Carlisle United were delighted to be able to host their first business event for over 15 months this morning with the once regular meetings falling victim to the strict but very necessary Covid restrictions and guidelines.
Members of the local business community came together in Foxy’s Restaurant for a ‘Fixture Release Day’ which saw manager Chris Beech reveal the 2021/22 fixtures before taking questions on some of the headlines from the up and coming run of games.
Andrew Jenkins, John Nixon, Nigel Clibbens, Suzanne Kidd and Sarah McKnight were on hand to discuss club matters, and there was a special treat as Roger Smith, managing director of Thomas Graham – our main kit sponsor for this season – revealed the new home and away kits to the audience, accompanied by his father Ian.
An English and Continental breakfast selection was provided by catering partner John Watt & Son, with tea and coffee in full-flow as the event got into its stride.
Taking to the lectern first, chief executive Nigel Clibbens said: “This is a special day for us. It’s the first time for what feels like a long, long time that we’ve been able to welcome people into our club for the type of event which used to be the norm.
“It’s so good to see everybody and it’s good for us that you can get to see first-hand what it means to bring the catering side of our operation in-house.
“John Watt & Son have set the room up beautifully, with some excellent breakfast fayre for us to enjoy, and Peter and Carol [Johnston] are here to meet you all as part of that developing partnership.
“I’m sure you’ll agree that making this change to the catering side of the business is a positive move. It isn’t just about making the match day experience better, which is extremely important in itself, but we’re sending a statement that we’re facing up to the challenges that come with running a football club and that we’re going to do things differently.
“Times have changed because of Covid and we have had to adapt across the club, with catering a big part of that. We looked at where we were, and I think it was obvious to us that we’d outgrown the concept of contracting the catering operation out to other companies.
“We want to have more control, we want the buck to stop with us. We relish the chance to take on that responsibility and John Watt & Son are helping us to bring a new level of professionalism, as you can see from how this morning’s event has been presented.
“It’s a brand-new and exciting venture and we know it’s going to be a success.”
“A really pleasing thing for us from when we last saw you all is the way that everybody at the club has stepped up to the mark through what have been extremely difficult circumstances,” he continued.
“I want to go on record with a thank you to every staff member, in every department, because they have helped us to keep our club, your club, going. We can all be proud of them. They had their own worries and concerns to contend with, but the club came first with all of them.
“We had financial support from the EFL and the government, which you’ll have seen from our updates, and that was needed.
“On top of that our supporters showed just how much their club matters to them with the way they got behind the team on iFollow. That earned significant revenue, as well as other fans donating the money they had spent on season tickets to the club.
“There are no words to cover the thank you that’s needed for the way the fans have stayed with us, even though they couldn’t physically come to the games.”
“Just as important, and this often gets overlooked, is the support that was there from our business partners and from the wider business community,” he commented. “Advertising agreements and packages that were paid for prior to the lockdowns stayed in place, despite the fact that the normal profile that would come with those sponsorship deals was taken away from us.
“Believe me, that is not taken for granted and, again, is valued greatly. The relationships we have with local companies are strong, as demonstrated by your attendance now and by the way you chose to waive your rights to reclaim money paid when the pandemic struck.
“It has been a long 15 months, but we have come through it, and we are stable and sound. Our accounts show a £782,000 profit, a record turnover and the best financial results for 10 years.
“We entered a difficult year last year in a good place, with cash in the bank and real comfort we could get through. With fans then stopped from making a return, the worry was that we would get to where we are now with nothing left.
“However, that isn’t the case. We’ve come through it, we still have cash in the bank and we look forward to next season knowing that we aren’t facing an imminent crisis.
“This year we should, broadly speaking, break even, which is remarkable when you consider that we have suffered a loss of £1.2m of income due to the virus.
“We head into this season feeling really optimistic with season tickets going on sale on Monday and the kit launch this weekend. We thank Roger and Ian Smith from Thomas Graham for their tremendous support with the shirt sponsorship.
