Notes from the Annual General Meeting – Friday, December 8
The board of Exeter City FC wishes to place on record our sincere thanks to Paul Morrish for the huge and significant input and influence he has contributed as a the club's commercial director, facilitator and strategist over the last extremely difficult 10 years. Whilst disappointed at his wish not to stand for a further term the Board is delighted to retain his services as an Associate Director.
Julian Tagg, Chairman
Good morning and welcome. Even though this is my 4th visit to speak at our AGM it is the end of my third year as chair of the board.
My brief today is to report on the progress of the club and its academy but add, as always, the position of the CITY Community Trust, formerly FITC.
Keith Mason has reported on the financial position and once again he continues to improve the club’s internal and external financial insight and accounting accuracy and reporting and I cannot express my gratitude enough. When considering the time, effort and commitment he gives to our club when dealing with a more difficult, wide-ranging, moving feast of figures than many would accept or understand, his contribution is immense.
Club Board and Staff
It’s great to report that the mood, the camaraderie and the work ethic of our club staff makes working behind the scenes at Exeter City a real pleasure.
The staff led primarily by Justin Quick but also Andy Gillard, Mark Jenkins and team, Rose Clace and Denis Lee, and the top class media team of Scott Palfrey and Simon Larkins and some other new faces are all going beyond the call of duty.
For the first time under the guidance of McQueenie Mulholland, a marketing and communications strategy that actually has the staff bodies available to carry it out is currently being developed. Going the extra mile is not an exception, it’s a daily occurrence and it should neither be underestimated nor abused. Whether it was the intensity of planning and expediting the trip to Wembley, or the extra pressure that the currently extremely successful team on the field brings, or the much awaited but hugely time consuming demand of the ground development, every individual plays their part and never once have I heard a whinge or a moan about the pressure or the hours. Amongst that I should include all our volunteers many of whom are Trust members, all of whom continue to dovetail into the fabric so very well.
My main focus, is of course the club board and its objectives. Under what is now known as 'four and four'. Trust directors Elaine Davis, Peter Holding, Paul Farley and until today Martin Weiler, all bring immense value to this huge challenge.Their time commitment and dedication to the cause is to some extent hidden, perhaps not always fully understood nor appreciated, but I can assure you that their contribution is immense and that you as a membership are represented extremely well. Under this system, nothing but nothing, is or can be hidden and I believe it is functioning exceptionally well. Discussion, agreement, disagreement and challenge in the board room is extensive as well as being extremely vigorous and thorough. In short, our ‘checks and balances’ system, which is of course unique in UK football, works.
Despite numerous difficulties and often multiple facets and dimensions to a vast variety of problems and issues, consensus is, or has been to date, always somehow found. It is testament to the group that grudges are not held and the view/decision taken is always ultimately based on the knowledge, experience and facts and figures as available, to facilitate 'what is best for the club'. Despite the inception, and effective operation of, 'four and four' I am cognisant however that there are different views, that seem to continually arise 'outside', which could very easily cause its collapse which is something I worry about constantly. We seem to live in a world where outside forces conspire to create a 'crisis' that is simply not present inside the boardroom. Our challenge, as ever, is to adapt as we progress.
Whilst I have mentioned the work of the Trustee directors and our FD Keith, the work that David Lee, our director in charge of redevelopment, has done to get us to a point close to delivery of a new stand, a hugely involved and complex process, can only be described as ground breaking. I could say immense or incredible but any words don't really do justice to such an incredible achievement.
I will now though add Justin Quick’s name to this hall of fame as his contribution to the onsite day to day requirements on top of his daily duties has been and remains huge.
Lastly my thanks go to Paul Morrish, whose experience and depth of knowledge coupled with facilitation of strategy and business planning has yet again been invaluable. His ability in the board room is exceptional and he is the go to person for so many of us, directors, manager, and staff alike when problems seem insurmountable.
Paul has completed, albeit delayed, the club's business plan deference and thanks should also go to Pete Holding for his important and significant contribution. It has been summarised for you elsewhere and gives direction as to progression and focus throughout the next 3-5 years. Its objective, simply is to maximise income and minimise expenditure. It has been born out of last year’s white paper, the required budgetary forecasts and a collaboration between club directors and Trust trustees and whilst not set in stone, as so much can happen so quickly in football, its primary purpose is to guide our efforts going forwards.
