SWINDON Town are one of only a handful of ‘profitable’ clubs in the Football League, the Swindon Town Football Company Limited AGM revealed last night.
Chairman Andrew Fitton urged shareholders to view the accounts with consideration and caution, however, as the £415,791 profit figure benefited from a series of write-backs and outstanding legal fees which hid an overall operating loss of £1.2million.
That loss is somewhat better than the £3.5million recorded by the Company two years ago, but Fitton said he believes the current hierarchy can still do better to improve finances at the County Ground.
“We are probably the only profitable club in League One but I do have to caution you about the numbers because I’m afraid accounts can sometimes be confusing,” he said.
“The turnover was up £2million on the year before, which is an increase of about 55 per cent. We got good revenues from play-offs and through general success of last year.
“At the operating level, which is a really important level to look at in terms of a club’s profitability, we are still losing money and still losing too much money, but we’re in a lot better shape than we were a couple of years ago.
“It’s a whole lot better, but it’s not enough and we have some challenges ahead.
“We benefited hugely from some write-backs which relate to the cleaning up we’ve been doing on the balance sheet.
“The CVA is finally over, we were able to take all the creditors from that off the balance sheet.
“Against that we had some legal issues we needed to provide for, but all in all those made the figures look an awful lot better than they actually were.
“Still, it is nice to be able to show a profit, even if it’s not a real profit.
“We could do better but good progress has been made.”
Figures showed Town made a profit on transfers of in excess of £983,000 in the year 2009/2010, mostly down to the income received from Simon Cox’s move to West Bromich Albion and Anthony McNamee’s switch to Norwich City.
The chairman said, although Swindon Town has benefited significantly from the Cox transfer, Reading enjoyed a sizeable chunk of the fee - as they were entitled to 40 per cent due to a sell-on clause.
“It is the biggest profit, I think, the club’s ever made on a transfer year,” said Fitton.
Chief executive Nick Watkins spoke about plans to redevelop the County Ground - a four-phase proposal that would increase the stadium’s capacity to 19,000, with room for further expansion to 25,000 should needs be.
Watkins highlighted how the Town End would be the initial phase, doubling the stand’s capacity from 2,000 to 4,000.
The Don Rogers Stand has been earmarked as phase two. Capacity will not be increased, although corporate boxes are planned to be integrated within the structure. Watkins said these blueprints were not yet completed.
The Stratton Bank would be roofed and self-contained for away fans, allowing home supporters the remaining three stands for themselves.
The chief exec said there would be little room for expansion behind the Stratton Bank due to the residential nature of Shrivenham Road behind the stand.
The Arkell’s Stand, under current plans, will have its facilities revamped.
Watkins said the club were negotiating with the council to buy the freehold to the land on which the County Ground stands.
The club said the council were being extremely cooperative and helpful in discussions to this point.
Fitton insisted Swindon Town continued to draw attendances well against the dipping trend of the Football League.
“We are trying to grow 10 per cent per annum, and we’re just below 9,000, and the important thing about that is that the trend in League One is actually down and crowds are down quite significantly,” he said.
“Against that we’ve got rising crowds which suggests we’re going against trend by about 25 per cent, which is a great result.”
Fitton said Town’s attendance average was around 20 per cent higher than the League One equivalent, whilst he suggested the club draws the fifth biggest crowds in the division and the 21st largest in the Football League.
“All those point towards the fact that we’re beginning to grow the crowd back, but we have targets of 11,000 in mind even at League One level in order to make this club truly successful,” he said.
“We think 19,000 is the right number for the Championship, and we’ve spent a lot of time on this.
“The average crowd in the Championship is between 15,000 and 17,000 but we reckon our gates in the Championship would be a minimum of 14,000 and we would average 15,000 across the year.
“We would almost certainly build in some potential to increase capacity - so to take it from 19,000 to 25,000.
“You don’t build that at the outset otherwise you end up with a lot of empty seats.”
Mention was also made that a technology park could be tagged on to the back of the Arkell’s Stand during the refurbishment, although details were somewhat hazy.
“As part of the development we are considering developing part of the site as a technology park,” said Fitton.
“Andrew Black is a very well known technology entrepreneur, he’s very successful, and he’s starting to look into a number of opportunities to invest in technology parks across the UK.
“He thinks it’s a potential site to do that on, and everybody seems very enthusiastic about it.”
Directors Jeremy Wray and Nick Watkins were re-elected to the board, both unanimously, before the accounts were also voted in without opposition.
The chairman then opened the floor to questions from shareholders which focused around the County Ground redevelopment and the current state of affairs on the pitch.
Manager Danny Wilson was present to discuss playing matters and fielded questions regarding tactics and incoming players.
Wilson rejected the notion his side were resorting to long ball tactics, emphasising his belief the Robins are one of the best footballing sides in the division.
The manager went on to back this up by saying many opposing clubs have paid tribute to the way Town play their football, although he accepted results have not been good enough this season.
The chairman answered a question regarding the departure of Billy Paynter to Leeds United in the summer.
Fitton revealed Town had offered the striker a 'lucrative' contract in January of last year, but Paynter made the independent decision to move on.
The Sean Morrison contract saga was also explained, with Fitton confirming to the shareholders that the defender would not have stayed at the County Ground when his previous deal expired, unless Town included a release clause within the new agreement.
Fitton said: "The clause covered both a specific time and fee. If we had got to February 1 we would have been clear."
The board answered a query relating to why transfer fees, in the main, were kept officially undisclosed.
The chairman said this has become the norm within football now, with clauses written into the majority of contracts to keep figures quiet.
A suggestion was made that the club would be better off using the money set aside for ground redevelopment for player transfers.
Watkins responded by saying the five-year plan for Championship football was tied in with the redevelopment blueprint. He hoped the two could be married together for the club to progress.