It’s a strange feature of human nature that how we remember past events is much more influenced by how we felt at the end of them, not at their beginning.
Mothers will relate to this – the joy of a new baby outweighs the pain of childbirth (luckily for the survival of humanity). You may remember the heartache of a breakup and forget that you had a happy relationship for many years, months, or weeks.
What’s that got to do with football? Simply, that we should think about the good things that happened this season in League One overall and try to overcome the disappointment of the ending. There was a lot to like, after all.
Above all, of course, we survived to play in League One again next season. We had some young players who emerged as more than just promising prospects, and our goalkeeper, Michael Cooper, was voted Young Player of the Season. I am particularly pleased about the latter as he is a graduate of our Academy, whom our football management team identified as a player with great potential and were prepared to back him before that potential was fully realised. Going back to how our memories are determined by how things ended, most people have already forgotten that it was a mildly controversial decision at the start of the season.
That’s the kind of calculated risk taking, often unpopular, that I think is essential in any organisation that wishes to be successful. The decision-makers must know that they will continue to be backed even if short-term outcomes are not as expected.
Unlike many football clubs, we are taking a long-term approach to all aspects of what we do. We believe we have a talented football management team who are building long-term foundations for our club. That starts with having an efficiently run organisation behind the first team, runs through our day-to-day operations, goes through the Academy and ends with a squad that plays attractive, winning football.
Our football management team will continue to have our support, even if results are weak for a short period. So long as they continue to show that they are willing to learn, embrace better processes, and maintain good relationships with the board and with our fans, that will satisfy us.
The success of our Academy is an integral part of our long-term strategy to help us achieve our mission of being a sustainable Championship club. We need to attract the best talent in the area to Argyle. To that end we continue to make affordable investments in high quality coaching, and infrastructure, while developing good relationships with more junior clubs in Devon and Cornwall.
We are now beginning to see several Academy graduates not just on the bench but lining up in League One fixtures. We can also congratulate manager Darren Way and our under-18 squad for winning their league. It is particularly gratifying that they pushed our friends in red up the road into second place.
At this time last year, after the abrupt ending of the 2019/20 season, we didn’t even know which division of the EFL we would be playing in in 2020/21, let alone what our finances would look like. That obviously made budgeting for the first team unusually difficult. The transfer window was shortened, and we had little time to think about our retained list.
Further, it was widely forecast that many clubs would be under severe financial pressure, with consequent risk of bankruptcy and reduced ability to pay player wages. In the end, we were pleasantly surprised that no one left League One through going into administration and the survival rate of football clubs has been much higher than was forecast a year ago.
The many financial measures taken this year clearly helped all clubs more than we had expected, so that the result was that our budget for the first team was not as relatively strong as we had previously expected. We will increase it modestly this year.
In the chaos and uncertainty of last year that I describe above we were unable to prepare and plan for the season ahead as we would have wanted. As a result, our recruitment was not as effective as we had hoped - you have all seen the results on the pitch.
This coming season will be different. We’ve introduced new structures that should improve our success rate in player signings, through objective identification of our strengths and weaknesses and careful squad planning. Notably, results in the short January transfer window were already much better.
We are now much clearer about what we need and know who we want. Whether we will get them, of course, is a separate issue, but, if we can’t get our first choices, we have alternatives already identified. How we recruit this summer will be especially important, but I am confident that we can deliver.
Beyond football, we have significantly improved our engagement with fans, via social media and the video content we provide across multiple platforms. We recently announced that we will be further improving the experience of watching Argyle online, by offering our own video streaming service instead of remaining with iFollow.
This is not without risks, but, if successful, will enable us to offer a much-improved viewing experience. Using our own media team, we will produce additional content that you will be able to enjoy online. The development of our own app will allow fans to have a single log on to everything Argyle offers, from ticketing, to the Superstore, to videos and written material, as well as to watching a match, when allowed, with our own four-camera system and commentary. We’ll be providing more details in coming weeks.
Our goal remains financial sustainability and we are not yet there. We forecast continuing losses in the year to June 2022. We can finance those losses from the cash reserves we have built up because of our fans’ generosity, the government’s support scheme and my own cash injection.
Our finances have been further improved by a successful claim against our business continuity interruption policy. We are one of only a few football clubs with such insurance, for which we should thank our previous management and ownership.
We took a conservative approach early on in the pandemic, and prepared for the worst that could happen financially. In the event, though the outcome was bad, it was not the worst for which we had prepared. As a result, we now expect to have substantial financial reserves at the end of our financial year in June.
Those reserves will fulfil several needs. A buffer against some other unbudgeted expenses (such as a renewal of pandemic-related shutdowns or unforeseen required repairs to the stadium); they enable us to ease our path to sustainability, by financing annual losses of decreasing amounts, and they enable us to make investments, the returns on which may be seen in future income, or in a better experience for our fans or staff.
Yes…we’re looking at getting that scoreboard!
The temptation will always be to spend - either on the first team or on the next attractive project. No doubt some projects will be acceptable and will be backed, but we will be very disciplined and make sure that cash remains for financial security and for emergencies. As I’ve said before, I’m not putting any more money in, so the resources that we have now must see us through until we are breaking even every year.
One of our strategic beliefs is that we will be more fully backed by all our stakeholders if we live up to our values. We wanted to be more focused on fans, we wanted to be more transparent, and we wanted to develop better community relations, and believed that, if we were and did, everyone would lend us the necessary support to help us be more successful.
That belief has proven correct.
We have developed strong and effective relationships now with Plymouth City Council, business sponsors have been extraordinarily supportive in a difficult period for them and, of course, above all, you, the Green Army, have been remarkable. You’ve supported a crowd funding campaign, bought streaming passes and goods at our shop.
I’ve talked several times about how important has been the willingness of fans to let us keep season ticket proceeds despite not being able to come to Home Park. In return, we offered a substantial discount on this year’s ticket to those who renewed last year.
The response has again been remarkable. In the first few days we have cleared 3,000 season tickets sold, including nearly 2,000 on the first day. Two years ago, the last ‘normal’ sales season, we sold just 600 on the first day.
There has been a lot of publicity about the relationship between owners and fans of several large clubs - most obviously at Manchester United and Arsenal. My goal has always been to have an open and transparent relationship with our fans, and I think that, generally, I have done a pretty good job with that (though I confess to getting a little waspish sometimes).
I think the club has transformed into one that is not guarded about secrets, but open with almost every aspect of our operations and relishes all opportunities for engagement.
For a couple of years, I’ve been thinking about taking that engagement to the next level and began last year thinking more seriously about making an offer of new shares to fans who wished to become shareholders.
There are many complications with doing so (notably regulatory ones) but such an offer now seems more timely than ever. We’ve yet to work out exactly how to do it, so I can’t tell you the terms on which this would be, should it prove possible.
I can tell you that they will be the same type of shares as those owned by other shareholders, including me. I can also tell you that this is not the start of a move to give fans control of the club. I’m a fan, will continue to own more than 75% of the shares, and be non-executive chairman.
I don’t know all the terms, I don’t know how many may be put up for sale and I don’t know how much they may cost! I’d like though to be better able to gauge interest so we can think more coherently about all those things.
You’ll soon be getting a survey, which will ask if you’d be interested in buying shares, and how much you’d be prepared to invest. Please respond (even if it’s to say no interest) and tell other fans about it.
Thank you more than ever for your support,