Dave Thomas speaks to Dave Edmundson

Last updated : 23 February 2006 By Dave Thomas
You know the kind of thing I mean… why don’t you do this and why don’t you do that, and I think this and I think that… we all get on our high horse don’t we… all part of the “we pay our money so we are entitled to say what we think.”

Since the invention of the mobile, and the internet and emails, the life of a Chief Executive, or anyone for that matter in a high profile place, is far from easy. On a Monday morning when I look at my emails, there might be half a dozen, mostly from failed ebay bids, but for Dave Edmundson, they’re probably running into three figures. And if they’re all from disgruntled fans he must rue the day that they discovered his email address. But Dave does his best to answer them all, and back came a reply to mine- within a few minutes of him opening up the shop as it were.

My email had talked about this “punching above our weight” mantra that comes from the club, my suggestion being, think it maybe, but OK let’s stop saying it. Then there was the perceived declining interest of fans, gradual lowering of attendances, the need to create a better player fund by raising and ring-fencing admission prices, and the need to be more positive.

By the time I’d finished there was over a page of this stuff, although to be fair it also suggested a few constructive strategies by which the club might prosper just a little more.

To put it briefly, Dave’s reply matched mine almost line for line. If this was a boxing match you might say we’d traded punches toe to toe. His return mail was passionate, definitely angry, and certainly beat the drum very loudly that the club at the minute is doing everything within its power to be ambitious.

I think maybe I did a bit of a ‘Cloughie’ in provoking an almost ‘outraged’ response from Dave that showed a raw emotion that maybe not many fans see. Let nobody doubt now that he does care. Let’s have no more of this ‘he’s the devil from Blackburn Rovers in disguise.’ I wouldn’t go so far as to say that he wiped the floor with me; I think I’d say it was a split decision, but if he was delivering a message, it certainly got across.

I’m cheating a bit in this piece. I’m not going to present Dave’s reply in one long chunk, but chop and change it just a little and fit in some of my stuff along the way.

Later in the morning we then had a long telephone conversation. I had replied to Dave’s email reply and obviously he had thought ‘enough of this’ we need to talk. So some of his telephone observations I’ll work in as well.

Somewhere in my email I had mentioned lack of ambition.

Thanks for your email and some very constructive comments, but sometimes I really despair. Since being appointed here I have pushed the ambition and potential of this club. Indeed early in my tenure there was a suggestion that I was pushing out messages that would fill the fans with false hopes and put pressure on the manager. So it’s about reality and expectation.

We HAVE set our sights on the Premiership and the stark fact of losing £20,000 a week is a result of that ambition. The Board committed an extra £1m to the playing budget for this and next season. That’s a huge decision considering in the not too distant past almost going bust.” But it still leaves us 19th out of 21 Championship clubs benchmarked by the Football League on playing budgets.

But why not publicise this increased player budget, it’s more than most of us thought was available, why not have a publicised ring-fenced admission price increase purely for team building and make a sales-campaign out of it?

Because it can create unnecessary pressure. Make no mistake, Steve Cotterill wants Premiership football, we all do, but this can produce too much of a burden for Steve to meet very specific aims in a football world which is, as you know, a highly volatile environment.

I think there’s a survey that said that 34% of homeowners in Burnley earn under £10,000 a year. So we have to be so careful with price increases. We agonised for a long time about hitting the £20 a ticket mark. We are looking now at the new campaign for next season. It’ll be along the lines of “You’ll always be a Claret” and if there are price increases they will be as small as possible. We are extremely conscious of people’s pockets.

Concessionary prices are ridiculously low. No wonder the club is losing £20,000 a week. My 60+ ticket costs me approximately £8 a game. It’s a giveaway and I’d happily pay more. Maybe a third of any attendance is paying a concessionary price.

Yes we have realised the almost giveaway value of concessionary prices. To make it realistic we’d have to have a 30% increase next season but imagine the response and the headlines “BFC make pensioners pay through the nose.” We just can’t do that. A rise there would have to be very gradual.

The club has an image of pleading poverty.

For some time we did say exactly that, and the begging bowls were out. Give us money; we’re in trouble we said. But we decided that this year was to be different and the begging bowl would not be proffered. The gala dinner last Friday was a great success and was not sold on the premise of ‘we need your money’. And still we raised over £20k plus a healthy sum for leukaemia research. The ground sale and lease plan is virtually complete. The debt is being managed. It’s often mentioned’ where’s the money gone’? Well we had loans to repay on the transfers of Robbie Blake, Ian Moore and Tony Grant and we have to underwrite the losses that we’ve agreed to take on the back of the increased playing budget. There are no bank debts, only directors’ loans. The BFC debt is now only around £1.1 million, an outstanding achievement when you look around the world of football. There’s a new share issue available for anyone who wants to invest.

