To Our Support

To our support,

This past season is now over and we are getting ready for the upcoming season to try and gain promotion to the Championship during the 2014/15 season.

I, like all of you were disappointed that we weren’t able to see off Cowdenbeath and reach the finals of the playoffs with the potential to progress to the Championship. In the period between being knocked out and now I have received a great deal of emails from various segments of our support referencing the Manager, the running of the club, ambition and signings as well as losing Michael Moffat to a competitor.

Many were positive about our current situation and constructive but most were worried or concerned emails and some were just plain frustration and used as an avenue to voice anger.

I will try to address all of the emails in this piece and hopefully will satisfy all of the concerns etc. voiced by you all instead of replying one by one to each email.

The Manager: Two years ago, after parting ways with Brian Reid, we decided to give Mark Roberts the task of taking over as manager of the club.  It’s a big ask at any time but in the current environment of Scottish Football it is even a bigger ask.  After sailing through pre-season everything was looking good and then reality hit and one bad result turned into two and it got worse from there.  He and Davie managed to right the ship and we got through the season with bumps and bruises but there was hope that the following season there would be a marked improvement.

I sat down with Mark at the start of this season and laid out his objectives for the season.  First, with Rangers in our division, we knew that with their budget of multiples exceeding the entire rest of the division automatic promotion would be very difficult, but he was given the objective to finish no worse than a playoff position to try and get us promoted.

Second, he was clear that relegation or the bottom half of the table would result in termination.

Third, he was clear that he was expected to continue our policy of promoting youth and bleeding homegrown players into the squad.

The first two are quantifiable and can be judged simply by results.  The third is obviously subjective and success or failure in this department are matters of opinion on whether it was accomplished or not.

Obviously he succeeded in achieving the desired playoff position and although there were definitely results that were horrendous along the way, he reached the target laid out to him.

There is a section of our support who may not agree that keeping Mark on for next year is acceptable, but as far as I’m concerned, he reached the target laid out to him and deserves the chance to improve on that.  This along with my belief that he is the right man for the job is why his contract was renewed for the upcoming season.

Mark is a young and first time manager.  The learning curve is steep and expectations are high.  I believe Mark has continued to develop his skills and has learned from mistakes made and he will use that experience to progress us to the next level.

Too often, Football managers are cast away before they have a chance to flourish. It is a tough gig and isn’t made any easier by the current environment that allows teams to overspend beyond their means and risk the future of their existence by doing so.

Budget isn’t the only route to success, but it certainly plays a big part.  Mark doesn’t have the luxury of having a board who are willing to risk the club’s future by spending money we don’t have chasing false success.

As a side note, we already spend more than we have because if we didn’t, there would be very little that was able to be put towards a playing budget. There seems to be a perception by a minority of the support that money that comes in via sponsorship, prize money and gate receipts goes to lining the pockets of me or other directors.  That couldn’t be farther from the truth.  This week, I put in £100,000 to make sure that creditors could be paid and that there is money there to give us a chance to gain promotion this coming season.

That’s not a good thing as it only succeeds in raising the debt levels at the club.  Fortunately (not from my point of view…), the majority of the outstanding debt is due to me personally and while I’m the one pulling the strings I wouldn’t call any of that debt in if it put the club at risk. This isn’t a long term solution for any club and it’s not one that I want.  However, for us to compete, it is a necessary evil until circumstances change.  We need to find ways of increasing income without relying on the financial support of any benefactor and I will touch on that in a bit.

Back to the manager, Mark is as unhappy as anyone of us that some of our play and some of our results were poor this past season. Some of our support have indicated that they won’t be back until either he or I goes.

I can respect that and firmly believe that every supporter has the right to decide what they do with their hard earned money.  Supporting Ayr is a choice and often it’s a tough choice.  Glory seasons are few and far between for teams like us. It would be easy for any of us to decide to jump on the glory train and support the green or blue half of Glasgow or even scrap Scottish club football altogether and sit in front of a television and watch games from down south or the continent. This isn’t what supporting Ayr United is about and I for one am glad that I support a team that doesn’t have the chips stacked in their favour.  Teams like us are the lifeblood of the game, it’s real and it’s a passion and an existence that none of the supporters of those “big” teams will ever have despite what Stewart Regan and the former SPL think.

If any of you decide that you don’t want to buy a season ticket or pay through the gates this season, that’s a decision that only you can make, but this is a time when we need you more than ever. Mark’s the manager, and I am the Chairman.  Some of you may not like that, but Mark nor I are the club.  The club is all of ours in good times and bad and I can only say that regardless of your feelings for me or the manager that it only hurts the club as a whole if you give up going to games or obtaining a season ticket.

