Yeovil Town Chief Operating Officer (COO) David Mills spoke to BBC Somerset/Bristol Sports Presenter Geoff Twentyman on Saturday 16th December 2018, about his role at the club and the overall state of things at Yeovil Town midway through the 2018-19 season.
GT: First question. Why did you give Darren Way a new contract?
DM: Basically it's all part of stability. Stability is a strong watchword at Yeovil Town Football Club. We've got a vision to be back in League One as a stable League One team by the end of the 2020-21 season, and stability and a shared vision and determination are all attributes that get us there. Darren has got that, we've got that, and it's a case of working together.
GT: Just tell me why you think there's stability? You've had your lowest ever EFL crowd in recent weeks. The fans tell me in no uncertain terms that they're not happy with the football that they're watching. Why do you feel it's stability; why do you feel it's going to go forward?
DM: Well if you look at the beginning of the season, we had a fantastic start until the injuries kicked in. 6-0 at Newport really stands out in my mind. So we know that the management team and the players that we've got have got the capability to get where we want to be. As you know from Yeovil Town over the years, we're not a club that makes short term decisions. We look longer term and build for the future and build from within. That's why we're doing what we're doing.
GT: You cite the Newport result, which in isolation was an incredible result. But when you look at the League Table now, it hasn't been backed up and the club is in a fairly perilous situation, or tumbling towards a perilous situation isn't it?
DM: Well we haven't had a great run of results, but if you look at that Newport match, immediately after that we had two games where we lost a number of key players, and we've had seven or eight players out over the last few weeks. They're starting to come back now. I'm pleased to see that Alex Fisher is back on the bench today, for instance. So we haven't had the team that we had at the beginning of the season. But I'm confident that now we're getting those players back, there will be a turnaround in form.
GT: It sounds like you're hoping there will be, but is there not a degree of naivety in terms of what you're telling me. You've lost four in a row and you're only five points off the relegation zone. Every club has to deal with injuries.
DM: Yes that's true, but we've had a particularly significant amount of injuries to key players, which I don't think it's true to say every other team in the division has. Last week we played a lot better than we have done. Granted the last ten minutes were disappointing, and we lost a game that we probably should have won. But the signs of a turnaround in form are there in my view.
GT: There was a recent midweek game where Chris Spittles had an excellent chat with Darren Way, and Darren talked about a dark cloud over the football club. What does he mean by that?
DM: Well that's really something that you'd have to ask Darren, but I think there is ...
GT: ... Did you not hear him say that, and if you did, did you not ask him what it meant? It's quite a serious statement to make.
DM: Yes, I think probably what he meant by that, is that when you get a bad run of results that maybe there are some elements in the background that don't mind if the club have a bad run of results. I'm not talking about people within the club, I'm talking about people outside the club. I think that's probably what he was referring to. But certainly I can tell you 100 percent within the club, we're positive about the future, and we are convinced that we're going to make this vision of being a League One by 2021 a reality.
GT: How do you deal with this outside influence then, because it's obviously affecting the manager? How do you deal with it, and how do you help him deal with it?
DM: You've just got to have determination and stability, as I've said. The other thing that we do need to do in the near future is start getting better results. Everybody appreciates that.
GT: So what's the plan to get better results? What happens in January? Do you give the manager financial backing?
DM: I think the key thing is that it's up to Darren look at the playing squad in January. But I think the key and most important thing is that by early January we'll have all of our key players back from injury. I think that then you'll see a real difference to this side, and you'll see the side that achieved results like 6-0 at Newport and 4-0 at Notts County.
GT: Has he approached you, or has he approached the Board in terms of a shopping list for January? You can't leave it until January. You can act in January, but you have your wishlist now, don't you?
DM: Yes, obviously I won't go into details, but Darren and the Board have got their plans for what they want to do in January. So we're not going to wait until January 1st and decide then. Part of the decision in extending Darren's contract was based on the fact that one of the first questions players ask is who is going to be the manager next year. Obviously Darren's contract ran out in June (2019). So it was important to us to give that stability so that players had confidence in signing or this club, or in re-signing or this club.
GT: So will you be signing more players in January? I'm asking on behalf of the fans, by the way.
DM: I would hope so, is probably what I would say. But I think that's down to the manager, not me.
GT: A player like Tom James who nearly left - I think it was deadline day when he was set to move away. Is there any likelihood that you will trade him in, and look to get some money into the coffers?
DM: I wouldn't like to speculate about any of our existing players. We're very happy with the squad that we've got. Probably Darren does need to make a few amendments in January, but it would be unfair of me to go into detail as to what those might be.
GT: Okay, so I'll withdraw the names from the conversation. Will he sell players, in the generic form, to get the money in?
DM: I think during the transfer window we may look to sell players and we may look to buy players, as every club would.
GT: Terry Skiverton - what's happened with Terry? I noticed he wasn't given a new deal when Darren was given a new deal. Was he ever offered a new deal?
DM: Terry decided for his own reasons to take a break. If you think about it, he's been with the club for almost 20 years. He's been a fantastic supporter of the club. It was 100 percent Terry Skiverton's decision, for his own reasons. I am optimistic that Terry will come back in some form at Huish Park in the near future. But it was Terry's decision, and we respect that and wish him well.
GT: Yes, I read the statement from the club and I thought he was coming back at some point. What kind of a job could he come back to? He's been a manager, he's been the assistant manager, he's been the captain. Where could he fit in easily?
DM: Obviously there's many different aspects at a club. Really that's a decision for Terry. What he's done now is taken a sabbatical. He will come back to us and we'll look at opportunities that are available to him at that time. But he's been a fantastic servant of the club and we just want to do what is best for him.
