The Club's Chief Executive, Levi Gill, provides another update for supporters from on and off the field at The Dunes Hotel Stadium.
Thanks for reading the latest CEO update, keeping fans in the loop on goings on at The Dunes Hotel Stadium over recent weeks.
There’s a lot of positivity around the Club at the moment thanks to our solid start to the campaign and writing this update has been a welcome opportunity to reflect on an encouraging opening quarter to the League Two season and look head to (dare I say it?) a period of relative calm after a tumultuous eighteen months for the club.
On field update
After a lot of hard work from Mark Hetherington and his team, we now have a training solution that’s far more appropriate for life in the EFL. The players have regular access to a grass pitch, supplementing their gym and fitness work and this has lifted the mood as well as the standard of training. The results are clear to see with Barrow occupying a play-off berth last week. The team have responded fantastically to Mark Cooper since his arrival and, with proper preparation and a professional support staff, I hope there’s a lot more to come this season.
Bluebirds fans are a cautious bunch by and large and I admit that, even when we were seventh in the table, I was counting how big the gap was to the bottom two. The answer, happily, is that right now it’s a wide gap. This allows the Club a lot of confidence in planning for the future on and off the field. We remain ambitious and we don’t want to set a ceiling on what the squad can achieve this season, but it’s hard to overstate what a difference it would make if we were sure of our place in the EFL by early next year. With the recent changes at training and performance levels where they currently are, I’m confident that we can expect a much better (and more enjoyable!) campaign this time around.
Update: Colchester incident
I’m conscious that the Club hasn’t provided an update on the recent allegation of racist abuse aimed at Colchester United’s goalkeeper. The reason for this isn’t anything sinister. We were simply keen to bring the process to a conclusion before there was a further update, and we also wanted to be respectful of an ongoing police enquiry. I’m now in a position to bring fans up to date.
Firstly, I’d like to thank Rickie Wallbank, our Police Liaison Officer, and also Mike Forsyth and the match day stewarding team for their response to the incident on the night. We were able to collect statements from stewards and consult the Club’s CCTV footage, which was all very helpful to Rickie’s investigation. I’d also like to thank the people who came forward with information in response to the Club’s public appeal. Unfortunately, some of the anonymous information received was conflicting and, while CCTV footage shows clearly who is stood in a particular area of the ground, it can’t show ‘who said what’.
One suspect was interviewed under caution but, ultimately, the conclusion of the police investigation was that there was insufficient evidence to progress the matter criminally. Having discussed the findings of the investigation with Rickie Wallbank, the owners and I also felt that there wasn’t enough certainty around who was responsible for us to issue a ban and potentially penalise an innocent party. We have therefore been unable to take further action on this occasion.
This should not, however, be taken as a sign that the Club condones this kind of behaviour or that we don’t believe that the abuse occurred. There has been debate among the fan base about whether the report was a result of players misunderstanding a fan song. I can assure everybody that, having heard the complaint and read some of the witness information, this is not what has happened. I’m convinced that the abuse occurred and, with the backing of the Club’s owners, will take the strongest possible action against anybody proven to be responsible either for this incident or any similar future cases.
This behaviour is completely contrary to what this Club stands for and cannot be tolerated in modern society. The Club continues to ask for information relating to the incident against Colchester United and encourages fans to report any future incidents to a steward or Club official. We will be handing out information cards at the point of entry to our next Saturday game, explaining to fans the best ways to report racist abuse in the future.
Off field staff update
As I suggested in my last update, there have been a number of changes to the off-field team at the Club. Some have been necessitated by existing team members moving on, while others are planned changes to the structure in order to bring us closer in line with other EFL clubs and better equip us to deal with the demands of football at this level.
Firstly, Pete Thompson has joined us to oversee our matchday hospitality including both Cross Bar and Fan Zone. Pete brings over 20 years of experience with him from the Farmers Arms in Ulverston, and we’re very lucky to have him on board. He’s already made some very positive changes to improve the offer for fans and also simplify and professionalise the administration and organisation of running the bars, and I’m looking forward to working with him over the coming months to see full hospitality suites and facilities utilised to their best on match days, as well as for wider functions and events.
As many will know, Anya Wood recently left the Club for a new challenge. Into her role as the Club’s Retail and Ticket Office Manager comes Dave Pointer, who started with us last week. Dave has worked in sports retail in Barrow for more than 25 years and was the perfect candidate to oversee significant change in the Club Shop. We view merchandising as an underdeveloped revenue stream for the Club and Dave’s primary objective will be to diversify the ranges available and improve the merchandise options for fans. Dave has really hit the ground running and I hope to be able to give an update in my next report on how we see the future of merchandising at the Club.
Finally, I’d like to welcome Alisha Henry to Barrow AFC. Alisha joins us from Gateshead FC where she was employed as General Manager. In that capacity, Alisha developed a really broad experience, covering everything from commercial and secretarial duties to matchday operations, input into the Academy and fan engagement. It was this diverse experience that made her a stand-out candidate to join the Club and she has done so in the role of Operations Manager. This is a new role and one that has overall responsibility for ensuring that events, matchdays and all other aspects of the Club run smoothly. Alisha will also deputise for me when required and has had to assume oversight of retail and ticketing activities until Dave could join us, so I know that she’s now very keen to get her teeth into her role and have a real impact at the Club.
