Friday, 16 January 2015

A vicious circle

So we are skint.
There's a shock. In other news, the sky is blue and the grass is green.
But Paul Buckle's comments that the budget is spent and he has blown the cobwebs off the 'we go with that we've got' speech which John Ward put in the cupboard when he left for Carlisle have come as a bit of a surprise.
Particularly after Paul Baker's comments in the wake of the Dover Cup defeat, when he said the squad would be strengthened in January, which were re-iterated earlier this month.
Baker has said that players would have to go out to facilitate arrivals, but now the cupboard is bare - despite the departures of Jason Taylor and Raffa de Vita along with youngster Adam Powell, and the listing of Andy Haworth, Paul Black and Byron Harrison either for loan or a permanent departure.
Buckle tried to bring in Billy Kee, but pulled out of the deal - presumably a financial decision - and I understand there was another deal he was trying to do which also was out of our reach cost-wise.
Alongside those departures, we have paid off a manager and assistant, and also employed a new manager and assistant, plus a chief scout, so that will presumably have eaten into any spare cash there was.
The chairman did, however, talk about some 'good financial news' in the wake of the Dover loss.
The assumption was that this pointed to some sort of outside investment, maybe from the same mystery person who put in the 500k a few years ago. Maybe this didn't happen? If it was an investment, maybe they changed their minds? Who knows.
To be fair to Buckle, he has been saying all along that the budget was spent. This was not a new comment, so he has known all along that there wasn't going to be a lot of cash to use - hence the attempts to wheel and deal with Taylor and de Vita going.
So in my view, he has kept his part of the bargain. I fail to believe that the three Liverpool loanees are that costly - we are not going to be paying huge amounts in wages, and he must have hoped those two departures gave him a bit more leeway.
But the goalposts appear to have moved elsewhere, with the chairman's mixed messages - having promised some sort of backing to give the manager a chance, Buckle's arms appear to be tied once again.
Naturally, this has prompted a number of theories.
One of them is that Baker has decided he doesn't trust Buckle, so doesn't want to give him any money.
Absolute nonsense.
This is a manager the chairman himself approached - he was virtually headhunted for the job, and persuaded to come from New York to take the job.
Therefore it is inconceivable that a month later, and the club in perilous circumstances, that he would then decide to tie his new manager's hands behind his back and make his job even harder.
That would be gambling recklessly with the club's Football League future - and remember this is a chairman who has always bent over backwards to back his manager.
Sometimes this has worked - the costly loans of Richard Keogh and Steve Brooker did the trick in League One a few years back - but sometimes it hasn't, with the spectre of administration perilously close under Mr Allen's watch.
I find it utterly inconceivable that Baker would not want to back Buckle as much as he could in the situation the club finds itself in, and with the club's Football League status in jeopardy.
We all know relegation would be a disaster and would leave the club in dire straits and the board will do all they can to prevent that happening - but equally the memories of what happened under Allen must be stopping the board taking risks.
The calls are there saying Baker must find the money - the old 'speculate to accumulate' argument.
But the simple fact is that we cannot spend what we have not got. The club has to be run as a business.
Yes it's boring and sensible, but the board are not going to gamble with the club's long-term future.
I, and many others, get very angry when we see clubs splashing money they haven't got, then crying wolf a few months later when they head for administration, then get let off by the FA and Football League, and do the same thing all over again.
We have all seen what has happened down the road at Hereford. That has ended with the club being wound up. Under Graham Turner they ran a tight ship, but the next regime spent money they didn't have.
Here, the simple fact is that the previous manager spent the budget on an unbalanced and pretty low-quality squad, so it has gone.
We are now paying the price for another summer of, on the whole, pretty bad recruitment.
As I have said before, to have only had two recognised senior strikers on permanent contracts was terrible planning and terrible management, and meant he was always relying on short-term fixes.
Koby Arthur worked (and thank goodness it did, or we'd be down with Hartlepool now) but John Marquis did not - and now Buckle has not been helped by injuries either.
We all know about Asa Hall, but with Matt Taylor and Steve Elliott now injured as well means there is a sizeable chunk of your wage budget, and your experience, in the treatment room.
I can only presume that the lack of money is also partly down to wanting to minimise the losses due to lower than expected attendances - and here is the rub.
We are, and have been for a long time now, trapped in a vicious circle.
Poor results, especially at home, leads to a drop-off in attendances.
This leads to less cash flow
This means less money in the manager's budget.
The quality of players drops.
Results get worse.
More fans drift away.
Cash flow continues to fall.
Budget is reduced.
Quality of players drops further.
Results get even worse.
And so it goes on.
Poor results = less fans = less money = poorer team = poorer results = even less fans... etc etc, and that is only going to end in one thing eventually.
That is a very tough circle to break without some new investment, which, going back to the example of Hereford again, is often fraught with dangers.
Money through the gates is a massive part of the club's income as, unlike many other clubs, we don't have the facilities to really maximise our off-field revenue streams like clubs like Morecambe and Burton can.
A new main stand would be fantastic - but if we can't afford a new centre-forward then a new stand is just a pipedream.
With any new investment, we are back to the 'better the devil you know' or 'be careful what you wish for' scenarios.
There are people who think Paul Baker should go, he has had his time, taken the club as far as it can go etc etc - and the boardroom succession when it comes is the biggest decision facing the club, as it will make or break its future.
In any case, I don't exactly see a huge queue of millionaires beating down the door saying 'take my money'...
My feeling is that is a miracle that we have lasted 15 years in League football, and much of that is down to the chairman.
He has spent a lot of his own money - bought players out of his own pocket, and even bought a house which was then knocked down to build the Hazlewoods Stand.
But he has made mistakes as he will freely admit, the Allen appointment, and, as he admitted recently, keeping Yates on after last summer was another one.
He is also very open and transparent - but maybe too much so, and after saying on more than one occasion that there would be tools for the manager to work with in January, the message has now changed.
I feel sorry for Buckle. He knew it was a tough job when he came in, and I am sure he will not be happy about the finances making it even harder - especially if he was told there was scope if he got players out... which he has.
He was working with what he had for six games until January in the hope that then he would be able to put his own mark on it - and I am sure he was hoping to do more than bring in three young lads from Liverpool.
There is no doubt in my mind that (bar Hartlepool) we have improved performance-wise since he has taken over, but he will know now that is results that matter.
I can see what he is trying to do with our style of play.
We need wins and we need points and I don't mind how we get them, even if we play the most horrible, direct style of football imaginable, as long as we get to 50 points by May 2, and are above two teams I don't care.
Buckle's task now reminds me of Yates' when he came in in 2009 to replace Allen and also had nothing at all to work with.
That squad was the worst we have had in the Football League and Yatesy just about kept us up, so now we have to hope history will repeat itself.