A change of direction by Chairman Mao
The recent financial issues at our beloved club have certainly focussed many of us on the realities of running a semi-professional football team in a leisure market saturated by live TV sport, Vue cinema and the many retail parks in the borough laying siege to what little expendable money we have in our Merthyr Tydfil pockets.
We’ve ploughed a lone furrow for decades in the grass is greener English non-league pyramid but with a new dawn of football austerity on the horizon perhaps we need to cross the rubicon and consider plying our wares in Wales.
The idea will be emotive and will almost certainly find few in agreement around Penydarren Park but this decision must be taken with the head and not the heart and be based on a sustainable future for the club and not be set due to the comfort of what we know.
So how do we sustain a semi-professional football team to represent our town? And what is the purpose of our football club?
You can argue that the current policy of maintaining a membership in the English pyramid has resulted in a football club, currently in its third manifestation, that survives through a peculiar form of crisis management in that the money supply will fail and that it will be the supporters that will rally to resurrect the club’s fortunes.
But is there another way that could be pursued to change the way we operate or even how we perceive ourselves?
As a fan owned club there is an opportunity every year for the owners’ to present new ideas to the membership at the AGM. This year there will be a motion for the club to open discussions with the FAW with a view to Merthyr Town FC joining the Welsh Premier League.
It’s not likely to pass as an agenda item but it should be part of our strategy to ensure that all avenues continue to be explored and so it should perhaps become a perennial motion of discussion.
Do we understand the reality of playing in our National League? There’s a strange dichotomy between the accusation of many of our fans that the standard of the League is not as good as the Southern League but at the same failing to realise that our current depleted squad would struggle to avoid relegation to the Welsh League.
For many of us the game itself is incidental to our enjoyment of a Saturday afternoon at Penydarren Park. An opportunity to catch up with friends and escape the realities of modern life maybe.
OK so if we realise though that our current financial issues and the fact that there will always, without favourable taxation for fan-owned clubs, be a “glass ceiling” for us then maybe we need to look at other options for our future.
Firstly there’s a £10,000 one-off payment for joining the Welsh Premier League.
There’s also an infrastructure grant of up to £50,000 available to assist new clubs. TV broadcast facilities could be covered by this.
One of the obvious attractions of the WPL is the ability to qualify for European competitions but the first step would be us to gain a UEFA license in order to compete and a successful application would benefit us for £2,000.
The current sponsorship fees paid to the clubs could of course vary from season to season but at present it’s about £5,000 to cover marketing & promotion etc. The current S4C advert boards bring in some funds too.
Talking of TV we come to one of the apparent benefits of joining the WPL in that our match highlights would be broadcast every week which would provide a much bigger commercial platform for our ground, facilities and local sponsors. This would increase too for live matches and if we were to host up to four matches then £5,000 would be payable and an additional £1,000 per game after that too.
As for the club’s potential social media reach then we could look at 500,000 interactions per month. Those figures should impress any marketing manager of a possible sponsor.
One of the pro-WPL arguments that always annoys me is that joining the National League would be easier for travel than our current opponents in England. I honestly see no advantage either way in swapping faraway Cambridgeshire for deepest Gwynedd. And that’s the fact really in that it doesn’t help nor hinder us although there is a WPL travelling expenses pot of £60,000 to be equalised between the 12 clubs – so currently the Southern clubs get a larger slice of the cake.
I’m not sure of the prize money awarded by the Southern League but we could win £16,000 for becoming Champions of Wales and there’s even money right down to last where we could probably find ourselves in the early seasons. However we know that our fanbase, terrace culture and player retention will make us a contender and behind that maybe modest prize money is of course the guarantee of €800,000 as the Champions now drop into the Europa League if (yes I put if and not when) eliminated from the Champions League. The Europa League teams should be targeting circa €500.000 for their involvement although to be truthful I’m more interested in the away days, I was too young to really enjoy Atalanta but I’m more than ready now to soak up the delights of Pristina or Torshavn.
Oh and the match officials’ fees are paid by the WPL so the home club just covers travel expenses so our Secretary will be happier and probably our Treasurer too.
Our wonderful academy structure would be better funded too with approximately £30,000 available to keep our Future Martyrs engaged for a season.
Of course even if we were to amazingly vote for a new direction for Merthyr Town there is no guarantee that the FAW even wants us in their pyramid system. There’s still plenty of talk of us being placed in the Welsh League if we were to return but this fails to take into account the fact that we have never played in exile and were classed, following a successful appeal to the FAW, as the same as Cardiff City, Swansea City and Wrexham back in 1989. The FAW’s position remains unclear for all exiled clubs although the member clubs would certainly welcome our travelling supporters’ revenue behind their bar on a Saturday afternoon.
Merthyr Town FC is owned by it’s greatest stakeholders; the fans. One of the fundamental purposes of fan-ownership is transparency and democracy and these should be protected by a continual robust debate on the best way to promote both our club and our town.
See you at the AGM, I’ll be wearing the flak jacket. Oh did I mention we get to beat Barry Town over and over again?