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Moderator of Moderators
Sep 22, 2005
Southend On Sea
It appears the graphics didn't copy over, sorry !!!

Chairman's Blog

Firstly let me apologise to all those readers who were anticipating my blog yesterday. It is important that the Club do things when they say they are going to and I am sorry I could not deliver yesterday but was reliant upon other people for information I wished to include and who were unavailable on Monday. I guess the weather was a good excuse to take the day off!
I will do my best to ensure that the blog is processed every Tuesday but also do try and understand that I have to fit this in amongst a very busy schedule which is, at times, unrelenting.

I do not want a draft written for me – these are my thoughts surrounding the facts and it is therefore important to me it is written in my language.

I plan to use on occasions a graphical analysis (prepared by others) because I think that demonstrates, at a glance, what a thousand words might take to say the same. Last week there were graphs available to emphasise the “taster” but the software did not allow the Club’s media department to publish them. So first of all as a recap I repeat that information below with the graphic information adjacent.

Some of the reasons behind demonstrating it in this way is, as a Club, we are trying to bring an increased science to the Club’s operation. This is more straightforward off the field but equally there is no reason why we cannot ensure that the appropriate systems are in place to try and avoid mistakes that are made in football at every level. Football is a very volatile industry. Do not misunderstand me, I do not expect to eradicate the purchase of a wayward player which can often be so disruptive to the team spirit and a financial nightmare. Nevertheless what we can do is eradicate panic purchases or knee jerk reactions to strengthening the squad at a moments notice.

These matters need to be carefully considered and planned and targets identified via a shadow squad following careful research. By “shadow squad” I mean identifying players in the key position which we need to strengthen and systematically working through a priority list to bring the individual(s) to the Club.

We not only need to understand the players’ physical attributes but also his mindset and history. This might even include whether he is likely to settle in to a new environment which might be distant from his home town, where there may be reluctance from his wife or partner. The player or his wife may also have reservations about moving any children or just simply being away from family. This is just an example of the careful research that we have to undertake at the Club to make sure that we achieve a close knit team spirit where all the players are working for each other which can often bring success even when the individual skills may not be as great as the opposition.

I believe one of Steve Tilson’s greatest assets is being able to motivate the players and create just that environment. However I do not want Steve having to push water up a hill because he has got bad apples in the camp, or simply the individual we have brought to the Club is not happy for reasons that should have been obvious if we had carried out more research and even a pre-contract signing interview.

I know some of these steps may be unusual in the industry – but why not?

We are investing millions of pounds in Southend United and I have a duty of care on behalf of supporters to get these judgements right. We do so many, many things correct at the Club and this is a further step in its development to ensure further efficiencies. With efficiency success will follow.

If you would like some examples of what I say above, let’s just focus for a moment on, say, Stevie Hammell. Stevie was a fantastic player for the Club and also a really good lad to have around. He was persuaded, I suspect, by the attraction of the Championship and a greatly improved salary to move from Motherwell – where he had been for many years. Indeed I think – but am not certain – he had not played anywhere else professionally.

His family followed and on the pitch Stevie, in my view, did brilliantly for us. However, off the field I am told his children were unable to settle and I suspect his wife was probably homesick which culminated in them wanting to return to their home town in Scotland. The Club assisted in finding appropriate schools and worked hard, on Stevie’s behalf, for the whole family to settle. But these yearnings can be very disruptive and if not managed result in the player losing focus or, as in Stevie’s case, him wishing to effectively terminate his contract and move back to Motherwell. Fortunately we got some compensation but I suspect Steve Tilson and I would have rather kept the player.

Another example of a decision that was perhaps not researched as well as we would have liked was the impromptu signing of Richie Foran on the last day of the transfer window in January 2007. I remember very clearly driving up to Birmingham (we won 3-1, a brilliant goal from Mark Gower!). The Richie Foran deal was agreed with his agent the night of the Birmingham game and sealed the next day. We had looked at MacDonald (at that time at Motherwell also) but it was thought he was not worth the £250k being asked. If only we could turn the clock back.

The capital cost was £150,000 and wages were commensurate with a “striker” in the Championship. Richie made some 22 appearances (10 starts) scoring 2 goals at a cost to the Club of over half a million pounds, less a relatively small sum received when he was on loan to Darlington. We even had to pay him severance pay!

