If you missed it in yesterday’s programme, we caught up with Stanley’s major shareholder Andy Holt as he talks about the ongoing work both on and off the pitch at the Wham Stadium.
Firstly, there are new offices now at the far end of the ground behind the Clayton End and work is ongoing on the Jack Barrett Stand. How is that all progressing?
AH: It’s crucial we do this work, it’s about our aspirations and as a club we have to be aspirational and to do this, you have got to have decent surroundings. We have good staff and want everyone to be proud on the pitch and proud off the pitch
When I first came in nearly four years ago, I felt there was a kind of feeling we are what we are, we are the club that wouldn’t die, we are never going to have anything better and it’s a real struggle – and it is a struggle, it will always be a struggle for Accrington but basic facilities, such as basic hygiene facilities are essential.
I am from a council estate, I don’t see negatives but what did jump out at me was things like you couldn’t wash your hands at half-time as there wasn’t a supply of water.
I am thinking if people want to come with families they have got to be able to go to the toilet when they want to and wash their hands otherwise they won’t come.
I thought our ‘crapness’ for want of a better word is part of our charm and I still do to a degree and I don’t want to lose it. But if things aren’t done right, you have to keep redoing them so it’s got to put right. Once it’s right we need to have facilities that are easily maintained and manageable and that’s what we are putting in place.
In the Jack Barrett stand, we are straightening the end of the stand up as it needs to be in a straight line. I do like the steel, it’s a quirky thing about Accrington and I would never change that, but if you are on the second floor at the moment, you are looking at steel girders, you can’t see the pitch.
Underneath you can, so at this end now we have a window view all the way down and that gives us options at a later stage. At the moment there will be a wall up and tarmacked outside so we can use the space for entertainment with the away fans and so on but eventually people can put windows in that have a view onto the pitch. Eventually it will go all the way down with corporate boxes or maybe offices. Who knows? But that straight line along the stand is crucial if we are going to get this place right.
You want the club to sustain itself, how is that going?
AH: I want to be out by the time I am 60, I am 54 now. I don’t mean out out, I mean out in terms of operational control, I want to be able to come and have a pint and watch the game and not care what anyone says, not that I care now!
I want the club to be generating as much cash as it can, it will have the facilities to generate cash and needs someone in charge who can work within the budget and run it well.
You can only spend what you have got. Coley is a great manager in many ways but his most redeeming feature for me is he understands that you can only spend what you have coming in if you want a sustainable club. He accepts it, it makes his life more difficult but that’s what makes him such a great manager.
You admitted when you took over, around four years ago, it was tricky…
AH: It was difficult at the start as people couldn’t see what I could see and they didn’t trust me and I understand that because there has been that many people come into Accrington over the years and I would have been the same if I had been in their position – but I knew what I was going to do.
It was a pain waiting for people to realise that I am not here to run some massive out-of-control club, I am here to get decent facilities that will last for the next 30-40 years at least that are sustainable at any level.
Accrington Stanley needs to be a community club whether it’s in the Championship or the National League. In the next 30 years there will be promotions and relegations, there will be more cash from cups but the basic revenue model will be a lot bigger than it was before and that’s crucial. The budget has more than doubled at this club over the last three years, it’s still not as much as everyone else’s but we are getting there.
You have been keen to make it a community club and make the match-day experience pretty unique for both sets of fans, is it working?
Our aim has got to be to beat our nearest competitors but not on the football pitch but on a day out in what it means to the community and fans, it’s becomes a ground for the fans and community.
When I started, Accrington had a good start, people had put in a lot of hard work over the years to keep the club going. It wasn’t as good as it’s going to be but it was good enough to get by and get into the EFL and there is a lot to be proud of. It’s easy to criticise for what they haven’t got but a lot of people who come here from away clubs tells us what a great day they have had and that it’s how football should be.
At the end of the day, it’s sustainable if the community get behind it. This club has been saved, bought back alive and when the chips are down, the community keep you alive. Community are all that’s left when it all goes wrong. It’s their club, if they don’t come there is no point me doing anything. The community, the football club, the business and the playing side all need to work together.
What about the away fans overtaking home fans in terms of numbers at some games?
AH: If you said to manager, your budget is down £500,000 because there are no away fans or do you want an extra £500,000 with away fans, what would he go for? That’s the trade off.
We need the away fans, they pay full prices because they are not season ticket holders. It’s about £9 per match for season ticket holders and I am determined not to make it more expensive as we are a working class area. Prices are static, shirts are the same, we need to keep it sensible.
