Football supporting has really changed in the last couple of decades. These days, you are as likely to find news on your favourite club in the financial sections rather than the sporting ones. Unless of course you’re a Liverpool fan, where you’re as likely to find out more in the High Court rather than the Liverpool Echo.
AFCW fans are prime examples of this. Never has a fanbase (or a percentage thereof) concentrated more on the off-field business and organisational side of their club as ours. Yet even so, supporting AFCW has been a case that we’re pretty well run and with our support we’re quite comfortably off.
At least, that was the case until last night’s SGM. According to those who were there, anyone listening may have had a bit of a nasty shock when it comes to wages. Basically, the NLP recently did an article that put our budget at 14th. Not top five, not top seven, not even in the top ten. But 14th. And when asked about it, the club confirmed that ball-park wise it’s not that far of the mark.
More startling was the insinuation that this “lofty” spending position is possible because of our benefactors. If they weren’t around, our spending power would be much lower, possibly even with the sort of figures that one would expect from a team fighting against relegation.
Now think about that for a minute : this is AFC Wimbledon, a club with 3000 regular match goers, who are more than happy to buy merchandise, who have a vibrancy that most clubs in the division would kill for, and a club that without this external investment (albeit by richer AFCW fans) would be struggling to outspend Bath City. That’s quite scary.
We always knew that we were never the biggest spenders, but what un-nerves me the most is that without our backing from richer fans we wouldn’t even be 14th. I would have expected that level through our fundraising efforts alone.
Before I begin, if we were holding back money for a new stadium. I don’t think anyone would object if that was the case – we’ve been down this path so many times, but when it comes to financial stuff we can only start generating serious revenues through a brand new venue.
You would expect AFCW to get 5000 in a 10k stadium, and that’s not including away fans, Kids For A Quid type promotions etc to put bums on seats. Not to mention the revenue we could generate with proper executive facilities. Hell, we may even be able to open a second carvery.
When people talk about the Barclays loan/debt getting settled, the problem is that the money we could use on paying it off also needs to be used on driving this club forward to a point where it can be more self-sufficient. Nobody was ever going to sign Chris Hussey as a Ryman or even BSS type player, but Coventry saw him in the Conference and took a chance on him. Additionally, we’ve used such a loan to do things like extend the main stand, things that have kept us in the division we’re in.
So while it’s nice to get the loans down, it’s more of priority to keep them managable. Which is where this problem of wages comes in…
As said before, talking about how much you pay players etc is like talking about penis size, I would expect the club to know a bit more about that (wages, not the size of their todger). After all, during the summer they’re the ones who negotiate with players from Rushden (for example) and would be aware of what their wage demands are. To find out to the nearest penny how much you pay players bar your own is impossible, but I imagine we would have a pretty decent ballpark idea of what is shelled out elsewhere.
Which begs the question – how much are other teams spending? Whether they’re betting the farm or not isn’t that relevant to us – in the Blue Square Bet Premier in 2010/11, teams are spending wages that wouldn’t have looked out of place in L2 not so many moons ago. Like it or not, that is the financial environment we have to live in, and if we don’t adapt to it the only people who will lose out are ourselves.
As much as we would all like financial prudence to come in and save the day, it hasn’t happened. And given the football industry, is unlikely to. Should Crawley go bellyup, all that is likely to happen is that another massive spending club comes along. The names of the clubs may be different, but the amount we now have to pay to get the top players won’t go down.
The expectation that players from L2 will readily accept a cut in wages to play in the BSP hasn’t as yet materialised. Many seem to be out of the game entirely, which says more about the mentality of the pro footballer than anything. The younger ones (ie those who are 21 or under) can and do find clubs, but I expect that big book of 400+ unemployed players TB received in pre-season is still bulky.
As ever, the most important aspect of such budget constraints is what happens on the field of play. That’s what brings people in – yes, we will have 1500-2000 who will come and watch us no matter what, and that should keep us in the BSP for as long as we want. But we’re a fanbase with a League upbringing, and the mentality to boot. I want to be playing Brentford and Northampton in regular League games within the next 2-3 years, and I doubt if I’m the only one.
I like being second in the Conference. I like the fact that we’re having newspaper articles stating we’re just one step away from the big time again. I do go to games like Wycombe against Oxford, see the away fans and think “one day…”. To do that though, we’re going to have to figure out how to pay the increased wages.
It’s pretty obvious now that we are doing this the cheapest way possible. However, we can only continue to do this for about two more seasons because we’ll need to be in the top seven of spenders. And that doesn’t mean doing a Crawley/Fleetwood…
The “live with mum” approach works well in the short term, but the problems start when the players are here for a year or more, they’re getting in the first team regularly, they’re finding out what other players elsewhere are getting (which was a concern expressed at the SGM last night with regards to our England C players), and unsurprisingly start asking for more money. Presumably signficantly more dough.
Deep down, we all expect the likes of DK and Hatton to be sold on to League clubs (maybe) as they’re our top performers and therefore the most valuable. What is concerning about these revelations is how easily we can also keep hold of the likes of Ed Harris and Christian Jolley beyond the first year.
