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Club News

Mick’s mid-season update

Extensive interview with AFC Wimbledon Chair

2 December 2022

Club News

Mick’s mid-season update

Extensive interview with AFC Wimbledon Chair

2 December 2022

Mick Buckley lifts the lid on the past few months to give a fascinating insight into all things Wimbledon.

Mick talks openly about our playing budget and how it was calculated, why Johnnie Jackson was appointed and how we decided which players to buy – and sell – during pre-season. He also reveals his own new role at the club, explains why Danny Macklin is our new Managing Director - and why Craig Cope will be the club’s first Head of Football Operations in the New Year…

How is the season going?

So many ways to answer that but generally I break it down into three areas:

  • Finance
  • Football
  • Organisation

Mick, what can you tell us about the club’s current financial position?

As most fans already know, we owe £10 million to the Plough Lane Bond holders. The first repayments for this loan are due in April, 2025, when we will have to repay - or refinance - £3.5 million. The average interest on these debts is four per cent, which means that - every year - we pay £400,000 pounds in interest to our bond holders. This is manageable but being debt free would this season have given us another 20 per cent plus on the playing budget.

Because of this, any conversation about budgets for a season start with the basic premise that we don't want to increase the size of this debt, and that we need to honour our obligations with the interest payments.

The PLC board has re-established the finance committee to mostly focus on different ways we can repay the debt which is a priority for the club.

What did that mean in relation to our playing budget for this season?

When we sat down in March and April this year, we generated two break-even budgets. One was based on staying in League One; the other was based on life in League Two. Sadly, we had to adopt the latter and so we worked hard to negate the money we’d lose from central funding and projected attendances by pushing our revenue areas as hard as possible. This meant looking at selling one or two players - and looking hard at how best to monetise our stadium facilities.

Did this approach allow sufficient funding for the playing budget?

Once we’d done the sums, we arrived at a playing budget that looked quite competitive for League Two. In fact, based on the historical data available at that point, we believed it would be a top-third budget. However, as we got into the summer, and we received updated data that included the second half of last season, it became apparent clubs were spending more. As a result, we were left with a comparatively average playing budget (12th to 14th on our current estimates).

Could we have done something about that?

We took a decision not to spend any more for several reasons. We didn't want to increase our debts and, we were also aware that whilst there is generally a correlation between budget size and league position, this is less pronounced in League Two. Don’t forget, in 2016 we managed to get promoted with only the 14th biggest budget in the league.

Have we stayed within our budget so far?

Yes, we are on track to deliver the budget that was set for the financial year, which began on July 1. This is a positive: as I have said, we really didn't want to increase our debts. We will review the finances along with the football performance in mid-December and both will inform our approach to the January transfer window.

Besides setting a budget, what were the main challenges we faced pre-season?

I take it we are still talking about the football side so there were quite a few, to put it mildly. Not only did we have to recruit a new manager and review the previous approach to recruitment, but we also quickly needed to implement our new recruitment objectives whilst exiting some players from the Club.

How did we approach the manager recruitment?

We were looking to appoint our fifth manager in four years! Having taken lots of advice, we decided to recruit a young manager with some experience, but even more potential. We wanted someone who could develop with the Club, hopefully someone who could learn and work with us to build sustainable structures that would help us to compete at a higher level. It was a big decision, but we decided to break from tradition by moving away from the Wimbledon family. Johnnie is our first non-Wimbledon related manager in 10 years.

The player recruitment was very different to the previous 12 months, can you say a bit more about this?

We spoke to several football people who all said we were too young and lacked physicality. We wanted to add both these attributes.

We are still absolutely committed to our approach of developing and playing our home-grown talent but felt they needed more wise, experienced players around them to ease their transitions into the first team. The arrival of Alex Pearce, Josh Davison, Harry Pell and Chris Gunter added experience and physicality

It's been great to see the likes of Jack Currie, Isaac Ogundere, Huseyin Biler and many others thriving alongside our more established home grown players in the current environment.

We also achieved some great loan deals with people like Ryley Towler, Paris Maghoma, Nathan Young-Coombes and Kyle Hudlin. Credit must go to Head of Recruitment Jamie Johnson, who worked alongside Johnnie and his number two, Terry Skiverton, to bring these players in during that first transfer window. The assembled squad now provides a better mix of youth and experience, skill, and physicality, essential to success.

What about the players we let go?

It’s always sad to see a favourite leave the club. The most significant from a business point of view being the win-win deals we reached with Huddersfield Town and Bristol Rovers for Jack Rudoni and Luke McCormick. Both deals were achieved in a virtually non-existent transfer market, all parties achieved their financial ambitions and we have kept an interest in both players as they progress further.

Are you pleased with how things are going on the football side?

I’m first and foremost a Wimbledon fan so I’d much rather be in Leyton Orient’s position!

It's taken time to adjust to life in League Two but, looking at relevant historical data, that’s not unusual, and our unbeaten league run shows we are turning the corner. All last season's relegated teams have faced their own challenges: Doncaster are arguably coping best and they’re currently just two points above us in the table.

There’s no denying Johnnie and Terry had a difficult start, with several injuries to key players. But they have responded to the challenge and demonstrated real flexibility in the way they can get the team to secure results in this division.

As a result, we have been doing well in recent weeks., with games like Leyton Orient, Tranmere and Rochdale feeling like real ‘Wimbledon’ performances.

We also have several key players returning from injury in the next couple of weeks.

How can AFC Wimbledon compete against bigger better resourced clubs?

Smart recruitment, building a togetherness and being resilient has always been the key to success for all Wimbledon teams. We have seen these attributes emerging from our current squad in recent weeks.

It’s not an accident, it’s being driven by the senior professionals and staff. This current squad is just getting going. There is no complacency, and the club will support them as they look to reinforce these attributes.

