Steve Wharton Q&A answers
Feature by Iron-Bru.net
Updated Friday, 13th May 2011
Iron chairman Steve Wharton answered questions put to him by Iron-Bru.net users.
Wharton agreed to answer your questions after he was forced to pull out of the fans forum hosted by BBC Radio Humberside at Glanford Park last week. Iron-Bru.net would like to thank the chairman for answering the questions.
In light of the postponed games last season and as a result the loss of revenue, have you considered extra frost protection for the pitch? I have come across a very interesting product called a geofleece, which you put over your additional frost covers to add insulation. There is only one portion of the pitch that doesn`t see light to thaw it out, and has been the same for quite some time now. Three or four strips may just do the job on that one problem area. I have included the website if you feel the need to investigate further.
SW: Yes, we have considered extra frost protection. The product you mention has been researched by David Beeby and may well be suitable, especially for the area which never sees direct sunlight in the winter months. Many years ago I instigated a double covering for this particular area, but we suffered -16 degrees of frost at times this year and I doubt if any covering would adequately protect such extremes. Snow also caused us great problems this year and much damage was done to the pitch by using mechanical shovels to clear it. Cost obviously has to be taken into account as we haven't lost too many games using our existing covers. The covers we have currently comply with the Football League requirements. If a televised game was at risk, we would seriously consider hiring more appropriate covers with possible heating.
Is the summer transfer fund agreed with the manager in advance of the end of the season and is that money available as soon as the season closes.
A budget is given to the manager, which he must work within. This encompasses player wages, transfer fees etc. When money can be made available for transfer fees may well depend on our cash flow, but in recent years we have been fortunate to have cash available when it has been required. More often than not, when a deal has been agreed with a club, it has not been possible to persuade the player that his future is with Scunthorpe. In my opinion this is often because we are targeting players whose aspirations are to play for a much bigger club. Experienced Championship players will normally only consider Scunthorpe when they personally are in the twilight of their career. We have also tended to target players who are not even available. This is one of the problems when you employ inexperienced managers but they quickly learn after a few unsuccessful bids. I have done my best to make the managers aware of this but they still seem to have to go through the learning curve. Fortunately in Alan Knill we have a relatively experienced manager who believes in developing young, hungry and ambitious players from the lower leagues who see Scunthorpe as a step up the ladder.
What would it have taken to have kept Paul Hayes at the club last summer?
That is an unknown, but my belief is that it would have had to be more than he was offered by Preston which I believe was quite considerable and certainly more than they could afford. He may also have had a signing on fee, tax free relocation payment of up to £8,000 and his agent would almost certainly have received a fee. I think everyone knows, myself and all my colleagues on the board, and especially Nigel Adkins, would dearly like to have kept Paul at Scunthorpe. When the Premier League increased their solidarity payments, albeit it was not guaranteed, we increased our offer to Paul, but he was not interested. He may well have been committed to Preston by then.
Which players did we make a decent offer for in the January transfer window, and for how much?
Will Hoskins, Conor Sammon, Michael Nelson, Paul Reid, Chris Taylor, Ryan Taylor, Andy Drury, Jason Pearce, Marvin Bartley, Joe Mason and I had Preston's permission to speak to Paul Hayes regarding a move or a loan. Paul's agent accused me of making an illegal approach and said Paul was unlikely to move back to Scunthorpe. I assured him I would never approach a player under contract without permission. Paul in fact would have come back to us on loan but by then his new manager would not sanction such a loan.
I have read that should we ever go back up we would fill the standing with seats. but what is the long term plan for Glanford Park? We have an outdated stadium with poor seating and poor viewing in certain areas.
If and when we return to the Championship, the circumstances at the time will determine whether or not we add seating to the existing stand or build a new stand. What is certain is that the stadium will have to be 'all seater'. The cost of any major development on the stadium would be extremely hard to justify, with the present fan base and the current economic climate.
