Don’t kick a man when he’s down, that’s what the decent amongst us have been taught since we were little. Well, I try to abide by that, but in Scally’s head there is nothing wrong, he’s not down in the slightest, the Scally Out! brigade have been silenced by three stirring victories and any dissent is the work of a minority of ill-informed geeks tapping away in cyberspace. So I feel justified in having a gripe.
I’ve been a season-ticket holder since 1981, following the club home and away for much of that time and such devotion has enabled me to form opinions on all things Gillingham. Scally says that half-truths get distorted to become fact through malodourant gossips – “negatives”, I think he likes to call them – and people need to stick to the facts. So let’s call the following “observations” – all indications in my opinion that all isn’t well at Priestfield, all impacting on the matchday experience at the club and all evident to anyone wandering around with their eyes open.
I’m not suggesting that they indicate that adminstration is unavoidable, but Kent has an appalling record of losing or paralysing football clubs through incompetent or ill-advised leadership, as Maidstone (and Dartford, murdered in the cross-fire) and Sittingbourne fans would probably agree. Complacency would be fatal. On first reading, many of the below “observations” are minor irritations and Scally no doubt has far bigger issues weighing on his mind (the chief being how to restructure the massive debt he’s rung up, or, if and when that becomes impossible, how to continue to plead ignorance and innocence and take absolutely no responsibility for his recent mismanagement). So the following are things that need to be put right, though not necessarily as a priority. The bigger question, which I doubt we’ll ever have an answer for, is how have they been allowed to happen in the first place?
Month by month, there fewer and fewer outlets open. The once celebrated pies, amongst the best anywhere in football, are no more. At the Scunthorpe game, the confectionery range at the Rainham End was restricted to a single Mars Bar, which even with our dwindling gates was unlikely to satisfy demand. The cold drinks are always luke warm – why, exactly, aren’t the fridges turned on? The vending machines have long been empty and switched off. Food is rarely ready to order, so fewer people take advantage of the facilities, so it becomes more difficult to estimate demand. These are supposed to be money making ventures – how have they been allowed to decline to such a standard? An explanation could be that it’s due to a break down in supplier relationships, and the confectionery suppliers and vending companies are no longer prepared to co-operate with the club. If sales stack up, the contracts are to the benefit of both parties, and the suppliers are being paid as per the terms of their contract, I cannot understand why this would be the case. Alternatively, if the club has simply decided to change suppliers and take things on themselves, then it’s been to the detriment of the product and service, and will ultimately further undermine takings in the food outlets.
Blues Rock Cafe
Attendance in here has been falling for some time (measured scientifically by the time it takes to get served, which has reduced dramatically with no noticeable increase in staff numbers or serving processes). I believe the Blues Rock to be one of the success stories of the stadium redevelopment, a fantastic venue compared to the previous social club and for those who want a pre-or-post-match pint and natter while watching the footie it’s a better alternative to the competing pubs in the locality. Before the Swansea game, the Prem Plus match wasn’t being shown on the big screens, instead we had Sky Sports News. The staff told us this was a cost measure. I don’t know the figures so I can’t do a back-of-fag-packet business case, but with Prem Plus games being shown at 1245 and 1715 on Saturdays, the place is going to lose out massively. The multitude of screens match those in London sports bars, but are bugger all use if they’re showing talking heads instead of football. The Southern Belle and Cricketers won’t believe their luck. This may be a Compass decision, but it’s an idiotic one if the bar staff’s claims are true.
The Ticket Office
The very fact that the electricity got cut off is a very grim insight to the welfare of the business. I get the odd red bill but I’ve never been cut off because I appreciate the hassle this will cause. If the club was in dispute then they didn’t think the consequences through very well, and the key knock-on effect was that the clapped out server (allegedly one of the bargains acquired when the Dome was cleared out) keeled over a fortnight before the start of the season. Hence the difficulty buying tickets as the season got underway. It’s back on its feet again now, but problems persist : after the Swansea game – a buoyant result if ever there was one which might just have prompted a few impulse sales for future games – it was closed. Why shut the ticket office when you’ve got all your customers outside the front door? OK, I only wanted tickets for the Orient away game, a sale from which the club wouldn’t benefit financially, but the implication is that it’s either too costly or too much trouble to open up for 45 minutes post-match. The assumption that your customers will return on your terms (9 – 5 weekdays) is rather a complacent one, especially when many of them don’t live locally.
The New Shirt
It’s a horrible garment scarcely changed from last season, but there are plenty of people willing to buy a new shirt each season. We knew the season started on 5 August ages in advance, the season starts at pretty much the same time each year. People are generally optimistic in July and August (the sun blinds them), a state that doesn’t necessarily last more than a fortnight beyond the opening day. Hence it would make sense to plan for the new strip to be available as early as possible, especially if you’ve got a lucrative pre-season fixture against Premiership opposition which could attract the largest crowd of the season. It’s called pre-planning to cash in to your advantage. When were our new shirts available? Mid-August, when everyone was already on a downer.
The Commercial Team
Scally has been at pains to point out that he’s been recruiting a sales team, and there was an interview with Carolyn Moore (new Commercial Sales Manager) in the programme where she talked about the team covering the whole of Kent, aiming to get businesses behind the club, and conducting stadium tours as people don’t know what the club can offer. Our state of the art facilities have been open for around five years now – why don’t people know what we offer? Why haven’t we been covering the whole of Kent before? How the hell did we end up with no commercial team in the first place? According to the programme there are 42 kit sponsorships on offer – five are sold. Way less than used to be the case in the early 90s (BMH regularly sponsored players and you had to be quick to get your first choices). The Medway Stand executive seating was all but empty again at the Swans fixture. At this stage it smacks of rehashing old ideas that have been successfully implemented by other clubs (Valley Express anyone?) but have only been given short term commitment by Gillingham. We’ve heard it all before. Why did we get lumbered with no sales staff? Were they dismissed because of poor quality (hinting at a flawed recruitment policy)? Were the products they were attempting to sell inadequate? Did they leave of their own accord? On the subject of the programme, at least there were match action photos from the Millwall game on the “Match Action” pages – in the previous programmes the club made do with stock photography of the players involved, which rather defeats the point of having such a feature. Though in fairness, the programme has been much improved in recent years.
Simplistically, a business can fail through either a failure to control costs or a failure to bring in sufficient revenue. Or both. The cost situation has been widely debated. We’ve drawn our conclusions, ill-informed or otherwise. As for the sullen revenue situation, this has been succinctly explained repeatedly by the chairman : the inability of ITV Digital to see through their promises (coupled with the lack of support for the odd Glen Miller tribute night). But it’s imperative that football clubs get their act together off the pitch – surely the income from catering, tickets, bar sales and commercial sponsorships should be maximised, or is that another crass statement? Surely the most successful clubs realise this? Scally asked that we “think before writing such nonsense” (referring to “wild speculation and misconceived tripe”) on message boards. Well, I thought long and hard before writing the above, and 1) I don’t believe these “observations” are evidence of a club “moving rapidly in the right direction on all fronts” and 2) I do believe I’m entitled to voice my opinion. I’m not sure which Scally would detest more – what I’m saying or the fact that I’m allowed to say it.
The Morty Vicker