Shildon chairman David Dent says the EBAC Northern League champions will not apply for promotion this season, but insisted that they would do so “when the time was right”.
The Railwaymen won their first Northern League title in over seventy years last season, with speculation in the summer suggesting that they may be ready to apply for promotion to the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League First Division North, if they could repeat that title win this season.
With the deadline for promotion applications now approaching, Dent believes that the infrastructure of the club needs more work in order to make the club ready for life at step four of the non-league pyramid.
“We have come a long way in a relatively short space of time” said Dent.
“I only came into the role of chairman in the summer and we set certain things in place around the development centre, which we have now converted into a community interest company.
“There are links there with the Sunderland AFC Foundation of Light and the academy but in making a decision last December to stay at Dean Street, what goes with that decision is a lot of work around the ground.
“We have planning in for new stand and we are hopeful that will go in to the Football Foundation in January or February, we are hopeful of that.
“The clubhouse here is great, it’s a good revenue stream for the club but it’s too small and we would love to extend that.
“That will increase matchday revenue and daytime revenue, we need to get all of that right before we start looking to move up the leagues. We will do it when the time is right but that isn’t now”
Dent did reveal that he would “love to take Shildon through the leagues”, but is determined to get the structure of the club’s board right before doing so.
He cited the example of a the success of a former Northern League rival Spennymoor Town as one that his own club could follow.
“I would love to take Shildon through the leagues, I really would, but we need to get the structure right here.
“We have refreshed the board a bit and that’s an interesting balance because we have to get that mix between businessmen and volunteers.
“I have big admiration for Brad Groves (Spennymoor Town chairman) because he has that mix and he has done that. We are starting to do that.
“I have a lad I have worked with in business called Chris Tague, he has joined the board. We have one or two other people we are talking to and if we get that balance we have an opportunity to bring in more sponsorship opportunities. It enhances the revenue streams and helps you kick on.
“I would love to do it with Shildon but at the moment we just aren’t in that place”
The debate about Northern League clubs taking promotion is a long-standing one and provoked much discussion in the North East and around the country.
Darlington and Spennymoor Town are the only two clubs to have taken promotion since Durham City chose to do so in 2009.
Whilst Darlington and Spennymoor Town have flourished at a higher level, the move proved to be a costly one for the Citizens, with the club resigning from the Northern Premier League following the Football Conference’s decision to deny clubs with artificial pitches a chance to progress further up the leagues.
That led to the club’s main sponsor withdrawing their support and the club resigned from the league in 2012.
Now Dent wants to see the Football Association working closely with clubs in order to put together a strong business case to entice them to take promotion.
He said “To give it a business analogy, if I say I am going to promote someone but they have to carry out improvements to their own home but you have to pay for it.
“They say ok I can see the bigger picture, so what is my pay rise? I say you don’t get one, in fact your revenue stream goes down.
“There is no business case to take promotion so I think we need to work with the FA. If they are actually serious about clubs taking promotion they have to restructure geographically.
“We need to look at the level of grant flowing down to step five, in order to incentivise them to take promotion.
“We need to work with the FA in order to get these things sorted”
One Northern League club, South Shields, are expected to apply for promotion this season, although that process is yet to be confirmed by either the club or the Football Association.
The Mariners have become one of the stories of the season in step five, with crowds averaging around 900 and a number of big name additions to their squad including former Gateshead striker Jon Shaw and former Falkirk forward Carl Finnigan.
Since being taken over by local businessman Geoff Thompson two years ago the Mariners have returned to their hometown and seen their Mariners Park home given a makeover.
The club currently sits in second place in the Northern League table, eight points behind leaders North Shields and ten ahead of Shildon, although the Railwaymen hold four games in hand on them.
Dent believes that the business plan at the South Tyneside club will flourish if they are to take promotion and one that could take the Mariners into step four and beyond.
That immediate success is vital according to the Railwaymen chairman, as he stated that only moving up one level in the pyramid would be an “absolute recipe for disaster”.
“I know Geoff Thompson at South Shields, you look at our income compared to them. We are averaging 230, they are averaging around 900, it’s fantastic for them and there is a big catchment area.
“You can see why, with some investment from Geoff to get it underway, how there is a business plan.
“I think at the moment if you start to go up you have to buy your way out of the next league up and get into the Northern Premier League Premier Division at the earliest possible opportunity.
“Then you start again to try and get into the National League North because that is where you need to be. Just to move up into the Northern Premier League First Division could be an absolute recipe for disaster”
Interview: Mark Carruthers (@marknldaily)