had another job whilst here, during the day he was doing a similar role teaching within an academy. It’s the done thing within football and not uncommon.
What are match day prices going to be for next season?
DW: We’ve held the prices from last season, there’s been no change at all as we’re in the same league. The entrance prices on the gate on the day will be the same as well. We think there’s more value to our season tickets so we’re happy with that pricing too.
Where will the first-team be training next season?
MS: The same as last season at Wrotham.
How will that link in with the youth section and Under 23s?
MS: That’s something we discussed this afternoon. The Under 23s will train with us a Wrotham and we’ll look to bring in the Under 18s when we can. We’re looking to have a feeder in between the Under 18s and 23s but we understand that is a bit of a distance from here.
The reason we train at Wrotham is to attract more players to the football club. If we were to train here on a week-to-week basis, some of the players simply wouldn’t be able to join because of the distance. With the new appointment, you’ll see the link between the 23s, youth, first team etc will become a lot more apparent and easier and help the natural progression into our first team.
Will there be improvements to content in the Match Day Magazine including statistics?
CR: We’re looking for a statistics person as this point was raised, if anyone would like to volunteer, we’d be pleased to hear from them. We have a small set of staff who are dedicated to producing not only a Match Day Magazine but maintaining a website, social media pages and we like to spread the content amongst them all.
I personally rely on volunteers to help produce content, so if anyone would like to submit something that they believe other supporters would enjoy reading in their Match Day Magazine, then please do help us with that.
Last season, we introduced new features we hoped fans would like. I was especially proud and certainly didn’t spot on my travels elsewhere any other club in our League dedicating bespoke content for young fans. And on that note, I think the board should be credited for allowing Under 11s to watch games here for free. I’m proud of elements of that work but of course every Match Day Magazine can be improved. Any feedback, ideas please email them to us.
How did the board decide that the 3G pitch would be of benefit to us, especially given the money paid out for it and the fact we didn’t have many games called off in previous seasons?
CC: The 3G pitch is there as a commercial tool to generate revenue. I’ve seen people say previously that it’s not making money, it’s not doing this. It’s perfectly on programme for where it should be. We need to balance that and we’re now seeing long term bookings on there and we’re starting to fill out with short-term users too.
There’s plenty of work to do, especially filling it up in the day time which is one of the bigger challenges. It’s where it should be and it should be a great commercial tool moving forwards.
As a playing surface, I don’t think there’s a single player I’ve spoken to who doesn’t enjoy playing on it. They love it, prefer playing on it.
MS: Especially last year, there would have been a lot of games called off last year due to the severe weather. We’d have had games on a grass pitch called off. I know we had a lot of games on a Tuesday night but if we had more games cancelled, that would have meant a lot of Saturday/Tuesday, Saturday/Tuesday matches. Billericay and other clubs were playing Monday, Thursday and Saturday towards the end of the season and we certainly don’t want that.
Clubs come here and the teams and players who sign, see that straight away and want to be part of something. I only see it as a positive from a playing point of view.
CC: Also, it’s got to be said about the great community benefit. See out there tonight, all the kids playing, the youth teams training. You’ve never seen that before. There’s people in the stadium, using the facility, bringing faces in and suddenly people are talking about Margate Football Club and what we’re doing. That’s just one part of it. One part of a series of things we want to do based around that pitch.
RO: For the club to be sustainable, we can’t let the owner plug all his money into a first team. Once that’s gone it’s gone, capital investment like the pitch will continue to bring income for years to come. Hopefully, once certain issues are sorted with the council, other capital investment can be made that will help the club be sustainable.
With the League restructure, do you think that will be an advantage to Margate?
MS: “I’d firstly concentrate on ourselves and what we can bring together and I’m really pleased with what we are putting together. There are a lot of new teams, the big clubs like Leiston and Hendon have moved out the league which is a benefit but you’ve had teams come down like Corinthians who’ve not been in the league. It’s a bit of a free-hit for them, in terms of expectations, there isn’t any.
At Margate, each season it gets branded about us being a big football club and as such, favourites for promotion. Sometimes, that pressure is a negative compared to these clubs.
In terms of travel, the league re-structure is much better for us. I believe regardless of teams coming and going, we’re building a team that should be challenging for play-offs like we should have been last season. I’m really pleased with the signings we’ve made with our budget and it’s all positive from my point of view.
Why is the Academy based with a school in Herne Bay and not Margate? Who’ll be running the side next season?
RO: Simple answer is, Herne Bay High is a much betters school. It’s about more than just the football, it’s the education and working to ensure the best range of course are available, we felt Herne Bay were the right school. They’ve got a new Headteacher who I know very well, they’re progressive, innovative and like new ideas and it was a good fit.
In terms of transport links, it fits well as students don’t get the EMA that helped them with travel before 2015. Travel is a big consideration and we felt that was a good fit as well. We want to put some pressure on Mike and put some pressure on what he’s got going on at the Abbey School.
Gary Owens will be working with the school. He’s a UEFA License coach who has worked with Chelsea’s Academy for 12 years, worked with Premier League players including Jack Cork. There’s a good chance he will be managing the first team along with myself.
Friday, 25 May 2018
By Charlotte Richardson