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Chairman predicts a bright future for Stanley

The Observer caught up with Accrington Stanley chairman Peter Marsden about the last year at the Store First Stadium ...

The Observer caught up with Accrington Stanley chairman Peter Marsden about the last year at the Store First Stadium ...

You took over from Ilyas Khan in May 2012, how have you found being chairman of a football club?

I feel  honoured, especially bearing in mind the club’s unique and historic significance in English football.  Being chairman is often enjoyable but can be quite stressful. I reckon about 60 per cent of my time is taken up on Stanley matters and I still have my own finance business to run.  Between Stanley and my own work I reckon I clock up a 90 hours week.

Have you had to get used to negotiating transfers/contracts?

The minutiae of players’ contracts we mainly leave to Rob Heys.  Under Ilyas I was the one who negotiated the transfers  – there was that busy summer two  years ago when I was entrusted with negotiating the compensation for Jimmy Ryan, Sean McConville, Alex Cisak, Terry Gornell and, more latterly, for John Coleman and Jimmy Bell when they went to Rochdale.

In respect of Ryan and McConville these ended up at tribunals and I had to do a lot of background work in respect of other transfers in the game for ‘similar’ players which was not that easy because so many transfers these days are for a ‘non-disclosed’ fee.  I would then cite these as supporting case history comparisons at the tribunals to prove our player’s worth.

I like to think I can be  methodical and scientific in my approach and touch wood it seems to have worked reasonably well so far. I am pretty certain that it has got round in the game that, as far as transfers and compensations are concerned although we are a small club, Stanley are not pushovers.

In fact I would be surprised if ever a buying club looked forward with relish to crossing swords with Stanley – particularly at a tribunal where the David and Goliath comparison seems to work in our favour. In the last six months or so the only transfer activity I have been involved in is the departure of Paul Cook to Chesterfield.

What have been the main problems / difficulties in the last year?

The main ‘off the pitch’ problems this year are not really of our making but we have had to sort them out. The amount of centrally distributed funding we get from the Football League and the Premier League Solidarity Fund is about £60,000 down this year compared to last.

The general economic climate affects football like every other walk of life and there is just not so much money ‘out there’ which has led to smaller average attendances.

Also Hyndburn Council, who have been good to the club over recent years in not charging the club ‘rent’ have had to change this policy because of the cuts imposed upon them by Central Government.

While we are sympathetic and supportive of the council’s situation it is something else which we had not originally factored in to the cashflow.
 
‘On the pitch’ we have been lucky in previous years that under John and Jimmy the footballing side seemed to take care of itself.

This year it has been a little more up and down which is perhaps understandable as we have a new manager and a new team and things always take time to gel but I am sure we will start climbing League Two again.

Were you shocked when Paul Cook left after just eight months in charge after the club had given him a chance in English football?

We are all knew Paul was ambitious which was the main reason why we wanted to take him on and also the fact that he knew something about the club from when he was player-coach in our Conference days.

We always assumed that, after being successful with us, he would move on to a bigger club but it just happened too quick and, no disrespect to Chesterfield, while they have a nice new stadium it was not a quantum leap from a career perspective.

I would have preferred Paul to stay with us for a couple of years and then move on to a top League One or a Championship side; by then Leam (Richardson) who we always regarded as our ‘next manager’ would be fully trained up to seamlessly take over the reins.

It’s quite an extensive board now with new additions over the last year, who makes the final decisions? There are emails flying around between the directors every day of the week and we have lengthy board meetings after every Saturday home game.

We tend to work on a consensus basis and, as we are a level-headed bunch, we all seem to agree on most things.  We are also lucky to have a number of specialists within the board.

For instance we have Alan Pickup the finance director who, like me, has a long-term vision for the club being fully sustainable – dare I say ‘profitable’ – there are also another four directors who with Alan make up the finance committee whose job it is to micromanage the finances.

We have in Murray Dawson – who has his own advertising / marketing and PR agency in Burnley – a true professional in his field and who is relentless in thinking up and carrying out all manner of new initiatives to increase the club’s presence.

