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Thursday, 31 July 2014

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What’s the big idea? Time we were told

Darwen Rangers are a junior football club in Lancashire. In 2011 they drew up a five-year plan to expand and develop. It is described in detail on their website and easily found on Google.

Carlisle Utd photo

This week they were inundated with requests from children to join the club. Such is the demand that they have had to limit numbers.

The people at Darwen will not transform the world of football but they clearly intended to enhance what they had. Their development plan, listing a club vision, team development ideas, management and workforce progression, school links, communication and marketing, is all confidently laid out.

Nowhere is the wheel being reinvented here, but the sense is of a small club doing its best, with structured goals exposed for public inspection. It appears to be working. Good for them.

Obvious question. If they can do it, at their modest level, why not others? When a Carlisle United supporter asked this week whether the Blues had a five-year plan, it was difficult to find an answer.

Certainly, if such a detailed vision exists, other than the undefined prospects of the Project Blue Yonder stadium concept, it has not so far been shared with the fanbase.

It is no crime to be a football club in hardship, especially in the lower divisions. If it was a sin to be living through difficult times, a great many would have to check in for confession.

A real sin, though, is to be a man without a plan, a regime without a scheme. It is screamingly obvious that United cannot struggle on forever in their current health, in debt and requiring considerable loans from directors just to survive.

All one needs is an understanding of gravity to know where such a path will eventually lead. Last season’s relegation battle brought about renewed hardship and cost-cutting, this season’s too. Should the Blues drop into League Two, it would not come with any confidence of a trampoline-bounce straight back.

Other than asking a manager to spin some gold – a fair demand, but only up to a point – and trying to broaden horizons with initiatives like the Carlisle United Business Club, there does not appear to be an overriding direction.

If this sounds rather bleak, and if there actually is an in-depth plan of action somewhere in a filing cabinet, then here is an offer. This page will be donated to the club next week, should they want it, to list their step-by-step ideas and intentions.

Not vague concepts or dreams, but workable, progressive plans. A vision, with some of the gaps coloured in and dots joined. Darwen managed it. Can United, a proud professional club, not?

A lot of airy nonsense is spoken about the low crowds attending Brunton Park these days but surely it comes down to one crucial factor: supporters, especially at a time when many have drifted towards other distractions and pastimes, need something to believe in.

They would like to know where the club would like to go, and how it intends to get there. In Carlisle’s case, a start would be describing how they will try to come out of this current darkness.

At present all we really have after the recent misadventures, for which the only person to have paid appears to be Greg Abbott (and even in his case, not entirely, for he is still being paid) is the promise of a tearing-up of the squad list in the summer and a hopefully successful rebuild by Graham Kavanagh.

Yet how, in the promised summer of rebirth, is Kavanagh to construct a better and more engaging team, beyond mining his contacts book, begging favours and hitting bullseye several times, with so little to spend? It is true that League One is a tight enough division to reward any inspiration, but a manager also needs helpful circumstances.

How is the platform going to be better than it is now?

Last summer, the sixth of “custodianship” and the latest without significant investment, supporter unhappiness was made plain in a News & Star survey. The club pledged to “digest” the views whilst also acting on their own research.

In certain areas there have been improvements, such as commercially, but in the most crucial domain – football – the only visible action has been Abbott's removal and subsequent faith in Kavanagh.

Yet many questions hang. Who is answerable for the poor calls? Who acknowledges the bad decisions that have led to increased hardship, a long spell of hectic player turnover and ongoing terrace doubt?

Who is speaking truth to power inside Brunton Park? What are the United Trust saying about the outlook?

What is the latest on a new stadium? What are the board’s plans for the current one in the meantime? What happens, down the line, when lifesaving loans are eventually called in? If obstacles exist in the way of investment, as we are often told, how do those in charge plan to remove them?

It should not require the first fans’ forum (scheduled for Friday, February 21) in more than a year to seek answers on the above. And if they are unfair questions, easily dealt with by the shedding of responsible light, then one imagines supporters will be ready to look.

So that offer to United again: this page, next week, gratis. Tell us the big idea and some of the little ones. A mission statement, simply. After all, who would board a train without first having an idea of the journey?

Have your say

I'm saddened that United have been relegated to League 2, but my comments in February are still valid: The Board needs to communicate its vision and strategy by the end of June so the supporters can decide whether they will invest their hard earned wages following a team with a purpose or a team that's a porpoise.

Posted by James on 4 May 2014 at 08:34

What an excellent article.The club does need a vision and aspirations and should no see survival in one season as success.The club need to call together all interested groups there should be significant liaison with all schools in a 50 mile catchment area-the club should be more family orientated and there needs to incentives to ensure there is an ever increasing young fan base.Throwing money at the club without any set strategy is pointless.How about the appointment of an education liaison officer ? How about defined club ambassadors Lummy etc.It is important to think out of the box otherwise there will be spiralling decline accentuated by poor results and inevitably low attendance.Remeber the young fans of today are the life long supporters of tomorrow.

Posted by steve on 26 February 2014 at 10:23

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