An in-depth Q&A with Harriers Chairman Colin Gordon…
By Matty Paddock - 18/12/2018
Posted 12 months ago
Dear Supporters, Directors, staff, players, volunteers, parents, and families.
It has now been over three years since I assumed majority control of our football club. I think it is time to take stock, to reflect and understand how close we are now to achieving some of our ambitions.
I felt the best way to do this would be to answer some of the most common questions that are asked of me and the club by supporters, and some of the points have been raised by people who have contacted us. We have attempted to be as open, honest and comprehensive as possible and hope that supporters will find some of the information useful.
What is the current financial state of the club?
We are on the brink of becoming, for the first time probably in recent history, a sustainable football club – thanks to the work that has been put in to building the foundations of what will support us. But there’s no hiding the fact that, at present, things are extremely tight for us. Financially, I inherited what you could only describe as a black hole. We were pulling forward, every year, the following year’s monies for Season Tickets and sponsorship deals to survive and make it from day to day. The stark reality is that the legacy of that same void remains very much present and impacts us. The club has grown at an exponential rate and that has required some investment, so our expenditure has grown as a result- but this has not resulted in growth in waste, and instead has been in the investment into good people doing great jobs and into the revenue streams that will eventually make us sustainable. These individuals have included high-quality coaches who are passionately motivated to deliver our philosophy and grow our education programme and expend it from Further Education to Higher Education.
Can you explain why the club was on public record in conjunction with a Winding Up order in relation to commitments to HMRC?
Firstly, it is important for me to ease concerns of supporters and say that all our HMRC commitments are fully up to date. As we said at the time, the fact that the matter did not proceed to a formal Hearing reflects a lot. There have been occasions where, because of our cashflow circumstances, payments to HMRC have been late by a matter of days. This in itself incurs a surcharge and we, as a club, objected to one specific surcharge that was levied at us on a point of principle and appealed it officially. During that time, the surcharge amount was still listed as outstanding. Despite that, we had assurances that, during this time, no further action would be taken by HMRC or the Courts. So it was a formality that the Order itself would be dismissed – as the original amount minus the surcharge had been paid some number of weeks prior, but it still stood as a matter of record in the Court. Unfortunately, the appeal on that surcharge was denied and that amount has also now been paid in full, but I would think that supporters would be more encouraged that the club took steps to actively contest something they felt to be wrong rather than simply paying out cash upon request.
What steps are being taken to ensure this doesn’t happen again?
In my time here, we have always been up to date with our HMRC commitments, within the boundaries of what I’ve just explained. Just as with meeting players wages everything associated with that, not meeting it isn’t really an option. But it doesn’t mean it’s easy to do. People have had to be patient at times but where we make commitments, we keep them. As regards to things like the HMRC surcharge – if ever we were confronted with a financial situation that we feel isn’t right or fair, we will stand up for ourselves. I think that’s only right.
Are there significant other debts, or an overdraft?
The club does not operate with an overdraft so there is no risk of further significant debt in that regard. We, like any business or football club in the country, have some outstanding bills to pay and cashflow will always make a challenge of that, but all things considered, we are meeting our commitments properly. But that is still very difficult.
You mentioned a black hole – how was this caused and why hasn’t it been solved?
As I’ve said, it is two-fold. The biggest problem is that the legacy of what was here before I walked through the door does remain. The amount of money being paid to what were very average footballers and the amount spent on paying off players and staff was crippling, and you can’t just plug the gap that this creates. Again, we historically have constantly had to ‘pull forward’ monies and it isn’t the way to operate. The only thing I would accept that could be levied at us as a criticism is that we do overspend on the overall first team budget, and that means both players and management staff. We do this because we want to be successful not only as a club – which we will be – but also as a football team. And at this level, that is very expensive.
So how much is the club spending on its first team?
The National League themselves released the average budgets for the National League, North and South divisions, and while on one hand we may not be absolutely top of the North division in terms of expenditure, the truth is that we would be very, very well established in the National League – the league above us – for what we spend.
