Earlier this month, the Executive Committee invited questions from supporters with the club unable to host an open forum due to Covid-19 restrictions.
These answers can now be viewed below. We thank everyone who took the time to send in questions and your continuous support and interest in Blyth Spartans AFC.
Q1: What is the current financial situation of the club?
EC: The National League has negotiated funding for its elite classified clubs in the National, North and South divisions. The distribution mechanisms, for the first three months, was challenged by some clubs and a committee was set up to make recommendations. We received funding for October, November and December which allowed us to continue operations. We are still awaiting clarifications about further funding for January and the future. We are continuing to monitor the situation very closely to ensure the club survives into the future. All player wages have been paid and all creditors are settled to date. The club did receive a rate relief grants in October.
Q2: How long can the club survive without fans?
EC: If the current funding mechanism continues, at the same level, the football club can survive without fans until the end of the season. The social club has been closed since March due to it not being financially viable to open, occupancy being severely restricted due to Covid-19 social distancing guidelines. In addition to this, no fans being permitted at games meant opening the social club would have led to financial losses.
Q3: Is there funding available to the club from the government/FA and have we applied or received any?
EC: See Q1 above. New grants were recently announced, and we are scrutinising the legislation to determine if we can apply for them.
Q4: The Covid-19 situation has been, and remains, devastating for lower league football clubs. I know there has been some financial support but would you please spell out the financial impact this has had on Blyth Spartans AFC in terms of income versus expenditure, and the day to day running of the club?
EC: See Q1,2 & 3 above.
Q5: The financial situation has clearly led to a reduction in the player budget. This has obviously led to the club operating in a different market and unfortunately this has resulted in Blyth really struggling in the standard that is the National League North, a situation which is highlighted by the club’s league position. In order to manage fan expectations, would you please let us know the club’s aspirations on the pitch for this, and the coming seasons?
EC: Prior to the season starting, the Executive Committee (EC) did not know where any funding for the season would come from. The chairman contacted all main sponsors and they confirmed that they would continue to support the club. The club is also extremely grateful for the monies raised by supporters via the Future Fund and donations made to the club by individuals. Various scenarios existed for how many fans would be admitted to grounds and considerable work was done in connection with Covid documentation to satisfy FA rules regarding Stage 1,2,3 & 5 compliance. The club thanks Colin Blackett and Gary Neasham for their outstanding commitment to this work and the expert input of Peter Judd of Northumberland County Council. Ultimately it was all to no avail, as no spectators were allowed to attend matches. A budget was constructed to simply ensure the survival of the club and this inevitably involved a very tight budget. Michael Nelson was kept fully informed throughout this process. At the very last minute, literally the night before the club had to decide whether to play the first match of the season (an FA Cup tie), the club was advised that the League had negotiated funding for three months only. With a more secure financial situation in place, albeit for only three months, the club started to identify layers that might strengthen the team. We are hopeful that the new arrivals announced recently will bring about a change in performance. In these still unprecedented times, “survival in the National League North” is still the number one priority of the club.
Q6: What were the club’s objectives/expectations on the pitch at the beginning of the season? Has this changed?
EC: See Q5.
Q7: What are the short-term aims?
EC: The short-term aim of the club is to ensure survival of the club in the National League North and to adhere strictly with all Covid-19 regulations to ensure the safety of all staff and players associated with the club.
Q8: What are the long term-aims? For example, is there a three or five-year plan?
EC: A number of strategic plans are being looked at to advance the club but as you will appreciate these have been severely impacted by Covid. The club sees a greater community involvement as being vital to the future of the club. The club is in discussions to significantly improve the all-weather facilities available in the area. Initial discussions with the local authority have taken place but we are not in a position to disclose details at present. We see the need for community training facilities (not just sports related) as being important.
Q9: Is there a plan in place if we are relegated? For example, will we rebuild properly and not just for a season like we have the past two seasons?
EC: The EC do not have a specific plan in place for relegation. Clearly, we have played at the lower level in the past and understand the costs involved. The EC and the manager are working with regular contact to improve the squad to ensure survival at the current level.
Q10: Was the budget cut to that of a Northern League club?
EC: The budget at the start of the season was not cut to Northern League levels and from what we can tell was above other clubs in the National League North.
Q11: Can the board confirm what the playing budget is, how it’s worked out and how it compares to other teams in the league?
EC: The budgets of clubs in the National League North varies considerably. Some teams have regular attendances of over 2000 whilst others are less than 500. The budget at Blyth is very simple, every penny over and above fixed costs goes to the playing budget. The EC does everything it can to find new sponsors and other sources of income. The invaluable support of supporters through such things as the 1899 Club. The club cannot disclose the playing budget as this would impinge on various commercial discussions. What can be said is that the playing budget is exceeded every year, as can be seen from the company accounts, and has to be supported by personal loans to the club.
