September 28th, 2016

Solihull Moors making the most of merge eight years on

MERGING football clubs is not common in England, a quick search will show that only a dozen or so attempts have been made to knit two clubs together.

Early 20th century efforts from the likes of Maidenhead United, Torquay United and Rotherham United have gone down in the history books, while more recently there are officials and supporters of what became Rushden & Diamonds and Hinckley United (both since dissolved) that will tell you merging may be a sure-fire way to send clubs spiralling out of control.

Solihull Moors are the latest club to take the plunge.

The 2007 merger of Moor Green and Solihull Borough was controversial and it left many fans of the two former clubs disillusioned, but the phoenix club seems to be heading from strength to strength.

Club secretary Tim Delaney has been overseeing procedures for the past two seasons and Lewis Cox spoke to him about how Moors are taking steps to secure a sufficient and upward future.

Just two years ago Moors were a club just about on its knees. Struggling for cash, Delaney was told it needed a complete turnaround and a cash injection and he quickly became aware that a full-upgrade was required.

“From what I was told when I arrived in late 2013 the club was just about on its knees,” he said.

“There was nothing, I had a completely blank piece of paper to start with, because there was one team (an u16s) playing out of Solihull Moors when I started.”

While the current secretary was not a club member when the merger was finalised in 2007, he was a local lover of the non-league game, certainly aware of the two situations that were unfolding.

“Club merger probably gets bad rep but rather than going down the administration route and winding-up orders I think it’s a very viable solution for clubs that are struggling.

“You stand on the terraces and sometimes there’s still resentment, because you get very singular at what’s yours, you still hear bits from the fans but we have to look forward and keep doing things our way.

“It’s a very workable and viable option, the rarity is the geographical situation.  It’s quite rare you get two clubs in the area struggling so much, usually it’s one doing so well and one who isn’t – and they’re not going to help them out!

“We know it’s unique, it’s worked and I think we could be the blueprint for helping clubs stop going of business.”

Tim continued to elaborate on how little there was to work with the club when he first arrived, and that he quickly became aware that a full-upgrade was required.

And thanks to his previous experience with Redditch United, he was able to develop a youth system

“When I worked under Ken Rae as Chairman at Redditch United, we pulled the budget and had players playing for nothing, obviously the youth set-up was vital then, because you can bring the 18-year-olds lads through.

“The reason to set the Moors youth up was exactly the same, if that’s what needed to be done here, then so be it.”

Moor Green were playing in what is now the Conference North, while Solihull Borough occupied the tier below, the Southern League Premier before the clubs agreed to come together.

It was an increase in status for Borough, who were able to step-up a level, but for Moor Green it was a case of moving site and re-locating to the old Borough home of Damson Parkway – what we now know as the Autotech Stadium in Solihull.

There are clubs at non-league level, from Solihull Moors’ step six to many steps below, that require a figure driving the club from the helm, a chairman willing to pump money in from the top.

And Tim tells me how the club are now in a good place without those kind of bonuses.

“Trevor Stevens (club chairman) has not had to financially back us, some clubs do, but thankfully we’re in a position where those guys don’t have to pump the money in because of the facilities we have here.

“Some clubs have the luxury of chairman and directors that are willing to do it, we’ve got the luxury of what we can offer the public.

“These function rooms and other facilities are hired out on a daily basis, the car park is used by the Jaguar Land Drover supplier base – situated next door – and we charge them for the car park.

“On top of that, there’s our gate receipts.

“But if we had to rely on our gate receipts to form a basis for our playing budget at this level, we wouldn’t be here, we’d be two or three levels below.”

With the naming rights of the ground purchased in a three-year-deal by ‘Autotech Controls’ and the week-long jam-packed car park utilised by Jaguar Land Rover employees just a stone’s throw away, the club is now in a more stable place thanks to a number of different income avenues.

The Moors’ club secretary gave me his input on how he sees clubs at every level remaining sustainable, while also bringing a level playing field to the game.

“For me, the simplest way to do it would be to have a wage cap in each division, so that a club can only spend what it earns.

“So if you owe money, before you start to buy players you pay off some of your debt.

“The players you buy will only earn a maximum, and each division that increases, then you’ll get the players that want to achieve the higher levels to earn the money.”

The conversation quickly turns to Marcus Bignot’s Moors side who, after another terrific start to their domestic campaign, faded considerably towards the latter end of the campaign.

But Tim points out despite wanting to remain sustainable the club realistically want to win promotion and push their way up the football league ladder.

“Long term, realistically we want to get into the Football Conference, we had a good chance last year and tailed off and the same this year.

“Get into and establish ourselves as a Conference club, the underlying problem with that is that we haven’t got the fanbase, no matter what we do or try.”

Before the partnership, Moors were playing regularly in front of crowds of as little as 200 and for Borough that was even less.

And the problem has not been totally eradicated because the support has not grown enough for Bignot’s side to consider challenging at a higher level.

But it is something the club are trying to solve with the recent additon of the ‘community 1000’ event which 713 people from local schools and football teams to the Autotech Stadium.

“We have a massive catchment area here, we’ll never be happy with this attendance, we’ve tried the half-price Villa and Birmingham season ticket but we need to work harder.  It’s personnel, it’s who’s going to push themselves for the club in the community.

“But short term ambitions are for us to keep growing, keep building what we’ve build so far, we now have 27 teams playing under Solihull Moors’ name with two levels at FA Charter standards.

“We’re developing those players to help the current squad and to look to build one challenging for the future.”

“If we can find the next Omar Bogle (pictured current club and division top scorer and England C international forward) in our academy that that is incredible.

“Absolutely we have a sustainable future here with Solihull and hopefully it’ll get better, if we can drive the attendances up with the new initiatives we’re putting into place, if we can bring some of our own through.

“The club’s in a good place and definitely has a rosy future.”

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