Yeovil Town's football advisor Mark Palmer (of Insight 63 Ltd) spoke to BBC Somerset reporter Richard Hoskin on Saturday 20th January 2018, prior to kick-off against Chesterfield.
Photo © 2019
RH: Let's just begin by reminding people who might not be aware of who you are, who are you and why you were brought in by Yeovil a few months ago.
MP: My initial remit, as we discussed previously, was to come in and have a look at the club, to see how it was progressing, the state of play in terms of its current environment, and to roadmap it for the future. So as you said when we spoke just now, it seems like yesterday that we spoke last, but a lot has happened since then, and all very positive stuff.
RH: So when did you hand your report to the Board of Directors and what did it say?
MP: Well it's still an ongoing report actually. We did have a report in just before Christmas, to the Board of Directors. I've made several recommendations. Some of those have now been implemented and put in place. There are still ongoing discussions regarding the longer term view of the club.
RH: So what has actually changed since your arrival, that you've recommended and they've taken on board, and changes have been made?
MP: There have been a number of things on the football side. I think I mentioned when I came onto the programme in November, that the first thing I do is to look at the football side, to see how it's doing. It's a quick health check on the club. Obviously where the club is on the football side is the health of the club generally. So I've made some recommendations to the board, mainly involving the long term future, which is the Academy. So we're looking to bring the Academy now under the football operations side, rather than as a separate entity. We feel that move will help integrate players, and really give them a pathway to play for Yeovil Town. If you're a lad in the Academy at the moment, it will just help your pathway to come through into the first team.
RH: Will that cost money?
MP: It will do eventually. There's no immediate outlay at the moment. Like with any vision, you've got to put plans in place, but I've looked at that and presented a business plan to the board, which they have agreed. They'll be progressing with that and carrying it through.
RH: What else did the report say?
MP: Well a number of the elements are confidential. But what I can say is that like any club and any business, I did recommend that the club would need to look at investment, and to get investment in. One of my roles going forward now will be to look for investment, and to help the club secure and sustain its future.
RH: So you've answered one of my questions already. I thought that report would be it and you'd say your goodbyes to Yeovil Town, but you're not going anywhere just yet. You're going to stay at the club, and how long do you think this will last?
MP: Well you can't get rid of me that easily! In all seriousness, I don't know, is the honest answer. What I do in terms of the consultancy work that I do, and I have done with many different clubs, is that I don't make the recommendations and then go off into the sunset and say good luck guys. So one of the remits that I'll be doing is to make sure that certain elements of the recommendations are carried through. If that does involve getting investment into the club, for example, then I do have many contacts within the investment field and I'll be working on those areas.
RH: Are you looking for investors and not buyers at the football club?
MP: Not particularly buyers - no. Like anything, it's an open book. If somebody wanted to come to me and said that they've got some investment, but they insisted on a shareholder purchase, then of course I'd listen to that, and I'd recommend that the owners would look at it. But it's not a specific remit to go out and look for buyers.
RH: You told me last time that John Fry and Norman Hayward are not looking to sell the club. Does that remain the case?
MP: It does. Their heart is very much in Yeovil Town Football Club. However, if the right type of investment came along, which was good for the club's long term future, and it did involve the purchase of shareholding then I'm sure they would look at that.
RH: Has a consortium shown an interest in buying Yeovil Town at any point this season?
MP: I haven't been approached officially by any consortium. That's one of the things that I understand has been a going around the local press or media. I haven't been approached by any consortium either local or further afield officially. But again if anybody wanted to talk to me about investment, if there was a consortium out there, then of course I'd be more than happy to talk to them on an official basis.
RH: Do you think there is a consortium out there that might be interested in Yeovil Town, or is that just guessing?
MP: I think it's guesswork at the moment. There may be. I feel the club is a great club, in terms of its potential. I'm not saying it would be another Bournemouth, but I think the club can certainly be taken up to League One. When it gets to League One, if the structure is correct in terms of the club and the way that it's going, and it's got the playing side absolutely correct, and the coaching side from the Academy upwards, there's no reason why the club can't reach the Championship again. I think that most importantly, if it does, then it's got to have a plan to stay there this time, rather than just a one-off season. There may be someone out there that views the club as a potential in that respect and I'll be very happy to talk to them if that was the case.
