Jimmy Dean

OPINION: Iron must aim for sustainability as optimism grows ahead of new season

In a hive of summer activity, @alex_scunny wonders if history is about to repeat itself as the club enters a new era under David Hilton.

In a hive of summer activity, @alex_scunny wonders if history is about to repeat itself as the club enters a new era under David Hilton.

This time last year, I wrote a piece expressing fears about how the Iron were falling into the same trap as previous summers with regards to player recruitment. Sadly, my fears came true and the club succumbed to another relegation.

Fast forward 12 months, and new owner David Hilton has sought to right the wrongs of previous years. He quickly tried to make his mark in the weeks following his arrival by splurging on a complete overhaul of the squad in a desperate attempt to save the club from relegation to regional Football.

Whilst Jimmy Dean admitted the club got it wrong with a number of the bargain bin reinforcements, fans are quite rightly optimistic that the 11 new faces recruited this summer can help the club bounce back at the first attempt.

Credit must go to Hilton, Dean, et al., who have all worked so efficiently behind the scenes to ensure the Iron have, for once, a seemingly capable squad on paper before the first pre-season cones have been laid out.

Isn’t it great that this summer, we won’t be playing guess the trialist from a pixelated photo the club post on Twitter, something that had become synonymous with the summer transfer windows in recent seasons.

I realise I have probably done the new arrivals a disservice by describing it as a capable squad on paper. It appears that with each passing signing, they get more impressive.

Perhaps they won’t get any better than the arrival of winger Callum Roberts . Dubbed the “Geordie Messi” by fans and ex-teammates alike, Roberts and a number of the other signings should arguably be plying their trade at a higher level than the National League North.

So, what has attracted these players to Glanford Park? Money or the sporting project? Considering what the players have said, it would be the latter. Of course, most would have a point. This proud club, which has previously locked horns with some of the most recognisable teams in English Football, has (hopefully!) hit its lowest ebb in terms of league position.

Whilst the thought of being involved in a rebuilding project may appeal, the financial element must be considered too. The new signings, with some relocating from the other end of the country, would surely not have been as attracted to us without a considerable financial package. Michael Clunan, for example, even quit his job as an accountant to sign just a 1-year deal, such as the contract put forward to him by the club.

Are we really to believe Chesterfield’s 1st choice keeper Ross Fitzsimons, Boreham Wood minister of defense Will Evans, and Eastleigh player of the year Danny Whitehall have all left good clubs in the division above without being swayed financially?

Furthermore, if the rumours are to be believed, we also beat Chesterfield to the signing of Roberts, which gives you some indication as to the budget we’re potentially operating with this season.

By his own admission Hilton doesn’t have “deep pockets”, so the question about where all this money is coming from is certainly a valid one. I believe the club has sold circa 1200-1500 season tickets, which is a solid effort, but the shortfall is still likely to be considerable.

Let us remember that a significant reason we find ourselves in this position and ultimately why Hilton finds himself in charge, is partly due to overspending by the previous owner. At the peak in the years under the prior ownership, wages to income reached a whopping 158%! It is all relative to the level, and I do not expect the figure to be anything like that, however it is an example of how easily things got out of control.

It is also imperative for the club’s future that home games are hosted at Glanford Park this season. It is hard to see how a move away to Gainsborough (or any other location) would not result in a significant drop in attendances and, consequently, a major impact on income.

With that in mind, we can only hope that Hilton and Swann can come up with a reasonable solution for the benefit of the football club and all parties involved, with Swann yet to show his hand in the lease saga that looks set to hang over the club as the season approaches.

Hilton admitted the club would push the boat out at the fans forum in an attempt to try and bounce back at the first time of asking, but this does appear to go against the sustainable plan initially laid out. The club appears to have gone all out for promotion this year, but what if that is not achieved?

This summer’s model is clearly based upon success through promotion, which is where it went wrong for the previous ownership. The longer we’re at this level, the more income will drop, which makes promotion this season an absolute must. I certainly wouldn’t want to be in Jimmy Dean’s shoes this year, with the mounting pressure on his shoulders.

On the promotion front some caution must also be urged. While on paper, the type of players that have been brought in are good enough to mount an instant return to the National League (and probably compete in that division, too), the players and staff must be able to handle the level of expectation due to the club’s stature relative to the level and the calibre of players that have been already signed.

York, Stockport, and even Kidderminster spent many years at this level before getting out, so the professionalism and respect we must show opponents must be at their highest each game.

All this must also be achieved while changing a club conditioned to losing into a winning machine in one fell swoop. Losing is the easiest habit to fall into in Football but the hardest one to break.

This piece is in no way intended to be a slight against Hilton. We should all be thankful to him for stepping in when he did, ultimately saving the club from going bust, and for the ambition shown during his time at the club so far. But lessons should, and must, be learned.

While it is great that the club has signed players who might finally be fit to wear the shirt, we have been burnt before by overspending and very nearly paid the ultimate price for that. Once bitten, twice shy, as they say.

Let’s hope that, for the club’s sake, there is an element of sustainability to all of this or the consequences this time around could well be fatal.

Up the Iron


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