Well, it was fun while it lasted. As we enter into this second period of lockdown, I wanted to take the opportunity to provide reassurance that the club has carefully budgeted for such an occurrence and the Board have taken steps to have the provisions in place to ride out the lockdown and resume playing football again just as soon as we can. We will all miss the football, but in truth the 90 minutes kicking a ball around the pitch is just a fraction of what is involved in running a club like Chesham United. There is so much to get right off the field to ensure funding is in place, bills are paid, communication with supporters is maintained…the list goes on, but we are lucky to have such an excellent and ambitious body of people around us.
I have made no secret of our need to make the club sustainable and the only viable solution to doing that is to look at moving to new facilities where we can generate the level of income needed to fund a club at this level, and maybe even above. As heart-breaking as it will be to leave The Meadow, when running a football club you are constantly tormented by the conflict between your heart and your head, and when it comes to the financial security and survival of the club, the business head has to rule. With that in mind I was a little shocked and surprised, disappointed even, to read criticism of the plans to move to a new ground printed within our very own matchday programme last week. Everyone has the right to their opinion. I welcome other opinions and fresh ideas and that’s why week after week I have conversations with people who love the club and want to help drive it forward, as a team. I do think, however, that it’s also important to be able to be transparent and provide some key numbers that sit at the heart of our plans to move and why it’s not just being done on a whim. Far from it, in fact.
In truth for the last 30 years the club has survived at the level we are at through the input of personal funds from various owners, backers and board members. Right back to the late 1980s when Tony Aplin transformed the club, through the contributions of Dennis Bone and David Pembroke; we then had vast sums put into the club by Phil Morgan, that was then followed by investment from Charles Manchester and now more recently by Roger Payne and myself. I was also speaking to Alan Calder this week who was Chairman for a spell when the club was run by the supporters without what he called the ‘safety net’ of having a financial benefactor. He shared with me the constant torment of wanting the club to be able to continue to compete on the field at this level and the reality of knowing that the club was nowhere near able to sustain what it was achieving on the pitch. The numbers simply did not add up without other income streams and, as Alan will tell you, it can lead to many sleepless nights.
If I give you some broad financial numbers it will help to demonstrate why we see a new ground with new facilities and new income streams as so important for the long-term stability of the club, and to end over 30 years of reliance on the generosity of individuals.
Running costs for the club, including things like gas, electricity, property repairs, rent, water rates, cleaning, pitch maintenance to name but a few, are approximately £60,000 per year.
You then have football costs outside of the players’ wages, including training facilities, kit, coach hire, referees, league costs, matchday food, fines, which totals around £40,000 per year.
That is £100,000 needed to run the club and the football side. In the last couple of seasons, we have been very well-supported through season ticket sales and gate receipts and on a good year that can reach close to £50,000 towards the running costs.
Commercially we have worked hard to build relationships with the local nursery that use our facilities, and we are, of course, delighted to welcome Aylesbury United as tenants. Add these incomes to our advertising and sponsorship activity and again, we could be looking at another £50,000. So now we are at the point where we have supporters and sponsors pretty much funding the running costs and non-playing football costs of the club. That’s good, so where does the playing budget come from?
We are fortunate that in recent years, through hard work from the team running the bar, our income from The Chess Suite has been steadily increasing and under normal circumstances (which obviously these are not this year) we can look to budget for a net profit of around £45,000 per year. That gives us around £1,200 per playing week, gross, towards a playing and management budget. It would be inappropriate for me to go into the details of these wages, but most of you will be aware that you would struggle to stay in the Southern Premier Division with that kind of budget.
There are other smaller income sources including the academy, which can often be offset against other costs such as emergency repairs and maintenance, but we are tirelessly working hard to generate additional funds, we worked hard to obtain and are still looking at getting any grant money from the Premier League and Government; we always hope for a good cup run to boost funds and we get the occasional donation, but the truth is, the club remains supported by the generosity of individuals and the commitment of its loyal fans, not by a fool-proof sustainable business model.
Of course, playing at this level is not compulsory, we choose to be ambitious and play at level three of the pyramid, with aspirations for promotion to the National League South. We could make the decision to become self-funding as a club under our current circumstances and I know a lot of loyal supporters would continue to come along at whatever level, but you have to accept gate receipts would drop fairly significantly and we would realistically be looking at a sustainable budget of a low end step 4 side, or maybe even the South Midlands division to be comfortable.
There is nothing wrong with that level, and some fans would still enjoy supporting the club, travelling to new places and making new friends; but we want to be more ambitious than that. We have a vision of a club that can be self-funding without the vulnerability of relying on benefactors constantly putting their hands into their own pockets. We want a club that has the facilities to engage with the whole community and become an integral part of all sport and exercise in Chesham, and we want to lay the foundations for a senior football team that can push to compete higher up the pyramid and raise the profile of the club and the town in general.
That is our vision. Our job over the coming months is to take everyone on that journey with us, be a part of the journey and understand why in the long run the heart-breaking decision to leave The Meadow is not taken through a lack of sentiment. Quite the opposite, it is taken through an absolute passion to protect the club and leave it in a solid financial position for many generations to come.
Thank you for your support. Please take care and stay safe.
Peter Brown, Chairman
Chesham United Football Club