GT: I really respect you coming on and chatting because this is communication. Do you honestly believe you communicate well enough with your fanbase as a football club?
DM: I think we could do better, but it's not as bad as some people think. For instance we've got a Supporters' Alliance that we've been building up over the last 18 months which is really becoming effective voice for the fans. Part of the reason for me being here today, and speaking to you Geoff, is to help improve things further. Off the field we appreciate that we are doing a lot of good things, but we need to generate more business off the field, and we need to be better at engaging with fans. So I hope more chats like this will become more common in the future.
GT: I appreciate it. So you're telling me this is the dawn of a new era in terms of communicating with your fans?
DM: No, all I'm saying Geoff is that we have been better over the last eighteen months ...
GT: ... Have you? I've asked to speak to John Fry on this programme at least twice in the last eighteen months and he has declined. That isn't communicating.
DM: Well, I'm here now Geoff, and what I meant by that comment was developing links with the Supporters' Alliance and helping that become a more effective voice within the club, which it has been. That's what I meant by that comment, but certainly I look forward to more chances like this.
GT: So do I, and I really really appreciate you coming on. How concerned are you about attendances? You tell me how concerned you are.
DM: Obviously we want more people at the games. We don't want to see the low attendances like we saw at the Port Vale game. So obviously results matter, but we're looking at other initiatives, like we've signed a covenant with the Armed Forces, where we can offer tickets for troops. Next week for instance, we've got a deal for local clubs where they can come and seek a discounted rate. So part of it is off the field, but a big part of it is giving a better offer off the field, in terms of ticket price offers and matchday experience.
GT: I know results are important, but the style of football that fans come and watch is very important too isn't it? Is there a correlation between what they see, and why they're not turning up in the numbers that you'd hope?
DM: Yes, I think one of the difficulties, as you'll know, is that a lot of teams come to Huish Park and stop us playing, and that sometimes that doesn't result in great football. I think it's a combination. I think sometimes if we didn't play particularly well but won, that would help the crowds. We just need to have a better all-round offer on the field and off the field.
GT: Norman Hayward and John Fry - they are permanents in the Boardroom. Are there any plans to bring in fresh blood? Is the club for sale? Would they welcome an offer from an outside source? What's the feel in the Boardroom?
DM: They'll always look at different opportunities that come forward, but Norman Hayward and John Fry are certainly at the club. They're here today, and they're supporting the team.
GT: That's not quite answering my question. Would the door be open for people to come in and be part of their Board or even take over the club?
DM: I don't know about take over the club, but certainly if there was an investor out there, who wanted to invest money in the club, we'd certainly look at that. It's not a closed door. But obviously it depends on what terms and conditions it came with, how much money was involved and what the resources of that organisation were. People have got the perception that the Board is a closed Board and that it's not open to dialogue, but that's definitely not the case.
GT: Is everyone welcome to that offer you just made, or are there certain people you wouldn't be interested in talking with?
DM: That would be a decision for the Board, and not for me.
GT: Is the club actually for sale?
GT: So the play - I wrote it down as you said it - League One by 2021 - is that what you told me?
DM: Yes, by the end of the 2020-21 season.
GT: So is there a formal plan of execution somewhere in the Boardroom's meeting minutes as to how you're going to achieve that?
DM: Yes, just to give you a little more insight into that, part of the vision behind that is to recruit the best young players, and that means both externaly by getting good quality loans in from Premier League and Championship clubs, but also in developing our own Academy, and for instance that's why Gabby Rogers and Daniel Ojo were signed a couple of weeks ago. We think that's the start of a much better output from our Academy system, which has been overhauled over the summer. So it's built in a sustainable way. It's not just some random wish to get into League One by the end of the 2020-21 season.
GT: So recruiting the best young players from where?
DM: Premier League and Championship loans, which we already do at the moment. The missing piece of the jigsaw has been the Academy, which as you know up until this year, I don't think there had been an Academy player signed on a professional contract since 2015. We've had two in the last month, and there's more talented players in the Academy. So in a couple of years time, hopefully we will have former Academy players starting for our first team on a regular basis, which you'd think is one of the cornerstones of Yeovil Town Football Club going forward.
GT: With respect, attracting Premier League players to Huish Park, and I say this with total respect, is a big challenge when you think Bristol City and Bristol Rovers, teams in the Championship and teams in League One will also be after those young players as well, aren't they?
DM: Yes, but we're talking about Under-23 players that are looking to develop their game, and a good example of that is we've got one here this season in Nathan Baxter, who is a fantastic keeper from Chelsea. He's a prime example of how somebody can come to Yeovil from a Premier League club and then develop their game and really stand out, and he's done that.
GT: So January, just to reiterate again, you're expecting player movement, and certainly players coming in to Huish Park?
DM: Yes, we'll expect some player movement. That may mean some coming in, and may mean some going out. But the manager, like all managers, will look at his squad in January and make changes he thinks are necessary.
GT: And as COO (Chief Operating Officer) how happy are you right now with where Yeovil are, on and off the field?
DM: I think we're heading in the right direction. We have had a blip with the results but I think that will turn round, and by the end of the season we'll be in a lot better position than we are now.
GT: And stood here talking with me, what's your biggest priority in terms of your job, and affecting the football club? What's your biggest priority?
DM: Off the field, I think it's improving the income streams at the club, and improving fan relations even further than they are now.
GT: Listen, I really really appreciate you coming on and chatting. We must do this again, and it might not be quite so prickly.
DM: I didn't think it was prickly at all!
GT: Good! That's what I like to hear. I really appreciate it. Good luck this afternoon - three points wouldn't go amiss would it?
DM: They wouldn't indeed, and I'm looking forward to it. Let me wish you and your listeners and all the Yeovil Town fans a very Happy Christmas.
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