Businessman Andrew Lapping on the Trust, fan engagement and moving forward
In the final part of our interview with businessman Andrew Lapping we talked about playing budgets and fan engagement, including the role of the United Trust now their shareholding has been diluted.
When football fans see the word ‘investment’ they will start to think about immediate change and immediate success. What is the message for them? Can they expect that or is it more of a long term project?
This is a long term project from day one for me. I think the threat of relegation confused things for a while, because it meant the long term plan had to become a mix of a short term plan and a long term plan. To be fair to Andrew [Jenkins] and John [Nixon] they stuck at the short term problem, which was to stay in this league, and we’ve achieved that. Congratulations have to go to Keith [Curle] for getting the results he needed. He was criticised after the Accrington game for the comments he made – I was probably one of them myself, if I’m being honest – but he stuck his neck out and he got the response he was looking for. Walking off those terraces that day I certainly didn’t expect to get seven points from the next nine, and I don’t think many other people did either. There has been a collective push to keep the club in the Football League and the next step is to push on with the long term plan. The objective is to give the club a solid balance sheet because my view, for a long time, has been that the balance sheet has been driving the way the club has been run. The debt and the controls through the Trust, and a couple of mistakes along the way, have resulted in the club going into a spiral. Another part of the long term plan is to arrest that spiral, deleverage the club from the Jenkins family and take the club on in a way which is sustainable.
With the injection of new cash, in particular, does that mean the fans can expect a summer of high profile signings? Does the investment change the manager’s budget in that way at all?
The club will have money in the bank and a clean balance sheet, so I think the real impact will be on the decision making side of things rather than splashing the cash, so to speak. I’m not expecting to hand Keith Curle blank cheques to go out and buy players. What I am expecting is for Keith and his team to do their work with a solid budget, and with the knowledge we don’t have to sell players just because we’re short of cash to pay the next month’s wages. We also won’t be relying on Andrew Jenkins to put another £100,000 in for the same reasons. The cleaning up of the balance sheet is all about allowing the club to breathe and, from that, allowing the executive team to make decisions on the front foot, rather than doing things because we have to. I think that’s been a problem for the football club for the last two or three years.
On the administrational side of the business, can we expect a very close review of the way all departments work to make sure everyone is performing and producing the output and results we all want to see?
I think any new managing director who comes in to a business is going to want to look at how things are running, from top to bottom. What I’ve seen so far is that the staff in place now are extremely loyal. They work very hard and I suspect a lot of their issues come from being under-resourced, rather than it being the opposite. What I’m expecting the MD to do is to get in post, assess everything and provide a working plan to the board which will have a series of recommendations which can be approved and implemented.
One of the positive elements of the move forward, from a fan point of view, is the desire to bring the supporters back into the heartbeat of the club. Where do you see that going and what is it you want in terms of fan engagement going forward?
There’s a feeling that the club has lost its way a little bit with the business community, and with the fan base and, again, that isn’t meant to be disrespectful to the current regime in any way. It’s all down to the situation the club has been in over the last few years. There has been a lack of engagement and we can look a bit insular. We don’t seem to be interacting with our fans as much as we need to and we have a fan base which is very internet savvy. I expect that aspect to be really pushed over the next few years to get the club to really interact in a meaningful way on a daily and weekly basis. It’s not just about turning out on a Saturday; it’s about knowing what’s going on at the club on a day to day basis. The club is a community asset and I want the fans to really believe that it is their club. I want them to feel we’re all working together to be the best we can be. Across all levels the club has been paralysed for a few years because of the inherent debt and share structure it has had to deal with. We’ve unlocked that, so it’s now about bringing everyone back together and allowing our staff to express themselves with the projects and ideas they’ve had but, to date, have not been able to bring to fruition. If you go back to 2005/06, just after we’d come back up from the Conference, the club was on fire. We went to every game expecting to win and we won the League Two title by a country mile. That encapsulated for me how good Carlisle United can be, and I want that to come back.
Central to that would be a vibrant supporters’ club. Are you hoping the Trust will be the heartbeat of that going on from here?
I’ve encouraged the Trust to almost rebrand itself and I’ve asked them to consign everything that’s gone before to history. The Trust has provided me with a draft of a new plan, and the executive summary of that plan had five or six points on the front page which I have signed up to. It’s about the Trust becoming more representative and more engaged with the fan base as a whole and, ultimately, doing what it can to help the football club. This is a new dawn for the football club and it could also be a new dawn for the Trust. I would encourage everyone to get behind them because I do think the steps they’ve taken over the last few months have been difficult for them to follow. They’ve had to give something up and they’ve had to believe that I would deliver something more relevant and more commercial for them. I can’t praise them highly enough for what they’ve done.
I know Chris Lumsdon has been looking for his own sponsorship and support for the part he wants to play in that. How important is he going to be to this going forward from where we are now?
Chris has been supportive of me and we’ve had a number of general discussions about how we would move the engagement between the club and the fans forward. He seems to have the ear of all of our fans and I see him being pivotal in that area. In terms of a title, a specific role and exactly what he will do, we haven’t quite worked that out yet. I see this as a fairly important cog in what we will be doing in the near future.
Finally, Andrew, how close are you to rounding off the investment and getting all of the people on board you need to reach the overall figure to enable you to push on with the long term plan?
Since the Trust voted to dilute their shareholding in CUFC Holdings I’ve found that people have been coming forward to talk to me, rather than it having to be the other way round. It has mainly been local business people who want to do their bit for the club. I haven’t really had to try too hard to raise the money. What I’ve worked out is that no single person wants to own Carlisle United, but there are an awful lot of people out there who want to do their bit. The job for me is to pull them all together into one group and get a document we can all invest in. There’s still room for new money to come in and I’m expecting that to be filled in the next few weeks. All of the current investors, apart from one we named this week, are local businessmen. The man from London is a personal friend of mine who is a huge sports fanatic. He’s keen to back me in what I’m doing, but I’m sure we’ll be turning him into a Carlisle United fan now that he’s agreed to come on board. It’s all coming together and, like I say, I expect it to be in place and moving forward in just a few weeks time.
For part one of this interview, click HERE
For part two of this interview, click HERE