Q&A with SSFC director Paul Macpherson
As the league season reaches its halfway stage and we prepare to move forward into 2022, we decided to catch up with Paul Macpherson to get his reflections on his first six months as a director at South Shields FC, and find out what he sees ahead of us…
Paul, thanks for taking the time out to reflect on the first six months at the club. How has it been?
Thanks and no problem. Well first of all I’d like to say again what a privilege it is for me, a local lad, to be able to contribute and influence the future direction of our wonderful club. I’m very aware of the responsibility of the role, and what the football club represents, and means, to the town.
So how has it been? Brilliant, thoroughly enjoyed it. There is so much to do at the club, but it has been great that I have been able to add some value to Lee (Picton) and the team in one or two areas. Like everyone else I’m a supporter of the team, and come three o’clock on a Saturday afternoon the nerves and excitement are still the same – that side of it doesn’t change!
So which areas of the club have you been focussing on and what are your initial impressions?
While there are always a lot of things going on every day within the club, there are probably two key areas I have been focussing on. The first is to provide some support to our chief executive Lee, who by the way has an enormous amount of different things to juggle on a day to day basis, in terms of looking at our organisation structures, and just being a sounding board really. I’ve also been doing some work to support Jamie (Williams) on how we can continue to evolve and improve the matchday experience, where we have some embryonic projects including for example around how we might leverage technology better in the future. More on that in the new year.
The second area is around helping the board to build what I would call our ‘bridge to sustainability’. The real challenge here is how we marry the ambition of the board, the first-team and the supporters, and build a sustainable base so that the club can thrive for the next 50 years. That is a challenge all businesses have and we need to move towards that position with pace now, to keep up with the phenomenal pace of growth we have seen on the footballing side over the past few years.
Can you tell us a bit more about what you mean by this bridge to sustainability?
It really starts by looking at every single area of the club, but with a specific focus on those areas which will drive up our revenues – we leave no stone unturned. If we look back a bit over the past few years and reflect on the pace of progression the club has made on the pitch, it’s phenomenal really, and that is great. It’s what we want to see as supporters, and long may that continue. However, what comes with that is a need to grow the club off the pitch at the same rate of change and that can be a much harder proposition. It’s no secret that the progression of the football club, in terms of the finances, has been largely down to our chairman Geoff (Thompson) being in a position to under-write our annual losses. However, as one of several custodians of the club, I don’t see how we can persist with that model. We must get ourselves into a sustainable position whereby the club continues to grow, but on the really strong foundations from the support of the fanbase, our sponsors, and the whole town of South Shields.
And this is entirely possible and within our grasp. So, through Lee’s leadership of the club, we are putting in place plans now to grow the business to the extent that we can continue to support a successful first-team for many years to come. However, as I say, Lee and his team cannot do this without the support of the whole town, including businesses in the area. It is so vital that we do this together.
What sort of plans are you looking at to move us towards this sustainable position?
As I say we leave no stone unturned, and everything is on the table. What I would say is that we are all very much focussed on revenue generation at this point. We have a high cost base – after all we are a full-time professional football club – but we do not want to sacrifice that model. That is still our plan and model moving forward.
I can give some examples of where we can bridge the revenue gap. As everyone can see, we are building a fantastic infrastructure at 1st Cloud Arena, and the new stand is going to be a real catalyst for us going forward once it is fully complete. The new sports bar that will be in place there gives us a real opportunity to utilise the facilities seven days a week, and we will be looking at how we make that a lively and great place for people in the town to socialise.
We are also looking at how we grow our Academy set-up, which is hugely popular and well respected in the region. We will continue to see significant demand here so we need to put in place the right infrastructure to achieve that additional capacity. In future years we would like to explore possibilities to take our Academy concept international and grow our reputation further afield.
Non-matchday events will be increasingly more important for us and again, we need to work through how we best utilise our facilities at 1st Cloud Arena and the Harton Welfare ground. Again, we need to try and get the town, sponsors and companies using our great facilities, and we will be ambitious in our approach. Watch this space, and we would love to hear suggestions from our fanbase in terms of events they would like us to be holding for them.
In support of these initiatives, we will also be looking very carefully at the option we have to convert the playing surface to 3/4G. I realise that this will not go down well with everybody, but as a board we would not be doing our job if we simply ignored the undoubted revenue potential that would give us in the interests of tradition. We need to seriously look at this as an option for 2022-23, as it could be a real catalyst for all of the things I’ve talked about above. We have also done our research, and we have seen the benefits that arise for clubs all the way up to National League level. If we do decide to go down that route (and we have not taken that decision at the moment), then we will all look forward to the day we have to rip it up and relay the turf in preparation for life in the EFL! That remains our goal, but realistically it’s a few years off and we have to reach financial sustainability well before then. That said, given FIFA World Cup qualifying games are played on 3/4G surfaces, then I don’t personally think it is actually too far away before we see them introduced in League 1 and 2 in the EFL.
That sounds like a lot to achieve. How important are the supporters in all of this?
It is a lot to achieve but all do-able. If we all work together as club officials, players, fans, businesses, and the local council we will get there in short order. We have to do this, and we have to do it now. We live in an uncertain world, and the last couple of months have really started to bite as we have seen very little action at 1st Cloud Arena. Our main source of revenue, has been taken away but the bills don’t stop!
We absolutely want the fans to play their part, and I know Geoff’s ambition and legacy is to have much greater fan ownership of the club in the future. The regular 2,000 we get at 1st Cloud Arena every other week is phenomenal. I can’t speak highly enough of our fanbase – it is second to none. We can’t ask for much more from them. That said, we are a big town, and our aim and mission, collectively, has to be to sell the club to the other 70-odd thousand people who live in the town. Without too much of a push we can absolutely add another 500 to the gate on a regular basis, which actually makes a massive difference, and really pushes us forward to achieving the goal of self sustainability. So my call to action in the New Year would be to ask our brilliant supporters to find one more person each, and try to get them along to a game or two. Like you and I were, we know how easy it is to get hooked into the South Shields family!
Thank you Paul for sharing your reflections of your first six months, and some insights into our future plans…any last thoughts?
I would like to say that I am incredibly optimistic about the future of the club, both as a director and a supporter. We have a brilliant team in place under Lee’s fantastic leadership, and we will achieve our aims because I know we can rely on our passionate and amazing fanbase to be part of our journey. Lee has put a lot of thought into how we can achieve sustainability and has taken this direction from the board and launched our very own ‘Project Possible’. That is in reference to the amazing 14 Peaks film recently released which we were all extremely inspired by. It was an amazing demonstration of what can be achieved with a laser focussed plan, commitment and never say die attitude. Like Nirmal Purja said, “it isn’t in his blood to quit”, and it certainly isn’t in ours to quit either until we achieve our goals.
We remain steadfast in our vision and aims and Geoff, his board, Lee and the entire team are focussed on getting us to a place where we can continue to grow on a sustainable basis, and build a legacy for many, many years to come.
Let’s hope for a fantastic second half to the season on the pitch. We are well in the mix, and some strong performances over the coming weeks could position us very nicely for promotion. Up The Mariners!