This AGM speech has probably been one of the most difficult for me to write for a couple of reasons.
I’m sure you’re tired of hearing my voice – and what do I say that is differentand original from previous years? Of course there will be some repetition of things I have said over the last three years because they are still just as important now as they were then.
As ever, I will report on the progress of the club, its academy, its CITY Community Trust and my thoughts on how the current position but also the future looks for our club. Nick will speak of the Trust's integration into the three areas and your connection into our fan base.
We have heard the financial details and having been through 10 or 12 years of worrying about was going to happen next week or the week after... to be able to say that whilst there is still a mountain to climb, we have crossed the river and a positive bank balance, primarily due to academy player sales, affords us time to regroup, think and plan for the future. But there is still a lot of work to do.
In terms of the club board and the club staff, there is important and significant stability but also elements of change have been undertaken, they were much needed and as always dictated and driven by the need to progress.
Our new COO Justin Quick continues to show a work ethic which is over, above and beyond what is expected of him. That effort and commitment is mirrored by Andy Gillard, Mark Jenkins and the whole of the SJP team.
While there have been some changes upstairs, and by this I don’t mean the club, but the hospitality team, downstairs the backroom staff are the most cohesive effective and hardworking I have had the privilege to work with over the years.
The marketing and communications strategy continues to develop, and after a glowing report last year there are further improvements that again go beyond expectations, and bare comparisons way above our station and what is expect, and rarely accomplished, by a League 2 club.
As my personal focus has moved closer to the director of football role, and the further development of the academy, the natural outcome is that my influence becomes much more focused on these two areas.
There is no doubt that since the inception of the ‘four and four’ in the board room that the decision making and control and the running of the club gets ever closer. Much now, as is demanded by you the owners, is in the hands of the trust directors.
Whilst sometimes for me this feels uncomfortable, I must recognise that although I am a fan and a member of the trust, and have invested now 26 years into this club, ultimately I am an employee. I perhaps haven’t always seen it that way, because of my emotional dedication, but that is the reality.
The club board functions exceptionally well. Every individual more than pulls their weight and contributes fully. David Lee, to whom we are indebted for not only the fantastic development which is now coming into its own, but also his experience in board meetings to ensures greater focus and direction.
I’ve heard it many times that the trust membership wants accountability from the board. It now has absolute parity and it is undoubtedly and absolutely true, that in every decision and in every respect, let no-one be in any doubt that is now the case.
It was exactly the lack of that challenge and accountability that was a major cause of the hiatus at Bolton and the disaster at Bury. Please be reassured, because I hear some perhaps don’t believe it, our club board does hold everybody to account, something that, in my opinion, is missing in so many football clubs, and something that should be jealously guarded at Exeter City.
Playing aspects and the manager
Last year our manager had to hit the ground running, he inherited a squad and had no time to put his own together. I’m definitely never one to not want to get to the play-offs, and it was gutting to miss out by one point.
But missing out this summer gave Matt the opportunity to regroup and recruit, which he has done so dynamically, assembling a squad in his own name that measures to his standard and expectations.
So, although we may have missed the play-offs, I always look for the silver lining in any situation, and in this case, perhaps, that was it.
Our start to the season has been nothing less than exceptional. Regardless of our current position - although it was nice to be top of the league for much of the first part of the season - it is where we would all like to be at that time every year, and of course our target at the end. However, undoubtedly there will be tough times.
Underneath; foundations, intent, purpose and work ethic and integrity is what is important and what we should measure. In Matt Taylor we have all of those attributes and more.
I will talk of our focus and commitment to succession planning later but it’s extremely rewarding when your manager turns down what would have been significantly increased financial reward to stay with, as he says, a group of people he respects and trusts. It was also a pleasure to phone Lincoln and tell them to… ff....find another manager!!
Football, as I think we all know, is really like being on a gigantic roller-coaster; huge ups and downs most arriving least of all when you expect them.
Nigel Atagana's rehabilitation and return to fitness coincides with Lewis Ward breaking his arm, Nicky Ajose has a knee operation when Johnny Maxted gets a MOM award and three points v FGR …. we lose two games, and then annihilate a local team whose name slips my mind 4-0!!
The football roller-coaster will continue, no screaming (or booing please!). What we also all know is… you can’t get off!
And what of the academy, what’s to be said? Well of course we always talk about young players, and why not, but for a moment let’s look at some of the football staff succession planning, a perhaps unseen role that the academy plays quietly but hugely effectively.
Matt Taylor ex-player, employed as the under 23s academy coach, now manager.
Wayne Carlisle ex-player, employed as the academy’s coach educator, now assistant manager.
