A full report on Friday’s Q&A event.
Yesterday evening we held a question & answer session with our supporters in the Crossbar. In attendance were managing director Andrew Casson and first team manager Ady Pennock.
Andrew Casson opened the session by thanking those in attendance for coming, and explaining that the club like to hold these events every three months or so, to keep fans in the loop with what is going on at the club, and to hear any concerns & questions they may have.
Changes to backroom staff:
A few changes to the first team’s background staff were then announced:
– Physio Matt Butterfield is leaving the club to take up a role at Wolverhampton Wanderers Academy, his hometown team no less. Fitness and Conditioning coach Lindsay Davis is also a qualified physio and will be taking as physio in addition to his previous role. Ady admitted that it is a great position for Matt, especially at the team he supports, so he is happy for him and wished him luck for the future.
– Jamie Day has been appointed as Ady Pennock’s assistant manager starting on Monday. Ady stated that he is a great coach and has worked with him many times before so they have a good relationship. The new position will also allow Grant Holt to focus more on playing as well as developing as a coach in his player/coach role.
Squad / Transfer Activity:
When questioned on the current squad, Ady commented that both he and his team are doing all they can for them, in terms of overnight stays, training and preparation but they can’t do everything for them. Now it’s time for them to do their bit and repay both them and the fans with some strong performances. He said that they look bright in training and feels that some of them are perhaps feeling the pressure of our league position, but that two or three wins can make the table look a lot different – now it’s time to go and get those wins.
Following a question from the audience regarding transfer targets, Ady Pennock made it clear that he is looking to bring in some fresh faces for the final third of the season, but that he absolutely has to get the right players in. He also acknowledged the importance of bringing a central midfielder in. He explained that the club doesn’t have a huge unlimited budget remaining to bring in lots of players and that he wouldn’t want to do that anyway. He stressed that he has been backed by both Paul and Andrew Casson and will be looking to bring in two or three faces, hopefully in the next week or so. He is looking for players who have played at this level, who aren’t just there to make up the numbers and are willing to roll their sleeves up and get stuck in to help the club climb up the table.
It was revealed that Ady has missed out on some targets with three or four of them going on to league clubs, something that you can’t compete with at National League level. There have also been targets that have been given longer contracts on bigger deals at other clubs, as well as coaching positions and more, beyond what he is willing to give.
Andrew Casson made a brief comment on this topic, saying that Ady will always have both his and Paul Casson’s backing to bring in players that will benefit the football club though from the club’s perspective, it rarely makes sense to offer players long deals with huge wages as some clubs in and around us have done.
Andrew then went on to state that the season clearly hadn’t gone as planned so far and it was revealed that the Casson family had recently held discussions about the future of the club and their involvement in it, given the considerable amounts of time and effort that go into running a club, as well as Andrew living away from the family in the UK etc. Ultimately it was decided that they believe in the club and what everyone here is trying to achieve, that they are here to stay and the ultimate aim remains promotion to the football league. Andrew acknowledged that they didn’t do this to be loved and knew what they were getting into when Paul bought the club, and that no matter what, they remain committed to achieving their aim.
He said that Ady Pennock and Grant Holt are a big source of their belief in the club, given what they have done since they arrived, and conversations they have had. They clearly know what they are doing and can take the club to the next level both on and off the field, including a more professional set up in terms of player preparation and recovery such as overnight stays before games, the fitness and nutrition of players etc.
Ady Pennock added to this, saying that he has seen how passionate the Casson family is to get this club where we want to go, and that they are here for the long term which he will help to implement.
The Torquay Game:
The first question came from an audience member regarding the performance on Saturday at Torquay. Ady acknowledged that the performance was a long way from good enough and that he had let the players know as much after the game. He explained how he had opened the floor up to the players in the dressing room to discuss the performance and that he expects a big reaction in the next game.
Ady admitted that he doesn’t really understand it himself, though he has some personal theories that he didn’t share with those present. He pointed out that he has visited Barrow before as a visiting manager and as a scout and knows how tough a place it can be for the opposition to come, something we need to get back.
He also urged the home fans to continue to play a part in that by sticking with him, the players, and the club in the final third of the season.
On our current position, Ady Pennock said that whilst we are in a position we don’t want to be in, there are 16 games left and it is still in our hands. Anyone can beat anyone in the National League and now it is time for the players to turn in some strong performances to prove that.
Youth Set Up:
Ady revealed that the club is in the process of introducing a youth setup at the club at the 16-18 level and getting local players involved including some from the wider area. He stated that this is part of a bigger picture in laying foundations at the club for the future with the eventual aim of having local players in the first team, though this won’t be a quick process.
On this point, Andrew added that one of the good things about having the first team training in Barrow on Fridays before home games was that some of the performance centre U18 players are able to train with them and bridge the gap between the top level of the performance centre and the first team. He also stressed the importance of creating a pathway for young players in the town to ensure that they feel that playing for Barrow is a realistic possibility.
The Club’s Location:
The clubs location was also discussed. Ady feels that the travelling the players have to do both to the training ground and home games is an issue, but is something that can’t be sorted until the end of the season. The club and coaching staff have taken steps to mitigate the travel times by providing overnight accommodation for the players before home games to enable them to be well rested and prepared.
He spoke about the clubs location in terms of signing players and pointed to the travelling he does as an example of how those in football often move around. He continued that whilst Barrow’s position is unique and doesn’t have the catchment area of the Midlands or London, having a base such as Hopwood Hall in Rochdale helps and it is his job to sell the club to players he wants to bring in.
Ady revealed that David Fitzpatrick had a problem with his knee which meant it kept swelling up, but is now close to a return to training.
