Bath City chairman Manda Rigby answers critics and says ground move is key to survival
Bath City chairman Manda Rigby has answered her critics in a heartfelt new year statement that lays bare the problems she faces in keeping the debt-ridden club afloat.
In it, the Bath & North East Somerset councillor warns supporters that the club’s main asset, Mayday Trust Park, has become a huge drain on resources and that either selling or swapping it for land on which to build a new stadium elsewhere holds the key to City’s future.
Rigby, who has pumped more than £140,000 into the club’s coffers since succeeding Geoff Todd in August 2011, admitted that the “poisonous negativity” of a small percentage of the club’s followers had become “wearing” and challenged those who have criticised her regime to either back her plan or come up with a viable alternative.
Read the chairman's statement in full below...
A PERSONAL MESSAGE FROM BATH CITY CHAIRMAN MANDA RIGBY
Can I firstly wish you, and all those you care about, whatever you wish for yourselves in 2013.
I am going to take this opportunity to look back over 2012, touching on the end of 2011, and forward to 2013.
When I joined the club, Bath City had had its most “successful” season in a long time - arguably ever, if success is measured solely by league finishing position against predominantly full-time and ex-Football League teams.
However, this had been achieved at the cost of making the largest loss in the club's history and an unsustainable level of expenditure. It is one of the great Catch 22s about football; you have to set a budget at the beginning of the year with a substantial amount of unknowns in it. If you over-egg it, you make a loss and if you under-egg it, it can be self-fulfilling as a smaller player budget could lead to poorer results, fewer paying fans and an even smaller player budget.
This was recognised by the board and although the budget had already been set and contractually committed to before I arrived, I'm not being slippy shouldered. Under the circumstances I am not certain I would have done any differently but we still lost about the same amount of money in our second season and, given the money we were paying out on players wages, were not giving the footballing management side the tools to be competitive at Conference Premier level.
It was very frustrating to have got to a point where Bath City was so well respected but players who we couldn't have previously attracted liked what they saw us trying to do and wanted to join, but we couldn't afford them and they went on to be successes elsewhere.
The 2011-12 season ended in relegation and was not a happy one at all. The team we had were amazing in their efforts but no-one could say they enjoyed it, although a lot was learned. I do not know what, if anything, I or anyone else could have done differently given all the commitments in place, other than pump in even more unsustainable money, creating a larger future problem.
So at the start of this season, we cut the budget quite dramatically. We tried to strike the balance between expenditure and being competitive.
Let me dispel a myth and replace it with a fact. Twerton Park is a net drain on our resources and will remain so as long as we are here.
Despite the best efforts of directors, staff and volunteers, by cutting expenditure to the bone and beyond and investing in any scheme which stacks up financially, at best we can mitigate the losses, but not make it sustainable.
Sorry to be blunt, but if that weren't the case, surely someone over the last 50 loss-making years would have cracked it?
There is not some magical way that we can make income be greater than expenditure whilst we are at the ground, whatever level we play at. It is a lovely ground, full of history, but it is a drain on our resources and is not a good business proposition for any kind of outside investment for renovation.
It is my view that we have to move. This is doubly urgent as, at the time I joined the board, they had done an incredibly good job in retaining assets where possible and buying the time necessary to get a repayment plan for all the loans which were coming due, but there hadn't been a plan put forward to meet the club's liabilities and drive it forward.
Again, I can see no way of doing this other than by land-swapping or selling Twerton Park, having exhausted all other avenues. To paraphrase a comment favoured by a fellow director “if you keep on doing what you have always done, you keep on getting what you always got” and Bath City can't survive further loss-making years.
So a change in approach, however painful, had to be attempted throughout the club. The trick will be in getting the best deal, one which will secure the future of Bath City for the foreseeable future.
Be in no doubt - this is the plan and the clock is ticking. If anyone has an alternative financeable plan, now is absolutely the right time to come up with it. At a big joint meeting in late 2011, we asked the supporters’ groups to see if they could meet their aspirations of becoming a supporters owned club. It would be an amazing achievement for them if they can do it, and would have my backing, but in the absence of it currently happening I have no alternative but to try to secure the future of the club in the only way I can see.