Glanford Park has poor cramped no leg room seating with poor views. I stand, as I cannot sit with any comfort and I am appalled by the plans to ''bolt on'' seats to the terrace should we get back to the Championship. With the area of land that we own, have we reviewed the options / consulted with land developers on the best way to maximise this potential? Leyton Orient, Watford and others have done this with residential and commercial development on their land. Indeed, do you see our long term future at Glanford Park? The location, I am sure, has some bearing on our inability to attract larger crowds. Have we consulted with the council on potential other sites we could develop, nearer the mass population and with better access? If not, why not? If we are to stay at GP,What are the benefits of remortgaging our land to provide the funds to build a couple of new stands with better seats / innovative ''standing seats'' on the terrace. How much would a couple of cantilever stands cost to construct over the existing terrace / grove wharf stand?Finally, lots of supporters have ideas, some good, some unworkable. Can the ''fans forum" include a ''brainstorming'' session, where ideas can be discussed and action points agreed. If you remember, I suggested that we install an away bar the first season we got promoted. You gave lots of reasons why it would not work, but now we have one!
Why are you appalled at the prospects of seating on the existing terrace? If you remember, the away end was terracing originally. Do you see a requirement for increased capacity? I agree there are some areas of Glanford Park with a view obscured by stanchions and a few seats do have minimal leg room, but this is the first time I have heard it say that they are all short of leg room with a poor view. Regarding the area of land we purchased, this is currently being used on a daily basis by Football in the Community. Please don't assume the demand for residential or commercial development in Scunthorpe is on a par with Leyton Orient and Watford. You will see empty sites on the Gallagher site and that is why we were able to persuade Gallaghers to sell this particular piece of land. Under normal circumstances they would have developed the land themselves. We are pursuing a number of ideas for the land, but the purchase was made when it was, as it was a one off opportunity of which I thought we should take advantage. I am not convinced a more central location in the town would boost the crowd. Our last season at The Old Showground we averaged 3,236 whereas we have increased the home support over the past 10 years from just over 3,000 to 4,500 a 50% increase. This season was down on the previous season but that is the case generally across all leagues due to the recession, and not helped by our poor home form. I would say there are no benefits to be had from remortgaging our land to spend on new stands etc. Why would we want to put ourselves into debt with little or no added income? I believe the fans forum chaired by David Beeby, is working well, and the more fans make use of this dialogue the better for all concerned. In David Beeby we have someone who is eager to listen, and he will take on board all your good ideas and present them to the directors. Regarding the away bar, I have always feared making alcohol too readily available for away fans. To me it is a recipe for disaster, but I have been persuaded by my colleagues that it will be a success, and to date it appears to be going well apart from one game where significant damage was done! The police encouraged us to provide the bar but rather surprisingly, would not allow us to use it for the Manchester United game.
What do you think is the most amount of debt SUFC could cope with and still function in the lower two divisions.
I believe you have to be able to service any debt you incur. Therefore, unless you can be relatively certain of generating a profit, you are not in a position to take on debt. If you have debt, and continually incur losses, which happens at most football clubs, your debt just grows until you finally go bankrupt, or as football clubs tend to do, enter administration. The loser in most cases is the public as it is Crown debt which is usually the biggest creditor. One way or another, everyone pays higher taxes.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but do you think now that appointing Ian Baraclough as manager was a mistake given his inexperience?
Yes I do, and I must take most, if not all the blame for that decision. I encouraged the board to appoint from within and I had thought for a long time that Ian would be a good replacement for Nigel. I had known for some time that Nigel would relish the opportunity to move to a big club and we had built up a management structure and a culture at Scunthorpe United which seemed to be working well. Ian was beset by injuries, which didn't help, and maybe his choice of promoting Kevin Pressman to No.2 and Steve Parkin as coach, was not the best. We backed Ian to the hilt in January but it became apparent that we were changing quite drastically from the style of football that we all desired and the players themselves were unable to give of their best. We therefore acted quickly to replace the management team, and I was agreeably surprised that Alan Knill was interested in joining us. Unfortunately it was too late in the day to keep us in the Championship League, but it bodes well for our future.
How are directors appointed and against what criteria? What do they contribute by way of services in kind and how is this quantified?
Directors are appointed by the shareholders. At every AGM two directors must either retire or offer themselves for re-election. A director/s may be co-opted on to the board during the year, but would then have to be re-elected by the shareholders at the following AGM. Directors are generally invited to join the board by the existing directors unless it is as a result of a take-over. Only if they have something to offer by way of experience, be it financial, commercial, legal, or some other special expertise, would they normally be considered. Being a supporter of our football club is not a prerequisite, but it is obviously preferred. Services which the directors perform can best be quantified by the well being of the company. All our directors put in many unpaid hours and for myself the football club has dominated my life for the past 10 years and even the eight years prior to my becoming chairman.