I received this reply to a request I made to one of Burnley’s leading businesses for help with a dinner I want to get off the ground in October. “It is not the right time for us to be sponsoring Burnley Football Club – within the town we feel that BFC is being looked at as a forlorn hope and as such, fear that this negative attitude of BFC could rub off on our brand/image. Sponsorship is about association and I’m not sure we would be associating ourselves with ambition and drive, only mere survival.”

I’m sorry about that. But to me, that sounds pathetic and could be considered a timid excuse to avoid the sponsorship. I am sorry they are not able to see the future opportunities that might be available. I go round the boxes every Saturday. These sentiments are not what I hear. Anthony Fairclough has had more interest in partnership deals than ever before.

We will be making a huge effort with our season ticket campaign this season; it will be about supporting a heritage and a tradition. It’s so easy to point the finger at us and say that there is no ambition, no hope. People need to be brave, stick with us and not join the “opting out” bandwagon. This is YOUR club. Do you want to be a part of it and applaud and criticise us. Of course you do, but do it as a Claret, as a season ticket holder or being a regular on the Turf. Don’t throw your heritage away by not renewing, just because you may not agree with what’s happening. If you want us to keep progressing, help us by buying into the dream. There’s a poor run of form at the moment. It happens. It’s football. But the fact that we’re in mid table, and a chance of the play offs is gone, is not the result of lack of ambition.

People need to be brave with us. We have belief in abundance here. That’s why Barry Kilby has put millions into the club, appointed Steve Cotterill and did what many said was the deal of the century on Akinbyi. We are re marketing the Family Stand; we are trying to attract families, children, our future. Belief is definitely not what we’re lacking from this end. Maybe it’s lacking elsewhere.

Our auction at the Gala Dinner reached £20,000. That’s the level of support we get. At the Prince’s Trust Dinner last year I attended, with staff and chairman, they struggled to reach a tenth of that, and there was more money in the room that night than in the marquee at our Gala Dinner.

Come on Dave. If there’s despair it doesn’t come from within the club. We’re being lauded for our work in the community, looking for new fans and people who come to the club that we might convert into season ticket holders. Prince Charles came to see a successful Club, and he was impressed.

The Burnley 2012 Olympics aspirations are fine but supporters would rather hear about 2012 club aspirations.

Why can’t the club do both? A Premiership place is a target. Steve Cotterill wouldn’t stay if it weren’t. The Burnley 2012 campaign could have a wonderful effect over a sustained period of time. It raises the club profile; it improves the image. It puts us in a leadership position, a focal point. There are countless spin offs. Maybe children and adults, who have never been to Turf Moor before, and who will come to the events we will stage, will look around and say hey I want to come back to a game in August or September. Or, the next Theo Walcott might be in the North West, raising the club’s profile might help him choose us. Every time the name Burnley Football Club is mentioned it’s more attention for the club.

Moneywise is there any direct benefit for BFC? Supporters want to know what’s in it for them and their club. Will the club benefit?

Very much so, with partner support via funding and sponsorship. I’m convinced there are potential new areas to tap via community and social responsibility budgets. The days when you took a corporate box just to entertain your clients are fading fast (although we’ve been sold out on the James Hargreaves side for the last two seasons, again hardly an indication of the lack of drive and ambition in the club). Companies want to see outcomes, to have an effective partnership that benefits both sides. I want to attract companies who may be rabid Rovers fans but who just might see the value of a partnership that brings mutual benefit as a result of this engagement of the community.

But the underpinning ethos is to bring more people and families into this ground. I want to engender a whole new culture e.g. a daughter demanding to mum “take me to the football” because it’s a great day out. And yes there’s a football match at 3.00pm but win or lose they’ll still be back for the next one and be coming to the ground in between many other activities.

There is the accusation that the club takes fans for granted.

Absolutely not. How can we? If we took them for granted we could stick a £5 a game price increase on and just assume they’d pay it. We worry about missing fans and taking them for granted means that we wouldn’t care if they didn’t come back. We are desperate to get them back. We invested a huge amount of money at the most critical time in our finances two years ago on a new CRM system to look after them better. To help us maintain contact and provide better service. We try to be customer focused and market led at all times. We take an age trying to work out fair increases or even whether we dare increase at all. They are customers and no football club can take its customers or supporters, use whichever word you like, for granted.

If there is one sharp message what is it?

Simple: There is ambition. We are not forlorn. Be brave. Stick with us. Make it happen right alongside us. And I absolutely believe it will happen.