When Sunderland and Derby came, it’s a £100,000 game. When you consider income from all gates at Accrington when I started was £230,000 for all games in total you can see how important it is.
How about boosting the home gates?
Our average crowd is around 2,700, which is an improvement. I remember Hartlepool one night and it was about 900, which is still a good ask but as a club you can’t survive on that so it’s got to be affordable and more of an experience.
We want a great community club where people have a good day out and we aren’t ripping them off. People never thought we would get to 2,000 average but I think we can get to 4,000 average at any level but we have a long way to go.
We have to make it a place that’s safe and it’s a clean and tidy environment to be in. There is a section where it’s crazy banging drums, a section where you can have a nice seat and a hot dog and a seat where you can have a few pints and listen to Coley going mad with the referees! That’s what we are trying to do, engage with the community and be a great club for them.
Every time we give 2,500 shirts away to the primary school children as we have for the past two years, I want kids to remember that, have an affinity with the name and I thought that was missing when I came. We had older fans and the ultras but we had gaps all over. We have short, medium and long term strategies, to get Hyndburn to feel they are part of the club and the club is part of them. These were the hard miles but we feel we are seeing some of the benefits.
A lot has been said about the pitch, what are your thoughts?
AH: We are putting a new pitch in at the end of this year because we need one. I didn’t want to do it because there are other things we need. The new bar and hospitality area which I would have liked will have to wait.
We are Accrington and not Chelsea and people are prima dona-ish but the pitch damages the way we play. It has to be replaced eventually as it’s sat on clay that’s worthless and so we need a complete new pitch with retaining walls and so on and it’s £300,000 and it will be great then.
We have come a long way and it’s easy to criticise but it has to come over time and it’s about prioritising. Since I came in, we have got new floodlights, a new cow shed, new offices that are tidy and not leaking in, we have got tarmac at the back of the Coppice End and toilets and water that stays running at the same time as when our groundsman Buzzer puts the sprinklers on! I didn’t want to do pitch at the end of the season if I could have avoided it but it has to be done, it’s now a priority.
We need new changing rooms but it has to come in an order, a sequence, otherwise you run the risk of bankrupting the club and I won’t do that.
What do you feel your biggest achievement is?
AH: Buying the land off the council is massive for Accrington as forever and day now, as long as you don’t get an owner who comes in and sells it off, Accrington aren’t paying rent. It owns what it’s sat on and I am proud of that. I am proud of the club, the staff and the players. We have come a long way and we have a long way to go but we have to stick together.
I own 75 per cent of the club as that’s what I needed to do what needed doing without having to keep getting hold of 400-500 other shareholders. We had net liabilities three years ago of £1.2m and now we have net assets of £2m so as a club we are making massive strides.
You are vocal on Twitter, how do you feel about it?
AH: If someone criticises Accrington, I will stand up for this club, it’s our club. I am not having people calling us, If you want a reaction from me call Accrington Stanley!
I had never heard of Twitter before I joined Accrington and I only joined it to follow matches! But it gives me the opportunity to answer questions and that’s important. Among the fans base little things can grow out of control and you can nip them in the bud if they can talk to me directly. I can be on it for hours at night so it does get on my wife’s nerves but I want people to feel I am responsive to them, it’s their club. I want supporters and community to know what we are doing and why.
I do get myself in trouble as I say how I feel. I don’t mean any harm to anyone and I don’t mean offence. There will come a time when I switch it off but that’s when the job is done, someone else will be running the place and I will be having beers!
What about the new training ground?
AH: We are looking at having a youth side between the academy and first team so we can bring more players through. I am looking forward to that, you look at Ross Sykes, he is from Burnley was released at 14 by Burnley FC, we brought him in and now he is playing League One football and holding his own. I like that, I want to see more of that, that is local kids doing well.
We have a deal on King George’s Playing Fields as they are not used much by the local community, they have showers, changing rooms and a car park. The pitches are a mess and over time we can put them right and keep improving. Hyndburn Council wanted us to stay in the town and I get that. We do though have the back-up of the land in Read as well though. We need a training ground.
Hopes for the future?
AH: I am 54 and at 60, as said, I want to come to the ground, have a good day, drink beer and watch football. Saying that, that’s all I wanted to do in the first place.
I have had so much satisfaction out of the job everyone is doing here. I am proud of Coley, Jimmy Bell and John Doolan, the lads, the staff and everyone, we are doing a fantastic job.
We aren’t pulling up trees in League One but I am proud. In my four years, we have had the Play –Offs with the lights going off and we have had a trophy, it’s a reasonable start, let’s see how it goes now. I think we are doing it the right way but time will tell.