There's turmoil at the top end of football at the moment, a disconnect between some of our leading clubs and their core support. Talk of a breakaway European Super League has stirred up a hornet's nest, with exasperated supporters taking to the streets to demonstrate their antipathy to the idea of a splinter group of elite clubs. But what about lower down the scale, at a club like Altrincham, where ambition goes hand-in-hand with the needs and wishes of fans? Is it possible to strike that balance and still prosper? It's a topical question, and Alty director Chris Parry tackled it head-on in Saturday's edition of the Robins Review match programme. His hard-hitting column is reproduced in full, below:
A few weeks back, when we announced our 'Pitch In' fundraiser intended to help pay for a full pitch replacement at the J Davidson Stadium, a supporter on social media pondered what the 'end game' was for Altrincham, and whether it makes sense to even aspire to promotion out of the non-league.
Maybe this is our level, the fan pondered.
Maybe. I mean, we've only been back in the National for a season, and we've experienced all the highs and lows of five seasons over just the last four months. When the dust settles, maybe we're a bottom half team. Maybe, if we'd spread our wins out more evenly, we'd be really happy ending the season in 14th or so. Maybe, if we're being honest, we've played out of our skin this season to get to where we are.
Maybe we'll dig into our pockets and upgrade the ground and shift management into full-time positions and shift some players to a hybrid full-time model next year and get our new pitch and bring in some dough through the new sponsors lounge and still end up finishing 14th in 2021/22. You never know.
Certainly Hartlepool United are a bigger club than Alty, with experience at higher levels and with larger average attendance and higher budget and a professional squad. But they also have the last 13 years straight spent in 12th position or worse at whatever level they've played at, including 15th, 16th, and 12th in the Non-League National, so you'd fairly suggest their 'level' was exactly where they are.
The Non-League National is, to me, the most interesting level in the game. It's where hard decisions need to be made by those coming up and those coming down.
Go full-time or not? Build a new stadium or not?
Go part-time or not? Sell the stadium to developers or not?
Hartlepool's financials were just posted and, despite laying off 60 employees last year, they still employ 143 souls, compared to Alty - who could fit their staff into the back of a Volvo as long as you popped out the spare tire before you left.
For a while there this season, Alty and the Pools were hitting the same level of success but with very different roads to do it. Altrincham got to this level earning a small profit, putting out a part time team, all while upgrading the stadium and now the pitch. For the Pools, getting to this level meant borrowing £2.3 million from its parent company, and losing £300k last season.
Don't take that as a knock on Hartlepool; they're running their club the way they see fit and if they go up, it'll have been a successful plan. Plenty of other clubs belt about the red ink with a lot less to show for it than Hartlepool.
But Alty doesn't. We're not buried in taxes, not paying out the arse for a stadium too big for our level, not forking out wages for players long since gone or for seven managers that lasted a dozen games apiece.
In the last year, our squad has strengthened, got younger, and largely committed through to the end of next season. Our management team has gone full-time and the players will have that option going forward. Our pitch is a few donations shy of being fully funded, between grants and donors and the board. The sponsors lounge is ready to debut. The Fan Zone is being kicked together as we speak. Our new kit will look fantastic. Sponsors continue to commit. The Academy grows and grows.
What's our end game? There isn't one. Every year we get just a little bit better, firm up the base a little more, ensure the manager has the guys he wants, and the pitch that lets them play his way.
We're a little club. Maybe we're at our level. But next year that level will be a little higher. And the next. And the next.
We're going to be responsible but not cheap. Enthusiastic but not reckless. Passionate but smart. Every move made will be with a view to how it helps us three years down the line, not just next weekend.
That's why I invested in the club and it's why you guys have invested in the pitch fundraiser, because there's no end to this journey.