The first Fans Forum of 2016 was held in the EBB Lounge on Monday 11 January, attended by Manager Barry Smith, Chairman Shahid Azeem and Director Brian Bloomfield.
We thank everybody who attended and submitted their questions.
A transcript of the first part of the evening is below – part two is available here.
Are the players advised to play and appeal for offside?
Barry: We don’t coach them to put their hands up and claim for offside. I’m not particularly happy with the second goal (conceded) against Woking, I thought they tried to play offside which they are never asked to do. But there is a difference between trying to play offside and an early run from a striker, and they have to learn that. I wouldn’t say that they do it regularly and I don’t ask them to do that.
What are the current terms of the Chelsea deal, are you hopeful of extending that deal, and are any plans in place to cover the loss of income when the deal ends?
Shahid: We have extended the deal to the end of 2016-17, and my gut feeling is that Chelsea will be here until the end of 2018-19. If AFC Wimbledon do move away from Kingsmeadow, any move to Merton is likely to be two or three seasons away. Other teams have asked to come and play at the EBB Stadium and we have turned them down.
Are any of the Academy players ready for the first-team?
Barry: I’ve watched the Academy a few times this season and there are one or two that have trained with the first-team, but in terms of getting into the first-team squad they are not ready. One is a 16 year-old and the other is slightly older. I don’t think the standard is good enough at the moment, so it’s very difficult to establish that crossover. If young players are good enough they will train with my first team, and I think I’ve shown that with the amount of young players that I’ve signed.
Why do we do not have any advertising of forthcoming fixtures outside the front of the ground?
Steve Gibbs: I am currently working on a fixtures banner and hope to have it in place by the end of the month.
Is there any chance of Alfie Pavey’s loan being extended, because he currently only has two games left in his initial spell?
Barry: We’d done our research on Alfie and you sign players on an initial month hoping that they do well, but they might not always do as well as you hope. At the moment, Alfie has another couple of games with us, and hopefully he continues the way he started on Saturday, and then we’ll look to extend it. We’ve spoken to Millwall about it. They might say no, because they want him back, but it will be dependent upon how well he does.
Will Matt Barnes-Homer be returning to the Club at the end of his loan at Kidderminster Harriers?
Barry: We had an agreement with Kidderminster’s previous manager that it would run until 23 January and then we’d look to extend it again. Unfortunately Dave Hockaday lost his job so it’s up in the air at the moment. I spoke to Matthew this afternoon and we’ll continue to talk about what we think is best for the Club and for him. We’re also looking at other strikers as well, we feel that we need more competition and strikers that are going to come in and hit the ground running. It’s down to finances at certain stages but the Board have been brilliant up to now – whenever I’ve asked if we need a wee bit extra, they’ll do their best to help me.
Does Barnes-Homer’s possible return affect the budget and your ability to bring other players in?
Barry: It might do, yes. If Matthew had scored goals for Kidderminster everybody would be wanting him back – unfortunately he’s not done that. Part of the problem for us was the travelling that he was doing, which we didn’t think was good for him, and it was affecting his game.
Are the Board seeking new investment to be able to increase Barry’s playing budget?
Shahid: We are always looking for investment
Brian: It’s not an investment – it’s actually a donation. We donate to this Club to keep football going in Aldershot. There is no investment that happens, unless we get a sugar daddy. To really push this Club on you need a minimum of £1 million to guarantee that you would get anywhere near the Play-Offs, because that’s what it took last time. I fully understand the fans’ frustration, particularly with regard to some of the results this season, but we set a very challenging budget for the manager and that has probably hampered him. To get a decent prolific scorer at this level you’re talking a minimum of £750-£1000 (per week). Some teams in our league are paying £1500-£2000. We have two options – either set a budget that will enable us to run this Club in a financially prudent manner, or we again go for ‘boom and bust’. I would rather see us be financially stable than put us at risk. If we put ourselves at risk, we’d then be pushing our sponsors for more money, and it’s getting harder to attract sponsors. Our sponsors are fantastic to us, they’ve supported us every year since we came out of administration.
