Statement from the Chairman, looking back at the 2018/19 season.
I wanted to provide supporters with a review of the season just ended and an update of where we are as a club.
We went into this season looking to consolidate our place in League 1 after gaining promotion through the playoffs in the previous season. We were aware that we had one of the lowest budgets amongst our competitors but nonetheless, we were upbeat about our chances. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. Player recruitment as we went into the season fell short of where it needed to be. We did secure the services of a number of good players who were well able to compete at this level, however, we had significant gaps in the squad which meant that despite their dedication and best efforts, we were always going to find it difficult.
We felt a change in team management was required and this was enacted prior to the January transfer window opening. Unfortunately, it is difficult to strengthen a squad outside of the window, and even in January, there isn’t always the availability of quality players in the positions needed. This reinforces the need to get things right in the pre-season period.
Colin McMenamin was appointed as the new Manager, and through his diligent efforts, he did manage to bring in some key personnel in January that had an immediate positive impact on the team, particularly in defence. However, as time would show, we were unable to reverse our fortunes in terms of our league position. We gave ourselves a fighting chance by managing to lift ourselves off the bottom spot, but we came up against an in-form Annan Athletic who beat us in the playoff semi-final and deserved to progress to the finals at our expense. We wish them every success.
There were a number of positives from the last season that shouldn’t be overlooked. We had a short but strong Scottish Cup run that began with a 4-2 victory against our local rivals, the now former Championship club Falkirk FC. This match was battled out before a packed Ochilview, and the Warriors came out firing on all cylinders from the first kick of the ball and never looked back. As well as allowing us to progress into the next round of the cup, the match was financially successful for the club too. In the next round we were drawn against Aberdeen up at Pittodrie. We headed up there wanting to acquit ourselves well, and we did just that. We had a good travelling support at the game, and we gave Aberdeen a game. We endured a lot of pressure and struggled at times to create solid chances, but we struck when it counted and the game finished 1-1. This secured a replay at Ochilview. In the resultant replay, Aberdeen showed their quality and ran out eventual winners, but once again, the Warriors gave them a game, and the match provided a financial boost to the club as well. Those games against Falkirk and Aberdeen will long be remembered at Ochilview!
In terms of club finances, even if we take away the benefits from the cup run, the club has had a strong financial year. We had set ourselves the target of increasing the club income by around 10%. Whilst that may sound like a challenge in difficult times for Scottish football, we had plans in place behind every number and felt this was realistic with some re-organisation and hard work. Not only did we achieve our targets, but we exceeded them in many areas. For the year ahead, we are focusing on increasing the income yet again, and we are quietly confident that we will reach our goals.
This means that we have not only been able to maintain the player budget for the season ahead, but we have been able to include a substantial increase. We will go into League 2 in a far stronger position financially than when we did previously. This increase will not come at the expense of maintaining our strong financial position. This increase will be from new money that is being brought into the club. At this stage I would like to thank our sponsors, donors and partners who committed funds to the club last season, and those who have already signed up for next season. We have partners like Leemic and The Gulnar who have been supporting the club for a number of years which is a great commitment from these local community minded businesses. We welcome LOC Hire to the club as our new front of shirt partners. LOC Hire has committed to a four year deal and is already helping in other ways too. Your help is invaluable and has made the difference that allows us to grow as a club.
With new kit deals in place with Uhlsport and RJM Sports, which have positive financial benefits to the club, we are able to ensure that we continue to grow, but maintain our ‘one club’ approach as the new kit will be introduced across all parts of the club.
Our community programme continues to flourish and we are looking to grow this part of the club this coming year. Our mental health team were recognised by FIFA last season for this ground breaking programme that we run in conjunction with Forth Valley mental health nurses. This, along with the hundreds of kids, and people of all ages, who are now playing football in teams at Ochilview is a great source of pride for us. Yes Hire has signed a 5 year partnership deal to become the principal sponsor of our community programme. I’d like to place our thanks on record to them for this fantastic support. Not only does this allow us to support and grow our extensive community programme, but it means we are looking to introduce a new Rewards Scheme for young community programme members. Our young people will be the next generation of players, supporters, volunteers, board members and sponsors, so we want to introduce new ways to make them feel rewarded for being part of our club. We are actively looking into creating a family section in the stand, and we’ll provide further information about this as plans develop.
We are also about to launch our new Coaching Academy programme for young adults from the community. This is a coaching pathway for young people that will give them new skills, experience and qualifications that will be invaluable not only to Stenhousemuir Football Club, but to the whole community as these young people can get involved in a range of different activities and groups.
The first recipient of the Terje Eriksen Scholarship Fund was Tiwi Daramola. Tiwi first joined the club at 8 years old and has now been awarded funding to sign his first professional contract with us. Not only is this great news for Tiwi, but it further cements our enduring partnership with our Norwegian Supporters Club, of which Terje was hugely involved. Tiwi is already making a name for himself with the Scottish Schools Under 18s team and we were all proud to see him being awarded his first cap at Hampden recently.
Returning to the first team, whilst there have been successes and failures over the last season, there is no doubt that the players fought hard for the club. There have been changes and challenges to deal with, but they continued to fight right up to the final games. They have been a credit to themselves as professionals and individuals. I’d like to thank them all for their contribution to Stenhousemuir FC. Some will be moving on to new opportunities, and I wish them all well.
The Manager is focused on recruiting new players for next season’s squad, and we as a Board have put in place additional support to help that happen. As mentioned previously, at our level, successful pre-season recruitment is essential to a good season. We will provide as much support as we can to ensure that Colin has the right strategy and approach to secure the squad that we need. The resources are in place early, and talks with targets are already underway.
So whilst the disappointment of relegation is felt by us all, we just need to take this in our stride and look to overcome the new challenges that lie ahead. We are on a long term journey to build our club. We are on track to do so. We are achieving year on year growth, and in cash terms, we are making a profit. We are attracting new sponsors, partners and investment. Not many clubs in Scottish football can say that. We want to be a strong successful club both on and off the field. We want to progress up the leagues. We are putting the structures and finances in place to enable us to do just that.
Finally, I’d like to pay tribute to our staff, volunteers, my colleagues on the Board, and most importantly our dedicated supporters. Fans continue to support us through good times and bad and this is not taken for granted. We simply could not continue without this support. We are a community, within the community and that is why we will succeed. Looking ahead, there will be ups, and downs. But if we can continue to work together towards common goals, then there will be considerably more ups ahead.
Good luck to all the teams associated with Stenhousemuir FC. See you next season.
Chairman – Stenhousemuir FC