With a club our size, every penny is sacred and I can assure you that every available pence goes to the playing budget after taking care of all the increased expenses of maintaining the stadium and satisfying the regulatory bodies health and safety requirements etc. I know it is difficult to comprehend that there is still a deficit in the budget after a season with Rangers in our division, but the fact is that with health and safety, taxes, security, maintenance and wages it’s a struggle just to remain afloat. Therefore, any decline in ticket sales has an immediate and real effect on our ability to put a satisfactory playing budget together.

We have cut all non-playing staff to a minimum to combat some of this and it has the effect apparent to many of you that administration etc. is stretched to the maximum and a direct result of that is that we struggle to cope with the expectations of our support regarding promotion and advertising of the club.  I will also touch on this in a bit.

This upcoming season, the demands on the manager from the board have increased in scope recognizing that he has another year under his belt and is expected to use that experience and improve.

Very simply, there are five targets for the manager this season with regards to the football side of the club.

  1. Promotion – Target winning the division or promotion through the playoff system. – With the addition to the budget this year to a level beyond what we would have without additional support from directors, there is an even higher expectation for the manager to perform.  It is also recognized that the manager has had two years in the job and being that the required learning curve is steep, it is important that the manager uses the experience gained to push us to promotion.
  2. No Relegation – Relegation or a sustained period in the wrong half of the table would result in termination
  3. Development of Youth – While we have done well so far, it is important that the manager utilize the players we have coming through the Academy.  We must recognize that he can only work with the players the Academy produces, and while those playersmay or may not be match ready, it is up to the manager to bring them to a level where they can be used.  He must also work with the Academy to help bring the “right” player in. The manager is expected to use the players at his disposal when appropriate and not turn to equivalent loan players unless absolutely necessary.
  4. Discipline – The manager is expected to maintain the highest level of discipline for himself and his staff and is expected to lead by example when dealing with match officials etc.  AUFC has a bad reputation and record when it comes to player and staff discipline and the manager is responsible for improving the clubs disciplinary record.
  5. Style of Play – While the board has no interest in dictating the team line up or tactics, we must insist that football is supposed to be entertainment and the manager is responsible for providing that entertainment to the support.  Without getting into passages of play or tactics, we expect that the manager will play a style of football that encourages positive football and a product that the support will feel is value for money.

The running of the club: As previously mentioned, we have cut all non playing staff down to the bare bones to cut expenses and this has had negative effects with regard to admin etc.

For the past few months, I along with the rest of the board and with help from outside sources have reorganized the entire structure of the football club and it is ready for implementation for the upcoming season.

The club is now split into twelve distinct and separate areas with each area managed by a lead director who is responsible for managing that area and formally reporting back to the board on a regular basis.   Every area is distinct and every person within the organization has a job spec detailing the expectation and demands of that role.

The whole reorganization also feeds into our policies and procedures and dictates how we go forward as a club.  At some point in the near future after each employee and volunteer has signed off and accepted their role (before the start of this season) I will consider uploading the whole project to our website to increase transparency and allow the support an insiders view to the running of the club. I just need to figure out how to format the entire document so that it is viewable as a whole on the website.

Until that point, I’ll lay out the basics (very) here of each department and what their area is generally responsible for.

Football – The obvious one and most important to the club as it is our main business. Generally it deals with the 1st team, reserves and youth with a whole host of other issues as well.

Finance – handling all of the money matters etc. Forecasting, budgets and banking.

Strategy – Covers the strategy of each department and the overall strategy of the club as a whole.  Each departmental strategy feeds into the overall strategy and helps formulate the business plan for not only each season, but the medium and long term plan.

Administration – Easily the biggest and most complex area and covers a wide array of issues from signings, releases, wages, day to day operations, rules and regulations, dealings with the public, retention and having a hand in each and every department and much more. The four basic areas are Match admin, General admin, Football admin (pre-match, match day and post match) and volunteers.  Volunteers are an increasingly important part of the club and will be a major focus going forward.

Grounds and stadium maintenance – Everything on the stadium side of Tryfield Place.  The pitch, the grounds and everything within.  This is the area that probably has the greatest expense associated with it outside of playing personnel.

Governance – National Club Licensing, Stadium Certificate and Club Secretary matters as well as maintaining policies and procedures.

Community – As most of you are aware, the Academy is responsible for most of our community work, but this area goes beyond that and handles the areas of the community that only the club can be responsible for.

Commercial – The single most important area of the club as far as income beyond gate receipts, prize money and SPFL money is concerned.  It is the main area where we have failed recently to capitalize on and we are working hard to improve, as cutting extra expenses is only one half of the solution. We have recently hired a commercial manager whose sole focus is on promotion of the club and working with the business community and sponsors etc.  We will make an announcement shortly expanding on this.  The six main areas of focus for the commercial department are the Club Shop, Sponsorship, Advertising, Promotion, Hospitality and Hosting (Board Room and Sponsors)

Catering and Hospitality – Another area that needs improvement and is now split into four areas.  Match Day and training, Board Room, Ground and the Hospitality Suite.

