More than 60 Berwick Rangers supporters packed out the club’s JB Lounge on Tuesday night to hear an update from the new Board of Directors about the current financial situation, as well as the thoughts and views for the future.
New directors Drew Fiddes and Dougie Younger were introduced by Chairman Brian Porteous before Vice-Chairman Craig Forsyth updated those in attendance about the current financial position.
In summary, the picture is concerning. However, in working together, there are ways forward.
The club has a forecasted loss of £55,000 for the end of the current season.
For next season, there will be a reduction in SFA & SPFL money of £60,000 guaranteed income, while there is also the possibility of an increase in fees for the ground set by Northumberland County Council.
However, the new Board of Directors have been working exceptionally hard in their first few weeks in their roles to close the gap. The next three home games are sold out in terms of match sponsorship packages, although the East Stirlingshire (February 8) and Edinburgh University (February 22) still have some individual hospitality spaces left at £20 per head. The match against Spartans FC on April 11 is a complete sell out and the club would like to place on record its thanks to everybody who has bought match sponsorship or hospitality.
As a result, the Board of Directors have set some short, medium and long-term objectives.
Initially, this will look towards achieving consolidation before August, then starting to look towards moving to a Sports Foundation by end of the year. Beyond that, re-establishing links with town, community and Berwickshire would be high on the list of efforts to rebuild the club’s reputation.
Following Craig’s walk through of the finances, fellow Director Dave Buglass talked the supporters through a vision for the future of the club and central to that is very much putting the club back into the hands of the supporters, town and wider area.
All of this was caveated with the key message of everything being achievable – but only if everybody worked together. This is something that everybody in the room recognised hadn’t been the case previously.
At the heart of the recovery is the proposed transformation of Shielfield Park and its surrounding pitches at Ivinson and Old Shielfield. Not many clubs in Scotland have access to three grass parks in such a small area. It was agreed that the facilities need to be active seven days a week and become a Sports Hub for the town and wider areas.
Dave presented examples of SPFL clubs Stenhousemuir, Montrose and East Fife – all with 3G surfaces and full community programmes, yet all having smaller populations than Berwick-upon-Tweed and all being closer to bigger competitors. All agreed that with Berwick having no major competition 60 miles either way, it has represented a massive missed opportunity over the years.
The creation of a Berwick Sports Foundation, which will be set to include Berwick Bandits Speedway and other sports, is imperative and the ability to access English funding for wages of employees who would run football and social projects locally have to be achieved. It was agreed unanimously that the town and wider community had to fall back in love with the club.
The Board of Directors stated that they hoped progress around this would be quick and they revealed that conversations are already underway with private investors to gauge interest and costs are being assessed for looking at how it all can be achieved.
The meeting finished with a Q&A session featuring Manager Ian Little and his Assistant Kevin Haynes.
Both felt that no other manager had the same challenges at the club previously, following the turnover of players and rebuilding a new side. While both admitted the current league position was disappointing, they believe signs of improvement are clear and that they have the nucleus of good side.
It was recognised that 2020/21 would be tough in terms of competing but financial stability was the initial priority. However, once that was in place, a serious push to compete again is imperative in 2021/22.
The board were appreciative of the support received and were pleased that there was no aggression, nor ill feeling. What has gone before has gone and what was reassuring was the love and support for Berwick Rangers that makes the new Board of Directors more optimistic about the future.
However, there was an acknowledgement that times will be tough and everyone involved at the Football Club had to work together.
Chairman Brian Porteous raised the subject of admission for the 2020/21 season, opening the door for supporters to give their views on the current pricing of £10 for adults. After some discussion, which followed the presentation on the club’s financial situation, it was decided to leave the admission price at £10 for adults next season.
More regular updates will continue via social media and all were urged to keep liking and sharing updates. With more than 5,000 followers now on Facebook, the target was to incrementally grow this, while also doing the same on Twitter (12,800 followers) and Instagram (2,350 likes).
The below are answers to some questions recorded at the meeting:
Q: We talk about putting Berwick Rangers back into the town and community – will this include Berwickshire and the Borders as they have been neglected too but have always been great supporters of the club.
A: This was acknowledged by the Board of Directors and it was agreed that more work would be done to rebuild some of the links with youth football clubs and communities over the coming months. An email has also gone to Radio Borders for an interview.
Q: What opportunities are there for a showcase pre-season friendly or a game versus Newcastle United to help us financially?
A: Again, it was agreed that we need to re-establish links with clubs, ask for help and not be afraid to do that and try and increase the income we receive from these matches. Work is already underway to speak with clubs for help.
Q: Have we secured banking facilities or loan security should we need that if cash flow becomes an issue?
A: At present, no. However, it is unlikely we would secure that as we have no tangible assets or security to set against this. All of the Board agreed with the room that this is not an approach we want to pursue and we need to ensure we grow the income as a priority.
Q: There’s a new 3G going down at the Sports Centre, is it feasible that we can put one down at Shielfield?
A: Yes, absolutely. The town of Berwick and its size can easily sustain two 3G surfaces and the number of amateur clubs as well as senior clubs and juniors would easily keep both busy. At the same time to get Shielfield replaced, we will need to think creatively about how we secure private investors and then look to apply for top up funding from grant bodies in England. Whilst we play in the Scottish League system, the Foundation would be an entity set up in England.