END OF SEASON MESSAGE
WELL, we did it.
When I took over as Chairman of the club in an initial interim capacity, if you had told me that we would be here 12 months down the line having completed a relatively successful season in the Scottish Highland Football League and were looking ahead to the future with such optimism, then I would probably have laughed.
But, we have come a long way. And we have done it together. The supporters, the community of Nairn, local businesses, the players, the management and everyone behind the scenes at Station Park. You have all contributed to us being able to not only keep the club alive through one of the most traumatic periods in our proud 103-year history but allowed us to remain competitive in the league.
A point-per-game return from our 34 fixtures was well beyond my expectations as Chairman for the team to achieve this season, so huge congratulations to the manager, Ronnie Sharp, his coaching staff and each of the 24 players to have featured in the team throughout the campaign. We also reached two quarter finals and only dropped five places on last season in the final league table, despite a huge reduction in the playing budget and massive squad upheaval.
This is just a starting point, however. We now strive to build on what we have, improve the players in the squad, recruit those who want to be a part of this football club, bring through more youngsters and try to drive the team up the league table.
Since my last update, there are a number of players who have now left the club. Willie Barron chose to retire in January, Gavin Smith re-joined us to add some experience to the under-20s squad for their Jock Mackay Cup campaign in February and is now back working in Tenerife, Chris Moir was released to play amateur football in Inverness and Craig Alexander will leave our under-20s squad at the end of his contract in the summer.
Meanwhile, Paul Macleod approached us towards the end of the season and intimated that he wished to be released from the remaining year of his contract for a number of non-football reasons. These were discussed with Paul and then between our Management Committee and with our Team Management and it was agreed to grant Paul his request given his eight years of service in the first team and his willingness to take a substantial pay cut to remain with the club last summer.
All of these players who have moved on do so with the best wishes for the future from everyone at the club.
There could well be other departures from the squad and if there are, we will move on quickly. Any player at the club be they a new signing or existing squad member has to fit in to the framework we have established. If any player comes to us asking for more money then, no matter who they are, I am afraid that Nairn County is not the club for them. We want players who want to learn and develop their skills and improve themselves. It is an old cliché but no player is bigger than the club. We are not going to put all of the work in to building a framework and wage structure which allows the club to be sustainable and remain in business only to tear up the philosophy just one year later.
Our summer recruitment is already well and truly up and running. Ronnie Sharp, his assistant Mike Rae and our Director of Football, Graeme Macleod have been putting the hours in taking in a load of games to identify targets, doing their homework on these targets and meeting with the players themselves to discuss the prospect of joining us for next season. As soon as any new signing is registered with the SFA as a Nairn County player then you will be able to read about it here on our official club website and through our official Facebook and Twitter feeds.
We have also extended the contracts of Dylan Maclean, Glenn Main, Dylan Mackenzie, Jason Morganti, Calum Riddell, Ryan Macleod and Callum Ednie since my last update. Those seven players join eight of their team mates in being signed up for next season and that will form the nucleus of our squad for the 2017/18 Scottish Highland Football League campaign with pre-season training due to commence on Saturday June 17th.
On the Youth Development front, we were delighted to be able to acquire the services of Peter Budge from the SFA on a six-month placement as part of the McDonald’s programme. Peter has been working alongside the youth coaches in a mentoring role and has liaised with Ronnie Sharp to put in place a Nairn County Coaching Curriculum that will centre around giving our youth players the correct training to give them the best possible chance to make it into the first team. Peter shares the club’s philosophy of establishing a community club which is run along a club ethos and is aspirational at all levels and it has been great having him around.
We want to be seen as a modern football club and we have put a lot of time and resources into our Youth Development Programme this year. Our Head of Youth Development, Stewart McInnes and his team have made great strides in terms of modernising it and taking the club forward and you can see that with the representation we have had in the first team. The game programme we are looking to implement will run through all of the age groups from the first team right the way down to the under-15s and that will allow the guys to grow and develop their skills with confidence, building on what they have learned each year instead of starting from the beginning again every time they move up an age level. I think the fans love it when they see young players coming through the Youth Development Programme and pulling on a first team jersey – it is great to see and hopefully there will be more of it soon.
We held trials for our under-15s squad recently, which went really well. Ronnie was keen to be involved and that just shows you that we mean what we say when we say that we are taking our Youth Development Programme very seriously at the club now. There was a great turnout at the trials and the players all seemed to really enjoy it – this is the first step for them in their journey to the first team and who knows, they could be pulling on a yellow jersey in the Highland League in just four or five years from now.
You may also have noticed a record number of advertising boards at Station Park this season with Steven Bain’s tireless work taking us through the 100-barrier for the number of businesses represented at the ground. This is a vital stream of income for us and Steven has managed to more than double the gross takings from this initiative compared to last year. I am thankful to him for that as I am to him for his role in securing Gordon’s Timber as our under-20s shirt sponsor and Ritson Young as our under-17s shirt sponsor. We also have Ashers Bakery sponsoring our under-15s team and it is great to have three prominent local business backing our youth development programme.
It is important to the club to forge links with businesses like these who have strong roots in the community and I am very grateful to them for their support. We are also very close to securing a number of other deals with other significant businesses in the local area and we should have news on that very soon.
Speaking of forging links, we have opened Station Park up more this season and over the course of the campaign, there has been an incredible FORTY matches played on the pitch (plus two training sessions). This included a full programme of home under-20s fixtures, matches for our under-15s and under-17s, a friendly against Nairn St Ninian for the first time in a long time, a charity match involving a team of Nairn County fans and a Forres & Nairn Welfare League cup final. This has given almost all footballers in Nairn the chance to use the facility and play on the surface and despite almost doubling the number of games on the park compared to previous years, our average pitch grading for the season was 4.5 out of 5, with no individual grading less than 4. That is down only 0.3 on last year and is a great result which would not have been achieved without the tremendous amount of work done by our groundsman, Robbie Stuart, his assistant, Alan Watson and everyone else who gives up their time to go along and help them out at Station Park.
We did have the opportunity to throw our hat into the ring to stage the North of Scotland Cup final on May 20th (no guarantee we would get it) but we decided to give it a miss this year as we felt it would be unfair on Robbie and Alan to ask them to prepare the ground in time and it would have also reduced the time we had to work on the park over the summer by several weeks. We did not have enough time to complete all of the work we would have liked to last summer, so we had to make a start as soon as our own season was done this year to enable us to squeeze everything in.
This summer’s remedial work started with the spot feeding of the playing surface. I have to thank Donald Green and Green’s Nurseries at this juncture for their fantastic contributions and support towards this project. If you wish to help out with the work, there is a squad at Station Park most Saturday mornings from 9.30 am and on some weekday evenings too – check the club Facebook and Twitter pages for confirmation. The craic is always good and there is always a cup of tea and a few biscuits on offer.
So, the plan is in place and the Board of Directors and Management Committee have a very, very clear vision about where this club is going. This season has been all about laying the foundations. We came into a situation where the club's survival was in doubt and there has been a hell of a lot of work gone into laying those foundations.
We want to take the club forward as quickly as we can and there is a very clear plan and end goal in sight and that is getting the club up the table following a self-sufficient model and giving you all a team to be proud of. This is not the end – this is just the beginning.
DONALD L. MATHESON
Chairman, Nairn County FC