31 December 2017
In his second and final column of 2017, Swinton Lions’ Chairman Andy Mazey discusses the club’s on-field hopes for next season, the importance of Stuart Littler to the club and an update on the planned development of the Agecroft site in partnership with Moorside Rangers.
“WE HAVE TO KEEP OUR FEET FIRMLY ON THE GROUND AS IT’S A MARATHON, NOT A SPRINT. EXPECTATIONS CLEARLY NEED TO BE MANAGED AS WE ARE LIKELY TO BE THE LOWEST SPENDING TEAM IN WHAT IS SET TO BE THE TOUGHEST EVER CHAMPIONSHIP COMPETITION.”
Andy Mazey has been Chairman at Swinton Lions for just four months, but has helped implement a lot of positive change at the club.
The club’s debt with HMRC has been cleared, whilst the Lions’ board has grown bringing in a wealth of experience in the media and commercial departments. An RFL-approved Category 3 Academy has been set up in partnership with The Rugby College to allow a pathway for young, local players to represent the Lions, and plans have been announced to develop a site at Agecroft to build a community stadium in partnership with Moorside Rangers.
All this in just four short months.
Andy says all the hard work has been worthwhile, “It’s been challenging, but it is also rewarding especially with the way the supporters are buying into the long-term and sustainable vision that the board is working hard to achieve.”
The long-term vision of the club is something the Lions’ Chairman holds highly. Last season, short-term plans for immediate success didn’t work for the now 151 year-old club.
“The key is to make the club sustainable, which it hasn’t been for many years. We’re tackling that right now and with the budgets and systems we’ve put in place, financial commitments from myself and others, and of course the ongoing backing of our loyal supporters, we’re convinced the club will be in a good place so long as we continue to build on our momentum to date.
BACK TO SWINTON, M27, TAKE ME HOME
One of the club’s long-term ambitions is a return to playing back within the M27 postcode and it’s one that Andy hopes to realise soon.
“We are clearly demonstrating with actions not just words a clear ambition to get back to M27 and to engage with our town and community. As a club it’s something that has been lacking for many years.”
In October, both the club and Moorside Rangers announced a planned partnership with the aim of developing the Agecroft site. As promised at the time, Andy provides the latest on the situation.
“During meetings with both Moorside and Salford Council, we established the need to stage the development of the site in order to unlock and secure the first trenches of funding. Both clubs’ progress and preliminary design concepts also needed to be brought together to ensure both clubs’ needs are catered for.
“In order to protect all parties there is also some legal framework to be navigated and unfortunately these vital first early stages are taking longer than anticipated and are still to be concluded.”
Elsewhere, the Chairman is looking forward to the development of the Category 3 Academy in partnership with The Rugby College, which aims to get local players in Lions’ shirts in the future.
“It’s still early days, but with Neil Hayden now heading up what was previously a slow-moving Community Foundation, together with the implementation of a player pathway via our Category 3 Academy, we are making good headway. That’s a top priority.”
Providing transparency and keeping the fans informed is important to the club in this ‘New Era’. Andy and other board members regularly communicate with supporters on matchdays, official club events and on social media to bridge the gap between the club and its supporters.
“Transparency and clear communication is crucial in any organisation. We needed this to gain the respect and trust of our commercial partners, sponsors and supporters, as they need to believe and trust in the vision of the club.”
THE FEEL GOOD FACTOR
Amongst the recent good news, the club has also posted record season ticket sales for 2018, indicating a increased and renewed interest in the Lions. This has been reflected by engagement from the club’s supporters, partners and in the press, which has encouraged the board.
“The recent New Era event was extremely well attended, and it is a really encouraging sign. It’s not just the season ticket sales that are good, all our commercial efforts to date have been successful – falling into line with the numbers we forecasted and in many cases targets have been exceeded.
Whilst being excited by the current buzz around the club, the Chairman remains realistic of what’s required to ensure stability and growth at Swinton Lions.
“The biggest variable is always match day income and ultimately it is bums on seats that generally make or break a club’s budget. We believe with the information we had available to us we have budgeted prudently, however, moving into the new year this is one area we need supporters – both lapsed and new – to really get behind us on and vote with their feet. Hopefully we can convert the feel good factor on social media into improved attendances in 2018.”
