Focus article 3 – All change on the Football Front
This is the third in our series of articles updating you on the progress the football club is making under your ownership as fans and giving you a further insight into how your club has progressed during the year just gone. It’s all well and good the effort and excellence in our off the pitch activities that we are delivering on your behalf, however many fans judge success in one area only and that is on the pitch.
There is no hiding from it that 2016 has been a very difficult period for the football club on the pitch. The club looked to be in a great place football wise going into last Christmas playing some excellent football under then Manager Gary Mills, but a poor Christmas period led to a fall away from form and although we were still mathematically able to reach the playoffs in our last home fixture of the season, in reality the dream died a couple of games earlier away at Guiseley.
Mass changes instigated by Gary in the summer failed to produce the same results that Cheltenham Town enjoyed the season before when making similar levels of change. 2016 has been a struggle with scoring goals the main issue for us as the unlucky Jordan White had to sit out the first four months of the season and it is a real boost to see him back playing recently. However we continue to see comments on social media blaming a cut in playing budget as the reason for accumulating less points than last season but this simply isn’t true. Year To Date we have spent more on the playing budget than the same period last season and therefore other factors need to be considered to take learnings forward into the future. We provide a competitive budget for this level of football and have been punching way below our weight in recent times which is a priority for us to address going forwards. Ultimately the poor form and other factors cost Gary Mills his position at the football club and Darren Caskey soon resigned to join him at York.
As one door closes another opensand Dean Keates was appointed in November to lead the club going forward. The former Wrexham AFC skipper with six promotions on his CV, who once completed a game with a broken collar bone to secure a win for the team is charged with achieving our number one objective which is promotion back to the Football League. Dean is working extremely hard watching games and working contacts all over the country to unearth the players that will help us achieve our ambitions. Dean moved out some players with more changes likely as we look to bolster the squad in January.
It may surprise many fans but we are the only National League team who are still subject to the international transfer window restrictions at our current level of football. This means that unlike all other teams we cannot permanently move on or transfer in players outside the transfer windows of the summer and January. We are maybe in a unique situation in world football and as such have been allowed to keep the emergency 28 day loans available so that we are not completely disadvantaged versus our peer teams. We do not complain about this situation however as we are proud to be flying the flag for Wales in the league.
Dean has moved quickly to promote some of our promising young players into the first team squad. Leo Smith has benefited significantly from the change in approach. Hailing from Porthmadog in Gwynedd, the Welsh speaking youngster has shown a level of maturity and technical excellence that belies his age and is very promising for the future. There are other youngsters who have either had some minutes on the pitch or are progressing well behind the scenes through our youth set up with names such as Brandon Burrows, George Harry and Olly Marx names you might hear before too long. These are the latest products coming through our successful Youth Department which we manage to continue to fund despite losing all subsidy financial contributions some years ago. Many clubs that find themselves outside the Football League close their Youth Departments and leave the LFE scheme due to the cost involved, which for us are in the region of £250,000 per annum. We however have managed to continue to operate our Youth Scheme for the potential future stars from the region. To make this possible we have continued to drive income to cover these costs from player sales, football club income, fundraising, sponsorship and parent contributions. We are extremely grateful to all the contributors that allow us to keep our tradition of producing local talent alive.
From a Football Club board perspective both Barry Horne and Don Bircham left us in November after five years of loyal service. They made significant contributions in the early days of fan ownership and leave us in a stronger position than when they joined us. Their activities have been spread across existing board members who now have over five years’ experience of steering a Football Club of this size and we move on. We have learnt from some of the issues experienced in last summer’s transfer window and additional checks and balances have been introduced to ensure the right level of support for our first team manager in the transfer market.
We are aware that many fans have asked why don’t we employ a chief executive and director of football to replace these roles? Simply put this could cost us in excess of £100,000 per year which we believe we can better spend on the playing budget and the line management and support is in place for our managers in the business to deliver their objectives as well as taking advice from the many friends of Wrexham AFC both locally and across the country.
We are very excited about the future on the pitch under Dean and his assistant Andy Davies as we go forward into 2017 and have every faith that we will be strongly challenging at the right end of the table come next season. Look out for the other articles highlighting the progress we are making over the course of this week.
The Boards of the Wrexham Supporters Trust and Wrexham AFC would like to wish everyone associated with Wrexham AFC a very happy and prosperous new year!