Notes from the programme against Scunthorpe
Each issue of the matchday programme brings you news and views from around the ground and last night's programme against Scunthorpe included this double page spread written by Chairman Darryl Eales
Happy New Year and best wishes for 2017 to one and all.
Welcome also to our first home game of the new year against Scunthorpe in the Checkatrade trophy, a competition which served us so well last season.
I would like to extend a warm welcome to fans, players and officials from Scunthorpe for what is sure to be a tough game against a team which is riding high in our division.
Now is a time to look forward and anticipate the future as well as reflect on the year past.
What a year 2016 was for the club, probably the best for 20 years if not more, but, most of all, I think there is much more to come!
One of my central themes over the past couple of years has been the central importance of unity and togetherness, which binds the club together through both the good and not so good times. This remains a crucial foundation if we are to continue the progress made over the past couple of seasons.
To this end, I have tried to be an open communicator and accessible to all fans. The fans are the heart of the club and, in my view, are entitled to know what is happening at their club.
It is still therefore a little disappointing to learn that elements of the supporter group are seemingly seeking to undermine what has been achieved and constantly seem to try to find fault and criticise. This will always be easy to do as no one is perfect and identifying problems rather than deliverable solutions is a much more straight forward task.
Fortunately, as many of you kindly remind me, it is even more important to remember the support I have received from the vast majority across the club who understand that I have no agenda except to do my very best for Oxford United.
To this end, I wanted to say a huge thank you to everyone who has given me such wonderful support and constructive advice over the past couple of years. Many of you have become friends and that makes the journey we are on even more special.
I also wanted to take the opportunity, with the New Year upon us to let you know my current thinking about the club and, hopefully, correct a few misconceptions and inaccurate conjecture which appear to be doing the rounds following my Boxing Day programme notes.
Again, I do not fully understand why people seek to be divisive and the level of animosity in certain debates seems to me to be equally unnecessary. We will never get everything right but surely what we all want is the best for the club. Principled dissent and disagreement with a view to securing a better outcome for the club is acceptable, indeed essential. However, personal criticism, aimed at any club employee, is not acceptable, especially when conducted through social media rather than face to face as part of a constructive dialogue.
Hence, these notes are intended to provide a few facts, which may prove inconvenient to some, but are nevertheless facts and I hope it will enable all fans to feel more informed.
Most importantly, to state hopefully the obvious, the club has become very close to my heart and I will continue to work tirelessly to promote its best interests and future success.
By and large, I believe we have made significant progress. On the pitch, the progress is clearly evident. We have an outstanding young manager in Michael Appleton who has built a strong backroom team and an exciting young squad who will improve with time. Michael is now well inside the top 20 longest serving managers and I believe this stability is a key ingredient of success.
I hope he stays at the club for many years to come - he has built his team and we are all benefitting from this.
We have also made vast improvements in many areas across the club, especially in driving our commercial revenues, particularly sponsorship and retail, our work in the Community, especially our partnership with the Oxford Academy and, importantly, the generally improved perception of the club within the football community.
These successes, together with the friendships I have made, are central to my commitment to the club and, at all times, I have tried to relentlessly pursue success whilst also retaining a sense of perspective and a sense of humour.
As a club owner, to state the obvious, commitment is not just emotional but is also a requires significant financial investment.
This is where I would like to provide some more detail and deal in actual numbers.
* To date, I have invested over £8m in the club, including the purchase from Ian Lenagan.
* the current operating loss is budgeted at well over £1m, before player trading. This is despite increased commercial revenues and highlights the investment in coaching and the playing squad, which surely is the essential prerequisite for success
* net transfer fees received (assuming all future payments are received!) including the sale of Roofe and O'Dowda and the purchases of MacDonald, Dunkley, Hemmings, Johnson, Ledson and Nelson are £1.3m.
* we have also significantly increased our playing budget. Quoting playing budgets is potentially fraught as knowing what is and is not included has no standard definition but I believe our budget is above the median for the division but is not upper quartile.
* I have also made an offer to buy the stadium, funded entirely from personal funds, although this has been superseded currently by Firoz' discussions with OxVox.
* You may have also read recently about our planned joint venture with Oxford City at Court Oak Farm. This will enable the construction of a new 3G/4G pitch, funded by us, which will benefit both clubs and the community and, hopefully, become a training base for the first team.
Based on the above, I would hope that it is clear that anyone who doubts my commitment to the club is mistaken.
However, there is still much to do and, especially so, if we are to achieve our goal of promotion to the Championship.
The status quo is manageable if we remain as a League 1 or 2 club but, in my view, the club is not sustainable if promotion becomes a reality.
Hence we are planning for the problems and opportunities arising from success - a scenario that many were sceptical about when I came to the club.
Owning and operating the stadium will enable us to grow our commercial revenues and develop our own infrastructure. This is the only way to build sustainability, especially if we are playing at a higher level.
For the avoidance of any doubt, I am not especially wedded to staying at the existing stadium but I am not, as yet, aware of any deliverable alternatives, having discussed possibilities with City, County and District Councils. However, should a realistic alternative become available, I would be the first to explore this with an open mind.
In the first instance, I would like to find a workable solution at the current stadium. This is why I support the discussions between OxVox and Firoz, but also is why I would like progress to be accelerated if the desire to consummate a deal is real.
Let's return to a sense of perspective!
We are in League 1, the first time since 2001. In 2016, we achieved promotion, reached Wembley and beat a Premier League team in the FA Cup. We play attractive football based on a policy on developing young players and, alongside this, attendances have risen by over 60%.
For sure, there are always things to do but let's start with retaining a sense of togetherness and celebrating how far we have come in a short period as well as anticipating what I believe will be an exciting future as we seek to realise the potential of this great club.
Let's all work together to achieve this and enjoy the camaraderie which will make the journey all the more enjoyable.
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