It’s been a wee while since my last update owing to the introduction of the club weekly update which was designed to keep supporters and followers informed of club matters with increased frequency.  However, I thought this might be a good time to publish an overall detailed communication on where we are as a club.

With regard to the men’s first team, last season continued to be affected by COVID but was certainly an improvement upon the season before.  Despite these challenges, we were disappointed to fall short of making the playoffs for promotion to League 1 as this was the goal we had set ourselves.  We had a poor start to last season and ultimately, the first quarter was most likely our undoing.  Consistency throughout the whole season is key, so this is something to be addressed in the season ahead.

We should be in a stronger position for a good start this time around as we have largely retained the core of the squad.  The goal was to build upon this by strengthening in a few key areas and adding further depth.  Supporters may have heard me talk about the renewed approach we are taking with regards to player ID and recruitment.  This is something we have been working on for a couple of years, but it has really come together over the past 6 to 8 months.  I’d like to thank George Craig for his advice and support, and also Martin Christie our Head of Recruitment for his amazing work.  I’d also praise our team of seven scouts and five analysts for all their efforts.  All of this work, and that of the wider Football Strategic Working Group, is focused on giving the manager and his back room team all the information and support we can give them.  Stephen Swift has soaked up all this support and combined it with his own experience and ideas and we have a really focused football department within the club.

We have already made moves for key players that have been identified through our system, and we intend to add to the squad over the coming week or so.

However, just to be clear on one point in particular, all of the signings we make will be within an agreed budget.  I understand that this coming season has the hallmarks of being one of the most wide open and competitive, but what we won’t do is overspend for short-term success.  Our approach will instead be to try and increase our income in order to increase our available budget.  That is the challenge that we have set ourselves and we are already on track to do so.

With regards to the finances, we finished the previous financial year (2020-21) with a profit, which was in some ways quite remarkable considering that this period covered most of the football shutdown period.  However, we maximised all the COVID support pots open to us, tightened our belts where we could, and the support from our supporters throughout this period was phenomenal.  We will report on this in more detail at our next AGM.  Our current financial position remains healthy, but we will maintain a cautious approach to spending as this route has served us well thus far.

We continue to upgrade our ground where we can.  At present, we are in the middle of a full pitch replacement.  In normal circumstances, we would have kept the old pitch for at least one further season, however, we were successful in achieving a grant towards the pitch replacement which made it economically sensible to go a year early. We are taking this opportunity to refurbish the two training pods at the same time, and those pitches will be replaced as well.

Our women’s first team goes from strength to strength and they have just completed a strong season.  As the women’s game continues to grow overall, we want to be able to provide more support to this part of the club.  All the home fixtures are live streamed with the same popular commentary team that covers our men’s fixtures.  We have also increased the social media exposure and support.  As the team continues to grow, this will undoubtedly inspire more younger girls to take up football and we will do all we can to ensure we expand and increase opportunities for girls at all age groups.  I’d like to thank everyone involved in supporting the women’s team this past season, and particularly mention Nicole McPhee, the team captain, for her leadership.  I know she commands the respect of the squad and her efforts have not gone unnoticed right throughout the club.

We continue to work on establishing our own club charity, and this will not only take day to day responsibility of our community support efforts, but it will also take on the running of our community football teams.  This will all remain under the Stenhousemuir FC banner, but it will enable us to extend our reach and increase the number of programmes that we run for, and with, the community.  The community has been, and will continue to be, at the heart of what we do, whether that’s football, mental health support, covid relief, or working in partnership with others.  We are stronger together, and the last few years have proved that beyond doubt.

Ian Fitzpatrick continues to do an amazing job as Head of Marketing & Communications.  We have topped a few tables with regards to fan polls of which teams in Scotland are producing the best online content.  Ian does a great job and is a huge asset to the club.  I’d also like to thank Blair Cremin our CEO, Margaret Kilpatrick our General Manager, and everyone who works tirelessly behind the scene to make us tick.  I’d also single out Sandy & Gareth, usually the first and last faces you see at the football club on any given day, who do dozens of unseen jobs around the place.  I single them both out as over the past year, members of the public have at different times come to me to tell me of something that they both have done which is over and above their normal jobs.  This includes offering mental health support, their time and patience, and representing the club well.  They often don’t get the praise they deserve, so I’d like to single them out for thanks.

Finally, as we set our sights on the season ahead, we are all mindful of the current cost of living crisis.  As we set our season ticket prices, admission rates and look at kit designs and costs, we are  taking into account the financial pressures that we are all facing.  Where possible, we will be looking to maintain the status quo or keep any changes to a minimum whilst we navigate through these difficult financial times.  We will publish more on this over the next few weeks.  We want to keep the game accessible and affordable, whilst maintaining our ambitions for success on the pitch at all levels.

I look forward to catching up with supporters back at Ochilview when we kick off the season in the Premier Sports League Cup on July 9th.