Below is a summary of the Question & Answer session held with Manager Stevie Crawford and the board of directors on Saturday 16th July 2022.
Q. Do you envisage this as more of a transition season, bedding some of the younger players in rather than one where we’ve got an immediate chance of winning the league with an aim to really having a go next season?
Stevie Crawford (SC): When you look at the numbers & the turnover we’ve had, the squad is younger, but I won’t hide behind young players. That’s a responsibility I’ve got to take first & foremost as manager, but we’ll grow together. I hope the fans will come on the journey with and as long as they’re seeing that the young players & senior players are integrating together & giving their best for East Fife, we’ll have a successful season.
Q. Do you think we have enough experience to bring on the younger players?
SC: Football isn’t as easy now as just meeting a player & signing them. The pyramid is bigger & some of the teams in the Lowland league are out-paying, not just East Fife, but some teams in league 1 so we won’t use that as an excuse. The thing that’s important to me when I get to the stage of signing a player, whether he’s 16 or 36, is that he has to want to play for the club I’m working at. I think we’ve added a good mix so far. It’s been a very, very strange window. Speaking to other managers, even some In the Premiership are struggling to attract players. There’s still budget money there but it’s trying to get the right players in who can take the club forward, that’s the important thing for us.
Q. How many more players are you looking to bring in?
SC: It’s hard to put a number on it because if the right one comes up, I may have to spend a bit more which then means maybe having a body less. But at the moment for competition, we’re looking at probably 3 as well as the possibility of a couple of loan signings. What I won’t do is spend the club’s money bringing a player in who isn’t going to hit all of the challenges we’re going to face this year. I’d rather go with developing younger players and take a hit that way for a shorter period of time as they’ll kick on quicker. However, if the right player becomes available, I can assure you we’ll be in the market to bring them in.
Q. Are you confident that guys you’ve got just now are going to be able to score 20/25 goals a season?
SC: Again, it’s about competition for places. I know as a striker, that if the manager brings in another striker there’s only one way I can go & I need to make sure I’m better than him. At this moment in time can we turn round and say we’ve got a 20-goal a season striker? No, but I do think there’s potential we can get boys there. I think what we’ve got to try & do is get someone to hit double figures as quickly as possible which can very quickly transpire into 15 or 20 goals. We held our own for a number of games last season but couldn’t score at the right moments, so we need to find that cutting edge.
Q. Can you give any more details as to why Ryan Wallace was released early from his contract?
SC: A lot of the conversations I have with my players will stay between me & the player but when Ryan decided he no longer wanted to be at East Fife, it was a no brainer & I took it straight to the Chairman but the conversations I had with Ryan will stay between me & him. I appreciate his reasons, but my main focus is that I want players who want to play at East Fife.
Q. We have a number of young players we could potentially sell on. If so, would that money be reinvested in the club?
SC: For me, potentially losing players to bigger clubs is a good problem to have. If we did get a bid for one of our players before the end of August, we’re then in a position where we can look at how we can reinvest that into the squad & what can we do for the good of East Fife. We can look at it as we don’t want to lose him but, the bigger picture, is people in the game look & say boys at East Fife are getting a chance now so you maybe open doors that aren’t currently open, whether than be loan signings or to those coming from other clubs
Q. How would you rate our pre-season so far?
SC: From a selfish point of view, I would’ve loved to have had a few more bodies in but we’ve been able to work on a lot of things, including our play out of possession that will stand us in good stead with games get though cause you’re not going to get 90 minutes your way. That’s something that was difficult to do last year at the time I came in. It’s been great to get to know some of the younger players as well & they’ve been a credit to themselves. I think we’ve had a testing week when we played Hearts & Dunfermline but in the main, I’ve been happy with how things have gone.
Questions to Club Board
Q: Our season ticket prices are the highest in the league, how do you decide the prices and are you still happy with the prices set?
Jim Stevenson (JS): I would love to be able to charge £10 for season tickets but unfortunately our bills have gone through the roof. The second half of 2021 was a terrible time for the finances at the club. Like everyone else who has problems with their household bills, it’s no different here. Energy bills have gone up, insurance has gone up, players wages have gone up, so our finances have taken a bit of a hammering. Then on top of that not doing as well on the park as we thought we would last year has hit us both in prize money and with people coming through the gate.