Dan Green ex-YT, elevated from under 18s coach to the boot room as the under-23s coach
Dan started at 10 years old, as did Arran Pugh a centre of excellence player, now Head of Academy
It’s not an accident, and it’s not luck.
It’s not easy to replace that kind of coaching and managerial talent, especially when the success of the academy is an aspect that we are reliant on, but that work continues.
So back to the young players. Who would argue that it’s not the best academy in the country? Nick's recent business plan suggest we should aim at being the best in the South West... I disagree.
Only Sunderland, a club not long out of the Premier Division, and with a 50,000 seat stadium and a category-one-licence, can boast a better return on investment in the whole of the football league in terms of home-grown players in the last three to four years.
If we go back a few more years... I think that number one spot would be ours. Our aim is, and remains, to be the best in the EFL.
I met yesterday with an official of the Premier League to emphasise the significance and importance of youth development and to put our case.
I believe there is the green shoots of understanding as to why the current compensation position bought about by Elite Player Performance Plan needs revisiting and reviewing. I will continue to canvass, agitate and lobby wherever and whenever possible.
ALL that said, irrespective, we have to be very very careful and be cognisant that what has taken 20-25 years to build needs constant attention, improvement, and brave innovation to stay on top and even then, despite the intensity of effort at The Cliff and beyond every day, we must now expedite the detailed strategy, already in place, addressing what we do in the coming next five years.
Any organisation, including our own, can easily have a barren spell for two or three years. This is something we have thankfully avoided, but we must understand this is not a car production line, let’s not forget 2014, the need for a loan from the PFA because of exactly that, we are dealing here with a million variables.
We must be cognisant of the fact that if it were to dip to what is actually normal for the vast majority of all the other clubs in the EFL perhaps beyond, consequences for our budgeting could be catastrophic.
I could almost cut and paste these lines from last year’s speech. This club is in a better position that I think I, or anybody else, can ever remember, but in terms of ultimate stability, competitiveness and any kind of ambition, all we have done is bought ourselves enough time to make some decisions and strategise a way forward.
As I said last year, ultimately the decision of what to do next is yours. What are our options?
Any business must have a clear vision, a clear sense of direction supported by a solid business case. You can only drive change when those facets are clear, and importantly, we must, must, agree that common sense of direction.
The B word (Bury Bolton and even Brexit) shows you what can happen if we don’t.
Motivation is about creating the right amount of fear. Our hard fought, hard earned, financial position may blind some to the reality but let me tell you I am scared, I am fearful not for tomorrow like I used to be but for our longer term future.
1.. We could do nothing and accept where that takes us
2 We could review our model, seek external investment, not in the same way of pretty much every other club I hasten to add, but perhaps along the lines of the German model, by far the most financially successful league in the world, perhaps a hybrid of our own making?
(Or we could take a leaf out of Mansfield or Salfords bookand throw the kitchen sink at it!)
3. We could move house - Luton, Bournemouth - so many others are doing or about to do exactly that, and create a ground for the 450,000 demographic and cater for the leisure demands of Greater Exeter - football, music, hospitality, exhibitions, conferencing accommodation?
Or, like I said at the beginning, we could do nothing. The cliff or the juggernaut, it's coming!!! It's not going to disappear or “go away”.
If it is decided it’s to be number one, it will be a great relief to me as I have a mountain of other things I would like to do with my life before it’s over, but I’ll wait a bit longer for you… the Trust… the owners to decide, as bumping along the bottom waiting for the juggernaut to catch up has no appeal for me, and, I believe, many others.
If you look at this city; Exeter. If the university hadn’t invested as it did 20 years ago it wouldn’t be where it is now, if the city council hadn’t invested as it did 10-15 years ago, it wouldn’t be where it is now, and if Tony Rowe (Rugby Club) hadn’t done the same thing, the proverbial one man and his dog at the County Ground would have likely been a reality.
I make no apologies for saying this, some won’t like it but I feel I have to, partly maybe because I don’t shirk responsibility but mainly and primarily because its ambition and purpose that get me out of bed in the mornings.
The back office is fantastic, the board continues to progress, the Academy reaches yet further new heights, last year I said Sparks would be flying... They are and he is!
CCT goes from strength to strength and is recognised as the jewel in the crown of the club’s community commitment and outreach.
The stadium looks fantastic and so does the training ground - although that is under review for further steps, as ever.
And unlike every other trust, our Trust and our Grecian groups, in fact our whole supporter base, the main keys to our success just will not give in and I see them grow stronger every day. It’s what makes us what and who we are.
No doubt I won’t last for ever, and the end is ever closer. I won’t stand in the way when I feel that the time is right, as I wish to step away with grace and goodwill rather than so many chairman who overstay their welcome and things end in acrimony. I, with your help, must not let that happen.
In the meantime thank you for listening and I await your decisive instruction.