- This is the way we oversee the economics of the club.
- Those economics tell us that in order to compete in this division we need a playing budget at around a level that requires £500k+ at least more cash than is generated by the business under its current model.
- The board therefore fund that shortfall by putting aside cash from the sale of players as the first proceeds received.
- After that the board will put further windfalls into capital projects that will improve our current and future playing prospects, enhance our reach into the community, and create investments into increasing our underlying level of income and profit.
- This is not a sustainable model, but does provide assurance for the five year business plan period we are now in.
- That Plan has been signed off by the club board and trust board, and contains a number of objectives.
- These objectives are being delivered through a series of projects led by and reporting to the board.
- Alongside all of this, the trust board have agreed to the club board’s proposals that it should be permitted to explore options that would break the club out of its current dependency on selling players
- This activity is accordingly now focussed on exploring stadium options, and on receiving external investment on a 'no risk, return only' basis that would not change the underlying nature of our supporter owned model.
Mention has already been made of McQueenie Mulholland who have been recently retained and are already making progress, focussing on the club’s PR and communications. Further I should also thank other associate board members, particularly Terry Falcao but also very importantly Richard Knight who also does sterling work not only as our club secretary across 3 boards (Club, CCT & Academy) but also makes an immense contribution as our clubs SLO.
Playing Aspects and Manager
Whilst at this point last year our league position was a very uncomfortable place to be, this year with fewer injuries although not none, sees a squad that is much stronger in its depth, facilitated and augmented by funds from player sales, and some smart business in the transfer window makes standing in front of you this year somewhat less daunting.
Another astute piece of business was pulling David Wheeler out of Staines FC for £5k in 2014, developing him over 5 years, ending in him not only scoring goals for QPR but also a transfer window of 'one out four in', when, if ever, did that last happen?
Our manager Paul Tisdale has done a quite magnificent job in not only getting us to Wembley against all odds but assembling a squad that has a resilience running through it that has more prevalence perhaps than in previous years. The club is in great shape.
Legality prevents me making any comments regarding contracts but I re-iterate now as I have done in previous years, I believed then as I do now, that we have one of, if not the, best manager in this league and probably even the two above, arguably further. I say that not because he's our manager but because I come into contact with so many opinions and views from other clubs. Finally on this topic I hope we are able to retain his services, although it is a fact and something we need to reconcile ourselves with, that the ethos of our club, for better or worse, has changed to some degree in the light of the actions the board was instructed to take around this time last year. I will do all I can to re-establish that ethos and trust which had always been our bed rock.
The Academy has yet again made further progress. Ollie Watkins is now scoring goals for Brentford whilst Ethan Ampadu made his Chelsea first-team debut and narrowly missed out on going to a world cup competition.
Whilst we await the tribunal date and ultimate decision for Ethan, we must ensure that we do not get ahead of ourselves. The day to day of the Academy continues to further integrate with a manager who develops and brings those who are ready and importantly many that are not, into the first-team environment. At the right time for both player and club I believe we are skilled at obtaining the right return for our investment. As highlighted above though, we don’t wish to be a club that needs to sell its best young players in order to survive. We aspire to a model that enables us to build a progressive future around them.
CITY Community Trust
Football In The Community, now CITY Community Trust, has undergone a massive piece of rebranding work felt necessary in order to position ourselves across the whole community not just that of football. The initiative has further underpinned our esteem with the most influential greater Exeter institutions and bodies and continues to grow yet further.
At last year’s AGM I reported turnover figures of £335k growing to £735, that figure at the end of this financial year is estimated at £1.4m. And I quote from a comment made by a governing body partner at a recent presentation CITY Community Trust did on behalf of Exeter City Council to Sport England. “Exeter may have a Premiership Rugby Team but the Football Club has a Premiership community programme”.
Current Position and Review
From this hugely positive position the club has achieved, I would add a note of caution or warning. No matter how hard we work this windfall situation can’t and will not go on forever.