My personal view is that next year we need to push the budget and I believe that Barry is the man to work with that budget to push us up the league and get more people through the gate which will sustain the budget given to him. This year we took the view that we weren’t going to risk the Club, because every week we have to ensure that we can pay the wages, and that’s what we’re doing.
Shahid: The biggest challenge we have is our cashflow, and there is so much goodwill towards the club that people will support it. We have to build relationships with lots of people, with the Council, major stakeholders and our supporters, because that reputation went down. Mark Butler is doing an excellent job with our sponsors, virtually everything around here has been sold, and every sponsor has renewed their agreement for another two or three years. Our next stage is to attract the youngsters to the Club, we need to engage with younger fans.
This is a big statement but I’d trust Barry with my life, that’s how serious I am about him being here – he is a man with ethics, and if you saw him after we lost at Woking, I’ve never seen a man as broken as he was there. There is a lot of passion in this man, and we’ve got to get it right. He has got a lower budget, and it’s probably a bit less than what we had in 1998.
Brian: It’s 20% less than we had in 2004-05, and we are doing that to sustain this Club. If somebody wants to put in £1 million tomorrow, we’ll step aside and say thanks. Barry was our unanimous choice as manager, and it was about how he presented himself, and his ethics. It is difficult at the moment but we’re all supporters. I want to be coming through those turnstiles in 15 years’ time, and as a Director if we muck it up my life is going to be hell for 15 years, so that’s why the Board will do everything to maintain prudence. If we have under-egged the budget this season, we did it for the right reasons.
Are the Board and manager content with our performances this season and if not what is being done to address it?
Barry: The players work hard in training, and we do everything we can to prepare them properly for every game. One of the biggest problems we’ve had is putting the ball in the back of the net, but it’s not through a lack of work – opportunities are happening in games and top level players have the composure to put the ball in the net. We try to give our players confidence on the training pitch, and make it as game-related as possible, but when you cross that white line it’s a split-second decision.
We’re not happy with results. Performances we know can get better but, for all of the results haven’t been there, we feel that we’ve had a lot of good performances. It’s just been a tale of putting the ball in the net, but that doesn’t make us happy with the results. I’m confident that there’ll be more highs than lows in the second half of the season.
What surprises or shocks have you seen since coming down from Scotland?
Barry: I think one of the biggest things that has surprised me is the amount of money that gets spent by certain teams. For me it’s about being sustainable, whereas I believe that there are eight or nine clubs towards the top of the division that aren’t sustainable, with the amount of money they pay their players. I didn’t realise how much money was involved in some of the clubs.
What is meant by the phrase ‘entertaining, attacking football’ and is it more important than winning a game?
Barry: Ultimately we play to take three points. That’s the ultimate aim. Football is all about opinions – some folk will think we play good football, others will think we don’t. What we do is try to get the ball down and play, but there’s another 11 players that are going to stop you from doing that. It’s down to us to be able to handle that, and sometimes the players maybe don’t come up to the levels that we expect. We go out there looking for three points and if we play well it’s a bonus. But there will be different opinions on that – we went to Boreham Wood, we were poor and won 1-0, and folk weren’t happy. Where does the manager run there? We’ve won the game.
What benefits have we seen from the links with the Nepalese community?
Shahid: We’ve had over £25,000 worth of investment, in terms of advertising and share purchase, as well as buying hospitality packages for matches and debentures for our Community Stand. The football club is at the heart of the community, and we spend a lot of time with the Military community as well as the Nepalese, because we are trying to encourage those people to support the club. We also had another £15,000 from the Dalai Lama’s visit here in June. We recently had 7 or eight Nepalese children taking part in the half-time shoot-out on the pitch
Our Director Meg Guring champions the Club to his community, to try to get people to support the Club and work with Mark Butler on commercial matters.
When I arrived in England, as the son of a migrant, the only way I could communicate was through football, and we need to link with these people. We are a social enterprise and we’re trying to work with the whole community.
Why are we so often on the back-foot in home games and start slowly?
Barry: I don’t particularly agree with that. On Saturday we had two or three chances in four minutes, against Cheltenham we had two chances in seven minutes, Wrexham it was 20 seconds, Forest Green it was from kick-off.
Read part two here