All the way across the club, on and off the pitch, what we're trying to do is recruit high-potential talent and then provide an environment in which they can learn, develop, grow in value, and leave the club in a better position than when they first arrived.

This was our thinking behind the recruitment of Johnnie Jackson, our continued emphasis on our exceptional academy and it also informed the recent recruitment of Craig Cope as our new Head of Football operations

Craig Cope .jpeg

In terms of ‘Head of Football Operations, this is a new role for our club so what does it entail?

Lots of clubs are now looking at recruiting ‘Sporting Directors’, ‘Technical Directors’, ‘Directors of Football’, or ‘Heads of Football Operations’.

About half the clubs in League One and League Two have one. They all have different titles and come from different specialist backgrounds, working within different structures. With one or two exceptions, generally they are not football ‘names’. There is no blueprint, it’s about finding the right ‘fit’.

Primarily, they oversee recruitment (including scouting, data gathering and analysis and negotiations), player pathway and sales, training ground and other football-related operations – as well as sports science, which includes fitness and injury prevention.

We started our search in the summer taking advice from former Premier League managers, senior coaches, and many other people experienced across the football industry. After a robust recruitment process, we appointed Craig who comes from a performance-analytics background and has previously worked at Birmingham, Notts County, Nottingham Forest, and Cheltenham.

He spent the last four years in a technical director role at Solihull Moors, where he has overseen the recruitment and sale of several players and been a key cog in their success, helping them achieve league positions that consistently outperform their playing budget.

We deliberately took our time over this appointment, enabling us to better understand what we have and what we need. I'm delighted that Craig will start his new role in the New Year on January 9. Jamie Johnson, who has done a fantastic job, will report to Craig and will stay with us as a minimum until the end of the January transfer window.

We have now created two new senior roles at the club. Why was this necessary?

I was asked to step in as interim chair during an unsettled period at the club last March. My brief was to stabilise the organisation, help in a couple of key operational areas regardless of which league we were playing in, and make a recommendation for the best structure to enable success in the future.

The small club at Kingsmeadow has become a much bigger club at Plough Lane.

We needed to divide the organisation in two and we required strong leadership for both halves. We created two new positions – Managing Director to oversee the business and stadium operations, and, as mentioned above, a Head of Football Operations.

Eight months later, we chose Danny Macklin to become our new Managing Director and Craig Cope’s appointment completes the other half of the equation. We also appointed an interim Head of Recruitment in Jamie Johnson on the footballing side and a new Financial Controller in Laurie Hill.

What’s been happening off the pitch?

The club staff have achieved some amazing wins. Incredibly, season tickets outsold last season. Not only that, they were generally delivered on time and our much-maligned ticketing system seems to be working much better now. Just as encouragingly, strong communication has helped push our matchday attendances above their budgeted figures.

I’m extremely confident the staff will continue to thrive under Danny’s leadership. He’ll really be focusing on how we can improve the fan experience, reduce costs, and best monetise our new stadium. In fact, he’s already made a very assertive start and I’m confident he’ll be a big success here.

Elsewhere, several of our long-standing volunteers are coming to the end of their service and it’s a real goal to understand how volunteering can continue to drive our success and how we make volunteering for the club a really rewarding experience.

There are some profound structural changes in the pipeline that will alter the way our club is run. How will they benefit us?

The Dons Trust board has worked extremely hard to improve our governance structure. The proposed changes still need to be approved by the membership at the AGM. I think that once these changes are approved and implemented, everybody will have a much clearer understanding of who is responsible and accountable for what. This can only be a good thing and should clear up a lot of confusion.

Will you be carrying on in your current role?

With key people in place, my role now changes and becomes less day-to-day operational. I will continue to ‘chair’ the football club and the PLC board. I will continue to work with our new team to help create a high-performance environment across the club so we can be successful.

We now have several key pieces in place on football management, playing staff, football operations and recruitment, business and stadium operations, finance, and governance. The club has a structure now to move forward but this is the beginning of what's going to be a tough journey, not a celebration.

It’s been a real team effort to make these changes. I have had so much help from people around the club, on the various boards, our volunteers and from the wider football world. Thanks to all of you, I hope it all leads to lots of success.

What will success look like?

Well, that's a good question!

I guess I like to think in terms of three seasons which would take us to June 2025.

I would like to think we will still be a fan-owned club, professionally run. By then we will hopefully be more financially sustainable. That means we have a strategy to meet interest payments, to pay our debts when due, and have a competitive playing budget, having understood how to fully monetise The Cherry Red Records Stadium.

Success on the pitch will be just as critical, of course. Hopefully, we will be back in League One by then and looking more like a top-half league 1 club in terms of our operations and sustainability.

Success will also mean we are growing in lots of other ways, such as brand awareness, fan engagement, match day and non-match day revenues, and – something dear to all our hearts – our impact within the community.

Success will mean all the elements within our precious club are moving forward in unison - the first team, the foundation, the academy, our women’s, and girls’ teams, DLAG, WiSH, our coveted volunteers and others.

Success will confirm we have developed a high-performance environment where everybody can grow by seeking constant improvement, collaboration, trust, accountability and – most importantly - resilience.

The things that have really set AFC Wimbledon apart from other football clubs are our togetherness and our resilience.

There are always challenging days ahead in football, and we can only succeed if we stay together and stay resilient on those days.

That’s what success will look like.

Thanks Mick, is there anything else that we need to know?

I am very happy to be stopped to meet new people and to answer any questions that people may have. I am always around the place before home games and will be in The Phoenix this coming Tuesday with Johnnie Jackson and Danny Macklin, if you would like to come and ask a question about any aspect of the Club.


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