Ayr United Football Academy – For a club like Ayr, we need the Academy to function.  The Academy is a shining example of how the youth structure in Scotland should be handled.  It has been up and running now for enough time that we are starting to see real potential coming through and with the support of our community and fans has the real possibility of being the major accomplishment of AUFC in recent history.  It is under threat from the SFA and their proposed roll out of a new overall youth structure for the game, but with the strength of the Academy and those that run it, it will evolve and adapt to best suit the needs of the club.  The Academy also is responsible for the majority of our community work and is now responsible for bettering the community of Ayr in more than just football. It is ring fenced from the club meaning that the money raised by and donated to stays within the Academy and protects the youth coffers from being plundered by the club.

Ayr United Development Society – Responsible for the half time draw and what most of you know as the lottery. While the half time draw is owned by the club, the lottery is a separate organization whose basic aim is to raise money for the club for specific projects etc.

Communications – In short, this is the main contact with the outside world. This is an area where we are striving to improve dramatically and is now split into three areas.  Website and social media, Media (Newspaper and radio etc.) and Public Relations.

I’m confident that the reorganization project will only have great benefits for the club and community as a whole and given time you will all hopefully see improvements in every area listed.

Ambition – This is something that gets bandied about on a regular basis and I and the club have been accused of having none of it.  To be honest, that is off base and is an unfortunate perception.  Everyone at the club from myself down the chain have nothing but the best intentions for the club and we all want it to succeed.  Ideas of what ambition entails may vary from person to person but my personal ambition is for Ayr United to achieve the highest levels of success while protecting our future.

It’s a tough juggling act and I recognize that we are expected to punch higher than we currently do. With your continued and/or renewed support and everyone getting behind the team and club I’m certain we can achieve that. Speculate to accumulate is easy for people to say when it’s not their money that is being speculated.  Also, about 20% of all professional teams in Scotland have used this reckless policy and found themselves in administration or gone in the last eight years.

Signings – Mark and Davie are currently working their hardest to put together a squad that will be able to compete for the Championship.  He only wants players who want to be here and are capable of doing the job. He’s confident he can achieve that and hopefully when the time comes for the first competitive match, you will all be satisfied that he has accomplished that. The off-season is always fraught with tension and ups and downs.  It’s Mark’s job to assemble the final product and I’m banking on his skill and experience gained to enable him to succeed.

Michael Moffat – We were all disappointed to lose Michael period never mind to a competitor, but the fact is there was no way we would be able to compete with the financial package they put on the table for him.

What we did do is offer him a more than competitive wage for this division, a job within the community department that would most likely go beyond his playing career and a coaching school with his name on it. I was also hoping that given his trouble with the SFA this year and the support we gave him during that time with continued financial and moral support that it would tip the balance in our favor.

He obviously believes that the short term benefits are worth the move and I can only thank him for the entertainment and goals that he provided during his time here. For those of you decrying the fact that we didn’t receive a transfer fee, under the current system we are not entitled to one. We all wish him luck, just not against us.

It baffles me how a team that a year ago were on the brink of extinction with no assets and debts far outweighing any reasonable chance of getting out of can offer such a rewarding package to a single player and while some may say we should have matched it pound for pound, there was no way given our goal of playing within the financial fair play rules that we would have been able to match it and still put together a supporting cast behind him. With the catalog of teams that have gone into administration or out of the game in the last eight years, it disappoints me that there seems to be no real consequences for financial misbehavior. If I had no moral compass, I would suggest that Ayr United should screw the creditors, tax payers and everyone else and end up debt free with a shiny bank balance. It may be viewed as a fault by some, but I am unwilling to play the game that way.

We will continue to strive to play fair and although for now we do have to inject additional income by support from the directors, the long term plan is to eventually succeed on merit alone and to achieve financial stability by living within our means.

I hope that this communication is viewed positively by anyone taking the time to read it and that it comes off the way it is meant to. For now, I’m here and at some point that will change but when I leave I hope to have achieved my personal goal of leaving the club in a better position than when I found it.

On that topic, as many of you probably know, I was forced to leave Scotland to take care of my father and his affairs because of his ongoing illness.  Even though I’m now based in Los Angeles, it does not mean that I don’t or won’t try to do my best to make this club successful. It is not ideal obviously as running a club from 5000 miles away is fraught with difficulties but to date there has been no suitable alternative.  I wouldn’t stand in the way if a suitable someone or group wants to come in and take over the reigns.  It just has to be the right person or entity and one that will be able to propel the club to the next level.

Until that time comes, I will do my best to make sure we are competitive and that we are not jeopardizing our future by recklessly spending beyond our means.  So, please put aside any conception that you have about any person or area of the club that grates on you and get behind the team in any way you can financially or otherwise. The club needs you and hopefully you need the club.