We’d again like to update fans on what’s happening behind the scenes at the club, beginning first and foremost with the football department.
Martin and Kenny joined us in late December and inherited a very challenging situation. After a decent first nine matches under Paul and Danny, which saw us finish the first quarter in 3rd place on 14 points, the next nine games were unquestionably calamitous. Just 8 points and a goal difference of -9 left us languishing in 7th place at the half-way mark. From that position, and with such a worrying downward trajectory, the urgent task was to halt the decline and avoid any risk of becoming involved in a relegation fight. Our priority as a board was to ensure the new management team had the resources needed to strengthen the squad and, thanks to investment from the Patrons’ Group, Bairn for Life and Falkirk Supporters’ Society, some funds were available.
The January transfer window is notoriously difficult but was made even more so by clubs retaining larger squads to mitigate the impact of COVID. Nevertheless, the agreed recruitment strategy was to bring in only higher-level players who could make a positive impact on results. Anton Dowds returned following a successful loan spell at Arbroath, and the window saw a further six new players signed. We’d like to welcome Anton and Paul Watson back to Falkirk, plus extend a warm welcome to Aaron Taylor-Sinclair, Jevon Mills, Jaze Kabia, Keaghan Jacobs and Leigh Griffiths. It’s never an easy job convincing good players to drop down a level or two to play in League One, so it’s testament to Martin and Kenny’s powers of persuasion that all our new recruits were last playing for teams above us. They also came very close with a few other Premiership players, so it’s been both fascinating and frustrating to see what goes on behind the scenes in a transfer window.
A further five players left, and we thank Aidan Keena, Ben Hall, Michael Ruth, Ernaldo Krasniqi and Declan McDaid for their service to the club. Blair Sneddon, Ben Weekes, Cammy Williamson and Samuel Ompreon have also gone out on loan and we look forward to them returning, having gained some more valuable experience.
With so many new faces it’s a real challenge for a new coaching team to impact results immediately, while also allowing players time to gel and, in several cases, get up to full match fitness. It’s still early days but the signs are positive. In the nine matches since the transfer window opened, results have improved significantly compared to the previous nine. We picked up 14 points (versus 8), scored 19 goals (versus 8) and improved our goal difference (+7 versus -9). We ended 2021 in 7th place, 5 points plus 20 goals from the all-important 4th spot. At the end of Q3 we now sit in 5th place, 3 points plus 14 goals off 4th spot.
We are making progress, but it’s slow, difficult and frustrating. Without doubt performances have been inconsistent, but that’s always likely to be the case when turning around an underperforming team. At this stage of the season results are more important than performances but, as the team gels further and players become fully match-fit, we’d also expect performances to improve in the final quarter. Improved results keep us in contention for a coveted play-off spot, but we’ll still need to keep progressing if we are to win promotion this season, which remains our objective. Time will tell if this can be achieved, but we remain optimistic. To turn this season around, given where we were at the half-way point, would be a huge achievement for the football department, and we know they’ll get the full backing of all Falkirk fans between now and the end of the season.
Irrespective of how this season concludes, we can’t wait until it’s over before we start planning for next year. To this end we’ve recruited the services of a highly experienced football scout, Allan Fraser, to begin the search for new talent. Allan lives locally but began his impressive scouting career with Ipswich Town, prior to joining Falkirk under John Hughes back in 2004. From 2011 Allan moved with Ross Wilson to Watford, Huddersfield then Southampton, and was most recently working for Derby County. We’d like to welcome Allan back to the club, and he has already begun working with Martin, Kenny and Liam to identify signing targets for the summer.
Still on football matters, since last month a working group has been reviewing all aspects of our football operation. In particular they’ve been considering how best to integrate the whole club from the first team through to the foundation, ensuring all of the appropriate principles, processes and pathways are in place for players and all other football staff. Further topics under review include how best to recruit, train and retain a pool of talented coaches, how to optimise the allocation of available pitches to meet the club’s ever-expanding training needs, and our best option for replacing the main pitch once it comes to the end of its life span. Another major consideration is how to ensure that our Academy grows in a structured and effective yet affordable manner, and we are in discussions with the Scottish FA about our options for participation in their Club Academy Scotland programme over the next few years. We’ve therefore put recruiting a permanent Head of Youth Development on hold, pending the outcome of these conversations. In the meantime, we’d like to thank Greig Taylor for stepping into the role on an interim basis, and also Aaron Taylor-Sinclair, Gary Miller and Derek McWilliams for joining the coaching team.
Away from the football (which is actually where board members spend most of our time) it has been just as busy. We’ve been working on three other business review workstreams – Finance & Commercial, Fan & Community Engagement and Infrastructure and Operations. All are still “work-in-progress” but it’s fair to say that all three have already highlighted a number of areas where the functioning of the club has scope for improvement.