The business plan, born out of a 5-year budget, which in itself has been difficult to pin down and set in stone that is now in place is an important step forward. However, despite it underlining the extremely healthy position we find ourselves in currently, we have to ask ourselves some serious questions and find some serious answers as it clearly indicates that we can only have a business plan that follows and exploits the current model if we are prepared ultimately to cut our football funding considerably.
Whilst the investments we are making (development, 3G etc) will bring further income and cost benefits to the table, the board recognises, as I alluded to last year, that when the market place and investment regimes at a vast majority of other clubs we compete against are considered, the plain outcome is that, it will not be enough. The Trust board had their away day recently, whilst the club board met yesterday.
The exam questions remain the same. However, ultimately it is your decision as to the path we follow:
- Move or share stadium, as so many already do.
- Review the model, ‘golden share’ a la Portsmouth.
- External investment, as done by just about every club you could name.
- Do nothing and accept where that takes us.
"Avoiding failure short term inevitably leads to long term failure".
What’s stopping us?
Disney quote “we’ve seen the enemy and he is us”.
So to summarize this year I will extend from last year’s iteration:
- The back office, and the board are working well both developing and progressing
- The academy reaches yet new heights... I can see the next headline now... Sparks will be flying!
- The £3m development of new changing rooms and grandstand 'at no risk and no cost' (well minimal because of the will to complete our away end) but no real capital stake from the club or its shareholders and 'to boot' has the new dressing rooms delivered before schedule and has already commenced an early start to the next phase.
- The 3G development at the Cliff Hill Training Ground has proved immense. A number of advantages were always anticipated but one primary one is that the quality of the pitches that the pros, and particularly the youth, play and train on daily are unrecognisably better because they are no longer hammered, by over use, into mud heaps.
- Our volunteers still will not give in. There are so many group initiatives and any number of superb individual efforts. The painting of the big bank being a combination of both. Thank you Phil Wright. I believe we are original. Why? Because we won’t quit, we won’t fold, thick and thin, we won’t give in.
- The Grecian Groups that underline and exude that ethos are, I’m pleased to report, all constantly growing stronger. The East Devon Grecians’s remain a dynamic force and real progression under Phil Bater’s guidance of the Senior Reds can be seen, as well as the transformation of the juniors under Clive Harrison and Scott Walker to mention but a few, worthy of note.
- The name change from FITC to CITY Community Trust, that I spoke of earlier, has its new patron Ade Edmondson, who spoke so passionately at the launch about the work being done and the contribution to Greater Exeter being so significant, is now complete. The challenge now of informing and educating every business and every individual as to why they should, or might like to, support this charity has begun. Jamie Vittles, Danny Harris and Scott Walker and the team as well as the board they work with are all exceptional, their reach and reputation ever positively expanding. They wear the Exeter City badge and are a big part of how well our club is reflected on across the city and far beyond.
In short as I stand in front of and listen to all the nay-sayers (which I do because I have to) I begin to understand how George Best felt. "Where did it all go wrong George"?
What I do know and now realise is that all we have done, as magnificent as it is and how good it feels right now, is that we have managed to buy ourselves enough time to work out what to do next and if we can, proactively and collaboratively achieve a sustainable and competitive way forward, we will not end up like so many other clubs, and indeed our own club in the past, as just another example of boom and bust.
That said no doubt I won’t last for ever and I certainly will not stand in the way, for a second, of any change that is the will of the ownership especially as I have been made well aware that the Trust wishes, at some point, to gain the chairmanship of the club.
So please know that whilst it will be a sad day if it ends for me tomorrow, at this point, having been tasked broadly by the Trust to do three things; develop the Academy, develop community involvement through CCT and develop the club as a whole.
I would leave with hand firmly on heart believing, cognisant that we are far from perfect and that there is much left to do and achieve, that, backed by overwhelming statistics, we are light years from where we started and progressing particularly well on all those fronts.
And whether I deliver another of these speeches or not next year I will take this opportunity (just in case!) to thank each and every one of you again for your efforts and dedicated support of the club, and me as a part of it for the past 14 years in the boardroom, well for now anyway!
Julian Tagg, Chairman.