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19 March 2009
Chester City FC: Transcript from Gary Metcalf's first press conference
By Paul Wheelock, Chester Chronicle

THE new owner of Chester City Football Club, Gary Metcalf (GM), was unveiled at the Deva Stadium on Friday alongside board members Bob Gray (BG), Ian Anderson (IA) and Steve Halliwell (SH).

The Chronicle brings you an extended transcript from the press conference.

BG: Welcome everybody. We’re here today to announce the new owner of Chester City Football Club, Mr Gary Metcalf. Steve Halliwell is our director on the commercial side; Ian Anderson is our new chief executive who is going to help the club along with the players and their contractual agreements; and obviously me as the managing director. That’s how it will stay in place. Mr Vaughan has stepped down and the club has got to move on and that’s what this press conference is about.

It’s a confidential disclosure agreed by Mr Vaughan and Mr Metcalf, so any questions on that will be limited as there are a few things that need to be ironed out to make the deal 100%, which should be done by Monday or Tuesday or sometime next week. However, the loans are still outstanding and Mr Vaughan remains the major creditor of the football club.

I’d just like to welcome Gary on board, I’m sure he’s going to do a fantastic job. He’s very ambitious. We’ve talked quite a lot over the last few weeks and the investment side is really progressing and that’s why Gary is here. He’s going to play a major part in the investment side for the football club, which is excellent, and I think it’s through investment that we’re going to move the club forward.

GM: Just to give you some background, I’ve been negotiating with Bob for six months. We’ve negotiated an option over the development of the football stadium. The number one objective is to keep the football club in the Football League and the number two objective is to secure new investment for the club. We’ve created a new vehicle, called Spirit Football Ltd, and the objective is to attract new investment into the club. But the most important thing from now until the end of the season is that Chester remains a Football League club. That’s the number one focus and any other initiative and plans for the club will be secondary to that.
I won’t be dealing with the day-to-day football matters, that will be a matter for the board. I will focus 100% on bringing new investment into the football club. The reasons why I’ve been attracted to Chester City Football Club is that it is one of the very few Football League clubs to have nil bank debt and that it has potential to develop the stadium in terms of new offices, café bars, bistros and retail. I can tell you, without formally announcing who those parties are, that we do have potential interest from major property companies to take a further option on the development of the stadium and we’ll be working hard over the next six to 12 months to make sure that happens.

There are other plans we’d like to initiate. We would like to develop an Under 21s youth team. We’ve held brief discussions with the board about developing that for the new season. But the main objective is to provide a solid platform so that the club can continue in the League and then build from that.

QUESTION: There’s a transfer embargo on the club which has precluded the current manager from signing any players. The deadline is next Thursday, so are there plans to have that lifted by putting investment in?

GM: There are three working days effectively left. It’s the first time I’ve met the board today and I’ve not yet met Mark Wright the manager. I wouldn’t rule it out completely but the likelihood is that the manager will have to make best use of the squad that he has got. There’s a good crop of young players here and the likelihood is the current squad will be the one that will be with us until the end of the season. It’s important that everybody believes the club can stay in the Football League.

It’s important for the manager, it’s important for the players and it’s important for the fans to believe that this squad of players can get them where they need to be.

In summary, I wouldn’t rule it out but the likelihood is that it will be extremely difficult to bring somebody in before Thursday. We’ve got a meeting with the PFA on Monday at 12 o’clock, we need to find out what the balance is. And on Monday afternoon and Tuesday we will be meeting with the all creditors of the club. The most important thing is that we try and create a platform so that everyone can understand what our intentions are and move the club forward.

Q: Are you a Chester City fan?
GM: I was based in Chester for a number of years when I was in the Army and I’ve got no doubt that myself and my family will be coming to most of the games. I’m a Liverpool fan, but I’ll be putting a commercial hat on and my objective is to build the football club and make it a viable business. I would tell you that Stephen Vaughan became a Chester fan and will remain a Chester fan.

Q: How are you going to get more people through the gates?
It’s a tough one. People have to believe and people will come through the gates if the performances are out there on the pitch. My objective is making sure that we have a solid platform to create new investment because the club needs new investment. We’re in a precarious position in the Football League, we’re embargoed by the PFA and there are the outstanding creditors. But having said that, we’re one of the very few football clubs without any bank debt and I don’t envisage taking on new bank debt. I envisage bringing in new investors, negotiating terms with the existing creditors to give us a platform for further growth and success.
Getting new people through the door is going to be our toughest challenge.

Gates at the moment are around 1,200. They need to be 3,000. I’ve gone through the accounts with Bob and the board. They need to be 3,000. That should be the bare minimum for any football club to stay in the Football League. If the fans want to stay away, the likelihood is that this football club will become not Football League. It’s absolutely crucial the fans come and show their support when results are not going the team’s way.