Departures This Season:
Andrew Casson was asked where the money made available from departures such as Alex Harvey and Liam Hughes went. He explained that whilst it wasn’t huge amounts, it went back into the squad with the arrivals of players such as Grant Holt and Steve Arnold.
“7th isn’t good enough” & “Equal or better quality”:
Quite possibly our most asked questions!
Andrew reinforced that the ultimate aim for this football club is to be in the football league and the best way to do that is to win the league. Whilst our 7th place finish last season would be good enough for the play offs this season, he explained that the playing budget at the start of the season should have been big enough to be very competitive at the top half of the National League, beyond 7th.
He said that the reason we haven’t been is that it is clear that players of “equal or better quality” weren’t brought in last summer to replace the departures to league clubs, but not because the budget wasn’t available.
Ady Pennock added to this that the recruitment last summer clearly wasn’t right, with the focus now needing to be on surviving this season before major changes can be implemented both on and off the pitch in the summer, ahead of the 2018/19 season.
A question submitted by email asked whether the club submitted an increased budget to the league in January. Andrew explained that it hadn’t as the budget at the start of the season was enough to cover the current wage bill, along with the additions Ady plans to make. He added that money from player sales last summer was included in this season’s budget back in the summer.
Off The Pitch Staff:
Two questions were submitted relating to this topic.
The first asked why various members of staff have resigned or left over the past few months. Andrew explained that there are people who didn’t like and some who won’t like what the football club must become to be successful. He believes that the club has a lot of growing up and maturing to do in order to become a serious contender in the national league which some people have had, and will have a problem with. He added that both he and the Chairman want people involved in the club who are willing to give it their all in order to make the football club better, and genuinely want to be here. Changes need to be made at the club with things not carrying on as they have always been.
The second question was regarding replacements for some of the people who have left. Andrew said that he is the replacement for Austin Straker, just with a different title. Craig Rutherford has done lots of good work since coming in as head of community and is the replacement for Margaret Straker. The search for a new commercial manager is ongoing.
There was some debate between Andrew and the fans present on a replacement for Ian Rainford who stepped down from his role as fans liaison officer. He stated that if the fans believed this was a role that they would like to see filled, then he would absolutely be open to it again and asked for the fans to take the initiative and come up with some candidates who they would like to see represent them as a link between the fans and the board of directors.
Andrew stated that it is hoped a deal will be made with a kit supplier for 2018/19 next week, with news of that to come in the next few weeks.
With regards to the lower than normal attendances recently, Andrew and Ady said that the best way to increase them is by ending the run we are on. There are plans to increase the clubs presence in the community, and encourage more young people and families to attend games next season. You can read more about that in the ground development section of this report.
Next Seasons Budget:
A question was asked online regarding next season’s budget and whether the aim is to stay up with survival the aim again next season.
Andrew strongly stated that scraping survival is never the aim as there is no point to that. The Casson family are at the club to get Barrow back into the football league eventually and Ady Pennock’s budget will be one that is strong enough to push for the play off’s and beyond, as this seasons was. Whilst it is clear that the budget this season wasn’t spent as well as it could have been, they have faith in Ady, Grant and their team to bring success with it.
Full Time Scout:
A question submitted by email asked whether the club would employ a full time scout in a role similar to Paul Ogden.
Ady Pennock replied that he didn’t believe it was necessary as he scouts, Grant Holt scouts, Jamie Day scouts as do various other contacts he has.
Andrew said that whilst in the past it was mentioned that one of the aims of the club would be to pluck players from the lower leagues, develop them and then sell them to league clubs, it’s clear that it isn’t a realistic proposition every season, and isn’t something that can be relied upon. In addition to that, it is clear that the club needs players who know the national league and have experience at this level to succeed next season.
Along with several other questions about ground development. a question submitted via twitter asked if the club “are happy to just keep existing in a ground that’s well past its sell by date?”
Andrew Casson responded by saying the short is no, it’s not. However, despite things that may have been said in the past, the club won’t be getting a new £10 million stadium anytime soon as it doesn’t make business sense for the club. Whilst the possibility of knocking down the Crossbar building was considered and mentioned at the last Q&A, this was also cost prohibitive for the club, with an estimated cost of £1.5 million. He also stated that the club will look to make improvements that both benefit the fans and also provide a sound financial return for the club, helping to improve match day revenues.
With this being said, the club is determined to make improvements to Holker Street, with the following projects currently being explored:
- Covered areas for fans to enjoy food, hot drinks and alcoholic drinks inside the ground, both on the popular side and main stand side. Andrew stated the additional importance of encouraging “floating” fans to attend games, and giving them somewhere to go with an improved experience.
- Introducing decent toilets to the ground. Whilst the portable toilets are fairly nice, the club realise the importance of solid, comfortable toilet facilities for supporters.
- The club have been in talks regarding windows being installed in the corporate hospitality rooms overlooking the pitch.
- The construction of a pre-fabricated stand between the Crossbar building and the remaining old floodlight pylon. This will replace the steps that are currently there, and will give the fans that stand there some cover, as well as hopefully providing some atmosphere when the Bluebirds attack the Steelworks End.
- The implementation of a youth zone inside the ground with activities before the game for young Barrow fans to increase their interaction with the club, attract more younger supporters and ensure that visiting the ground is more than just to watch a football match.
- On the inside of the Crossbar building, Ady has asked for some improvements to the dressing rooms and some other minor changes around the building.
On this topic, Ady Pennock acknowledged the importance of the fans enjoying a day out at the football, and said that he firmly believes that the ground needs improving, without big new stands which have been talked about in the past.
The Q&A session ended with both Andrew and Ady thanking everyone for taking the time to come down to the event. Another Q&A should be held at the end of the season, with details on that nearer the time.
Don’t forget our next home game is this coming Tuesday 13th February when we host Sutton United. Kick-off is 7:45pm.