So why not simply slash the playing budget?
The stark reality is that if we did, by definition, live within our means, then we would be playing in the Southern League against a Redditch United and a Stourbridge. There is no shame to that, but let’s be honest about it – this football club has a rich history of winning teams and entertaining football. We know that is what our fans want, and we are very much the same. Given the success of everything else happening at the club, we want the football product to match that, but at the moment the additional projects aren’t at a level where they can support that alone, although they are well on the way to getting there.
Is this not risking the future of the club as an entity?
It isn’t risking the club because the club would always exist and always be here. If we took the extreme of pulling out every penny above what is budgeted for from the football aspect of the club, we would likely be relegated, and more than once. In fact, if we didn’t care about football and only worried about education, that’s exactly what we would have done by now, so that blows that argument out of the water in any respect. The fact is that the club would exist perfectly fine as a Southern League club, but I don’t think any fan with their hand on their heart could say they don’t want us to succeed as more than that. Does it mean we are trying to run before we can walk a little bit? Probably, but the burden of that has mostly been felt by my family and I. That’s the belief we’ve had in the overall project – not just the football or education aspects on their own.
What was the purpose of this year’s Rights Issue?
We have worked hard to establish and explore investment opportunities that we hope can help us ‘bridge the gap’ between the legacy of our financial past and our future. This included the recent Rights Issue. We made abundantly clear that there was never any pressure or obligation for Shareholders of the club to make a financial investment into the club but, in short, the Rights Issue provided the opportunity for Shareholders to increase their stake within what we believe will become an extremely successful football club. While I fully understand and respect that some Shareholders would not have the ability or inclination to invest further and that not doing so did nothing to devalue some of the enormous contributions they may have previously made, I did expect at least some to be encouraged by the opportunity.
How much was raised?
In the end, the Rights Issue raised only £750, which I was disappointed with, obviously. One positive result of the Rights Issue was that the club was alleviated of £500,000 in debt to me, which was converted into shares. That strengthened our balance sheet somewhat and gave me a stake in excess of 75% into the Club. I was disappointed to hear that me holding such a powerful position within the club caused concern in some quarters, when these same individuals were among those who had the very opportunity to prevent that from happening with the Rights Issue.
What is the significance of your own increased Shareholding?
As I just mentioned, it first and foremost eased the club of a significant amount of debt on the balance sheet, which itself is a positive. My family and I have invested a life-changing amount of money into the football club and I don’t feel that this being reflected in a majority Shareholding is anything other than sound. It also enables me to assure prospective investors who are keen to work with us that we are in this for the long haul and that our position at the club is secure.
What is the latest with the planned new stadium development?
It is the case that there is no real news until there is real news. A tremendous amount of work is being done behind the scenes in terms of getting plans, strategies and documents in place and that is ongoing. We have invested significantly in terms of time and money for what has been completed already, and we are very positive that we’re moving in the right direction. The feedback we’ve had has been encouraging and we hope to know more soon.
Why is there even a need to leave Aggborough at all?
I understand that the issue of a new stadium was, at the time of its announcement, emotive. We all know that Aggborough Stadium is a fantastic venue for hosting football matches, but the simple fact is that it is not physically capable of supporting or hosting what it is we’re already rapidly reaching towards. The support a new stadium would bring to our education provision is absolutely enormous and we envisage a site that would be without equal in this country. As it is, Aggborough is at its busiest for matches but, this represents just two or three days in any given month – and sometimes less than that. While capable of hosting events and functions, the fact of the matter is that the stands here lay dormant for almost the entire year.
