Now that the 2020/21 season has ended it seems a good time to update on matters at Deepdale which we hope is of some interest to all of our supporters.
When lockdown was first introduced in March 2020 no one knew how long it would last nor the huge affect that it would have on the country as a whole and of course the football industry.
We have had little income since March of last year but have continued to pay our staff including all of our players and all of our bills including all debts to HMRC. Some people take this statement for granted and indeed expect our owner to do so despite the fact that his other businesses many in the hotel, pubs and leisure sector have been badly affected during the pandemic.
The fact that the EFL have had to take on external debt to assist the majority of Championship clubs in paying part of their tax debts is an indication of the financial catastrophe that is awaiting some of these clubs. We didn’t take up this loan in keeping our business going and remain one of just a few Championship clubs with no external debt (other than normal day to day trading creditors). We make no excuses for continuing to run the club within the financial parameters that the owner sets us and will not put the future of the club at risk.
On the field performances have been a rollercoaster, somewhat mixed and there is no doubt that the absence of supporters has badly affected our home form. Until the last eight games we were more than a little disappointed with the season and this led to us deciding that we needed a change of manager.
Recent years have confirmed that this is a decision that is never taken lightly but we believed that results dictated that we had little choice. Despite some people suggesting that the squad was not good enough to compete, the last eight games yielded 17 points out of a possible 24 including matches against four out of the top six teams. Five wins, two draws and only one loss was the second best in the Championship during this period.
This gives cautious optimism as we enter the summer and look to the squad refreshing that always take place at this time of the year. The very limited time between season 2019/20 eventually ending and season 2020/21 getting underway gave us little time to do anything. In practice few deals were done and there was little money around.
Many supporters get anxious when they see players reaching the last twelve months of their contract and somehow expect that all of these players should be offered whatever it takes to tie them down to new deals. This is overly simplistic as we have a wage structure and also a finite amount of cash. It also presupposes that all it takes is a big offer to get players to sign. There are sometimes occasions when players just want a change and in these circumstances we have to respect this and move on.
Two key players that we lost in January made it clear that it wasn’t about money but a fresh challenge. We respected this and did deals for them to go and be replaced in some cases with loan players. People who say that we should have sold earlier and for more money need to understand that this requires interest from elsewhere. Last summer no one had any money. Many still haven’t.
We will continue to keep those players that we want if they also want to stay and bring in new players that we think fit the club ethos and will in our view improve the squad.
Further to the above comment regarding the decision to change our manager, everyone will be aware by now that following a very successful ‘eight game trial’ we appointed Frankie McAvoy to the position of head coach with Paul Gallagher and Steve Thompson as first team coaches. Mike Pollitt makes up the coaching staff in his role as goalkeeper coach.
Some people were getting worried that Frankie is called 'head coach' and not manager and what does this mean for other football related activities. In reality most football managers jobs have evolved into the more appropriate title of head coach and issues such as contract negotiations and identification of players have always been done separately. Nothing going forward changes what has been custom and practice at PNE for the last ten years and the head coach and indeed coaches will have full input into all transfer activity as before.
Euxton Training Ground
During Lockdown we had the good fortune to be able to acquire outstanding training facilities at Euxton. With an added investment to upgrade the site of circa £1m on top of the acquisition cost, these facilities are truly magnificent, they allow us all to be on one site and they are a massive benefit in our recruitment process.
With three changing rooms, one of the pitches with under soil heating, state of the art gym and medical rooms, dining and games rooms plus offices and media suite they add everything that we had hoped for in a new training ground. Buying Euxton has also allowed our Academy U18s team to have their own base at Springfields rather than relying on rented facilities elsewhere in the city.
We operate what is known as a Category 3 Academy which provides for age groups from U8s to U18s. From next season this will extend to U19s. We do not operate an U23 team for two reasons. The first is the cost which would have to be taken from money currently being spent on the first team and the second is that in reality U23 football is not competitive. If a player is not ready for adult football by around 20 they probably will struggle to ever be.
