With another season just around the corner we felt it was time to get another fantastic blog by Saddlers fan Adam Guest out into the open.
He did a stint for me over on Wednesbury Road but as soon as I came back to Vital I made sure he was our first summer signing!
So here is The Guest Blog – Episode 1 by Adam Guest.
“So, here we are, pre-season is over, and less than a week before the new League One season kicks off in anger. All I can say is thank goodness we’ve had the close season to allow all the negativity and hostility from the back end of last season to fade away allowing us to approach the new season with renewed optimism.
I think it’s safe to say that not a single one of us is happy with the happenings at our club since the end of the season, I must admit I can’t remember even approaching a season with this much trepidation, and it’s an uneasiness that has increased at quite an alarming rate over the summer.”
Those words were written exactly a year ago today, by me, for the Wednesbury Road site, as a preview to last season. And as I read through last years attempt looking to find an angle into starting this years, I was surprised at how little had altered over the past 12 months, including the dread I feel going into the new season. Granted, the Jon Whitney experiment arrived at its inevitable conclusion, and Dean Keates is now the man in the hot seat. But everything else has striking similarities to 12 months ago. In fact, I think it’s even worse now.
Let’s continue with the comparison; another snippet from last year.
“First there was the panic around June time because we still hadn’t signed any players. This was all rather premature; of course we’d sign players, and we did. First Luke Leahy rocked up from Falkirk, then Jon Guthrie arrived from Crewe, Mark Gillespie arrived from Carlisle and finally Nicky Devlin arrived from Ayr. All signings were made in the space of 12 days and, whilst none of them were what you would call marquee signings, they did appear to be the right type of player. Young, relatively experienced for their age, and with potential for further improvements.”
This year we announced Andy Cook on 22nd May, Josh Ginnelly on 5th June, Chris Dunn on 19th June and Zeli Ismail on 26th June. Four players, signed in (relatively) quick succession, all experienced at a lower level and taking a step up, but with something to prove. Some may not come off, as Gillespie didn’t, as his departure to the SPL confirmed. However, it’s difficult to pick fault with the selection criteria, and we are looking for the right type of player. Personally, if I’d been told we’d have completed our transfer dealings by the end of June I’d have been delighted, giving Keates the pre-season to work with his full squad. However, I would have expected there to be more of them.
Last season the club had a scapegoat; the collective finger of blame pointed firmly in the direction of our now former manager. It was his fault because nobody wanted to play for him. I could (but won’t) debate long into the night about the ridiculousness of that stance, but the fact remains that 12 months on, whilst the manager has changed, very little else has, including the situation we find ourselves in. We’re woefully under staffed in pretty much every area of the pitch, with the possible exception of goalkeeper. There’s no outfield position where I look at the squad and think “We’re ok there.”
So why is this? Does Keates have the same problem Whitney allegedly had, is there a problem with players not wanting to come and play for the manager? In truth, this seems unlikely. Is the selection criteria too stringent, is Dean not casting his net wide enough? Again, given the players we’ve signed, this also seems improbable.
The most likely reason behind this is budget constraints, and whether the drop in season ticket sales has adversely affected the budget? At the time the season ticket figures were leaked, we’d sold 316 season tickets less than we did last year, that’s as near as makes no difference, one in 8. Now let’s say the average season ticket cost is £300, that means we’re about £95,000 on season ticket sales alone. On the wages we allegedly pay, let’s say that two players on £900 a week, or 10 weeks rent, whichever you prefer.
How about merchandise sales? Now we seem to have done quite well with the shirts this season, they seem a lot better made and the designs are pleasant. The grey and green kit is baffling popular for such a monstrosity. It looks like it was designed on a computer, then printed out only for whoever picked it up off the printer to realise the magenta ink cartridge had run out, meaning the badge, trim and shorts came out this horrible green colour. And everyone went, “Wow, that’s great!”, I don’t get it. However, I’m glad for the clubs sake that it is popular. But even with that popularity, selling shirts at £50 a pop, we still need to sell a thousand to fund the signing of one player using the wage figures above.
Now let’s make a couple of assumptions. Let’s assume that every player we released last season, the budget allows for a like for like replacement. We lost Oztumer, Cuvelier, Jackson, Flanagan, Shorrock, Butterfield and Gillespie. So seven players out. Four have come in, and we’ve already established the budget has already been cut by two because of season ticket sales. Then take in the fact that we’ve released Sharps a year early, as well as appointing Andy Davies, Michael Oakes, Matty Fryatt and George Bowerman to various coaching roles, as well as Keates establishing a scouting network, then it suddenly becomes not that difficult to imagine that the budget for signing additional players is probably somewhat scarce.
Now, I abhor phrases like “we shouldn’t be in this position”, it was banded around a lot during last seasons relegation scrap and every time I read it, it makes my teeth itch. However, it does feel that with the amount of money this club has made in player sales in recent seasons, that we shouldn’t be struggling this much to even make up the numbers. I admire the clubs break even policy, I think it’s very sensible, the alternatives are to either make a profit (meaning spending less), or make a loss by spending we don’t have. Neither of those approaches appeal. But the fact remains the transfer fees we have seen come into the club versus the investment we’ve seen in the playing side just don’t seem to add up.
In short, it’s no good bringing in a load of coaches if we have no players for them to coach, and it’s no good having a scouting network if there’s no money in the coffers to sign players discovered as a result of it. It may explain, but not excuse, the reason Whitney decided to make do without one.
So what do we about it? And here, sadly, is where I get stuck. We can’t prove there are transfer fees being syphoned out of the club. There’s no immediately obvious way to increase revenue. We could sell more season tickets, but that would require people wanting to see the product on show, and understandably people don’t. We also don’t have the saleable assets we had a couple of years ago. Dean Smith may have been willing to come back and pay £1.5 million for Rico Henry, but I can’t see anyone doing the same with Luke Leahy.
Signings haven’t been forthcoming, and I genuinely fear they’re not going to be; certainly not in the quantity required. We may luck in with a loan or two, but I don’t see us having the quality and squad depth to keep ourselves out of trouble.
And that is pretty much that. The new season is upon us and I find I’m not looking forward to it, or to be more precise, I’m not looking forward to it again. In articles I’ve written in previous years I’ve always tried to position myself as trying to be the voice of reason; to take the emotion out of the situation and try to analyse it logically. In real life I’m an IT consultant, and I’m also (mildly) on the autistic spectrum, so my brain does work that way. Everything is black or white, true or false, yes or no, 1 or 0. Yet I look at this season coming up, and I don’t see a positive spin I can put on it, nor do I see signs that there will be one in the immediate future. Every bookmaker has us favourites to get relegated and, whilst that’s not that unusual for this time of year, you can usually as a fan find a counter argument or some supporting evidence it will be better than expected. We don’t have that this year, and I don’t see where it’s coming from.
The new season is here; let’s hope it’s better than I think it’s going to be.