Football is a business, we must never lose sight of that. Sure, for you and I it is much more, it is a passion and a lifestyle, but at the very sharp end it is a business. It must make enough money to keep putting on matches in order to survive, pure and simple.
Throughout history, we’ve been poor. There’s been a little spike here and there, a big player sale or a little cup run, but never enough to keep the wolves from the door for very long. We’ve skated through 133 years of financial struggle and hardship, never quite sure if the next decade is safely in the bank. Even in my life time, I’ve gone to bed at night fearing for the existence of my club, not just once either.
Welcome to 2018, the year everything is different. Now, instead of keeping the wolves from the door, we’ve built a big fence around our property, a fence that is eight feet high and covered in a paint that poisons wolves bringing financial hardship. It’ll take some time for the buggers to get through that.
I’m sure you’ve all read the annual financial statement by now, it makes great reading for anyone who is used to the usual narrative. Gone are the positive messages glossing over financial losses. Gone is the dependence on selling players to make ends meet. This time, arguably for the first time in our history, the money men are talking a language we can all feel comfortable with.
How about a pre tax profit of £1.3m? Remember, merely reading the words profit is unusual there, let alone knowing there a seven figure sum behind it. The historic FA Cup run brought us almost £2m, after costs. It was a great season, not just on the pitch but in the board room as well. How Bob Dorrian must be feeling right now is hard to put into words, he was on the cusp of becoming vilified within the city like Gilbert Blades two decades before. Bob believed in the club though and, with a little bit of help, he’s come through the other side. If he walked away now, his legacy would be positive and very few chairman from history can ever say that. John Reames legacy is positive, but at the time of his departure it can’t have felt like it.
For years we’ve been running from the spectre of debt, hoping for the cup run that could chip away at it, cultivating good players not to rise up the leagues, but to sell on for profit
Here’s the big one: historic debts cleared. You can talk about one off seasons all you want, but the clearing of debt is something we should all raise a glass to. For years we’ve been running from the spectre of debt, hoping for the cup run that could chip away at it, cultivating good players not to rise up the leagues, but to sell on for profit. Nearly all football clubs are in some form of debt or another, but Lincoln City have moved their historic debt, ploughed through it and made it a thing of the past. Last year Notts County were losing £1.6m a year, Forest Green have lost £4.5m over two years. At our level, there’s almost a belief that a club has to lose money, how on earth is football sustainable in League Two? Well, we’ve shown a decent cup run helps. However, where we go now is crucial.
There has been a 96% rise in expenditure, not just on playing staff but also back room people, office staff and infrastructure. The club is unrecognisable from 12 months ago with apps for tickets, a CEO who I’m told personally calls some fans in other countries to answer complaints and increasing numbers of support staff for Danny and Nicky. The media team has grown and evolved, everything is changing at an ever-increasing rate too. I know some fans will comment that money should be ploughed into playing staff, not suits and ties, but that is both short sighted and false economy. We couldn’t have signed the players we did in January if we hadn’t put certain people in place behind the scenes, that is fact. No, spending will increase but as a fan base we should be happy to see it being kept on a budget. I love hearing Danny saying things like “we must spend sensibly,” or “I’ll only pay what I think a player is worth.” Damn right, that money has been 133 years in the pipeline, I wouldn’t want some joker throwing £300K of it on an over weight centre forward who has barely scored in the Football League.
It was nice to see the contribution from both the Fan’s Player’s Scheme and the Red Imps Travel Section, amongst others. The FPS is something I believe strongly in, I’m not a member now as a season ticket holder, but last season I enjoyed some of the rewards for putting all of the DF money into it. Paul Dawson and Andrew Helegsen started it up expecting to raise a few grand I imagine, but £72k over two seasons? No, I don’t imagine that crossed their minds. Helgy is the current driving force, a man so focused on raising money I’ve forgotten what he actually does for a proper living. He’s relentless, single-minded and has certainly driven the FPS to these phenomenal levels.
I was pleased to see £16k from the travel section too, Chris Ashton is a lovely bloke, not to everyone’s tastes but he’s a man I personally have a great amount of respect for. His passion for our club is evident for all to see and to see £15k come from them last season was also nice. I thought the club breaking down the different contributions from fan’s groups was a nice touch to the report, not all our money comes from doing well on the pitch. It also goes to show that fund raisers are still as important as ever, even when we’re perceived to be in good shape. We must never stop pushing for more, not out of greed but out of love for the club.
Remember, websites such as Vital Lincoln City raise money for the club too, they usually plough it back in via players sponsorship or match sponsorship. We’ve done our bit, not on the same level but much of our work is for the Future Imps Fund, whether it was a percentage of the second books sales, or dedicating time to the recent Impvasion book. The most recent effort, Imperfect Focus, didn’t generate an awful lot of income but we’re hoping to pass some copies to the club to sell for pure profit over the coming weeks.
Considering the year before we lost £418k, the turnaround has been magnificent. We knew it though, didn’t we? We knew things were on the up. I hope for some the release of the financials is a bit of a wake up call, we don’t have ‘millions’ in the bank to play with. We’re not FGR, bank rolled well beyond our means. The numbers show we have a healthy football club, but not one that can spend what they like, when they like. No, the current custodians of the club have a huge responsibility right now, they’ve got our club in their hands. It is as financially sturdy as it has ever been, but they must juggle on pitch success with off field stability.
Everything starts with Danny and Nicky, right there are our two assets, our two talismans that will always draw fans to the club, players to the club and garner media attention. Once the sun is shining on us, the rest of the staff have got to be out harvesting those fields, toiling away in all hours to reap the benefits of our current success. Together, we have come so far. Together, we might just go a hell of a lot further.