Jane and I would like to wish you and your families all the best for Christmas and the New Year.
It’s been a difficult and stressful year, and I hope that the pandemic doesn’t prevent you from spending some time together. Hopefully, we will also see a few points more from the first team as we enter the second half of an exciting campaign.
It’s been a tough year, but your club has come through in extraordinary fashion. On the pitch, we are playing the kind of football we promised, and showing continuous progress towards achieving our five-year plan. Meanwhile, our women’s team has been restructured and is increasingly integrated into the club. The Academy has continued to make progress, with minutes played in the first team by graduates increasing sharply. We have opened two elite coaching hubs in Cornwall, in partnership with the Cornwall FA, further extending our commitment to youth football and the region.
Off the pitch, we have come a long way towards achieving our vision of becoming a “successful football club supported or respected by everyone in the South West and many beyond”. That may not sound like much, but gaining the respect of those who otherwise wouldn’t care about Argyle has required good leadership and brilliant execution by everyone at the club working hard to live up to our values.
Behind the scenes, within the club, there has been a continuing emphasis on doing everything to a high standard, with improvements in our management structures. One of the results has been that we have been able to manage our finances successfully, so we are one of the better placed clubs in the league. That is clear from our accounts, now in full form, published very early, and followed up with a presentation by our Head of Finance, David Ray, to all interested fans.
We continue to try to be as open with supporters as we can. We have achieved new levels of engagement via social media and through the fans’ forums that we have been forced to hold online. We have improved the match day experience and responded to fans’ suggestions where we can.
In the community, the club has been increasingly active, supplementing the outstanding work done by the Argyle Community Trust.
We are not yet done, and can never be completely satisfied, but the result has been increasing recognition that we are a well-run club, and an example to others. We have had so much media interest that we have had to turn down some requests for interviews!
This is important at a time when football is coming under such scrutiny because of well-publicised mismanagement - resulting in threats to the existence of long-established clubs. The fan-led review of football by Tracey Crouch has several recommendations, and, while we don’t necessarily agree with all of them, we accept the inevitability of more regulation of football. Importantly, we already comply with many of the recommendations. Indeed, the review singled out Argyle for our “excellent approach” to how financial information should be presented.
One of our goals has been to make Argyle a well-structured, well-run organisation that is stronger than the sum of its parts, and not the creation of any individual. That is not to diminish the importance of any of our people, of course, but to assure you that our success depends on strong structures and processes, put in place by strong leaders and executed by our outstanding staff, and resilient enough to withstand any shocks. The year has proven that that is the case.
The recent rapid spread of the Omicron variant of the Covid virus has seen talk about fans in stadia return. We are united with the other EFL clubs in continuing the season with appropriate COVID protocols in place. After all, the only reason to have football is for the fans – without them it would be a pretty pointless exercise.
We remain committed to doing whatever we can to make sure our supporters are as safe as possible while coming to Home Park, and feedback after our first home fixture with the new regulations in place was very positive – thank you for playing your part.
That said, our attempts to win universal respect have been marred by the actions of a tiny minority of our fans. The violence we saw at Home Park towards the end of the match against Wigan was a reality check on where we are today. The consequence of such behaviour hinders our mission. Every penny we must spend on dealing with abusive behaviour or the threat thereof is a penny less that we can spend elsewhere on building our infrastructure, improving the fan experience, investing in the future or, indeed, spending in the transfer window.
One of our core strengths is the size of our fanbase. We must do everything we can to continue to grow that base, by carrying on the good work we’ve undertaken in recent years. Given that work and given growth in our already fantastic support, the future is bright at Argyle.
We have several good games coming up and I hope you can enjoy them, whether at Home Park or at away grounds. I wish I could join you, but Jane and I will be spending Christmas in Pennsylvania. We are hoping that we will be able to spend the time surrounded by children, grandchildren, siblings, nephews and nieces.
With very best wishes to everyone.