In my travels I missed the opportunity to pick up on the media statement from Ziya Eren about his vision and plans for the club going forwards. I’ll attempt to break it down in the same manner as the statement itself.
Let’s kick off with the big one: Championship football within 8-10 years. Personally I think that if Championship football is our goal then anything less than 8-10 years is unrealistic. The previous plan of 5 years failed to take in to account the need for organic growth within the fan base that you’ll need to support this over a longer term and was doomed before we started. The question here though is: Is this really our primary goal…? Personally, for me it’s not. I’d rather see a financially sustainable club in League 1 or League 2 than I would see us overstretching ourselves in the Championship. I worry that if our goal is Championship football then we run the risk of dropping the ball on other initiatives at the expense of Championship status. A prime example of this is the Academy. Previously we dropped it because of the short term cost, rather than having a view on the long term investment. I would worry that if all we care about is Championship football that the same, or similar decisions will be made again.
An additional point to this is finality that such a goal gives us. I don’t know Ziya Eren personally so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and chose my words carefully. But what’s the goal after we reach the panacea of Championship football? Football club ownership is littered with case studies of sugar daddy relationships that ended very badly for the club once the interest expired. If the sole intent is to reach that pinnacle then the worry is that it will be done at the expense of everything else and the benevolent benefactor will exit stage left the minute that goal has been reached. I hope not, I hope that what we’ll see over the coming months and years will satisfy my personal curiosity and concern, but it’s something I’ll be playing close attention to.
And now to the rest of the statement:
Affiliation with fans
I like that this was top of Mr Eren’s list. It feel like a breath of fresh air after the past few years that the fans appear to be recognised as an important part of the club. I know this could be dismissed as simple rhetoric, but in the dealings I’ve had with the club in the first few weeks through the CTSA the approach is markedly different. The people there now genuinely care. I know that some of them were there before under the previous regime, but it’s clear already that their input and influence were not necessarily given the air to flourish. If anyone’s looking for example I could give you more than a few, but take a look in Redz on match days. Look at the presence of board members and players mingling with the fans. Look at the engagement and communication we’re already getting on next season’s travel plans, the end of season tournaments on eth pitch. It’s all good, positive stuff and it should be recognised as such.
Broadly speaking I don’t really care what the budget was this season. We are where we are and we’re assured League 2 football for another year. You could quite easily argue that on our current gates with recent performances that we are very lucky to be saying that.
I’m pleased that they’re topping up the budget, but I’m more pleased that they’re not loading it. I think there was a huge expectation that Mr Eren would simply walk in and quadruple the playing budget. Whilst that would potentially ensure promotion next season (if previous league spends are reviewed) it would put us squarely back where we were three years ago. The money that’s spent is better invested in infrastructure and fan engagement than it is on players if we want to build our club. A small injection of cash is necessary to ensure that we’re not left behind by our peers, but what will make a huge difference next season is Mark Yates having the autonomy to spend the money how he wants rather than inheriting the bad decisions of managers past.
Oh I did like this: ”if anyone thinks the shirt is too small for them then the door is wide open for them to leave.” I’ll try hard not to go over ground I’ve already written about, but if you’re playing for Crawley it’s for a reason. Our previous Chairman once said to me that “at our level we have to accept that our players have something wrong with them or they wouldn’t be here”. One of the few occasions where I agreed with him completely. The skill for a manager at this level is assessing which defects are worth accepting in some form of warped cost / benefit analysis. I do think though that the retained list needs to be published as soon as possible. We only have three players contracted beyond this season and maybe only one or two others that are worth offering contracts to. The direction taken on releasing or retaining players will set the tone for the season to come and in my view potentially have a significant effect on season ticket renewals.
I like him, I’ve said this before, but six defeats on the bounce is hardly helping his case. Nor for that matter does his agent! I’d like to see Mark yates given a chance to play his own players in a manner that he wants his players to play rather than spending the season dealing with the output of his predecessors mistakes and financial frivolity. There is of course the position that few seem to consider that he might not actually want to stay. As with the players though, I think a clear statement sooner rather than later will have an effect (positive I hope) on the sale of season ticket renewals.
Commercial and sponsorship
String words from a successful businessman. You don’t become a multi-millionaire in a country like Turkey without having a ruthless streak. I like the plans they have for engaging with local businesses and the emphasis on the commercial employees at the club to pull their weight. I don’t think the commercial department of the club has always has the latitude or support it needed to be successful in the past, I simply hope that with the whip approach detailed in the statement that there are a few carrots thrown in.
Clearly in the plans, but not being rushed. A sensible approach to target the 2017-2018 season rather than rushing it. Time will obviously tell.
Match day experience
The big one in my book. We can talk about improving gates as much as we want, but if we don’t improve the match day experience then this is never going to happen. I applaud the introduction of the under-11 ticket for £1 next season as I do the £20 under-11 season ticket and the freezing of the other prices. I don’t think there’s much more that the club could have sensibly or realistically done. The harsh reality is that watching Crawley isn’t expensive and season ticket sales aren’t primarily dictated by price (I do accept however that for some this may not be true). The issue at the moment is that it’s not value for money. Now I fully accept that “value for money” is an emotive subject, but the whole match day experience needs to be improved, not just the meagre fare offered to us on the pitch this season. I don’t really buy in to the “better food” school of thought. You don’t come to Crawley FC for a gourmet meal. Introducing Kebabs might actually be an interesting gimmick and it might even make a few quid, but it’s not going to be the thing that drags people out of the Martlets and in to the Checkatrade.com stadium on a Saturday afternoon. Match days need to start at 1pm, not 3pm, but to do that you have to offer something. You also need to offer something at halftime and after the game that enhances the overall experience.
In fairness to the club they are already exploring some initiatives to be introduced next season and again they’re happy to work with the CTSA to achieve it. They understand that improvements are necessary and that in itself for me is a huge step forwards. Previously the fans appeared to be an inconvenience to the board’s match day experience rather than a contributory factor and key participant. The fact that improvements are even being actively discussed (and in the case of the scoreboard, acted on) is evidence that we already have improvements on the ground.
European club affiliation
The jury’s out on this one for me. I’d like to reserve judgement until I see what it actually means. I can see (I hope) where they’re going with this, but there is a nagging doubt in the back of my mind which screams “Charlton”.
Finally I’d like to pick up on the final sentence in the statement: “We will laugh, cry and shout together but in the end together we will succeed.”. I like this. The recognition that it won’t be plain sailing and that we’re in it together. I accept that only time will tell, but the initial signs are positive and the rhetoric appears already to be matched with action.