RH: I think that if Yeovil responded to every rumour out there, there'd be a statement on the website every day. What prompted the club to issue a statement on 11th of December about a rumoured takeover? YTFC respond to social media claims with John Fry confirming these reports were without substance. What prompted John Fry to release a statement?
MP: I think that if you look at the timing of that, it was just before the Christmas period, and more importantly just before the transfer window. Sometimes rumours can be quite damaging to the club's stability, in terms of it being an important time of the season. The club is, and is still in a position in the league where it needs to get points on the board. There were a couple of cup games coming up and obviously we've done well in those cup games. But more importantly, it's about the environment around the club and in particular the players. If there are rumours about takeovers, then I think it can be a little bit unsettling for those players, and we want to keep as many of the players as settled as we can.
RH: The FA Cup run. What difference has that made to the club? It's probably changed the ballpark hasn't it, since you first arrived?
MP: Yes, it's a huge difference. There's two things - first of all, I think it's lifted the atmosphere of the club and the staff and the players. It's been fantastic for that, and there's also the financial element of that as well obviously. So drawing Man United at home in the cup is just a great uplift for the whole club but also financially. It will also help us put the club on the map in terms of prestige. It's going to be shown live on the BBC and also globally. I know people that are in the States that are going to be watching it and tuning in. So it gives the whole club a bit of an uplift.
RH: How much do you think the club will make from their cup run?
MP: That's difficult to say at the moment. I would say it would be in the region of around £300,000 upwards to around £400,000. I think that's kind of the figures that we're looking at, at the moment.
RH: What happens to that money?
MP: That money goes straight back into the club, I believe. First of all in terms of helping with a war chest in terms of the transfer window, but also in terms of keeping the club's forward running costs and also helping to plan for the future.
RH: I'm sure fans will want to know that it's going to the club and that it will be invested in the club, and it won't just go in the pockets of the owners.
MP: No, it won't be going in the pockets of the owners. That's the way it works. I was really impressed actually in terms of the way the whole staff at the club, and also the players have galvanised together on this cup run, and they deserve it. Drawing Man United is such a fillip for everybody. No-one deserves it more than Darren and his players.
RH: Darren has in truth been living off scraps recently, with lots of loan signings. Will he have a bit more money and a bit more clout to invest in players, particularly as it seems Otis Khan is going to leave the club during this transfer window?
MP: Well that's a rumour. There's nothing confirmed yet on Otis. We know that we've had approaches to us ...
RH: There's a clause in his contract that has been met.
MP: ... There is a break clause but nothing has been confirmed yet, so it's really down to the player's desire to stay at the club. I believe there's nothing that is going to be happening in the immediate future. I would have thought Otis would want to play against Manchester United for example, in the cup on Friday. Yeovil has been his club in the recent past. I would like to think he would like to stay here. At the end of the day it's his decision. In terms of the money going forward into the transfer window, there will be adequate budget to replace players, either that will leave, or that will strengthen the squad. Darren has got some targets that we are looking at, at the moment. That's given us a little bit more flexibility, with the FA Cup draw against Manchester United.
RH: Is your report out of date because of the FA Cup run and the money the club have suddenly received?
MP: No, not at all. I think it's actually made it more relevant because it helps us get somewhere, maybe in a few areas, a little bit quicker than we were looking at. So it's just been a good upside all around with this draw, and the report.
RH: Have you tackled the club's PR? I think that's something that we talked about a few months ago. You conceded it could improve.
MP: Yes, in terms of the club. That's one of the recommendations that I have made to the Board in the report. The club looks at certain elements in terms of its output - not just to the media, but also to the fans and the local community. I think that it's very important that the football club is part of Yeovil life, and South Somerset life as well. So part of the recommendations that I've made have been in that area.
