#8 Surging Expectations, Loyalty and Mr Moneyball Shows His Hand


xpectations are surging; Swindon’s style of football is receiving attention nationally (thank you Gavin Brown for your Metro article); and the Club is debt free (or nearly). It’s all tickety-boo. A few more ‘bums on seats’ at the County Ground and the Club would be in nirvana. To give you an idea of the current levels of positivity among the fans here are some quotes from the comments section in the Swindon Evening Advertiser:

“What a privilege to be a STFC supporter and fan at this interesting and exciting time. The future looks great!! Thank you Mr. Power for all your hard work, long may you stay with us and at the helm! COYR!!”

“Hello all, not been on here for a while. Can't remember feeling so positive about all three of players, management and owners all together at the same time for quite a while. I believe we will find out how good we really are by the end of next month - playing all the top teams in a short space of time. In 30 yrs as a fan this almost seems the most joined up the club has felt, everything working as we hope (or better). Is something going to go wrong - seen it happen too many times, think this could be different......?”

The comments echo my sentiments entirely. Optimism, gratitude and pleasure are the order of the day. Admittedly, Swindon have a very tough fixture schedule in November playing Bristol City, Peterborough, MK Dons and Preston, currently lying 1st, 2nd, 4th and 5th in the League One table respectively, which might very well see Swindon’s league table position slip, but defeats in these fixtures would not dampen my spirits unduly. Sound finances and playing with panache are more important to me.

Without a game on Saturday 11th October, I thought the week at Swindon Town would be relatively event free. Instead, Lee Power, Swindon’s media-shy Chairman, called a press conference and talked with great candour about player contracts, the Club’s financial state and his philosophy. The most pleasing piece of news concerned club captain Nathan Thompson’s decision to sign a new contract until 2017. His previous contract expired at the end of the campaign and Chairman Lee Power said that he could have earned double or treble the money Swindon are paying him elsewhere. Had he left at the end of the season at the end of his contract Swindon would not have received a transfer fee for him; a bleak prospect for a player who attract a sizeable transfer fee. Lee Power said that this was the best piece of business during his tenure at the Club.
Nathan Thompson could have gone, but he stayed. How many people would stay in their job when they could earn treble the money elsewhere for the same hours and work? Not many. I probably wouldn’t. Many lazily dismiss footballers as greedy, loutish mercenaries as though they are a different species. There are plenty of decent footballers out there – look at Nathan Thompson. Hard-working, conscientious, thoughtful and humble, he would be a great leader of any organisation (okay Microsoft might be a bit of a stretch). Captaining the club he grew up with and his own technical development are more important to him than money. He’s up there with the Swindon greats.

Anyway, apologies for gushing about Nathan. Lee Power also explained that he was close to reaching a contract extension with Jake Reeves and was in discussions with some of the other players whose contracts run out at the end of the season: Foderingham, Byrne and Gladwin. These three players will probably receive more lucrative contract offers elsewhere. Hopefully, Nathan Thompson’s decision to extend his contract might encourage them to do the same. 

Perhaps more interestingly, Lee Power explained his views on player recruitment: creating a conveyor belt of talent and saleable assets. Power’s thinking in this area can be summarised as follows:

1. Identify technically gifted players who are undervalued (often because of size, not fitting into a team’s style of play or because there is a surfeit of talented players at the club in that player’s position);

2. Develop the players, inculcate them in the Swindon Town possession based philosophy (or as Mark Cooper put it: get them to “eat with a knife and fork”) and sell them on for a gain; and

3. Ensure that an effective replacement has been purchased and developed before a player sale – the ‘conveyor belt’ (e.g Reeves, Rodgers and Gladwin in for Kasim, Luongo and Louis Thompson), so that the disruption caused by the player sale is as minimal as possible. Additionally, buying a player straight after a sale is often the worst time to buy a player frequently resulting in inflated prices and selecting from a less favourable talent pool.

All good stuff. I particularly liked Lee Power’s views on Yaser Kasim:

“If you took Yaser and gave him to Tony Pulis, Yaser wouldn’t play ever again. You’ve got to remember Yaser got released by Macclesfield. That’s not Yaser’s strength. Yaser could go and play for Real Madrid or Barcelona. You might laugh at what I’m going to say – you’d sit and watch him Sunday night on the tele and you’d go ‘who’s this guy? He’s decent this kid’. He wouldn’t stand out of place”.

The Tony Pulis bit made me chuckle.

To give you an idea of Kasim’s style please see the Youtube video below:

I’ve probably watched it about 10,000 times.

On the financial front, Lee Power said that he had put in £3.5 million into the Club since his arrival, wiped the Club’s debt and slashed its annual wage bill from £5.5 million to £1.5 - £1.8 million. It doesn’t really need to be spelt out but I’ll do it anyway: a vastly reduced playing budget; a more aesthetically pleasing style; technically more gifted players; and better results is a fantastic achievement.

Power elaborated that he would not run the Club at a loss and the financial largesse and mismanagement of previous regimes at Swindon would not return. Given Swindon’s current lofty position such comments were well-received. Had Swindon been at the bottom end of League One I expect they would have been received less favourably. If you ask most fans: would you like your club to run at a loss, the answer is generally, no. However, if you ask fans: would you like your club to run at a loss and win, or run on a sustainable basis and lose, many would not select the latter option. Unfortunately, a large chunk of fans just want their Chairman to be ‘a sugar daddy’ and to ‘show some ambition’ (translated as spend some money). They aren’t that interested in a football club’s long-term financial well-being. Swindon Town fans are no different in this regard. Sorry to dampen the mood.

Let’s end on a high. Lee Power: you are Mr Moneyball*. You’ve created a template on how to run a lower league football club. You will have many imitators. Thank you for making my life more pleasurable.

You might have gathered that Moneyball is something of a minor obsession for me from this blog.

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