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Saints Talk Up Plans For The Future
Wednesday, 25th Mar 2020 09:31

Saints have confirmed they are continuing to invest in the future of the club with continued work on the stadium and Staplewood, but is this what the fans really want to hear.

Saints managing director Toby Steele has been speaking to the Daily Echo about how the club is going to continue to invest in both St Mary's and also the Staplewood training complex, but as much as this is good intentioned in these times of unrest amongst Saints supporters with the fan base never being so detached from those that run the club since some of the days under Rupert Lowe, is this what the fans want to hear and could it stir up more unrest which is certainly not what it is intended to do.

Steele is quoted as saying:

“The stadium is nearly 20 years old and we are on a cycle of maintenance that takes up a fair amount of our capital expenditure budget.

“Fans don’t always see what we do but we have to do it.

“The bits that people do see, whether that’s the LED boards we put in, the sound system and the 1885 Lounge, we want to continue doing all of that.

“Every year we earmark things to do and we are looking at a couple of projects to do now but whether that’s this summer or the next one, we always want to bring fans new and exciting things."

“We know we can’t continue to offer the same thing year after year because we need to do new things to keep the fans coming and to also bring new fans to the ground.”

Two lines of a lengthy interview almost but not quite touched on what the priority should be:

“As ever, these things come down to money and is that the priority right now (Improving the academy) or is the priority to re-establish ourselves where we should be in the league?

But instead of expanding on this he continued:

“We put a huge amount of money into the academy each year.

“Being on the south coast, targeting 16 to 18-year-old's, means that half of our market is the sea.

“If you compare that to a team in the Midlands, they have a bigger radius.

“We have made quite a substantial investment in players overseas and you can see that if you look at the Under-18s and the Under-23s."

Saying that half our market is in the sea is a poor excuse, half of Liverpool's market is also in the sea and more to the point half of it is also Everton's and a further part of it Manchester Utd & City's, London clubs have to share with one another.

This is echoes of some of the wisdom of Rupert Lowe two decades ago when he talked of award winning catering rather than issues on the pitch, although it should be noted here that Lowe also was ridiculed for talking about investing in the academy and that paid dividends long after he left as the 8-10 year olds signed then became the stars of the future, so I am not against the club investing in the academy, my point is about telling people about the things they care about and want to hear.

He is also right saying the club cant continue to offer people the same things year after year, but being blunt most supporters do not care about catering, they care about what is on the pitch and rom that point many will feel that the last three seasons have been one of struggle and not improvement.

We do not want to be offered the same excuses year after year either of stadium improvements, training ground improvements and investment in an academy that seems to get beaten week in week out.

This is harsh, but the truth is that although it can't be denied that the 2017/18 season and the first half of 2018/19 under Mark Hughes were dire , since then we have been showing improvement under Ralph Hasenhuttl, but ask any supporter and they will tell you the same thing, we have failed to invest in a decent central defender since Virgil Van Dijk leftin January 2018,some five transfer windows.

So whilst when Steele talks about plans for Staplewood, somewhere that most supporters will not be allowed past the gates, he is not saying things the supporters want to hear, they will tell you, invest in the team and then tell us what else you are going to do off the pitch after that.

These types of PR are good when things are going well and times are good, but have the opposite effect than intended when things are not running smoothly and things are not running smoothly this season, with our form having gone up and down like a roller coaster throughout and prior to the suspension of the Premier League very much going down.

This week has seen both CEO Martin Semmens and Managing Director Toby Steele interviewed in the press and from this perspective it is good to see that they are out there promoting the club and telling the fans what they are planning.

But whoever is advising them on their PR if and if anyone isn't they should be, is not counselling them well, Lowe was not popular with the fans because he was seen as an ex public schoolboy who was not from a football background, whilst football is watched by people from all classes of society, the hard core of support is the average working man in the street and to a lesser extent working woman, on a scale of 1-10 if they are 1 then Rupert Lowe was a 10.

Martin Semmens and Toby Steele have to be very careful that they do not get seen in the same light as Lowe, as people who do not understand football fans and are not from footballing backgrounds.

Having met both of them I would say they are not in the Lowe category, but they need to understand football clubs and their supporters and they need to learn about communication and perspective.

As with anything in life, football it is not always about what is happening but what the fans perspective of the situation is, hence one of our best seasons in the club's history statistically was 2016/17 when we finished 8th and reached a major cup final, most supporters will see it as one of the worst because they feel they were not entertained, they do not remember the issues behind that, the loss of Jose Fonte through petulance and then Virgil Van Dijk through injury, they only remember the 0-1 defeats not the 3 or 4 goal victories.