In order to increase interest in the Lions further afield and build on the existing fan base, Andy reveals the board’s plans to improve match attendances down at Heywood Road.
“We have some exciting initiatives to roll out with free season tickets for community clubs and planned engagement with community clubs not just in Swinton, but in Sale and the wider Manchester communities. These will be promoted and pushed hard in January. We are also working with Sale FC, who have been very supportive, to develop a strong partnership between our respective clubs.”
“We also have a desire to open our arms to groups of young people in schools and community clubs not just in Swinton. It’s early days with the Foundation, but 2018 and beyond will be all about youth and getting them into the club.”
HOPES FOR THE 2018 SEASON
With so much attention on what’s happening off the field, it’s easy to forget that the Lions’ pre-season friendlies schedule starts in less than two weeks.
2018 begins in style with a local derby against Salford Red Devils at the AJ Bell Stadium on 14th January, before travelling up to Cumbria to face League One outfit Whitehaven a week later. The Lions then complete their preparations when hosting 2016 Grand Final winners Wigan Warriors at Heywood Road on 28th January, ahead of their Championship season opener away at Toulouse.
Last year’s ambitions of a top-four finish were quickly dashed with the club eventually embroiled in a relegation battle, but what would constitute success for the club in the forthcoming season?
“Success is relative, and staying in this division gives a club of our present standing and size the opportunity to build and develop. All that has gone before is now in the past and we are spending nowhere near the kamikaze sums of last season which almost closed the club’s doors.
“We are at stage one of an exciting journey and our expectations are realistic, but we must not forget that we started from nothing in September and had to secure virtually a new backroom team and recruit a full squad of players.
“We have to keep our feet firmly on the ground as it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Expectations clearly need to be managed as we are likely to be the lowest spending team in what is set to be the toughest ever Championship competition.”
LITTLER ‘MUCH MORE THAN JUST A COACH’
If Andy is sure of anything for next season, it is that the club has the right man in charge of the team. Former Swinton centre Stuart Littler took on the role of Head Coach after John Duffy’s departure to Featherstone in July and Andy is pleased at how quickly he’s settled into his first coaching role.
“I’m delighted with his application in the role in terms of both effort and also results. Let’s not forget Stuart took on an extremely difficult challenge during a period of adversity for the club last season, but managed to secure Championship status. What else could you ask for?
“It was great when he accepted a two-year contract offer as he is much more than just a coach to our club. Stuart holds the respect of everyone who knows him and being a part-time coach whilst also working in education helps. Unlike some coaches he sees the bigger picture and fully understands the sustainable approach. He has bought into the vision of the board and that’s important as we are a close-knit group and one big team.
“Stuart has done a tremendous job putting together his backroom team and securing the quality of people and players that he has. We won’t make any bold predictions other than a guarantee of commitment, honesty, hard work and accountability.”
MESSAGE TO THE FANS
With positive steps being made on and off the field for both now and the longer-term, Andy finishes with a message to the fans…
“On behalf of the board I would like to express our sincere gratitude for the continued support. Equally, I would like to emphasise the importance of a second wave of efforts and not resting on our laurels as we move into the new year.
“While thankfully we have moved past the dark days we are still in recovery mode as a business with an ongoing duty to creditors, including loan repayments, as we continue to clear up the mistakes of the past. Our commitment however is non-negotiable with regards to paying our staff, players and HMRC on time. Therefore ongoing efforts and fundraising will be needed especially in the months when we don’t have many home fixtures.
“Budgets and cash-flow in sporting clubs are two separate matters so while we are confident in our numbers we still need the support. The temptation to put the cue back on the rack will always be there, but we must continually rise to the challenge and raise the bar to not only keep the club sustainable, but to kick on to the next stages of our development and to demonstrate our ambition to the rest of the rugby league world.”
Written by Chris Bell.
Tickets to Swinton’s opening pre-season game against Salford Red Devils can be purchased down at the club’s office (105-107 Chorley Road, Swinton). Other local vendors include Green’s Cafe (Station Road, Pendlebury) and the White Swan pub (186 Worsley Road, Swinton).