TB is pleading more and more to whoever that he wants this squad not to be broken up before it fulfills its potential. We’re currently doing well because up until now we’ve called the shots in who we keep and get rid of. We’ve been able to keep DK (and presumably made him our highest earner) but get rid of Paul Lorraine. We have been very fortunate that nobody has come in for (most of) our players.
But as the amount of scouts from League sides at KM shows, we’re now vulnerable. Perhaps as much as we have ever been since the initial days of AFCW.Â While the club does well to fend off any offers made, it knows full well that everyone has their price. Again, if DK or Hatton leave, we’d give them a damn good send-off because we know that your top players will eventually move on.
If we want to keep somebody like Jolley (with whatever wages he’s on), but somebody like Huddersfield came in and offered him a four figure sum to join, even if we don’t want to let him go he will naturally be turned by the money. It then becomes the Chris Hussey dilemma – do we let him go and have to find another young hungry player, or do we keep him and then deal with somebody who could have been playing against Franchise in the next game…?
As it stands, we’re asking TB to build a playoff-level team with kids and cast-offs. Or to put it another way, TB is being asked to be a miracle worker. Right now, he’s getting away with it because we’ve found the right youngsters together with the oldÂ hands we’ve kept on and it’s blended better than any of us had hoped.
But it’s a big a risk as spending the family silver, probably more so. You cannot defy financial gravity all the time. This was the trap Lennie Lawrence fell into – because he managed to have success with Charlton on peanuts, he was expected at every job since to repeat that trick. He couldn’t do it, not because he was crap or unlucky, but those who employed him had an unrealistic view of running a football club on a paltry budget.
The next bunch of kids our manager has to bring on may not be so good, or mature, or settled as a team. That’s when you will need a bigger budget, and if we can’t get in the better, more ready-made players to bridge that gap, we have a problem. And there’s nothing more damaging to a football club than the eleven players on the field not performing – especially when your customers are expecting playoff positions and possible promotion.
People will start bringing up the Wimbledon FC way of doing things, and it would be nice to have the bulk of a first team starting that were our products. But that relied on a decent reserve set up, which in the AFCW era is still as far away as ever.
During the close season, we had a pretty big clearout. Many of the reserves ended up at Banstead, and are currently in the lower reaches of the CCL. That’s how big the gap between the first team and MG’s stiffs is. To close that gap, our stiffs need to be of the caliber of Reece Jones throughout the squad, and that’s not something that is going to happen for a long while yet. The fact that we’re sending players like Delano Sam-Yorke on loan to Basingstoke says it all.
That’s the problem, what of the solution? How much do we really make out of fundraising? A lot (and I mean, a LOT) goes into it, but is it just covering the loan sufficiently? Is what the club trying to do with it just throwing pebbles into an increasingly bigger pond?
Apparently, our two biggest fundraising schemes are the Golden Goals and Dons Draw (both with an element of bribery in the guise of a cash prize, not co-incidentally). That the money raised from them eventually goes back into the clubÂ isn’t a bad thing, but it still would struggle to pay DK’s wages for a year.
So we need to find a way of generating sufficient funds to ensure we’re not relying on the benefactors – if one walks away, we now know how much trouble we could be in. An answer may have come this week, if a little bit under the radar – the deal with the Mercedes-Benz dealership on the A3 by Shannon Corner is one of the most significant developments, because for probably the first time since the SI deal we’ve got a decent sponsor who isn’t affiliated in some way with an AFCW fan working there.
(cue comment of “we got that through Fred Bloggs who works there and has a season ticket in the KRE”…)
We can only guess at how much they’re paying, but I would assume that’s about 4 or 5 fundraisers we don’t have to do. And more importantly fattens up the wage budget, if our beancounters allow it to. But leaving aside the money aspect, it appears we are now seen as a business that is worth advertising with.
How many companies we’ve shown around in the past, only for it not to happen afterwards, remains unclear. It’s something we should have nailed five years ago, and in a sense we’re catching up commercially. It could be harsh to say that of course, and that because we were in the backwaters then, we could only get companies that had AFCW affiliation in the first place.
But then, doesn’t that prove the whole point? We had to get the money in through benefactors to buy Jon Main and employ TB to get us out of the poxy Ryman. In turn, we got into the BSS which allowed us to buy better players like Lewis Taylor and DK to get us into the first round of the FAC, where we got on telly against Wycombe and got us more money in.
Which allowed us to go up into the Conference which allowed us to buy Brett Johnson. Who helped keep us in the Conference, with more money and another moneyspinner FAC tie against Millwall. Which gave the benefactors another justification to give us enough money to just about afford going full time, which allowed us to train better and bond as a unit, and get us into a top position, which has attracted media attention and a decent sponsorship deal with Mercedes-Benz. Which allows us to…
You get the idea.
It’s taken eight years to get to this stage, but we now have some serious decisions to make with finance. We are a club with momentum, and it would be criminal to waste that. We may not get a better chance to deal with this issue for a good few years if we don’t take it to task now – the budget gap as the club hinted at last night should focus more than a few minds.
The club hasn’t gone too far, too fast, because it should be at this level anyway. However, it needs to adopt the right attitude to ensure that the level we’re at isn’t the one we’re stuck in…