Our path is to take 18-year-olds that we think stand a chance, give them professional contracts and then either have them training with our first team or going out on loan. We have three such players out on loan at the moment and we have just given four first year professional contracts to last year’s U18 group.
Some supporters get very emotional if we release players and then they sign elsewhere. Football is all about opinions, but over the last ten years there have been few that have been released that have gone on to embarrass us. If one or two do then good luck to them.
We can’t get every one right and of course sometimes players can thrive elsewhere in different football environments and may not have done so with us. Our Academy is an important part of our organisation and given the highly-competitive geographical area in which we operate ,with many budding youngsters poached from us by Premier League clubs in the area, Nick Harrison and his team continue to do an outstanding job.
Finding good sponsors that work with us and also pay competitive monies is difficult. Some years ago many football clubs were sponsored by alcohol companies and then that sector was prohibited. This gap was taken up by betting companies. Indeed if you take away front of shirt sponsors who are directly connected to their clubs owners, by far the greatest balance of front of shirt sponsors in the top two divisions are betting companies.
We have been grateful for the income received from the betting sector and for the last four years from 32Red. We do however recognise that many of our supporters have grave misgivings in such relationships and of course it means that replica shirts for our supporters aged under 18 cannot be the same as the ones being worn by our first team squad.
In thanking 32Red and all other sponsors in recent years, I am able to confirm that we will be announcing in the coming weeks a new front of shirt sponsorship deal with a local non betting partner that we are absolutely delighted with and we believe that our supporters will be too. This will give us plenty of time to get the new logos onto the 2021/22 kit in time for launch in July.
European Super League
When the misguided attempts to create a European Super League were announced a few weeks ago we were one of the first to come out and publicly condemn the plan. Some questioned what right we had to do this but English football is built on its proud history as well as its aspirational future.
As one of the 12 founder members of the Football League, the first league and cup winners and the original 'Invincibles', we had every right to publicly condemn such outrageous acts of trying to put together a closed shop. Some of these clubs having won little or nothing for 60 years.
Every football supporter starts every season dreaming of what will happen on the pitch and we certainly dream of adding to the 49 clubs who have already played in the Premier League. Taking away promotion and relegation whether it be up and down domestic leagues or in qualifying for European competitions must never be taken away.
Since we were promoted from League One in 2015 (including Bristol City and MK Dons with us) some 15 clubs have been promoted from League One to the Championship. During the intervening six seasons we have been the second most successful team promoted from League One since 2015 on an average points per season basis, only Sheffield United having done better.
The Championship is the most competitive league in English football and in any season we could have up to nine clubs with the financial advantage of parachute payments. This season illustrates that more than most with Norwich and Watford going straight back up to the Premier League and Bournemouth being in the Play-Offs. Despite this we will try and use the platform of having consolidated our place in the Championship to kick on and compete for a place in the top six sooner rather than later.
Return Of Fans And Season Tickets
We have already said how much the absence of you, our supporters, has affected our on field performances and how much we are looking forward to welcoming you back.
We have held off putting season tickets on sale for next season until we have clarity of the Government's policy on the return of fans. The last thing that we wanted to do was to have a stop start selling programme that happened last September. We now appear more confident that we will be able to welcome you back in August when the new season starts and we will therefore be looking to announce season ticket details soon.
We will endeavour to get the balance right between getting back to some sort of normal income levels that the club needs to sustain finances going forward, whilst taking into account the impact that the pandemic has had on our supporters incomes and rewarding your loyalty. We hope that you will be pleased and acknowledge this when details are announced shortly.
In finishing, the last 18 months have reinforced, if indeed it was needed, just how important our supporters are to the heartbeat of a football club. I know that you have missed the opportunity to be with us in person as has our owner who as well as giving us his financial support is first and foremost a fan.
Thank you for staying with us and we all look forward to the atmosphere at Deepdale when you are back with us once again.