We had big discussion among the board, and we eventually decided on the price rise. No one wants to put prices up at any time, but we hope, and we have done this before, that we will be able to hold them at the level for a few years.
What have tried to compensate by letting East Fife Community Football Club kids in for nothing and by adding a new category in for under 19s in full-time education.
So far (to 16th July) we have 241 season ticket holders which is comparable to last season (270 total), but we do anticipate more purchases prior to the start of the season. Believe it or not, some fans won’t purchase their season ticket until after the early bird period has ended as they want to help the club. We have also extended our early bird pricing until 25th July 2022 which we hope will also help people.
Q: How many of the season ticket sales are kids?
JS: There are 14 16-19-year-old student tickets and 36 under 16, however the kids season tickets are down this year as a number of them are with the Community Club, who are getting free admission and therefore not purchasing their season tickets this year.
Q: Other clubs are in the same position with gas price rises etc, but they aren’t putting their prices up as much as us, is this a short-term plan or a longer-term business model?
JS: I hope this is short-term. Every other year when we’ve put prices up, we’ve held them so it’s likely we’ll do the same again.
John Donaldson (JD): With our stadium being located right beside the sea we have to spend a lot more money on the upkeep compared to a lot of other clubs. The money we’ve had to spend on this stadium over the years is way above an equivalent stadium inland. All of the seats have been changed out as originally, they had been put in with milestone paint and that cost £45,000 to change and then with the Community use of the pitch, we’re seeing an increased number having to be changed out due to damage from stray footballs.
JD: We had to change the camera system as the existing one had legs that froze in the wintertime. The sound system is being upgraded. The guttering is leaking, but we need a long dry spell to get the guttering cleaned out and fixed and that won’t be cheap but it’s something we have to do. The girders weren’t done particularly well when they were galvanised and they’re beginning to rust. The steps all need painted with the anti-slip paint, some of the doors are falling apart and every year we need the sea end of the stadium pointed.
JD: We have a core set of volunteers, about 8-10, who are here Monday, Wednesday and Friday and there are jobs that we wouldn’t get to even if we were here 5 days a week. There’s always stuff needing repaired or replaced and although it’s not solely down to the stadium’s location, it is one of the reasons, and that’s a lot of where the money’s going compared to other clubs.
Q: What can the club do commercially to bring fans into watch this season?
Stephen Mill (SM): We are just finalising our commercial brochure which will be published very soon which will outline how were selling our advertising and hospitality packages, but it is something we’re actively looking at. We fell short on that last season through the loss of our Commercial Director, Ken Henderson so we’re now trying to get back on track in that department. It’s a very good question and something we are really taking seriously.
Q: Are we likely to see the Commercial Director’s position filled soon?
JS: We are working on it, and we’ll hopefully be able to make an announcement soon.
Q: There was a shortfall in prize money from finishing bottom of the league, how much was that and does that make a big difference?
JS: The shortfall is made up of various things, partly in gate money, but the shortfall in prize money was between £20,000 - £30,000 and that is having a knock-on impact now as the prize money in League Two is even less.
Q: Where is the majority shareholder, are they not prepared to put money into the club and why not?
Liam Anderson (LA): Anyone can go onto Companies House and see what the breakdown of the shareholding in the club is, it’s public knowledge.
JS: When it comes to the majority shareholder, they put a lot of money into the club when the club needed it (back when they purchased their shares) to keep the club running. After the previous regime where we ended up in £250,000 of debt, we sold ground to the major shareholder (the cost of the land was independently valued and sold at that valuation), however the actual stadium all still belongs to the Football Club and there’s no debt on it. If the majority shareholder doesn’t want to put money into the club there’s nothing we (as a board) can do about it, but I do ask. I ask continually.
LA: The issue of the club ownership will remain the same until someone, or some entity, can purchase the majority shareholders shares. The majority shareholder has a price in mind and if they don’t get that price, they’re not selling, and there’s nothing any of us can do about that. The bottom line is that if someone else comes along and pays the money that they’re looking for, then that person becomes the majority shareholder, holding 51%, and they could be in the same boat and not prepared to put any money into the football club.
Q: If we were to sell a player on and recoup money from that, how much of that money could the majority shareholder claim?
JS: Absolutely nothing. The majority shareholder gets no money out of the club at present and would still get zero.