A new facility would give us a chance to include lecture theatres, halls, studios and other areas but, crucially, it would be a working environment to hundreds of people – maybe thousands. It would be a living and breathing entity of work that sees people benefit from Kidderminster Harriers, and Kidderminster Harriers benefit from them in return. The stadium part of that new facility would, of course, be the hub of the campus, and it would be used 24 hours a day and would be a hive of activity, providing huge opportunities for people, but to local business as well. Imagine a thousand students working and/or living on site – they and their associated football provision would provide an incredible boost to the local area and its economy as these people work, eat, drink and sleep.
Is your plan to personally profit as of a result of land development and leave the club once that is secured?
I was genuinely appalled when I heard this suggested recently and it’s hard not to view it as a total character assassination. Let’s say that was my aim – purely financial profit from a ‘land grab’. Why, then, would so much of what I have invested have been spent on trying to help the first team successful? If I was of a mind purely to profit from land, surely I would be better served to have put the first team spend at £100,000 and allowed it to wither two levels below, knowing that everything else could still proceed? It’s frankly a ludicrous statement to make and for me is one that comes from fear, ignorance and a will for the overall project to fail. Unfortunately for those people, that’s not happening.
So what IS ‘in it’ for you?
What’s in it for any of us? The chance to succeed and to try and make a difference. And if there are those people who think that sounds too lofty, then too bad. I’ve been in football for 35 years and I’ve spent the most part of that telling clubs how to go about their business. I saw an opportunity to go in to a club and to do it myself, and put my money where my mouth is, literally. The idea that the town and the district will be able to benefit to the tune of jobs, opportunities and education means a great deal to everyone here. Anyone who feels it’s not a club’s responsibility to contribute towards that in the area they live is, I feel, wrong. We all have our part to play in it. If, in however many years to come, we are able to leave a legacy of a thriving, working, living and breathing University that educates and betters people, then that’s a significant contribution that anyone would be proud of. If I wanted to simply make money, I could have saved about £1,500,000 of my own family’s money and time and not bothered at all. This project is more important than that.
Why the emphasis on education?
I think we have said a lot in the past that a successful education system will be the future of the club and it did not take long for us to identify the education link as the way to move forward when we first arrived. The basis, essentially, for our education platform is that it will eventually be able to run its own university which will support all aspects of education business and that of the football club. We know that we will be able to attract boys and girls from not only around the local area and across the UK, but also all around the world, as we already have students from a number of countries playing and working within our system. Crucially, our retention figures are vastly improved and, a as a result, our recruitment is much easier going forward as people are able to see what we have here and how it can help better people. The dedicated Education Company now employs more than a dozen staff in its own right and its annual revenues are now well over £400,000 per year – our hope is only that this will continue to grow at an excellent rate. It’s easy to see that this will be the way for us to create our very own talent, as it’s natural that people and players are more likely to stay loyal to a place if all of their needs are being met. Our Higher Education including degree courses is developing and I am pleased to say that we are currently negotiating with two major universities who want us to provide exclusive courses for them.
Is there any indication that the education system the club is implementing will bear fruit?
Yes, massively – that’s by far the biggest positive for all of us. We haven’t done this with our heads in the sand – we have been able to watch and see the results of a lot of hard work. For reference, when I first arrived here just over three years ago, our education provision earned the club an annual revenue of less £30,000. Our current deal, based on our 2015 student numbers, would be worth in excess of £150,000 – so there has been a massive improvement in how that has been structured and how it benefits everyone involved. Next year, in Higher and Further Education, we hope to have in excess of 200 students studying on a vast range of courses – some of which are very innovative and exiting and that we’ll be able to start speaking about very soon. Everything we are planning for the future is working. It is the business of the football club itself that causes financial difficulties – in part because of the past and in part because we want to be competitive and successful. The point is that if everyone gets behind the project as it is, the funds will be there in the future to fund the successful football team we want, without those financial concerns.
Even so, are you personally undertaking this project alone?