So we’ll be doing whatever we can to get them back and supporting the football club. It’s vital between now and the end of the season we try and get the gate up to the maximum that we can.

Q: Is the PFA debt the only football-related debt the club has?
Yes, but there might be one or two small levies to pay and things like that, which are ongoing. It’s not a PFA debt at the end of the day, it’s people need paying for their wages and things like that.

Q: The reason for the question was that if that is the only debt and that is lifted, then the embargo is lifted?
It’s not as simple and straight forward. This is why Gary has hinted that it might not be a possibility of bringing players in. I can’t see us getting any players in all honesty and I’m not going over what Gary said in any way, shape or form. The Football League are aware of our situation. They’re asking can they bring players in or can’t they bring players in? Or can they afford to bring players in? And based on the fact that we’ve got an embargo, it would be difficult for them to say, ‘yes we’ll agree for Chester City Football Club to bring players in’.

It’s all based on what you bring through the gates and things like that. The fans play a massive part in the salary cap management structure that we’ve got in place with the Football League and our League Two counterparts. So if the fans aren’t coming through the gates, our income then reduces dramatically and the salary cap management kicks in and says, ‘well, I’m sorry, because you’ve downturned your projections, it is unaffordable to bring players in and you’ve got to go with what you’ve got’. So although we want to bring players in and lift the embargo, at the end of the day it’s down to the Football League to say we can do that.

Q: According to a Football League spokesman last night, there are only three League Two clubs over the salary cap management and Chester isn’t one of them.
Right, good, fine.

Q: What are your plans for the football club per se as opposed to plans for the development of the club or do you see them linking and going hand in hand?
I don’t think the local authority will grant planning consent unless the football club is an integral part of the whole stadium redevelopment. They’re both hand in hand. My background is property investment and development and I’m not making any secrets of that. We see an opportunity here at the Deva Stadium to develop the facility. We’re not being over-ambitious at all. I know that Bob wants to increase the capacity up to 8,000 and that’s something we’re looking at. There’s certainly an opportunity here for office premises at the front of the stadium, a business centre and conference facilities that the local authority can use and that the local community can use and that can create revenue for the club. The first objective is to keep the football club in the Football League and the second objective is to create a balanced platform to attract new investment.

Where the football club is at the moment, with the creditors and the embargo and everything else, that’s an impossible task. So my role is to create a solid platform to attract new investment. But for all the talk of the business centre use and the office development, the most integral part of that is that the football club is a successful football club and one that the city of Chester can be proud of. I don’t believe a city such as Chester should have such a poorly-supported club. You’ve seen small football towns like Shrewsbury that have got successful football clubs that their towns can be proud of. And if I can play some part in getting this football club to a better level then that would be a step forward.

I’ve been an underdog all of my life and this represents the biggest challenge for me. But I remain confident if we can set the right tone and create the right platform, we can attract people and I’ll be working with the current board to make sure we do that.

Q: If the club is relegated, the Coca-Cola money is halved next season and then totally goes out of the window if you don’t get promotion straight away. Would that have an effect on your business plan for the future?
I don’t think so. I’m probably three or four weeks away from submitting a formal planning application. We’ve concluded a pre-application exercise with Chester City Council and Flintshire. They have given the football club full support to develop this stadium. It’s important that it’s not over-developed and that we don’t create the biggest white elephant Chester has ever seen. So what we’re likely to do is create an office facility at the main stand first of all. If we can get planning within 12 to 16 weeks ready for the new season, we’ve created an asset for the football club and for the city of Chester. Even in probably the worst property market for 100 years, to have an asset on your balance sheet for the football club is a major step forward.

One of the restrictions that Stephen Vaughan has had and the board have had is that this football stadium isn’t owned by the football club, so there’s no asset to attract any further investment.

Q: Would the profit from the development go the football club or would it go to an individual or a development company?
We’re talking about one and the same thing. My negotiations with Stephen Vaughan are to bring all things under one roof so that the football club will own the development rights as well. But that will mean further discussions with the local authorities that they are comfortable and everybody is comfortable that the rights things are being done.

BG: It’s took us two years to get us this far and that’s why we’re trying to blossom it out and say it’s looking good. Submitting all the plans and paperwork to the council is a positive move forward and it has to be. Everybody in this room knows how much money Stephen Vaughan put in and he’s had to because there’s insufficient amount of attendances coming through the gates, so we have to look at another avenue. We’re not being disrespectful to the fans that aren’t coming.

We’ve got 1,600 hardcore Chester City supporters that come week-in, week-out, but that isn’t enough and, again, that’s not being disrespectful to them. It’s not enough to compensate for the shortfall, but the way we’ve compensated for the shortfall over the last seven or eight years has been through Stephen Vaughan. So what we’ve got to do now is find other investment.