Q12: Has the club gone past it’s ceiling financially and are you managing a decline back into the league below in order to be where you believe it needs to be in order to survive and be competitive?This is not a question out of criticism but would like to know the long-term strategy so we can get behind the direction of the club.
EC: A club in Blyth, the most northernly outpost of the league, will always require more finance than other clubs in the current league structure. Travelling expenses account for £13,000 in the Northern Premier and £19,000 in National League North. The location also impinges on derby match income and imposes financial problems for fans travelling to away matches. One significant way the club could prosper, as is said at every AGM, is for every current supporter to bring a friend to the match. If average match attendances were around 1,300, the finances and sustainability of the club would be transformed.
Q13: Would you please describe what the club is doing to try and bring new investment into the club. e.g. sponsorship? Is there anything else that the supporters can do to help?
EC: This is the single biggest problem facing all clubs at our level. The current economic situation, not with-standing Covid-19, is desperate and local companies are struggling to survive. Trying to find new sources of income is very difficult. If any supporters know anyone who would like to get involved then please contact any EC member.
Q14: Tony Platten has stated previously that he would move over if someone new were to take over. Is he currently 1. Still looking to sell? 2. Actively engaged in trying to secure new investment?
EC: Those of you who know the history of the club will know that Tony Platten has been at the club for 20 years. Initially, he agreed to offer business advise when the club was in dire financial straits and was 10 minutes away from being wound up by HMRC. Debts of over £140,000 were resolved and the club has been financially stabilised. In addition, and with the aid of grants, over £700,000 has been invested in the stadium, making Croft Park one of the best grounds in National League North. Tony Platten has supported the club financially over every one of his years with the club because of his commitment to the town. If you know of anyone who would like to take the job on, please let the club know. The club is always alert to any financial input from potential “investors”
Q15: It seems apparent that there aren’t enough funds in the club to stay at this level. So, would the chairman and Executive Committee consider resigning and let people invest and at least try and keep the club at this level?
EC: See Q14 above.
Q16: If you can’t invest in the club and progress forward, why don’t you sell to somebody who wants to get Blyth into the National League?
EC: Please ask the person to contact Tony Platten or any member of the EC.
Q17: Is it true the Texo Group made an offer for the club in January 2020?
EC: No offer was made by TEXO or any other entity for the club.
Q18: Has anyone made any offer to purchase shares in the club in the last 18 months?
EC: No. The purchase of shares in the club is not a simple financial transaction since shares are currently worth approximate minus £12 each. Since the absent shareholder buy back that was arranged two years ago, the share register is considerably simplified.
Q19: Can the club provide us with an update on the share issue?
EC: See Q18 above. The share register has been significantly simplified by the buy back of absent shareholders two years ago. Instead of there being over 3000 shareholders, there are now less than 200. This will make any future investment in the club significantly easier to manage.
Q20: Who is £500,000 debt showing on Companies House owed to?
EC: The debt is unsecured loans made to the club to support the budget, clearly by the chairman.
Q21: Do the EC feel that Lee Clark should be removed his post as manager sooner than he was?
EC: With hindsight, yes. For clarification, the timing and the departure of Lee Clark was by mutual consent of both parties, and was not, as implied in the question, removed from his post as manager.
Q22: Did the club get any compensation for Alun Armstrong going to Darlington and how much?
Q23: When are supporters going to be told the true story of Alun Armstrong’s departure and the subsequent demise of the squad?
EC: This is not a simple matter as it was the subject of potential litigation. Suffice it to say that the club had numerous players on contracts with option clauses that should have be exercised by the manager on behalf of the club. The manager was being paid until his departure and those clauses were not executed. We all know where the players ended up.
Q24: When supporters are eventually allowed back into Croft Park, will the club be looking to review its match day experience? For example, a family area in the ground, new catering facilities etc
EC: With current average attendances, we do not feel there is any merit in allocating a specific area as family. There is enough space to allocate groups of seating or standing places in the ground. Trying to attract a caterer every two weeks is difficult when most have regular and established pitches. We have cost converting the old toilet block into a catering facility but attendance level, potential leftover stock, wages and all the H&S regulations involved, it is not a simple decision. We have also looked at other initiatives including half-time entertainment and ground activities from past suggestions but lack of volunteers to organise and execute have negated this. The club would welcome any committed volunteers that can bring specific skills to the club.
Q25: Would the club be open to doing more of these Q&A’s in the future? Say every three months?
EC: Yes and we would be happy to do it face to face in the social club when circumstances change back to normal.
Q26: Will the club start posting the minutes of EC minutes again? As it’s been 5 years since the last EC minutes were posted online.
EC: This was largely replaced by published Open Forum Q&As to keep supporters informed and not highlighted by anyone until now. It’s considered more direct to keep supporters informed in this way.