Peter Shaw looks after community matters. Bill Holden is in charge of matters concerning ground improvements – and is also Buzzer (Martin Cook) the groundsman’s champion on the board. Vernon Yerkess has taken the Academy under his wing.

Someone described me as the glue that holds it all together.

I have been a director at Stanley for seven years and served under three chairmen and I like to think that I have learned something from each but I am still my ‘own man’.

How has the club carried on since Ilyas Khan stepped down and are the finances secure?

I am pleased to advise that while life at Stanley is never plain sailing, in our own unobtrusive way the board has delivered in making sure that the finances at Stanley are properly managed.

This is because we understand the importance of budgets and long-term strategies.  I am pleased to say that while it has sometimes been a struggle we have always managed to pay the wages on time and are mindful of our duties as employers.

The whole idea of having a large board at Stanley is that we are quite unlike other clubs in that we do not have an ‘owner’ nor do we wish for one. We regard ourselves as trustees and custodians.

Every director has only a smallish minority shareholding. We regard Stanley as not just a football club but a great British institution – the nearest parallel I can think of is the National Trust. We are always on the lookout for similarly-minded people to join the board. Don’t wait to be invited, please feel free to approach us!

Under Ilyas – who deservedly has earned his place in Stanley history as the financial saviour of the club at our darkest hour – because he was known to be super-wealthy I think even he would admit it was almost a barrier to getting other people ‘involved’ at the club as they perhaps wrongly perceived that they were not needed.

The 18 or so directors have all individually injected amounts which in conventional football circles would be regarded as not especially large but collectively they add up to a tidy sum. I would say that one way or another – be it as shares or loans – the new board have contributed over £200,000.

However while we recognise the occasional need to financially prop up Stanley in the short-term what we are looking to do is make the club more sustainable in the medium to long-term.

 We have a number of initiatives designed to make the club have a secure long-term future.

In fact I would say that this quest for a long-term solution to the financial ills which have so regularly beset our beloved Stanley is what makes this board so different to what has gone on previously.

We have already laid the foundations – and as examples of this I would quote:

  • The exciting new three years ground and shirt sponsorship with Store First.
  • The East Lancashire By Official Appointment scheme which we are putting together to start at the beginning of next season. This involves Stanley having one ‘partner’ from each trade / profession – for instance one solicitor, one accountant, one estate agent, one insurance broker, one funeral director and so on. The partner firm has access to our supporters to sell their wares and promote their business – and in turn commits to hospitality / advertising with us. We feel confident that starting next season this will generate about £30,000 to £40,000 per year for the club.
  • Thanks to Murray Dawson and Rob Houseman we are making huge strides in getting the club more well-known and more favourably received, not just in Accrington but in the surrounding areas too.  This includes regular visits to schools. We also have exciting plans to expand The Crown pub in to a ‘virtual museum’ about the club and the town of Accrington itself. Hopefully this will increase Accrington’s visibility as a tourist destination which can only be good for the local economy.
  • Not wishing to be accused of sitting on our laurels we continue to engage directly with our own fans particularly via the Official Supporters Club, Neil McGuiness, and the fan’s representative on the board, Joe Cirino, as it is important that we do not lose track of our all-important local and loyal fan base. 
  •  What makes Stanley so different to any other club in the lower leagues is that we have such a strong national and even international identity and we are looking to ‘tap in’ to this more. For instance I guess about two-thirds of the new share purchasers were from those outside of the North West.  As well as our diverse shareholders base we have a number of directors from the south and in Phil Carruthers even one from Brazil.  To reflect our broad national and international support we have to make sure that for those fans who love us but for geographical reasons are rarely able to attend home games in person there is a good and varied supply of merchandise available for sale not only in the shop but also mail order. 
  • We are also trying to give added vigour to our weekly Gold Bond draw and our managing director Rob Heys has personally taken this under his wing. There are plenty of people out there who ‘like’ the club but who for a variety of reasons choose to do something else on a Saturday afternoon.  Fair play to them but please chip in with your £1 or £2 a week.  Not only could you win something but you will be helping give Stanley a little more financial muscle to combat those bigger clubs in League Two.
 
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