The man at the helm: Q&A with Ilkeston FC’s CEO Nigel Harrop

New Manor Ground.
New Manor Ground.

With the Evo-Stik Premier Division season now 11 games old, the Advertiser spoke to Ilkeston FC chief executive Nigel Harrop about his feelings on the campaign so far and on a number of issues raised by fans in recent weeks.

Q:Ilkeston are going through a tough time on the pitch. What were the aims for the campaign and are you concerned by current form?

A: “I gave head coach Gavin Strachan a kind of double brief. We had to rebuild the team as I was aware players would leave, and were leaving, but I said to him when we first met that as well as overseeing the progress of the first team, he was to help develop young talent, namely by nurturing the 16-year-olds coming in and bring them all the way through to hopefully one day play in our first team.

“We were unlikely to put as many players into the Football League as we did last year. You need to be playing well to do that and these players need time to gel in order to be successful, which is what is happening at the moment.

“We want to do as well as possible in the league and even now I don’t think there’s any reason why we can’t reach the play-offs if we can put a good run together. It’s only September and it’s a very long season.

“A lot of the players are still getting used to playing full-time. It’s a totally different concept to what we had last year with different people and roles behind the scenes, and I’m very confident that Gavin, Andy Watson and all of our coaching, educational and medical staff are the people to help us achieve our aims.

“Like many people, I feel we need some players in key areas. We’ve tried a few things and had a look at a few players including those on loan, and some haven’t lived up to what we needed or expected.

“When you’re putting a team together it takes a bit of time and needs a bit of tinkering which we’ll see more of in the next few weeks as more players are due to come in for us to have a look at but they need to be better than what we’ve got.

“A player like Lee Hughes was perfect to have at the time as he gave us a goal threat and could have helped some of the others who are struggling for goals, but we knew there was a chance he’d go if the opportunity came to play higher and that’s what happened. It’s a shame he couldn’t stay longer.

“Once we find the right people I’m sure things will improve but it’s not easy to find them. Our coaches are at games all of the time and all over the country on the lookout.

“It still comes down to the players on the pitch and games like Saturday at Whitby are symbolic of what’s happening in that we should have scored more than we did and once we conceded we got jittery and the defence looked nervous. That’s bound to be the case when confidence is low but a win or two can help that no end.

“Gavin knows I’m 100 per cent behind him and we talk on a daily basis about what’s needed.”

Q: Could there be any flexibility on the training regime if good quality part-time players became available who fit the bill?

A: “That’s something we can look at as it’s not really a problem what time of day they train. I don’t think we’re getting the full benefit of full-time training as yet but that will come as the youngsters learn. One or two are struggling to get used to it. but I think we’ll see the real benefits as the season progresses”

Q: Anew ‘affordable football’ scheme was brought in this season with lower ticket prices for all. How do you think it has gone so far?

A: “The idea is that you bring people along with you and recommend to people that there is a good level of football on show for a relatively low price. Obviously the form plays a part in that as people want to watch good football but I’d still like to see fans doing their bit to get the attendances up.

“What I was really most interested in achieving was a great atmosphere like we get at away games where the vocal support is fantastic. It’s great once the fans are in full voice and I’d love to see that at home games too.

“The New Manor Ground can produce a great atmosphere when there’s a big attendance and that’s what I’d love to see more of, hence lowering the prices to try and attract more people.

“I think if we can get a few results I hope the crowds will keep growing.”

Q: How ar e the salaries of the full-time staff at the club funded in relation to all other costs?

A: “We’ve had a restructure of the finances this year which has also seen a new academy education provider come on board in the form of SCL, who are a major supplier of education through sport nationwide.

“Given the large number of ‘learners’ we have on our books, SCL produce significant funds to the club and this pays most of the wages.

“SCL pay for all of the education costs including the tutors, who also include some first team players like Danny Gordon and Matt Baker,

“The rest of the money such as running costs, council tax, rates and so on, comes out of the gate money and sponsorship.

“Our academy model is attracting great interest from other clubs in terms of how it operates. I’m asked at every game by other teams’ representatives how we make it work and we have a lot of processes in place that should help us continue to generate income from it for years to come.”

Q: How would any money from sell-on clauses included in deals for the likes of Che Adams and Rai Simons be used by the club if and when it comes Ilkeston’s way?

A: “Should any money come from sales of our former players, the worry people might have is that it would be whittled away on big wages or transfer fees. That won’t happen. It will be used to invest in the club’s sustainable future. We may be in a position to pay out a little bit more to get certain players but ultimately money will go towards helping us achieve our aims of progressing up the divisions to a level at which I feel we can realistically compete.

“That in turn can help us attract even better players to our academy and in a sense the cycle begins again.”

Q: What investment is there in the club and how stable is Ilkeston FC on a financial level?

A: “Finances are healthy. Now we have restructured things financially we have investors ready to input money, which alongside the income from the education side of things should see a stable future at all levels of the club.

“As with everything else and given the scale of the changes here, it’s taken time to sort out, but things are beginning to happen now the financial restructuring is being completed.

“Advertising revenue is also excellent and we have lots of ad hoardings ready to go up as well as those already in place. The club magazine (see below) is also generating lots of advertising income.”

Q: A new playing kit was expected at the start of the season but hasn’t arrived yet. What is the reason for the delay?

A: “In the summer we had a new kit prepared and once it is paid for it will be with us immediately as the suppliers in Spain have it ready.

“The reason this hasn’t happened yet is because there were several other bills that needed to be paid first that were more urgent and important than putting a shirt on a player’s back. The financial changes that have occurred here meant issues which arose as a result of the takeover had to be addressed in the proper order, therefore the more pressing issues have had to be dealt with first and the less important things shelved until we’re in a position to proceed, all in the best interests of the future of the club.

“The suppliers, to whom we have already paid some money, have sent some bits over such as training kits and have been very good about it all. Hopefully it won’t now be too long before we’ll have the actual playing kit with us.”

Q: The format of the Robins Monthly magazine has altered to include non-footballing subjects. What was the thinking behind that and how much income does the magazine generate?

A: “When we first wanted to produce a magazine a couple of years ago, the initial ideas revolved around making it more than just about football as we wanted to widen the levels of interest.

“It’s been really well received. It makes the club a lot of money in advertising revenue, particularly with the new format, which can only be a good thing.

“It takes an awful lot of time to put together as we only have two people working on it full-time and they do everything from the editorial and design side to selling adverts, but with contributions from other people it’s developing well.

“The magazine is far more financially beneficial to us than a programme for each game that relatively speaking generates very little income.”