Tuesday 28th May, 2019 at 10:39am
Last season is one we probably all want to forget, regardless of finishing 6th. But I think it’s important that you get an honest review of it, warts and all, as well as a brief preview of the 2019/20 season.
We started the season in a place we didn’t want to be – relegated to the Ladbrokes Championship because our performances in 2017/18, after a top six finish the previous year, simply weren’t good enough. So, as we started last season, the Club’s stated aim was to get back to the Ladbrokes Premiership at the first time of asking.
With hindsight, should we have said that? No – but it was said with the best of intentions. At the time, the Managing Director Ian Maxwell was going, along with Chairman David Beattie, and we were working hard to retain our sponsors. There were too many players on the books, too many playing for themselves not the Club. It was essential to keep the financial wheels on the bus because our income was going to drop immediately by well over £1m – but the parachute payment from the SPFL was only £500,000.
Stability was therefore the priority and the appointment of Gerry Britton as CEO began to create that. That was followed by securing ongoing sponsorship deals with JEL as our main sponsor; Fleet Alliance as the back of shirt sponsor; and Energy Check for the naming rights to the stadium. We are grateful to them all for standing by us.
But we also had to give everyone a firm footballing target at a time of uncertainty. And that couldn’t be “let’s aim for mid-table”, we had to be seen to aspire to more. That’s why we adopted the position we did in relation to an immediate return to the top flight. We believed that, with a new team and a Manager, Alan Archibald, who wanted – and deserved – the chance to put things right, it was possible.
In line with that aspiration, the Manager was given a very competitive budget, which was an initial seven figure sum, with the promise of more for the January window. Despite that, the team performances weren’t close to delivering what the Board had hoped for. We feared that if we left it any longer, there would be no time to stop the slide, never mind get promotion. So, we took the agonising decision to replace the Manager to give the new incumbent a fighting chance to improve our position.
We appointed Gary Caldwell as the new Manager, with Brian Kerr as his number two in mid-October. Despite a painful period between then and December, the management team fought hard to stop us being set adrift from the other teams around us. In November, the Board signed off Gary’s plan and budget for the January window and he and Gerry Britton immediately got to work.
I think most people would agree that getting down quickly to doing our business had a very positive impact on the signings made in that period. Gary’s contacts across football (including personal relationships with players and managers) also paid dividends as 11 players left and eight came in. Players leaving is always difficult, regardless of what fans think of their performance, there are usually close relationships formed across the Club. It might be the right time for someone to move on but it doesn’t make it any less of a wrench to see them go – and that applies to Chris Erskine leaving the Club in January.
I was personally sad to see him go and the Club is extremely grateful for all that he did for Thistle. But, on reflection, it appears to have been the right move for him and us. There can also be differences in opinions when it comes to bringing players in. The signing of Scott McDonald split fan opinion – but his goals quickly won any doubters over.
And so began the fightback, which started from the very first game in January. In the 17 league games we went on to play, we won eight, drew five, lost four and overtook a team who, in January, had been 14 points ahead of us, stats that saw us sitting third in the league for the second half of the season.
We also had a very positive run in the William Hill Scottish Cup, culminating in reaching the quarter final and forcing Hearts to a replay. When the draw was made for the next round, offering up a potential semi-final against Inverness, I think we all dared to hope that further progress was possible. However, it wasn’t to be. But the second half of our season finally showed what we were capable of – and what could be possible next season.
Despite comments suggesting this was just a holiday, the trip to Tenerife was a turning point for players and management as everyone got to really know who they were lining up with for the final push. It created a sense of purpose and unity as well as giving the management team an insight in to the players as people, not just professionals.
The refreshed team showed a grit and determination to win at all costs, which we hadn’t seen for a while. There was a renewed belief in ourselves and it was clear that the team was again playing for the fans, as well as fighting for each other and the Club.
That, in turn, gave fans something to rally around, at home and away. Despite good performances, at times it seemed we were doomed to fail as when we did well, teams around us also picked up points. But the team stuck to the plan and confidence and belief grew. And you, our fans, stuck with us, turning out in increasing numbers as the season drew to an end. The Queen of the South game saw 1536 fans and the team make it a memorable afternoon as we secured sixth place in the table.
I’ve said it before, we don’t always make it easy for you to support us. But when we won at Somerset Park in front of more than 1000 Thistle fans, players told me they couldn’t believe hearing our fans singing all the way through half time when they were in the dressing room. The lift you gave them can’t be measured, your support was a key part of our improved performance in the second half of the season. A huge and sincere thank you.