No. Partners like EBC Group, who believe in and share our aims and ambitions, will help provide unrivalled opportunities for people who want to make progress. Together we believe that can be the absolute heartbeat of sport and innovation in the North Worcestershire area. Richard Lane of EBC
group – whose father, Rocky was a former Director here – has invested substantially into the club and its projects. Richard is a local man made good and is very excited at the opportunities for all of us to make a huge difference to the town and the outlying district. Richard and I will stand shoulder to shoulder in all negotiations with all partners, investors and supporters and I am delighted to have him with us for the long-term future. The fact that someone of his stature and experience is willing to put in so much time and effort into this project is a huge, huge benefit. And he is not alone in believing in what we are doing. We’ve had some great encouragement and support from our education partners, prospective future education partners, members of Parliament and individuals form the highest level of the game, all of whom have said how brave the club’s vision is and that they recognise the benefit it can bring to the community.
How can others get involved and help?
We are, I feel, on the verge of something special. We are close to achieving some of our aims for the future. Deals are being negotiated and red tape is being cut through, but above all of that, what we need now more than anything is support at all levels. This isn’t about money – this about support. Support for the club we are all here for. I am talking about our fans. I’m talking about our sponsors, our parents, our children, our volunteers, our staff, our educators, our Directors; we need each and every one of you, and each and every one of you is welcome here. We are working incredibly hard to draw a line under everything that has gone before to allow us to move forward, but we do need help. Could you spare some hours to lend a hand? Are you or do you know a company that would benefit from a meaningful relationship with us in the present day and in the future? Can you attend matches? Can you ask questions and give answers too? Whatever it is and whoever you are, you have something to offer and a part to play. Please get in touch, please speak to us.
There are rumours regarding a legal matter and our former security contractors, Thin Blue Line. What is the situation?
I’m aware of the rumours but I would urge supporters not to be concerned. The matter is being dealt with legally, so I am limited in what I can say, but it would be fair to say that the club is extremely confident in its actions and position.
Why are you involved in first-team affairs and is this necessary?
It’s certainly another significant saving, that much I can say! This isn’t about egos or undermining anyone, it is about providing a help. People can have their opinions of me, but the fact is that as an A Licence coach with experience playing at the top level, there are few people better placed than me to be able to help with things. While we are at a maximum on our coaching and management spend, the fact remains that Neil was without a dedicated assistant and someone with that experience to bounce ideas off. All that’s changed is that I’ve stepped in to help with that. To have spent another £25,000 or whatever, that we don’t have, to bring in someone else when we have someone in the building capable of contributing would be foolhardy beyond belief. Neil is the Manager, Neil picks the team and Neil coaches the players. I just have my part to play within that. Do we agree on everything? No, but name me a management team that does – that’s the whole point. When that dynamic has been able to work properly together, performances and results have followed and that’s all we want. Kevin Poole is also with us now as a coach, working with goalkeepers in the first team and the Academy as well as also lending his experience, which is also extremely valuable.
What is the state of the relationship with KHIST?
At the moment I don’t know if there even is one. And that is not for the want of trying. But you can look back and see what I’ve said on record, because I don’t think any of us have the time or energy to engage in another back and forth and war of words. KHIST currently hold a surplus of our own supporters’ money, but it is their discretion as to how they use it. I did make contact with them to discuss projects that KHIST may be interested in. Most recent of these was the financing of the new stadium scoreboard. It was insisted that financial details about the scoreboard were made available to them, and we detailed the total cost of it and the lease we took out to the penny. Their response was to say that the information provided was not of sufficient detail for them and so on that basis they could not proceed, which I felt an odd position and something of a shame as it would have been an ideal way for them to get involved. I should add and remind people as well that this came after I was bluntly and in no uncertain terms told in person that KHIST, at the time, wanted no further relationship with the club before a Boardroom door was almost taken off its hinges, in front of witnesses. So I am frustrated at any perception that I and the club have, pardon the pun, shut the door on KHIST as that is not the case. I have made an effort. I am aware that that there has more recently been cooperation and some common ground found on other issues which is nonetheless very encouraging, but I genuinely feel it would only be right to try and find a way for the money that supporters have donated, many feeling it would be passed directly to the club, to be utilised in a way that benefits everybody – as it was under the late Steve Millington.
