WE produced a special souvenir programme for the New Year’s Day visit of Swindon Town to commemorate the full opening of the Mayflower Grandstand and below are the notes from Argyle chairman Simon Hallett.
Good afternoon everyone, and welcome to the New Year and to Home Park. I am delighted to be here for the visit of Swindon Town, and to welcome all their fans and officials.
It is, of course, not just the New Year that we celebrate, but also the formal opening of the renovated Mayflower Grandstand. Whether you are sitting in it, or looking at it, I hope you agree that everyone involved has done a wonderful job in getting it ready for 2020, and the city-wide celebrations to mark the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower from Plymouth to ‘the New World’.
The New Year is a time for looking forward and for looking back.
The sight of the Mayflower Grandstand is the most obvious achievement of the last year but there have been many others. In some ways, they are overshadowed by our most obvious failure – relegation to Sky Bet League Two – but I think they add up to a clear message to our fans that Argyle is a club with ambition, building a strong base for continued progress in coming years.
The grandstand and its accompanying facilities not only provide a better experience for supporters, but also provide an opportunity for us to generate increased revenues for investment in other facilities, and, of course, in the first-team.
It also provides a venue to attract visitors to Plymouth, thus providing an asset that will be of benefit to the whole city.
The new facility continues the programme of investment on which we have embarked in the last few years that includes buying our stadium itself, and part of the land in Higher Home Park. We have executed this programme while, at the same time, repaying almost all of the club’s outstanding loans. We have not yet reached our goal of financial sustainability, but that goal is within sight, and the club is financially secure as we strive to get there.
In the past year, we have increased the use of Home Park to provide other sources of entertainment for fans and members of the local community. Abba and Queen evenings were a great success and will be followed later in the year by even more ambitious plans to host Westlife and Little Mix concerts. These will be not just entertaining, but sources of revenue for Argyle.
While on the subject of revenues, we extended our partnerships with two of our main sponsors, Ginsters and St Austell Breweries. We are very grateful to them for their continued support that extends beyond money to other areas of our activity.
For supporters visiting Home Park, we have continued to improve the experience:
We have introduced digital ticketing, so that you can buy and download a ticket to your ’phone in less than two minutes. There is no longer a need to queue for tickets for those deciding at the last minute to come along to watch the team. We have also upgraded the options for our ambulant disabled supporters buying tickets for away games.
We have a new retail store. It is now well-stocked, well-lit and has proven very popular. I particularly note the introduction of the retro line of club shirts, which has been a big success.
We have a new PA system! ‘At last’, you may say, but the need for proper audio in the conference facilities gave an opportunity to replace our dreadful existing system throughout Home Park.
We are working on trying to make match-day more entertaining, with local schools participating on the pitch at half-time, and various activities taking place before kick-off.
Thanks to the Green Taverners and their backers, we have a magnificent new facility for hundreds of fans before and after the match. The GT Suite is an amazing facility, and I thank everyone involved in bringing it to reality. It is not just the facility itself, but the welcome that is extended to fans from visiting clubs that makes this an Argyle institution of which we can be proud.
For overseas fans who cannot make it to Home Park and who subscribe to iFollow, we have made significant investment to upgrade the service. We now offer four-camera coverage, replays and our own commentary. My thanks to Rick Cowdery, our Head of Communications, and to my old school friend Gary Lovejoy, who has had a successful career as a TV sports producer, for making this a success – and improving the quality of my Saturday mornings!
Our engagement with, and transparency to, our supporters has never been higher. We have had three Fans’ Forums at Home Park and visited our Cornish supporters at an event in Bodmin. I continue to write the Chairman’s Chat letters (though these notes replace December’s!) and engage with fans via Twitter, Facebook and email. At the summer Fans’ Forum, our director (and Ginster’s Finance Director) Paul Berne gave a terrific presentation outlining from where money has come in and to where money has gone out over the last three years. We will shortly publish full accounts for the first time, to our new year end, co-incident with the end of the football season, and consistent with the practice at most other clubs.
Last year saw a lot of new faces in the team behind the team, as well as on the football side. We welcomed Ryan Lowe, and his team of Steve Schumacher, John Lucas, and the irrepressible Jimmy Dickinson. They have done a wonderful job creating the foundations for a successful first-team and building the confidence of our fans.
Also on the football side, we welcomed Neil Dewsnip – one of the most experienced youth development people around. He has taken up a new role, that of Director of Football, being responsible for our Academy, for our player recruitment, and for the back-up services needed by the first-team. His experience and his long relationship with Ryan and Schuey make him the ideal person for the job.
That we have been able to recruit Neil speaks to the club’s ambition and, dare I say it, potential.
Similarly, at board level, we have been joined by Trevor East, one of the most experienced TV and media people in football. His contact list is amazing (and so are his stories!). He is already putting that network to use for Argyle.
Perhaps most importantly, we have a new CEO in Andrew Parkinson. He has already had a major and positive impact on how the club is run. We are moving from a well-run club by football standards to a well-run organisation by any standards. I am very grateful to Andrew for his hard work and extraordinary number of early accomplishments that enable me to step back and be a proper non-executive chairman.
All of these achievements are with a single goal – to help us achieve our vision of being supported or respected by everyone in the South West, and many beyond.
There are signs that it is working: morale among fans is extraordinary; attendances have held steady with last year, despite relegation; and our away support, in particular, is nothing short of a miracle!
We thank you for your support, but please tell all your friends what is going on at Argyle.
The football is terrific, and we have a club of which we can be proud.