Off the pitch, the Board took the decision that the Club, while having no debts, needed to improve its financial planning. Our budgets do not include monies from cup runs, stadium hires by third parties etc. It encourages us to live within our means and extra monies that come in – such as that from our Scottish Cup run – can be used to supplement the playing budget or on unforeseen issues as they arise.
But, until season 2018/19, the focus had been solely on the current season which we felt wasn’t enough, we needed sight of what was coming down the track towards us. Our finances are now structured on a rolling two year basis (with a view to extending that to three years) so that we know exactly what we can spend in year, without compromising the Club’s viability for the following year. As the season ended, we came in on budget without depleting our reserves, which can be drawn on to support plans for the coming season.
The Board agreed that there was also a need to develop new income streams to create new funds. It is unreasonable to expect that fans and sponsors provide all the funds to support the Club’s aspirations (nor do we have a sugar daddy or major donor as is rumoured by some fans – Colin Weir has never had any ongoing financial commitment to the Club, instead choosing to fund the Thistle Weir Youth Academy on an annual basis). That new approach began to pay off in the season with increased utilisation of the stadium on non-match days. With the help of a new hospitality manager, Grant Gallacher, who came on board towards the end of 2018, we have events planning for up to a year ahead and are now getting repeat business for meetings as well as increasing other usage of the stadium and facilities.
The road to Hell is paved with good intentions and that was the case with some of our communications. For my part, trying to move away from just issuing words and having more video footage in conversation with Gary, Gerry and me, in various combinations, was the objective for last season, ideally on a monthly basis. It was a genuine effort to be open and transparent.
We did that until the end of the year and then things fell away in the second half of the season. I put my hand up and take responsibility for that. I recorded a video with the manager that was issued immediately prior to Christmas. Not for the first time, when it went out, I was hit with abuse and criticism from some quarters in relation to it being a pointless exercise, told them nothing, it was lies and there were offensive personal comments.
So, for the first time ever, I gave up and decided if no one wanted it, then why were we wasting time doing it? But I was wrong to do that or even believe it. What I’ve realised since is that there were people watching and interested in hearing what was said. And I let them down by stopping the videos – and for that I’m sorry.
In the coming season, there will be more chances to hear from the Manager, CEO, players and me depending on what the topic is. It won’t just be via social media, there will be more opportunities for face-to-face comms and events (like the recent one with the Manager) that will allow for more informal interaction.
Just to be clear. We want to be open and talk to you about a range of things. But there will be tactical reasons (on the football side) or legal/commercial/GDPR reasons (on the Club side) that mean we can’t share every piece of information with you, even if it is of interest to you and it might make our lives easier to do so.
However, what we are aiming for is that when the Club says something, I want you to believe that it means exactly what it says, no side, no spin. So we will work harder next season to earn your trust so that when those occasions arise when we can’t say too much, you can believe that there’s no conspiracy or deliberate attempt to mislead. And when we do speak, you believe us.
Thistle Weir Youth Academy
With the appointment of Scott Allison to replace Gerry Britton as the Head of the Thistle Weir Youth Academy, the Academy has continued to make excellent progress and Scott has interesting ideas to develop it even further. With an announcement of an additional £600k of funding from Colin Weir, it was very welcome recognition of the work being done by the dedicated coaches and staff. Special thanks too to the parents who make it all possible – it was great to meet so many of you at the successful Academy Awards in December.
It was another good year for Academy graduates too as they continued to make their mark in the first team. James Penrice played 100% of all possible game time across the season, a remarkable achievement, as he made the number three shirt his. Aidan Fitzpatrick made the move from Academy football to the first team at 17 years old and continued to attract attention from south of the border. But with neither the player nor the Club keen to see him leave, all offers were rejected. Callum Wilson also took another big step forward to first team football when he went out on loan to Elgin City.
Partick Thistle Women’s FC
Last season saw the establishment of Partick Thistle Women’s Football Club, the first time in our history that we have had a standalone women’s club. This coincided with their promotion to the Scottish Building Society SWPL Two, no mean feat. The women’s game has been the biggest growing area of football in Scotland so it was a pretty momentous day when we had our first paying home game in front of a decent sized crowd. Joint coach James McCafferty left towards the end of the first half of the season, leaving Beth Adamson in charge but ably supported at training and on match days by Gary Caldwell, Gerry Britton and Scott Allison. Only one isn’t getting back – Gerry – as the girls lost for the first time in the season when he was in charge!
I am grateful for the assistance of all on the committee, including Treasurer, Stephanie Mallon, and members, Colin Quinn and Mary Wilson, their hard work has been much appreciated. Likewise, the team is grateful to Caroline and David Mackie of MAS Electrics for being the first corporate sponsors of the team, as well as everyone who sponsored individual players’ kits. Finally, Christopher Dobie also deserves significant recognition for his hard work on the video and social media front.