These appointments give us the structure that we need to succeed at an EFL level, and the owners share my delight at securing the preferred candidate for every role we looked to fill. We now need to begin the work – in what is traditionally a quieter part of the season for off-field staff – of bringing Club operations to the level that we expect, and fans deserve, them to be at.
Matchdays and hospitality
The main focus of the team in the coming months will be improving the matchday experience. Our SLO, Chris Altree, recently attended an EFL meeting on the league-run Family Excellence Scheme. This scheme sets out a blueprint for how ‘best in class’ clubs engage with supporters in the lead up to match day and on the day itself to create a family atmosphere and provide activities and refreshments appropriate for all age groups. Barrow has a long way to go in some categories, while I’m pleased with the progress we’ve already made in others. But we know we have a lot more to do and we’re excited by the potential. Alisha and Pete, as well as Jamie Stoddart and Mark Simpson, all bring experience from other clubs and hospitality environments and have contributed a lot of good ideas which we’ll be looking to action.
More than 3,300 people watched the Leyton Orient match at The Dunes Hotel Stadium. That was an incredible number and thanks should go to all fans who came along and gave their backing to Mark Cooper and the team. But by implementing some of the proposed changes and by working to the framework of the EFL Family Excellence Scheme, we believe that we can see these attendance numbers more regularly. We have to, if we want a sustainable EFL football club in Barrow. Being able to attract 3,000 fans into The Dunes Hotel Stadium on a Saturday on a regular basis should be a measure of our success as a Club both on and off the field, and it’s something we’re going to work hard on as the season progresses.
With that said, I’m pleased with some of the changes already made. The Leyton Orient game saw a number of positive comments sent into the Club about the standard of hospitality and the wider match day experience. While it’s very nice to receive compliments from supporters, it’s more valuable as a measure of how far we’ve come since the start of the season.
Reopening the ground after over a year of ‘behind closed doors’ games is a challenge that shouldn’t be underestimated. There are clubs far bigger than ours who have dealt with it less well in organisation, staffing and supply chain. But I feel that we’re now getting it right. The catering from Charnley’s is excellent and the hospitality staff all work incredibly hard to ensure that people have the best day possible. But, again, we need more attendances like Orient. So, if you’d like to experience hospitality for yourself, either with friends or to celebrate a special occasion, please contact the Club and book in.
I’ll finish with a collection of smaller updates, starting with a meeting I had on Monday evening with several of the senior leadership of the Fair Game movement. For those who don’t know, Fair Game are a collection of clubs, supported by experts and backed by politicians, who are campaigning for reform in football. They have recently published their manifesto and are keen for more clubs to sign up in order to grow the voice. While there were some specific elements of the manifesto that I personally didn’t agree with, what’s more important at this stage is that clubs can band together and ensure that our voices are heard and that the lower levels of the pyramid are not left behind while reform focuses on the needs of those wealthy few at the top. I will shortly be briefing the club board and also the Bluebirds Trust on the meeting I had with Fair Game, with a view to deciding whether the club and the fan base are supportive of us signing up and giving our backing to the organisation.
Another ongoing workstream is, of course, the need for additional seating in the ground to be installed next summer. It’s still too early to give detailed proposals as we continue to design and cost various options, but I can I think confirm or refute some of the more popular theories that people have approached me with in the last few weeks.
We do intend, subject to final design and cost analysis, to seat the Cross Bar End. This seems a relatively simple way to install circa 250 seats while also reopening this currently ‘closed’ end of the ground and allowing some supporters back to their spiritual home behind that goal.
We don’t intend, on current information, to extend the existing Main Stand. The reason for this is that, if we join on to the existing structure, we further tie ourselves to it long term. While there are no plans in place to demolish the Main Stand, I think most supporters would agree that when we visit other grounds who have successfully redeveloped (Accrington being the most popular example, but there are others) a stand like ours doesn’t feel like it has a role in the long-term future of the Club.
There are other factors to consider, like how we tidy up the away end or how we address the Family Excellence Scheme (e.g. should we provide a separate Family Stand?), which all have bearing on a final decision. I would hope that the track record of our owners will give confidence to all supporters that whatever decision is made will be for the benefit of the Club and will involve consultation with the supporters and our newly formed Disabled Supporters’ Association, as a minimum.
Finally, I’d like to finish by giving a mention to the Club’s recently advertised Christmas and New Year parties. Alisha, in particular, has worked hard on bringing this idea to life, bringing it with her from Gateshead, and is keen to give supporters a venue to get together over the festive period and create a memorable evening. There are several dates for Christmas parties to choose from and bookings can be made for groups of various sizes, so if you’re interested please get in touch on 01229 666 010 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve a place and avoid disappointment.