SM: Financially, we are keeping our head above water, and that’s a challenge in itself but we’re not going to go out of business. We’re not making profits but everything that comes into the club is spoken for. If we were fortunate enough to sell a player on, that money has goes into the coffers of the club – as it has with the two players we’ve sold on in the last few years. There’s nothing to hide there, any transfer fee is shown in the club’s accounts, so nobody has taken money from the club in that aspect.
Q: How much is it to buy a share in the club and are there any available to buy? Do all shareholders attend AGMs?
JS: A share costs £4.50. We have a limited amount available (around 1000), but we will only sell them in a minimum block of 50. Nobody has to attend an AGM, in fact, very few actually do (around 15 at the last meeting).
Q: Do you think it would be prudent to have a fans panel in terms of trying to improve the club’s relationship with fans?
LA: Any member of the board is available for anyone to come and ask questions at any time. If someone has a specific request, we will try and take that on board. There are things we can’t do because financially we just can’t do it but where we can, we will. The idea of a fans group is something we can look in to. Unfortunately though, inevitably there would be things that would be discussed at a fans group that can’t be discussed outside of the group until they’re finalised so the make-up of that group would have to contain people who understand that, but it is something we’re happy to discuss that.
Q: There may be fans who have a particular skill set that could possibly benefit the club, whether that be a trade, sales or as a volunteer, would you be interested in hearing from them?
JD: We have a base of about 8-10 volunteers who come regularly to help with maintenance but only one of them is under 60, so anyone interested who is maybe a bit younger would certainly be a help. If anyone feels they could be of benefit to the club, in any form, we’re not going to turn down help.
Q: We’re now onto the 3rd season with the same home strip, are you concerned about the loss of a potential revenue stream?
JS: There are a few reasons why we’ve kept the same strip. Firstly, the fans voted for this strip, it’s been a hugely popular and is still being purchased worldwide. Second, there is shortage of strips among all suppliers at the moment. But mainly, it’s our 120th anniversary next season so we are working on a commemorative strip to mark the occasion.
Q: When the league fixtures were released for this season the first thing everyone noticed was that 3 of our first 4 away matches are to Elgin, Stranraer and Annan. Is there any way the club could’ve complained about that or raised it with the SPFL?
JS: Unfortunately, not. The fixtures are compiled by a third-party company. When you don’t have a local derby, you have to fall into the spaces. To have them all away in the first quarter of the season is expensive for both the club and fans. Playing in this league will also cost us a lot more money with the travelling. Trips to Ross County and Elgin in consecutive weeks will cost us around £5000 for the two trips when we add on buses and pre/post-match food.
LA: It’s exactly the same for fans and it’s going to be hard for some people make all of these games – it’s a big ask. Unfortunately, it also means because we also have them in the third quarter which is right in the middle of winter and two of the teams play on grass.
Q: With sustainability and global warming being such a big issue at the moment, does the club have any ambitions to move towards a greener outlook?
LA: We have the solar panels on the far side of the pitch and the initial deal was that they were going to power the stadium but somewhere along the line someone (outside of the club) made a mistake and if we were to switch the floodlights and the water heaters on at the same time, we would blow the whole of Levenmouth. So, what we get from the solar panels is a very small rental, but they provide no power to the stadium. We would have had to rely on someone manually flicking a switch at the grid whenever we wanted to use anything of any power.
LA: We also had a very lucrative deal planned to have a wind turbine in the car park behind the sea wall that was reliant on feed-in tariffs. However, when they went to start work on it, they discovered that where they’d planned to put the wind turbine was directly above the main sewar that runs from Levenmouth out to the sea. They went back to the planner to ask if they could move it 5 meters, but the planners said no unless you make a brand-new application and by that time, we would’ve missed the tariffs. That scheme would’ve been of huge financial benefit to the club and that turbine would’ve powered the stadium making us largely self-sufficient for energy.
LA: All of the lights in the stadium, along with the floodlights, have been switched over to LED and we have our recycling streams. The pie stalls are franchised so it would be up to them if they wanted to introduce things like recyclable cups, but we are open to taking on as much as we can to make us self-sufficient and greener.
Q: Was the club successful with their covid insurance claim?
JS: We got nothing. We went back to them 3 times but were refused repeatedly. Another club did get something from their insurers but that was because there was something specific in their terms that wasn’t in ours.