But it takes time. This isn’t going to happen overnight as we’ve still got the embargo and things like that. But Gary’s on board now and if there’s outside investment that’s going to come in and put into the development, a proportion of that investment will go the club and that will pay for the shortfall and that’s a good move for Chester City.

Q: You say there’s a confidentiality agreement in place, but when do you expect to have total control of Stephen Vaughan’s shares?
There’s one or two what I would regard as minor legal details to be clarified and I am hopeful they will be sorted out by the end of next week. I don’t see any issues at all and I’m sure Stephen will agree to what we’re discussing.

You’ve asked some very good questions and the overriding one is how much control will the football club have over the development of the stadium. Well, the answer is as much as it can have. The football club needs a solid future and the only way it can have a solid future is to get new faces in and new investment. I think it’s absolutely key that a city like Chester has a football club that it can be proud of and it also needs a stadium facility that it can be proud of. This is a good location for offices and businesses to use on a day-to-day basis and all that creates value for the football club. And as soon as you’ve got a football club that’s got an asset and as soon as you’ve cleaned things up internally, you will be able to attract new investment.

My job over the next six to eight weeks is that, from a business point of view, we can create a platform that new money can come in. That’s not been able to happen in the past. And to be fair to Stephen he’s put his money where his mouth is.

I’m not the type of guy who will promise the world, but what I would say is that I’ll be working with the board to make sure there is a future for the football club because it deserves one.

And let’s not kid each other. I’m here with a commercial hat on. I’m not a Chester guy, I’m based in Liverpool, so I see an opportunity and the opportunity is to develop the football stadium and create an asset that can be worth a considerable amount of money.

Q: There are very few philanthropists around at the moment, which obviously you’re not, so you obviously you see it as an investment for your company as well as the football club?
GM: Absolutely, let’s not kid each other. I am a sports fan; I am a football and boxing fan. It’s part of my make-up. But my business head will overrule everything else and there is an opportunity here to create an asset that has a value, but that will be shared between the football club and our company, on terms to be agreed, between the local authorities in the main, because they own the stadium, and any other party. But there’s no point in creating an asset that can’t be built, so whatever terms are agreed between the local authorities and a developer will have to be commercially viable. And I think that’s the platform to move this club on.

The plans for the U21s youth policy is really there to capture the failings of Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Everton. I don’t know of any other industry worldwide that says your career is over at 18. The objective is to try and capture some of them and develop them. I don’t want to make any promises on that score because at the moment, the most important thing is keeping this football club in Football League. The second thing is to create a platform for new investment and then we can go to work on the youth policy.

I see no reason why, if we’re cute, we can’t work with local football clubs like Liverpool, Manchester United and Manchester City and nurture some of their talent. Liverpool Football Club have 67 players at Melwood, their reserve team plays 20 league fixtures a year, so 40 odd players don’t get to play most weeks. They need an outlet and exposure to the rough and tumble of League One and League Two, so I see an opportunity there to engage with those people and bring three or four players in.

Q: Do you plan any changes on the playing side at all in the immediate future?
I’ve not even had a conversation with Mark Wright yet as today is the first time I’ve met the board. I’ve got no doubt there will be new faces, but the football club needs to focus now on the remaining games from now until the end of the season and give 110% to make sure we get the right results. But the football side of things will be taken care of by the board. I’ll be taking council from Bob and the rest of the team as I’ll have enough on my plate to try and get investment in.

IA: One of my jobs for the remaining part of the season and during the summer months is to look at the staffing levels of the playing staff and the way we do things generally on a contractual basis. Bob reiterated it, without people coming through the door, it’s a vicious circle. Without people putting bums on seats, it’s very difficult to get investment.

GM: I see no reason why we can’t get to 3,000 if people are confident we’re doing the right things and we’re open and transparent about what we’re trying to do.

BG: We looked at it last year and if we could get 3,800 paying customers through the gates it could move the club forward naturally. But obviously that’s not happening and that hasn’t happened since we were in the Conference and we were winning games. So we have to look at other avenues to compensate for the shortfall and so this is what we’re doing. We’re looking at the investment side of it to prop up the shortfall and not just leaving it up to one man to get the money.

Gary’s got ambitious ideas about investment into the club and part of those investments is the development of the ground and that would be fantastic because we would get a proportion of that investment to move the club forward.

GM: I haven’t come here today to make any promises as that’s not what I’m all about. I’ve come here today to explain to everybody that I’ve seen an opportunity to develop a football club and a football stadium and the commercial benefits are clearly there for everybody to see.

I’m not here to make any false promises. I know the history of the football club. I know about when the Americans were here and the disarray they caused, but that’s not what I’m here for.


































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