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Sunday, June 28, 2020

Cleeve In Conversation With Martin Watson


Last Thursday evening Kings Lynn chairman Stephen Cleeve spoke to Hereford FC's Martin Watson.

It's a long interview but here's a transcript of some of it.

Cleeve started by asking Watson about whether supporters wanted to change the name back to Hereford United and then what his position was at Edgar Street.

"There is a debate," said Watson.

"We reached the five year point at the club when you can consider changing the name and there is a debate amongst supporters as to whether to change it back or not. It is very much 50/50 at the moment."

What's the arguement for not going back?

"I think it's the way the old club ended, the bad taste that was left in the mouth. There is a lot of bitterness there some people don't want to go back to."

Are you a director or just the club secretary?

"I'm the club secretary, I used to be a director. I stopped being a director in January 2018. Basically I helped set the club up and spent three years on the board but now I'm just a minion.

"If you mess up as club secretary you are moving house."

How long have you followed Hereford?

"My father was involved in the old club to some degree and basically I was brought up in it. I was active in the supporter base from 16/17. At the end of the day it becomes an obession after a while."

Would a return to the Football League be number one on your agenda?

"That would be mission accomplished, that would be complete. But I think more than that there are certain things we want to do with the stadium, get it modernised. That would please me more at the moment.

"Basically the whole ground is council owned, we merely lease it. Over the last thirty years there have been all sorts of discussions about changing this and doing that and possibly relocating and ultimately the council have decided we are better off where we are but the one end which is facing the most recent retail development which is looking straight at a brand new Waitrose store, it's just rusting to hell and Waitrose don't like that. They want to do something with that end but again that's been three or four years in discussion so far.

"There were things in progress before this virus hit that were beginning to move and you would like to think that when we have some sort of normality it would move again but obviously there are talks of councils running out of money and you wonder whether it will get put back on the back burner again but we will just have to wait and see on that."

How has it gone so far?

"We reformed, we won three successive championships, we hit the National North level. But we hadn't played a game north of Birmingham then all of a sudden we were put in National North which is pretty much entirely north of Birmingham and we had to really reshape the entire squad and everything we did. We've had a bit of a remodelling and it hasn't all gone to plan.

"Josh (Gowling) is going to be the manager and Steve (Burr) his assistant. And then it's a case of working out what we do. There is this thing with Bury having demised, it's likely one or two clubs might get shunted south. I would think it will be Gloucester rather than us but you never know your luck."

Would you like to move south?

"Probably where we are now, no. But if we had the option two years ago yes. I think a lot of it is the football, the north is more physical and the south more technical."

The interview moved to fan-owned clubs.

"We are basically 50% fan owned. We took over the Edgar Street stadium that needed a lot of work. We had some local businessmen who put in £250,000 to fund that work and we spent every penny getting the stadium up to standard and then the Supporters Trust has got the ability to match that and take 50% of the club. At the moment I think they have £210,000 of it.

"Supporters Direct only ever pushed one model which was the 100% fan owned model. The problem for me with that is that every club is different. If we had been 100% fan owned, the fans would have had to find £250,000 in a matter of weeks to repair the stadium and realistically that prospect was very slim indeed and even SD admitted that the likelyhood of doing it was practically none.

"So we down a different route and 96% of the supporters trust members voted in favour of it that we would be this 50/50 hybred model and so far it has worked. 

"The biggest problem you get with supporters trust models is the turnover in the boardroom because there are a lot of people that want to help but they don't realise the sheer pressure that comes from supporters.

"There are an awful lot of people that would go into a boardroom and think it is all prawn sandwiches and turning up to meetings once a month to say yes or no to certain things and it's nothing like that. It is 20/30 hours a week of unpaid volunteer work to get your particular area up to scrath.

"We have a board of seven and because they had the bigger imput at the start four are voted on by the businessmen and three are voted on by the supporters trust. At the moment, because we've had a number of resignations, our board is down to four at the moment of which two are on the business side and two are on the supporters trust side. There are people being looked at as being candidates as there are jobs needing to be done. We can't continue with a board of four, it needs to be bigger.

"The queue of applicants is getting thinner and thinner as time goes on just simply because they see what happens. As part of my understanding the last vacancy on the supporters trust side had only one nomination and the two on the investors side have only just come up. We have had quite a hefty turnover of individuals because the fan base is expecting. The time I had on the board was a relatively easy ride because we winning every championship every year and pretty much every game. But once you start losing games and putting in bad performances and the crowds start to turn a little bit, you do start to feel it."

But it's not all bad?

"In our first season we went to Wembley in the FA Vase. We took 20,000 people but lost the game. At the end of the day when you have people in their 80's coming up to you, tears in their eyes, thanking you because they never thought they would see their club at Wembley. That's what you live for." 

The full interview: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/episode-16-with-herefords-martin-watson/id1507650273?i=1000479652268