RH: Will we hear from John Fry at some point? On To Victory on Twitter has accused him of being faceless, and also someone on text saying 'Where is John Fry?' - will we get to speak to John Fry at some point?
MP: Well I can't answer for John actually, so I don't know. I can assure everybody that has a concern about John, that he is a part of the club absolutely on a daily basis, and he's Yeovil Town through-and-through. Different people will have a different view in terms of what that value is. Some people go out very much into the media and want to be a face of that club, and other people want to be more in the background. I think John probably likes to be a little bit more in the background. He's very much part of the running of the club on a daily basis at the moment.
RH: It's a fact that we've talked about, not necessarily with you, but John Fry and Norman Hayward are both in their seventies. Should fans be worried and are you concerned that there appears to be no succession plan in place, because they can't carry on at Yeovil forever?
MP: No, that's right. I'm certainly not in that age bracket, I'll make that clear now. But in terms of a plan going forward, again that's been part of my recommendations that when you're road-mapping a club's future, and I've looked at it going forward, up to about seven years from now, which I'd like to see the club at least sustainable in League One with a future of producing and generating players and developing players. From the football side, that's the way I've looked at it. I'm sure that over the next few months, I'll be sitting down with the owners to talk about their views on their future, but nothing has been discussed yet, in terms of the immediate future.
RH: How vital to the future of the club is the redevelopment of land around Huish Park? And how likely is that to happen?
MP: I think that's very important. I think I mentioned in November, I started a number of discussions with South Somerset District Council. I must say that they are very much on board with the vision and concept that I presented. So I think we've made quite a bit of headway there. To get the land developed, I think would be vital for the club's future. I'd like to see a redevelopment and a restructuring of the stadium, and give the fans a better matchday experience in terms of facilities, and also to help sustain the club's future in terms of the financial outlook. So the land would all come into play on that. I've recommended pathways in which we can maybe achieve that. But the important thing here is that any land development and any uplift from that would go directly back into the club. That's important for the club's future.
RH: Talking of the future, I think you've already answered this, but the Board are open to selling the club, but it's not your remit. You never say never, and if a consortium came with the right offer, then the club would listen to that?
MP: Yes, I think that's right. I don't think there's a Football League club that would say they're not ready for sale, if the right money was offered, and also importantly, the right owners to take it forward. So I think that everything is for sale at the end of the day. But I certainly haven't been going out actively looking for that.
RH: Where are Yeovil going? I appreciate the cup run is fantastic. But they're towards the bottom of the Football League, crowds are down. How can things improve for Yeovil once the cup run is over? They've got Manchester United on Friday and it will be a wonderful occasion for the club, but the bread and butter is the league, and the size of those crowds too.
MP: Well I was driving down this morning, and I was thinking today - with all respect to the Manchester United game and the hype around that - is more important. We've got to start looking upwards in the league position. I'm sure Darren hasn't done, and the players are very focussed on today's game, but you can't take your eyes off the ball when you are 21st in League Two. The important thing is to sustain your league status this season, and then we can push on. In terms of the longer term vision, I want to see the club consolidate in League Two, and then use the off-season between May and August coming up, to rebuild and restructure - not just the club on the infrastructure side, but also on the playing side. Then I think we can start to take the club forward and look up the table rather than down.
RH: You use the word 'we' a number of times. As far as you're concerned are you part of Yeovil Town at the moment - are you a 'we' rather than a 'they'?
MP: At the moment, I'm part of the club. I don't know whether that will remain and how long that will remain for. I'm saying 'we' as in I'm on the case and I'm currently employed by the club's owners. So that's why I'm saying 'we'.
RH: When do you think we'll catch up again, when there will be significant developments that fans will actually notice?
MP: Well first of all, I'd like to see the fans see a difference in terms of what they see on the pitch. We'll be hoping to push up the table in terms of league position. Also just around the place in terms of making some small steps in terms of facilities, and seeing a difference on matchdays. I'd encourage any Yeovil Town supporter who hasn't been to league games this season, if they're coming to the cup game I'd like to think that we can give them a good enough experience to come to a few more games again this season, and hopefully start building the crowds up that way.
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