Ebbsfleet United boss Garry Hill says this has been his toughest start to a season during his managerial career.
The 59-year-old has almost three decades of experience in management, but the former Woking boss concedes that this has been his most difficult, with Fleet losing their opening five National League games.
The club posted the transcript this morning of last night’s fans’ Q&A meeting (Hill took questions alongside managing director Dave Archer), which began as follows:
Garry Hill: The Q&A night is important. There’s not many who might fancy it sitting in the league in the situation we’re in. But these are good for everyone as long as it’s constructive and handled sensitively. I called this meeting. It’s important to share with supporters at any football club. You can read rumours or hear certain things, so I said to Dave I’d like to do this as soon as possible. I don’t just want to come out when the sun’s shining and you’re at the top of the tree, it’s easy then. The only way I’ll get respect is to earn it. I’ll try and answer questions in the best way I can but I’ve still got to be respectful in terms of individuals in giving my answers.
Q. Garry, if results don’t improve, what’s your plan?
GH: It is a results business, at any level, we have to be honest. But Rome wasn’t built in a day. As some background, people have to take into consideration that a lot’s gone on last year, before I arrived and since May. I didn’t want to lose players, I didn’t want to lose Michael Cheek. He scored 15 in 21 games for me. I couldn’t say to some players you can have a free transfer and you lot can’t. It had to be across the board. So from June I had a little bit more freedom with the budget because of the movement of players and I couldn’t bring anyone in early due to the funds committed to players who hadn’t or couldn’t go anywhere else. I didn’t expect to lose Ebou Adams and Corey Whitely as late as I did at the end of June, so we are behind where we need to be. Potential players were low on confidence in signing for us because of the well-documented financial issues, that understandably made it hard for players to commit and made it hard for me and Dave Archer talking to them. We’re short, but we’re getting there and to answer your question, I will do everything within my power, my efforts, my workrate within the financial structure we’ve got. There are still funds available within that. If results don’t change, if things don’t happen quickly, I might have to make one or two more changes before I get changed. That’s the name of the game but all I would say, I tried hard to answer that question with honesty straight away. If you said to me, do you think the players aren’t good enough, I would go through all the players in this squad, they’re not inexperienced. They’ve had success from play-offs, into the League and above. Nathan Ashmore, Lawrie Wilson, Aswad Thomas, Jack King, Bondz N’Gala, Alex Lawless – just a few names who have won things at one or more clubs. I’ve tried to get proven experience and stability at the club with good characters on and off the pitch.
Q. Is this your toughest start to a season?
GH: Ever? Yes it is, without a doubt. I don’t think I’d be managing if I had any more of them! We all need a little bit of luck if you assess the games we’ve played. You can’t coach against sendings-off or errors. It’s hard when you’re playing catch-up in this league and you find yourself one goal down and I think it would be the same for any team at the moment.
Q. Why is Ayo Obileye playing in midfield? Is he not a central defender?
GH: He’s a bit of both, he played certain games at Maidenhead at the back and in midfield. When people saw him in pre-season, he was getting forward and heading balls in, scoring goals. Yes, it’s a valid question but I’m not here to make statements about individual players which can get twisted or fabricated outside this room and it affects a player before Saturday.
Q. Are the financial problems of last season now gone away? Are we likely to see those again?
DA: It’s been in programme notes and I’ve had meetings with the Trust and Fleet Heart and I’ve said we’ve been 30%, 50% through it at different times. Today I’m about 95% done. There are one or two loose ends to conclude over the next two weeks. The owner now has a less onerous amount of funding to put in on a monthly basis. He was uncomfortable with the size of the investment he was putting in. I was asked to reduce that level of funding but keep us competitive. I submitted that, the business plan was accepted but the budget had to come down lower. The resubmitted plan was accepted and it was my role to implement that. We are now in the first month when Dr Abdulla has had to put funding in under the new budget – because of historic pay-offs, agreements, cost-savings that are now done. We have money left in the player budget. We have one signing today, there will be more movement. More importantly, the owner is now comfortable with the amount of his contribution. What I would say, although that is reduced, it’s still substantial, a lot for anyone to put into a club. Garry is quite comfortable with the playing budget and I am quite comfortable with the remaining elements off the pitch. We run on a very small team, with only three on a full-time basis off the pitch. We have Garry and Ian on the management side, a part-time goalkeeping coach, a scout/opposition assessor. They’re all part-time roles now compared to nine salaried on the team management. We’ve cut our cloth there and in the playing budget. With player negotiations, myself and Garry told them what had happened in the previous year at the club, football’s a small community and they’ll have heard stories of course as well. Some of the feedback we got from players about contracts offered was that what we are offering now, even on a reduced budget, is in line with most other clubs at this level. The previous funding from last year has been paid. The owner was due to lose £2.1m on last year’s budget, that eventually went up to £2.3m, that will be on the accounts. Next year, it’s completely different but he’s still funding the club to the tune of £900,000 per annum. That’s not insignificant.