At around this time on Saturday, April 23, Yeovil Town owner and chairman Scott Priestnall spoke to a group of supporters in the Alec Stock Lounge at Huish Park to lay out his vision of where he thought the club was and where he thought it was going.
We captured his words in an article – see here – and included links to a series of videos the club published on its social media channels, The Priestnall Tapes, which you can watch to hear his words for yourself.
It’s now five months on from that address there’s been two further statements made by the owner – one following the sale of the club’s Huish Park stadium and surrounding land to South Somerset District Council (SSDC) and one following the appointment of Stuart Robins as a director and shareholder.
So, we thought it was timely to take a look at some of the comments (commitments?) at that time and see where we are with them 153 days on…..
Scott said: “We’ve had 40 or 50 applications for the manager’s job, we’ve had some big profile names, names that have been in the top division, managers who have worked in the EFL in the last two years have applied, managers from this league and managers who have been out of work for the last few years, as you would expect.
“I have been open with (then-caretaker manager) Charlie (Lee) that I have spoken to some (of the applicants), I have not formally sat down with any at this stage but I intend to do that over the next couple of weeks, including Charlie. I will make a decision before the end of the season, maybe sooner.”
What’s happened since?: Chris Hargreaves was announced as manager on 18th May, three days after the end of the National League season, although his comments upon being unveiled suggest he may have been around longer than that. So “a decision before the end of the season, maybe sooner” – we can give Scott that one.
It’s not unfair to say that Hargreaves does not fit the description of candidates given precisely, he had worked at an EFL club within two years before his appointment, albeit in the youth set-up at Bristol Rovers. Former Glovers’ captain Jamie McAllister, who had been assistant manager at both Bristol City and Sunderland, was among the latter candidates shortlisted but the identity of any other applicants was never known.
Scott said: “I have made contract extension (offers) to a lot of the squad that we are looking to retain and those negotiations I would expect to go on until the end of the season.“
“We have to show you the commitment for you to buy season tickets. We will put a new manager in place and show commitment signing players and then we will put a deal together for season tickets.“
What’s happened since? In the summer, Priestnall triggered contract clauses to extend the stays of goalkeeper Grant Smith, defender Max Hunt, midfielders Matt Worthington and Toby Stephens and forwards Charlie Wakefield and Tom Knowles. He also awarded a two-year deal to Josh Staunton and gave a professional deal to Ollie Haste. He appointed a new manager and offered a package on season tickets which froze prices. Promise fulfilled on those, folks.
This season’s ambitions
Scott said: “This club will have a squad ready for next season that wants to compete for (the) play-offs, otherwise why get out of bed? That’s what we want to do.
“It’s not always possible in this league with the amount of money about, but what this league has proven in previous seasons is it is not always about money, it’s about having a settled squad, a set way that works in this league.”
What’s happened since?
With nine games of the season gone, Yeovil Town sit 19th in the National League table, level on points with FC Halifax Town who occupy the division’s first relegation spot.
After nine games, absolutely, but Bromley who occupy seventh place just above the dotted line of teams in the play-offs have double our points total.
Context is important, there’s been some decent performances in those nine games and there’s been some unacceptable ones, but if the ambition is to compete for the play-offs, there’s little doubt we’re not doing that yet.
Scott said: “I have had a number of conversations with people to join the board, from an investment point of view, to invest in the football club going forward. Both from a sponsorship point of view and to make funds available for the playing budget.
“I am pleased to say there has been some positive conversations on that part and I’m hoping to have a concrete framework around the board by the end of the season, so we are not in limbo during the summer. I do appreciate there has been a lot of limbo during the past few months.”
On May 20th, the day the club announced the sale of its home to SSDC, Priestnall added that he would be “announcing appointments over the next week or two” adding: “The new board will have a combination of specialist football operations, a voice for supporters and a wealth of experience in business, that will come together and help shape the future of Yeovil Town.”