The Training Ground
As I write this, the legal issues that have meant the Club has been unable to comment on what has been happening with the Three Black Cats (TBC) project to develop a training ground are close to being concluded.
It’s been frustrating for all concerned and disappointing that the facility will not be available in the timescale we originally believed. However, TBC has confirmed that they remain committed to developing the training ground for PTFC and that the monies for it have been ring-fenced, regardless of how long it takes to bring to fruition. Good news and I hope that within the next couple of weeks, all will become clearer.
When we were relegated, we took a conscious decision not to make anyone on the non-playing side redundant. The priority was stability but Gerry and the Board also wanted time to look at how we were going to do things going forward rather than have a knee-jerk reaction. By the end of the season, it was clear that there was a need to realign roles to the Club’s evolving priorities. I know redundancy is not a pleasant experience to go through but I also know the effort that Gerry is going to, supported by our lawyers Just Employment Law, not just to do things by the book but with consideration for those involved. It was unfortunate that a list of the roles being considered for redundancy leaked via social media – individuals could be recognised from this and I felt we had let down staff whose privacy was compromised as a result. But this ongoing exercise will mean we are fit for purpose as we head in to next season. I want to thank all staff, past and present, for their support. It hasn’t been easy but we appreciate all you do.
In March, the Manager presented his plan and playing budget for the summer window. The Board agreed to maintain the budget at the same level as last season, with scope for additional resources in January 2020.
This early agreement gave Gary the chance, once the last game was played, to start recruiting for next season. Offers were made to all the out of contract players he wished to retain and he spoke to players who were no longer required. We are grateful to all those players who played a part in securing our place in the Championship but will not be with us next season – we wish them well for the future.
Kris Doolan was the player whose departure has been most keenly felt by everyone associated with Thistle. I want to address this directly. The Manager made a decision not to offer a contract extension to Kris – as Gary will be judged on the performance of the team, he has to be allowed to make the decision as to who he wants in it. The Board supported that decision.
Where we – the Club, not the Manager – got it wrong was in how we handled the timing of making the announcement. There was no intention to be disrespectful to Kris but that’s not how it looked to you or how it felt to him. And for that I apologise unreservedly. Lessons have been learned and we will do better in the future.
Although the transfer window doesn’t officially open until June 9th, the hard work on player recruitment has begun, with Shea Gordon and Joe Cardle signed up already. Ryan Williamson has agreed to sign when his Dunfermline contract expires. Player recruitment is a marathon not a sprint though. Many conversations have already started with Gerry and the Manager working hard to get the right players on board for this football club – and yes, strikers are a priority!
We get back to business as preseason kicks off a few days later, when there will be the launch of the new kit before we move in to July and see the return of competitive football in the shape of the BetFred Cup. On August 3rd, the league campaign starts and I’m looking forward to seeing us get as many points as possible under our belt in that early stage of the season.
It’s going to be a big year for the Club off and on the pitch. It’s a year to be “one Club”, with all the different bits of the Thistle family coming together with common purpose. I’m not going to fall in to the trap this season of nailing our colours to the mast but we aren’t a wee club, lacking ambition as some like to style us. We have designs on getting back to the Premiership – but we have to earn that, one game at a time. Winning games is the priority, the rest will take care of itself.
We have the new private 71 Club starting up and will shortly be announcing the introduction of Club Ambassadors, recognising former players and others who have given time and effort on the Club’s behalf. There will also be an announcement of our Charity of the Year for the next two years, which I think fans will approve of and get behind. We continue to strengthen our relationship with The Partick Thistle Football Club Trust, which is itself developing its independence and going from strength-to-strength. There’s also a closer, exciting partnership with the Charitable Trust being built.
I hope you can see that everyone will have a part to play in the 2019/20 season. Yes, the football side will take the lead through the players, management and staff. The non-football side will also have its place, through our dedicated staff, fantastic volunteers and loyal sponsors. But most of all, we need you, our fans.
The Manager said in his recent session that if you want to criticise anyone about team performance, criticise him but get behind the team. I want to make the same plea. Have a go at me and the Board if you’re not happy with the Club – but please continue to give your support to the team every week. Fan behaviour has the potential to damage an individual’s confidence when fair comment turns to unacceptable personal abuse but you can also encourage that player – and the team – to achieve their potential with your consistent support.
I saw first-hand this year the positive impact you had on players during the run in to the end of the season. You lifted them when they needed to dig deep – and you made them feel we were all in it together as one Club.
I look forward to welcoming you back to The Energy Check Stadium at Firhill next season, refreshed and ready for the season ahead. Thanks for all your support to date – and for what you’re about to give us!