I believe by more research and careful planning these situations can be avoided and I am absolutely sure that Steve now would think twice – but hindsight is a wonderful thing. I am not apportioning blame, just advocating more due diligence and careful planning it is just possible that we will then review things less often with hindsight.

Some of you may have read that there is an initiative by the Football League to introduce a salary cap in all three divisions but obviously with a higher cap in the Championship to that of League 1, and similarly a higher cap in League 1 to that of League 2. Lord Mawhinney recently held several meetings with small groups of Chairmen to canvas their views and I can tell you that personally I am vehemently opposed to wage capping.

It seems that League 2 would support it, and perhaps the majority of League 1 Chairmen. From my perspective it would stifle Southend United’s ability to compete making it even more difficult to fulfil our potential as the Club grows. That does not mean, at any stretch of the imagination, that we should be cavalier in fuelling a wage spiral. Simply, at least from Southend’s perspective, if we have carried out due diligence, research, and we believe the player that we have been tracking for some time is the right individual who would prove an asset to the Club and help our on field advancement, then we do not want to be prevented from signing that player because our wage cap would be exceeded.

At the forum I attended at the House of Commons a couple of weeks ago I spoke very strongly against such a proposal and I hope when it comes to a Football League vote in the summer my wishes will prevail. I can certainly see the argument that is often put forward that players’ wages consume everything but it must be up to individual clubs to control their finances and resist the temptation to jeopardise financial stability. This is easier said than done for many of you reading this will be saying

“spend more money, bring in new players”

Investing in players without proper research is a recipe for disaster and should be resisted on all accounts if we are to avoid history repeating itself. Also money alone certainly does not guarantee success. It may seem a quick fix at times – but planning and preparation are also key ingredients.

The graph below helps understand the relationship between our football income and the growth of SUFC’s salaries over the past five seasons. As I implied in last week’s blog, it is a delicate balance following relegation to maintain the upward spiral unless the sale of players can, to some degree, plug the financial hole that is inevitable.

From Southend’s perspective the loss of television income and other associated revenues on being relegated from the Championship meant that we had an immediate black hole of £2.3m which grew that year to around £2.7m. The sale of Freddy Eastwood for £1.5m and JCR meant that we were only a million pounds short!

Interestingly whilst it is my wish to bring more structure to the football club at all levels including player purchase there is, of course, a tendency for the heart to rule the head on occasions. For instance, following relegation I was definitely more reluctant to sell Freddy Eastwood than the management team for I recognised that Freddy contributed so much to our success in advancing from League 2 to League 1 and into the Championship. Yes, I also acknowledge that Freddy lost focus after the Man U game, but Steve’s relationship with Freddy was excellent and I hoped that he could have nurtured and rekindled that sparkle and keep Freddy as a Southend player. As no doubt many of you suspect, agents have a lot to answer for sometimes.

I do not know whether Freddy is happy having moved to Wolves and then onto Coventry, but certainly he is not anything like as prolific as he might have been had he remained at Southend and the Club stayed in the Championship. Maybe he doesn’t travel very well!

I am certainly not pretending we have all the answers and make all the right judgements – of course we can’t – but I am going to ensure that we develop a pool of players through our selection process who want to wear the shirt. It is for these reasons why our youth policy is so fundamental to the Club’s growth and where there is a continual upward spiral of investment. If we had three or four players who came through the system, then in those instances no research would be necessary as we would know the individual characteristics, both physiological and psychological, intimately.

I know it would never happen but I guess my ideal is that our conveyor belt is so strong and successful that we would be feeding the majority of the squad with those up and coming players. One thing I do feel confident of is that Southend United’s potential under the new stadium and academy status we will be able to tap into a large market with limited competition on our doorstep. West Ham – 40 miles and Colchester (if they can be described as future competition) also 40 miles. How different this is from the Clubs surrounding Manchester.

I travel to all the away matches and I am often amazed at just how close some of the competing clubs are, sometimes at a distance of only four or five miles. It must be so difficult for those clubs to have the vision that we enjoy here at Southend United.

Finally, football finances are a complex issue and therefore this subject will spill over into the next week or two when we can look at some of the behind the scenes activity including the involvement of agents which can often make or break a deal, regardless of whether a player wants to come to the Club or not.

Sorry if I have rambled a little, but I hope this provides a further insight to my thinking and future aspirations for your club.

See you next week.

Up the Blues!

Ron Martin
Southend United Football Club