If we assume Robins, as a lifelong supporter, is the “voice of supporters” with “a wealth of experience in business“, then the “specialist football operations” appears lacking. Perhaps former CEO Martyn Starnes, who has been openly at the club’s matches and around Huish Park since the summer, fills this role albeit on “a voluntary basis“, as Robins told us during his appearance on the Gloverscast.
As far as “a concrete framework around the board by the end of the season” – well, Robins’ arrival came a fortnight after the final fixture so if he is the promised “concrete framework” then at the very best the deadline was missed. I guess definitions of a framework may differ, but a single director and the re-emergence of Starnes seems more like a bit of sharp sand more so than concrete.
Scott said: “I am not going to sit here and say that our long-term vision is to have a new ground with a hotel in it, our goal is short-term to stabilise a new board, so it’s not just one voice, it’s a collective approach, bringing investment to the club.
“Between us we will work on what that plan looks like; we could have that plan in a month, it could be two months, but I would like to think this summer we do have a long-term vision in place.”
“We have to make changes, I have to make changes and what I am doing is not sitting and waiting. The only thing I can commit to is that there will be a new board in place in some guise and I will be able to tell you what that looks like over the next few weeks.“
What’s happened since? Five months on from these statements it is fair to say “a plan in a month, it could be two months” was not achieved – or at the very least not a plan made public to any supporters we are aware of. And as for having “a long-term vision in place” in the summer, when the leaves start falling from the trees we must assume that goal has not been achieved.
Perhaps the nearest to a long-term vision we have had came in statements made around the sale of Huish Park and surrounding land to South Somerset District Council (SSDC) in a deal worth £2.85m announced on May 20th. In that statement, the chairman spoke of how the deal would allow the club to “move forward with a viable plan to grow our infrastructure off the pitch, to help with gaining future success on the pitch.” He added it would allow the club “to engage contractors and consultants to put forward a planning application for the site as well as allowing us to sensibly invest in required maintenance work and our playing squad.”
However, supporters have not been privy to any vision which lays out how the club is going to generate the additional <INSERT VALUE HERE> required to meet the rental payments it will need to start paying to SSDC rent from May 2023 when its rent free period expires. On the question of ‘how much is the rent?’, we’ve asked SSDC portfolio holder Councillor John Clark and he told us: “This should be in the public domain when the Agreement is registered by the Land Registry, but that timing is outside our control.”
Chairman Scott Priestnall is addressing supporters in the Alec Stock Lounge.
— Yeovil Town F.C. (@YTFC) April 23, 2022
The minutes of the most recent Supporters’ Alliance meeting include Scott Priestnall being asked by Glovers’ Trust chairman Roger Pipe what would happen to any uplift in the value of the land if and when planning permission is granted on it. The minutes show: “SP stated that the money would be used to invest in the club in order to make it more sustainable.” Nice to hear, definitely. But a long-term vision? Not so sure.
There’s also been no clarity around what the £2.85m has been spent on. On his appearance on the Gloverscast, Councillor Clark told us all loans held by the club would need to be cleared before the deal was done. We’re left to assume that means the £1.35m of debt taken out from MSP Capital by Scott Priestnall and his then-business partner Errol Pope and effectively mortgaged against the club has been cleared using the money from the sale of the club’s assets. But, from everything we can see, we still owe Sport England the best part of £1m in loans we took out.
More questions than answers on this one.
Sport England loans
Scott said: “We’ve taken not as much as some other clubs and only what we needed and we have been promised as a league by the Sports Minister that over the next four years, he is working towards getting those loans written off.”
What’s happened since? The Sports Minister, Nigel Huddlestone, is the same man who promised Scott and his fellow club owners he would be working towards getting the almost £1m which we have borrowed written off. We’ve got in contact with the Department for Culture, Media & Sport to ask how the Minister is getting on – but, to be fair to the department, they’ve been in charge of arrangements for The Queen’s funeral in recent weeks. We’ll let you know if we hear anything…….
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