Is there a way this relationship can be repaired – surely this is best for all parties?
I would agree. But that needs to come both ways and the onus cannot always be on me and those at the club. To be at the top of any company means making decisions that may be unpopular – and not being afraid to do so. In the last few years it has been far from easy to make those decisions, but I will be explicitly clear: each of those decisions has been taken for the benefit of the football club. What the decisions do not do, is undermine or belittle the contributions and efforts of a lot of good people who have worked here in the past. Sadly, often the taking of these decisions has been, ultimately, the fundamental reason behind the breakdown of some relationships. It would be hugely beneficial to our football club for EVERYONE who supports it to be encouraged to do so in every possible way, and so it has been a bitter disappointment to see people no longer supporting the club in some of those ways, in favour of taking their custom elsewhere in respect of events or even a drink on a Saturday night. I refer largely but not entirely to our relationship with a very small minority of people within KHIST. The basis for the breakdown of that relationship has been because of changes the club has made in terms of personnel and structure, and as a result the things that were regrettably said afterward that even many of the Trust’s own board felt unable to support. In an attempt to try and cut through all of that, I want to say this: what unites us as people who care about Kidderminster Harriers is far, far greater and more important than anything that divides us. There is still a desire to mend those relationships and for us all to be together. We ALL want success for the team and the club, and this is undoubtedly achieved better, quicker and sooner if we are all together. It would be remiss of me to also not mention Dave Mole, Norman White and those working with the Harriers Fan Club. They’ve worked exceptionally hard with events and fundraising and this has made a tangible difference with things like our Kit van and its maintenance and running costs, which has given us a considerable saving. I don’t speak for them but I know their intention was only ever to work alongside KHIST in an ideal world and not to replace them in any way, and I still hope that can be the case.
What else would you like to say at this stage?
Only that I can understand a lot of what frustrates our fans. I think much of it boils down to the fact that they want to see us playing football at a higher level and I can fully appreciate that. But they aren’t alone in that within football circles. Stockport County, York, Southport, Darlington, Boston, Hereford, Chester and Bradford have all played in the Football League in the past and all of their fans want to see them faring better at a higher level as well. Then add in to the fact that you have Altrincham, Guiseley, Nuneaton, Alfreton, Blyth and Brackley playing in our league, all of whom have their own, rich histories and a desire to be higher up. And you can total up that entire number of teams and honestly say that, with the odd exception, we have outperformed all of them in recent years. That’s a fact. Do we want more? Of course we do, but compared to a large majority of big clubs – and bigger clubs – we compete above most of them. And that’s just on the field. On it, I don’t know of any of them who have invested as much time and energy into providing a genuine, alternative future for their clubs that can see their teams supported financially. It’s brave, but it has to be done. Good people, the likes of Lionel Newton, Dave Reynolds and the late Ernie Lane – all people who have had the club at heart – have at one time of another acted as benefactor solely to the football aspect of Kidderminster Harriers. That can work for a time, as evidenced by the fact the team reached the Football League. But without something sustainable, it can’t last – as evidenced by the fact we’re now in National League North. Each of those people, and there are others, parted with considerable sums of money to support a team as a benefactor. The difference is that Richard and I are supporting the football club as a whole as investors and not as a benefactors. It’s criminal that the club was able to achieve promotion to the Football League but had zero plan in place to keep itself there for decades to come. It won’t be easy, and we will need help, but our ambition is to get back to the Football League be able to stay there, because the club itself can support its team and not be reliant on any one person. That way, every player, every staff member, every student and, most importantly, every supporter will benefit.
Have you a question for Colin based on the above or be interested in discussing any matter further? The Chairman will be available for one-to-one, in-person discussions with any supporters attending the match against Boston United on Saturday, 12th January and is keen to hear from anyone. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more.