What do directors contribute financially to the club and how are they held accountable? What efforts has the club made to attract new directors who have more to invest, and has anyone externally been asked to help? What measures is the chairman taking to ensure a suitable successor is identified when he is ready to step down?
All the directors hold shares in Scunthorpe United FC Ltd. Over recent years I have loaned the football club up to £1million interest free. The loan is currently £500,000. It used to be a condition that a director must hold a minimum of £50,000 share capital. We removed this restriction as we felt it would limit some very able people from serving as a director. We also have associate directors, who are not directors in the legal sense of the word, but they are able to provide expertise to the Board. At the present time we have two associates in Mark Blackbourne and Lee Collinson. Mark is an ex chief executive of Sunderland and holds a number of positions within the football industry. I got to know Mark when he was at Sunderland, through the Cliff Byrne loan some years ago. Lee Collinson was born and educated in Scunthorpe and is a business manager with Barclays Bank. Lee is a lifelong Scunthorpe supporter and he used to write to me on a regular basis as a fan, particularly regarding ticket allocation. Lee's financial knowledge is invaluable. Jason Oxenforth was elected as an associate director when Chris Holland was the chairman. He has continued to show total commitment to Scunthorpe United and was elected to a full director in 2008 after proving his value to the board. Jason has his own electrical business and carries out quite a lot of work at Glanford Park at very short notice and at competitive rates. Rex Garton is a lawyer who has served on the Board for over 20 years and Keith Wagstaff is a retired plc director and was chairman of Scunthorpe United from 1994-2001. Keith is responsible for our youth and School of Excellence, which takes up an awful lot of his time. Rex Garton devotes an enormous amount of time to the club, especially in recent times when I have suffered with my health. We haven't actively searched for directors with money to invest. We are always on the lookout for directors with something to contribute, and not just financially. I do think it is time to find someone to follow me and that will possibly mean them taking over my investment. However that is not essential as it would not add value to the company's balance sheet. I would rather any investor acquired new shares to gain control. I have never sought to control Scunthorpe United. It is a huge responsibility. It was only because other shareholders did not take up their various rights issues, that I effectively acquired a controlling interest. I instigated the rights issue to strengthen the balance sheet and fortunately this was completed just before the ITV Digital collapse. We were fortunate to be solvent when many faced a cash crisis. The purchase of Billy Sharp and Andy Keogh at this time certainly paid dividends. I will be actively looking for a successor in the year ahead. I was ready for retirement back in 2003 but it was short lived and I have to say I have enjoyed most of the last seven years. There have been numerous very special moments. The reappointment of Brian Laws, and the appointment of Nigel Adkins, with Andy Crosby and Ian Baraclough as his assistants, were all controversial at the time but proved to be very beneficial for our club. This time retirement will mean retirement!
There has been talk among fans of setting up a supporters trust. If such a group got popular support would you allow them to purchase shares and, if they raised enough of a shareholding, allow a voted representative to work with the board or even join it?
I have absolutely no problem with a supporters trust. I don't however subscribe to the view that a club should be run by a supporters' trust. It may appear to be an ideal structure, but the reality is that you have too many differing opinions. The fans will always be the heart and soul of any League football club. How you organise them into a trust is always going to be difficult. How will they choose a representative to sit on the board. In many cases trusts feel the member changes sides when he or she has to accept some responsibility. The concept of someone sitting on the board, representing the fans, is a good thing. With our digital database of season ticket holders, members and even occasional supporters, we could organise a ballot, but how far should you extend the vote. The Official Supporters Club, can in no way claim to represent the majority of fans. They do hold a small amount of shares and I guess some of their members will attend the annual general meetings.
What are the plans, if any, for the field next to the car park?
We are currently looking at a number of ideas to make the best use of this land. Ideally we would like a full sized 4G artificial football pitch which could be used by the football club and Football in the Community. This will be very dependent on receiving grant aid. Alternatively private investors are interested in developing the site for five-a-side football, which we could use for training purposes during the day time.