“It isn’t easy for businesses to commit to things like that in what are tough times, but they stepped up and I personally think the shirts, home and away, will be received as being amongst the best we’ve had.
“Commercially we are back open, with Kevin Dobinson, Jenny Anderson and Anne-Marie Gardner joined by Martyn Vevers as they look to push that area forward.
"I have to thank Alba Travel as well. They came on board as a our away travel partner last season and proved to be very efficient, adaptable and professional. We're looking forward to working with them again this season.
“With just 48 days to go before our first game we have much work to do. On the field Chris is our first manager since 2017 who has had two summer transfer windows. He’s done good work, with more done in the past few days on recruitment, and he’s coming into this season off the back of undoubted improvement.”
“I do get asked a lot by fans and business partners what the plan is,” he concluded. “People want to know what they are getting behind. I wrote a long speech in reply to that, but I think it’s better for me just to explain.
“This isn’t my club, I’ve been here for six years, but I won’t be here forever. I do everything I can for this club, and I always will, but the club will still be here when I go. Andrew Jenkins, John Nixon, they’re the same.
“They’re not asking for you to back them personally. We’re asking you to back the club because we know we can be a much better club in a higher division. The issue is that we have to get out of this league first, because it is holding us back.
“We absolutely do not lack ambition. Life is not easy at this level and that’s why our aim has to be get to League One. There will be so much more we can do if we achieve that. However, we have to do it in such a way that when we, the people working here now, do move on the club isn’t facing ruin. We must remain prudent.
“In the past people like Andrew, Fred Story and John Courtenay have put personal money in with the intention of pushing this club forward. Real pushes for success, all of which have been documented, have come from that.
“We’re taking it in a different direction now. Every pound we spend has to be generated by club activities, be that player sales or commercially.
“We need a united front, we need fans to buy into their club and we need the business community to help us as well. We need to stay away from in-fighting and make sure that Carlisle United is stable and well run, which it currently is.
“We need to spend every penny we can on the football department without heading towards crisis. The more help we get, the more we can do. We need our fans and business partners to continue to stand with us, and together we hope to make that next step to where we all want to be.”
Co-owner John Nixon added: “Nigel has covered some good pointers there, but I would like to add a thank you on behalf of all of the directors to the business community for the support you have shown over the last season.
“Thank you also to John Watt for this morning, and for the positive way they have entered into this new and exciting catering partnership.
“With us returning to some degree of normality there are so many other positives, and for us to turn in a profit for the last year is great, particularly with fans locked out of stadiums.
“That’s tribute to everybody at this club for way things have been managed over this past 15 months. I really can’t thank our wonderful and hard-working staff enough for that, right across the club.
“Believe me, we are in a good position. As an EFL board member we have seen some clubs who have faced really tough situations and who will be hampered going forward by the loan repayments they now face.
“There are more difficult times coming for the world of football, but we’re in quite a good place compared to some clubs.”
“That’s fantastic, even though we’ve had no cash coming in for close to 18 months now,” he added. “It’s a good thing for the club that we’re self-sufficient in this way.
“We still have the same shareholders, that hasn’t changed, but everybody is fully aware that we know the time is coming to pass this on.
“For our part we have maintained investment in the stadium, the club and the playing side, including the youth system, and our ethos going forward is pretty simple.
“That is that we will continue to do everything we can to get us up to League One as we look to pass this on to someone who believes in Carlisle, in the city and in the club.
“It has to be about this club being able to look after itself for the long-term future, making those steps up the pyramid, but not being placed at risk. We have to have a club that can continue long after we have all moved on. That’s all we’ve ever wanted.
“So, to repeat myself, thank you once again for your support. A huge thank you to the fans who have done their bit, they have been superb.
“And I am really grateful to our fantastic staff who have kept us going and who are a big part of the reason why we have a club that’s so solid and in such a good place going forward.”
Thank you to our event host, Adrian Bell, who was fantastic once again as he guided our guests through the morning.