Finance & Commercial – the financial management methods employed by the club are generally poor and in need of improvement. We’re therefore working on a simplified set of processes, an upgraded SAGE system, zero-based budgeting, better cost controls and improved performance reporting. On the commercial side, we’re working to help the team grow revenues by making improvements to sponsorship packages, prospect lists and lead generation, as well as sales materials and methods. We’ll soon be looking for more volunteers to support the sales effort over the summer months, so any fans with a sales background and some spare time should perhaps get themselves warmed up.
Fan & Community Engagement – in conjunction with Falkirk Supporters’ Society we recently commissioned a Fans Survey, covering a wide range of topics including the matchday experience, stadium facilities, hospitality and catering, retail and communication & media. The objective is to understand how the club is currently performing and to gather fans’ feedback on areas for improvement. The survey closes on 7th March and the results will be published shortly thereafter. In time, fans’ feedback will inform every aspect of our business strategy and lead to initiatives to improve communication and increase transparency, such as a fans charter and a commitment to volunteers.
Infrastructure and Operations – the team involved in this workstream have been busy reading all contracts and other relevant documentation, with a detailed review and analysis underway. The main objective is to ensure we are receiving value for money from all current relationships and operating in the most efficient and cost-effective manner possible. The group are also working closely with the Crunchie Initiative on re-branding the South Stand. We’re pleased to say the approved supplier has now completed their site inspection (which was previously delayed due to COVID) and provided the necessary documentation to allow commencement of the signage manufacturing process. This will see the South Stand re-branded to rightfully recognise our player of the millennium, Kevin McAllister, and his outstanding contribution to the club.
Fortunately, our business review workstreams have been well resourced by volunteers, and something which has struck all new board members is just how hard the staff work and how much the club relies on the help of supporters. It would take too long to name everyone, but we’d like to sincerely thank everyone who works for the club in any capacity. From operating Falkirk TV to selling 50:50 tickets, and countless other tasks too, the club simply couldn’t function without your help. Of course, our fans also support the club financially and no football club can survive without a strong, steady income stream. Thanks too to all those who provide sponsorship, buy advertising boards, hospitality packages or merchandise and, of course, buy season and match tickets. Finally, we’d like to thank Victoria Logan who left recently after 17 years of sterling service to the club, and who leaves with our gratitude and good wishes.
Next season will be financially challenging for the club, irrespective of which league we are in. We began this season with sizeable cash reserves but will incur large operating losses which have depleted these funds. We won’t have the same safety blanket next season, so cannot afford to carry anywhere near the same level of loss. In order to maintain a healthy football budget, the club must therefore increase its income and/or reduce its costs (or more likely a combination of both). Even with this, it will still be necessary to operate with some level of underlying loss, as the club has done for the past decade or more. As a fan-owned club we don’t have a wealthy benefactor willing to simply write off such losses, so there are only a few ways in which we can bring the club back to a breakeven position. In the past, losses have mainly been covered by selling players but closing the academy in 2017, and our recent recruitment record, has perhaps made this difficult to replicate for the foreseeable future. We might get lucky with a cup run next season but it’s certainly not something we can bank on. Other than taking on debt, which we’d rather avoid, the only other option is to continue to bring in investment.
The funds invested last year from the Patrons Group, and more recently from Bairn for Life and the Falkirk Supporters’ Society, have helped massively but this has only seen us over a bump in the road. More investment will be required if we are cover next season’s inevitable operating losses. The only other option would be to radically cut the football budget and become a part-time club, a move we believe would be detrimental to our long-term wellbeing. In short, therefore, in order to remain full-time or even to operate with a hybrid full/part time squad, we need the shares recently ring-fenced for both the Patrons Group and Falkirk Supporters’ Society to be purchased as soon as possible. Both groups are therefore still actively seeking new members. Any fan able to invest a lump sum of £10,000 or more should contact Kenny Jamieson via email@example.com.
We’d ask all other supporters to sign-up for membership of the Falkirk Supporters’ Society here https://falkirksupporters.org/subscribe/. Membership currently stands at around 400, which is encouraging but still a long way short of what’s needed. At this level it will take around six years to buy the 750,000 shares available to FSS, yet if every season ticket holder was also an FSS member it would only take one year. Just 2500 members at £10 per month would inject £300,000 of much needed investment into the club which, along with further Patrons Group funds will significantly bolster the business and underwrite operating losses. As a point of comparison Motherwell’s Well Society have around 3200 members while the Foundation of Hearts have around 8000 subscribers. We do appreciate that times are hard for many fans, yet for the price of just a cup of coffee per week we can achieve overall fan ownership as well as ensuring the club begins next season on a secure and sustainable footing. We look forward to meeting as many fans as possible at the forthcoming FSS AGM on 14th March in Behind the Wall and subsequently at the planned “pub tour” events as follows:
- Elliots/Graeme Hotel, 23rd March 7pm
- Behind the Goals 2nd April 5.30pm
- The Courtyard 4th April 7pm
Finally, we’d like to conclude by congratulating both Kenny Miller and Jamie Swinney, as well as their respective wives of course, on the birth of baby daughters in the past few weeks. Sometimes we get so caught up in football it’s easy to forget that there are other important things in life. We welcome both bairns to the Falkirk family.