We will shortly be talking with all the major shareholders and will make it clear that we need either a) support on the ground move and/or b) an alternative investor found, most likely requiring sale of all shareholdings. Otherwise, we do not see how the club will be able to pay its debts.
This is a nettle which has to be grasped and I appreciate that from the outside it is quite easy to say that since I joined “everything has gone wrong”, and of course you are free to believe that. What has happened is that both money and time were running out and this would have been the case whoever was here.
In some ways, we were at our weakest as a club when it looked like we were at our most successful. I don't think there was any queue at all to take on the complexities and difficulties of being chairman at this stage in the club's history. Through my experience and connections, I stand as good a chance as anyone in locating and securing the best place to build the Bath City of the future.
I could leave it there but I want to make a couple of personal comments.
Some people, and they know who they are, give so much and so generously to the club in time, money, expertise. Thank you, as without you we wouldn't exist.
The vast majority of fans are amazing in their willingness to be patient, and understand that what I am trying to do, whilst not what they wanted, is motivated by wanting to keep the club alive.
Others, I am afraid to say, criticise constantly without ever coming up with an alternative plan to keep the club running and to pay back its historical debt, or a buy-out proposal, or putting in the many hours of work necessary just to keep the club functioning.
The agendas they pursue are their own and not for the benefit of the club. It can get very wearing to hear that someone who “absolutely knows” the truth about a club issue is spreading lies, when I am not in a position to correct them without showing the club in the wrong light; I hate it.
There are times when I look at some stuff that has been said and mutter “you couldn't make it up” but, in fact, someone has. It’s also quite wearing for wilful misinterpretation to be made of every action or decision, especially by people who don't attend matches or the monthly joint meetings, so are really not in any position to know the facts.
I can only reiterate that I have the club’s best interests at heart, the board do and we are completely driven by protecting Bath City. Quite frankly, if it wasn't for the board, the club would not exist and our continued existence has been achieved by some incredible personal sacrifice over the years.
If it wasn't for the fans, the club wouldn't exist and I don't tar all with the same brush. It’s a real shame that a vocal very small minority, either out of naivety or motivated by malice, are gambling with the future of the club they purport to love. The three previous chairmen received the same kind of poisonous negativity, accompanied by same lack of action, from largely the same people.
A real personal low came last year when I personally sponsored the Forest Green Rovers match for my 50th birthday and was criticised for looking jolly when we lost (badly) and there were questions put on the fans’ forum over whether I paid my bar bill as Donna had served me and not taken cash.
I was trying to be nice to potential sponsors, hence smiling, and had put £300 behind the bar. I didn't use anywhere near that amount, so donated the rest. I was also just about to write a £75,000 cheque to the club, having contributed to players’ wages - in conjunction with a couple of other directors - for the previous months and been putting many hours per week unpaid for the previous six months without a single day off.
And what this does is get people to a position where they are no longer willing, or able, to put more money into the club, until you walk around the Poplar Side and someone comes up who you don't really know well, but you know is a long-time supporter, and gives an envelope with a cheque inside, and says “thanks for all you are doing, I wanted to donate this to the club”, and you are hooked again.
I believe in Bath City. I want to make it successful and sustainable. In order to do that, there may be some painful decisions made. If you can come up with a way to settle long-standing debts and give a future to the club, propose it; if not, I'm sorry for the angst caused but moving, and building an income-generating replacement with partners and/or getting new investment whilst protecting football interests via covenant is the only way I can see to do this.
I'd prefer to tell you it how it is. I might prefer facts to be different and know I'm not courting popularity, but reality has to be faced - and faced now.
There will be a meet the chairman/footballing management team meeting sometime very soon, although rearranged matches need to be agreed before we confirm a date, at which I will be happy to explain more and answer questions and hope to get your support.
Any group which wants to put forward a sustainable plan at the same time, please be encouraged to do so.
There will also be an update from the footballing side about how investment in the academy and development squad is paying real dividends, and the other plans for progression on the pitch.