Jez Says - 18 April
As we enter the penultimate home game of the season, the club is unrecognisable to six months ago, let alone this time last year. At that stage, we were anticipating the stress of the play offs for the third time in our Football League exile and the infrastructure of the club reflected nine years of non league football. The stadium was unchanged from our relegation in 2005 and staffing levels had been cut to an absolute bare minimum in order to first survive and second to provide the maximum resource possible to the football department. The main difference during the last four years of life in the Football Conference was that we had a board without any rogues and just honest businessmen, all of whom are genuine fans of the club, subsidising the club for no other motive than a genuine care and passion for Cambridge United.
Our chairman, Dave Doggett, epitomises the community spirit, togetherness and selflessness of the club. No one apart from Dave could have mobilised and coordinated so many volunteers and worked so many hours for no remuneration except for the satisfaction and pride of saving the club from oblivion. That really was the case and with the financial help of others, such as Renford Sargent, Eddie Clark and Terry Baker, the club survived through it's darkest hours. Special mention needs to be made to others as well. Paul Barry, for bankrolling the club for many years and sticking with it when so many others would have given up, Colin Proctor for the time, passion and commitment he gives to the club unconditionally through his sheer love of CUFC and Dave Matthew-Jones, for his leadership of CFU so that a fans group always exists that will ensure the club is accountable for it's actions and is always there in a time of need.
I mention these names because since Dave and the board passed on the baton to me in October to run the club on a day to day basis, there have been many changes. Volunteers have been replaced by full-time staff, facilities are starting to be upgraded and the business is developing into a commercial and operational powerhouse. It is really important that all the new members of staff know how the journey began and the contribution of others that gave us a platform to make it happen. It was Dave, with the likes of Carol Looker, Alan Giles, Josie Slack, Brian Thorby, James Taylor and Dom Baldock in portacabins that were either freezing cold in winter or boiling hot in summer. These people deserve our thanks. As do staff that have now moved on, from Jason Fretwell, Claire Osbourn and Martin Page to more recent departures, Julie Clark and Tom Lee. We could not have achieved the success of the last twelve months - two trips to Wembley, promotion and two games with Manchester United - without them.
Our staff is now evolving at a fast pace as the business grows and demonstrates the potential and capacity to expand still further. The initial changes came in the summer to the academy in order to fulfil the criteria for EPPP. These additions were vindicated by our excellent result in the audit and secured guaranteed funding, totalling almost £900,000, for the next three years. This is the key to all staff appointments. They must be able to play a part in growing our revenue streams and essentially paying for themselves. As we develop our commercial, hospitality and retail operations, we simply need more staff of the right calibre. That last point is crucial. No different from players, we will only be good as the staff we recruit. People drive any business. They need to be well led, managed effectively and an environment must be created where everyone can flourish. But ultimately, you will be as good as the people working for you. Therefore, we've worked really hard to find the right staff, with the right background, qualifications and experience, but also the right character, motivation and ambition to fit into the culture at Cambridge United.
It was probably easier for the academy staff to settle in as they were additions to a well oiled machine and joined a group of high quality staff, such as Mark Bonner, Matt Walker, Martin Davies and Tom Pell, that had overseen all strands of the programme for some time. We believe in longevity and stability. The continuity provided by staff has been a real positive in our academy and youth development scheme. The same can be said at first team level. Backing people that you believe in and rate highly enough to employ in the first place is always preferable to changing them at the first sign of adversity. As long as those people have the motivation and energy, as well as showing they can maintain their performance level, we always hope that all appointments are long term. One way that can be achieved is by ensuring there is a career path for all staff within the business and that we always look to promote from within. It is crucial to have communication lines with every member of staff so their performance and future ambitions are constantly assessed and where possible, can be satisfied within the club. Sometimes that's impossible, such as Ben Strang's necessary progression of joining Norwich City. But where possible, we do everything we can to keep good staff.
To that end, we will be making a few adjustments within our academy at the end of the season so that we ensure everyone is fulfilling a role that best suits their strengths. With so many additions in the summer in such a short time, it has been good to review everyone's individual jobs and make considered decisions that will help them and the club. However, the likes of Adam Bridgeford, Tom Donati and Chris Gibbons, as well as the returning Marc Tracy and Stephen Payne, who joined us six months previously, have all made an excellent contribution and feel as though they have been here for years. That is great testament to them, the environment and our existing staff.
In the "business" side of the club, there have been more radical changes. Andy Beattie is now showing his qualities in looking after all the operational matters on a daily basis, liaising with all relevant staff, undertaking all football administration and working with various authorities to procure grants that will enable some significant short term improvements to the stadium and training ground. With the club now turning over almost £4million, the administrative and accounting procedures have to be extremely robust and efficient. To this end, we are delighted with the contribution that Holly B-G has made, particularly with the Youth Development and Community courses, that is a £1million operation in itself. We also welcomed another new member of staff on Monday, Stephen Cox, as our finance manager. His job is self explanatory. He will be assisted by Martin Chapman, who's hard work and diligence should be recognised in keeping our accounts up to date and accurate as the company has grown. Martin, as he occasionally mentions in dispatches, is a shareholder of the club and while comfortably in the top ten, I've challenged him to at least aim for a Europa League spot if not a champions league place with more investment! At least he knows the club is now a structurally sound, financially viable business.
On the commercial side, Liz Slack has made a tremendous impact with her professionalism and business acumen being just what we needed in representing the club to all sizes and types of companies within Cambridge. The fact that we are now in dialogue with groups such as Cambridge Ahead, invited to Cambridge Business Awards and are engaging with the likes of ARM, AstraZeneca, Deloitte, Price Waterhouse, Mills & Reeve as well as signing long term, improved deals with Mick George and Sepura, speaks volumes for how the club is now positioned. From the beginning of May, Liz will be assisted by Sam Jeffery, a Cambridge lad who attended Comberton VC and Hills Road Sixth Form College. He's recently been living in New Zealand but such is the pull of CUFC that he's prepared to give up a fantastic lifestyle in Auckland for a job in our commercial department. Sam is bright, outgoing, intelligent, with the perfect personality and skill set to compliment Liz and accelerate the growth of our sponsorship and hospitality revenue.
We have already mentioned the appointment of Tom Steward as our Media & Communications Manager, and he will join Sam in starting work with us during the closed season. Behind the scenes, it won't be a closed season, I can assure you.
Finally, I would also like to formally welcome Lorraine Cullum to her full time position assisting with retail, ticketing and administration. Lorraine is a big supporter of the club, someone who's worked many hours on a voluntary basis and loves Cambridge United. She's a really hard worker, wants things done properly and I am sure will make a contribution far in excess of the hours she works. Lorraine will primarily assist Gareth Daniels, who's role has been narrowed down from a plethora of tasks to his main responsibilities of ticketing and retail. Both have expanded beyond recognition this season and we are aiming for the graph to continue on an upwards curve.
So that's off the pitch. We know that we are judged by what happens on it but by having the right time and business plan to drive revenues, we can provide the resources to progress on the pitch and give you all the team and success you deserve.
Sport is illogical to some degree. How can we play so well at Northampton and so poorly at Cheltenham etc etc? One thing is certain. Three results are possible in every game, regardless of what may have happened previously. You just need the mental strength and belief to make the result the one you want. There is nothing to chose between us and many teams in regards to ability, so any long run without a win can only be explained by what's happening between everyone's ears. Today we need to show the resolve, intensity, work ethic, desire and bravery required to win a football match. Let's relish the challenge and enjoy doing it.
After all, it's only a football match....!