To be blunt most Premier League football clubs are not run these days by people of a footballing background, they are run by people whose background is in business and marketing and who get into football from that route.

The ones that succeed and are seen by their clubs supporters as good in their job are those that have learn't very quickly about what the supporters care about and more to the point have learn't how to communicate it.

After a period of virtual silence from those who run the club including the owner, it is good to see that Martin Semmens and Toby Steele are getting out there and talking us up and promoting us and I hope they continue to do so, but hopefully they will start to learn about what the fanbase wants and it isn't the toilets repainted, it isn't award winning catering as Rupert Lowe found out, it is success on the pitch and rightly or wrongly and I do feel it is wrongly, how a football club is run is judged by many purely by the results on the pitch.

So whilst I know that it would not be good business for the club to boast about how much they are going to spend in the next transfer window as some of the clubs like Everton, West Ham & Newcastle have often done, the words we want to here is that they know what we want, they know what our issues are and they are dealing with them.

It is not what you say but how you say it !

Now is time for Martin Semmens and Toby Steele to step up to the plate, become visible, promote the club, be humble, talk to the supporters don't dictate to them, give them what they want not what you think they want and most of all realise that a club is nothing without it's supporters.

The vast riches from the Premier League actually mean little as the League stands at present Liverpool would only get about £24 million in prize money more than us, the real money is made from the fanbase both directly through merchandise tickets etc and indirectly through sponsorship and how much you make from that is down to how many supporters you have, empty seats mean less sponsorship and advertising income.

So now is the time for the club to reconnect with it's fanbase, this is a very small step we need many more !

Photo: Action Images

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codge added 12:21 - Mar 25
An excellent article Nick well thought out,seems common sense doesn’t come into it when dealing with the fans and what they think.

luffy22 added 18:26 - Mar 25
Whats sort of thing to say is that, quote:
“We know we can’t continue to offer the same thing year after year because we need to do new things to keep the fans coming"

does he not goto the games and watch the same old dire f*c!ing sh!t being severed up week after week, year after year, masquerading as football????

yep your right nick, he does need to be taught PR


underweststand added 08:59 - Mar 26
I'm a bit confused by some of your comments above (Nick).
On one hand you praise Martin and Toby for their comments but then criticise when they put forward their ideas and suggestions.
Fans going to home games watch around 30 hours of football at SMS each season and if they are going to sit behind the Chapel goal or... in the Lounge... it's nice to go away with some good memories (and hopefully better results than we've seen of late).
If I left my house, un-renovated or re-decorated for 20 years It would be in a real state , especially if a few million feet had tramped through it in that period...and I definitely think that the toilets COULD do with a new coat of paint and some real maintainance.

Of course .. we judge the team (and the club) by the results after 96 minutes, but there are several factors here that were unforseen. Since Koeman jumped ship we've had a more than normal numbers of bad buys that have cost a lot of un-earned money and we are doubtless still paying instalments of some of them we are currently trying to get rid of...but we should not criticise the club's endeavour to develop the Academy , in fact IMHO we ought to be putting more into the development of the younger talent.

For a "medium-sized " club like ourselves, we must develop our own talents even more because we aren't in a stable financial state to be able to pay £15 mill.-£20 million
for every player when the best teenage talents are being quote at anything upto £100 million, although impressing in some other club's teams abroad.
In the recent Villa game we started with 3 Academy graduates on the field and 2 more on the bench... PLUS Djenepo, who is in the same age-group. Clearly it takes time for them to settle in and they will learn from their mistakes and their "red card " encounters, but are no worse than the likes of Wanyama and Hoedt whose disciplinary record was worse and cost much more £ at the time.
Many teams we are going through a generational change and young talents get the headlines nowadays and no longer the established "star players". When the final whistle blows on the careers of Shane Long, Ryan Bertrand and Oriel Romeu we will have an even younger squad to work with and hopefully they will come from the Academy, and clearly Ralph is eager to promote them to the first team.
Half of the Prem.clubs are looking over their shoulders from the end of August hoping for survival whilst to so-called "big clubs " sack managers for not qualifying for CL. Daft innit !

After 60 +years as a Saints fan. I am a little more ...(what legendary Cricket commentator John Arlott - used to call) ..."circumspect " and so too should we be as Saints fans.


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