We are now into the second half of the season and, with the January transfer window closed, it is an ideal time to talk about some encouraging progress off the field, and also review the window, which I hope you find interesting.
Retail has had an excellent first half to the year showing sales up over 20% compared with last year. We are now in the process of arranging next year’s kit and we are waiting to receive samples to pick from.
Season Ticket sales were up at the start of the season and we are pleased that Half Season Tickets were also so popular - these have doubled compared with last year. Young fans and families attending games are also up 13%. That’s helped increase home tickets sales by 11% with some big home games to come. Thank you for the support you are giving us.
The United PlayerHD service, which provides on-line radio commentary and full match videos and behind the scenes footage, is now being taken by more fans than ever before, with 25% more fans signing up in the last six months alone. We consistently upload more video content than almost every other EFL club to give the best value we can to our fans. We will be doing even more in the future, with more Club exclusives – it’s a service well worth checking out.
Today we have over 150 children visiting from schools as part of our Community Ticket Scheme. We hope you all enjoy the game and the activities! There is a lot of hard work going on behind the scenes by all of our staff, and it often goes unheralded, so it’s good to see progress being made day-to-day.
By way of background, when it comes to managing our playing budget, here in League 2, we can spend 55% of our income on players. This includes spending on all player wages, bonuses, expenses and agents fees, for instance. We do not have the income of some rivals, so we need to be creative in how we spend our allowance and we have to develop our own way of going about it.
By the end of the August 2016 window we had committed almost all of the allowance for this year, based on budgeted income. The plan was to invest early in pre-season to get in more quality players, which meant we would operate with a smaller squad, with everyone contributing.
After the Rochdale FA Cup game, we reviewed our position with Keith, ready for January. This meant prioritising the positions and targets, and working out our approach. To make the changes to the squad that Keith identified as being needed, the approach adopted was firstly to try to exit some players in order to make room in our salary cap to bring others in.
The January transfer window was my first in the hot seat for deals at Carlisle United and, with five deals in, and eight deals out, needless to say the phone-line to Keith and Lee Dykes was extremely busy.
When targets become available you also need to be in a position to move quickly to get them, often before others do. So, in early January, and without any players having left the Club, we discovered that there was a possibility that a long term target [Gary Liddle] was available. New and additional funds were provided by Chairman Andrew Jenkins to increase our available budget quickly, at a time when we really needed it.
Keith generously recognised this support from the Chairman during his press conferences, and for me it shows how closely things work behind the scenes to get the best outcome for the Club. Thanks Andrew!
Players leaving (permanently and on loan) later helped to create more room to bring others in. That showed Keith’s willingness to play his part in making the manner in which we had planned to operate come to fruition - win-win.
We were grateful to the Crowdfunding initiative started by CUOSC as it sought to play its part to increase our spending power. The backing the fans gave in response has been superb and everyone at the Club is grateful. Thanks to the fans and CUOSC for that!
Sadly, and very disappointingly, Charlie Wyke had to be sold – not in the plan! I can’t disclose the confidential terms, as we would get sued (the threat is a very real one!) so I can’t put the speculation about it to bed.
However, what I can say is that we fought tooth and nail to keep him here and then, after he had asked to leave the Club for a second time following the Barnet game, we did everything we could to get the best deal for us.
Everyone tried to get Charlie to stay but when a player wants to leave, and he makes it crystal clear that’s it as far as he’s concerned, it’s then up to us to get firstly the best deal in the circumstances, and then the best replacement we can. That’s football, it’s how it goes, and we all move on.
Charlie is a great lad and everybody at the Club wishes him big success – it was great to see him score, and actually no surprise, and hopefully his future success will also see us gain financially as a club in the future. I know he will be given a warm reception whenever he comes back. Best wishes Charlie!
Our deep disappointment at seeing him go was tempered by Jamie Proctor joining us. After Jamie’s all round performance, and not just his goal, at Orient I certainly can’t wait to see him in action again.
Whilst in head count terms the core senior squad has grown by one, to 21, the seven other players who left in January did not feature as starters or used substitutes often enough for anyone’s liking. Players want to play and managers want players they feel can make a difference.
With the exception of Mark Ellis and Charlie Wyke, the other six players who left started only one league game and rarely featured as substitutes, playing the equivalent of only three full games between them.
The reality is that to maximise our budget we need every player to threaten the first team starting line up and bring real competition and impact. That means we can’t afford to have wages tied up in players who are not contributing.
The sale of Charlie Wyke, plus other players leaving and the additional boost to funding by Andrew, allowed us to bring in Gary Liddle, John O’Sullivan, Jamie Proctor, George Waring and James Bailey. It also meant we could keep Alex McQueen, and it leaves us able to look at other deals and ways to support the team going forward.
All in all it was very hectic and it certainly kept us busy! A big thank you to Club Secretary Sarah McKnight for getting the players registered and cleared for Orient, including a very quick-time overseas clearance requirement. Also thanks to Andy Hall and Amy Nixon for getting the news out to the fans and press as it happened.
As Keith said at the Carlisle United Supporters Club London Branch Q&A, and then again on Channel 5, we had an approach from another club to take him as manager in recent weeks. The immediate response from the Club was to refuse permission to speak to Keith outright. There was no room for any deal from the Club’s point of view!
I can see the strong relationship between Keith and Andrew and John Nixon, who brought him here, which has built up over the past few years. That meant telling Keith about the approach was the right thing to do. We were delighted when he committed himself to continue the good work here with us. It is in no small part due to the relationship between the three of them. It also demonstrates the confidence and trust Keith has in the Club and the way it is run by the owners.
Finally, I do recognise from talking to fans, and from what I see in the media, that the unresolved investment situation does impact on what some people think, say and feel about the Club. We see it, and that’s frustrating for fans and Club alike. It’s crucial we all get resolution very quickly now. The owners want that, just like the fans, and I now expect to see that happen.
That said, it would be wrong for us to let it overshadow and affect the good things that are being done here day in and day out, some of which I have pointed out in this article.
The people within the Club do not claim to be perfect but we are all united and working together to make Carlisle United the best it can be, by improving on and off the field. We will all strive to continue to get better and better and we will compete every minute to bring constant levels of improvement to the Club.