Thinking Business > C’mon the Magpies! Interview with Jon Adams, CEO of Maidenhead United Football Club and Community Trust
Jon Adams Maidenhead United interviewed by Wilson Partners

C’mon the Magpies! Interview with Jon Adams, CEO of Maidenhead United Football Club and Community Trust

Maidenhead United Football Club (the other MUFC) is based in Maidenhead, Berkshire. Currently in the National League, the fifth tier of football in England, ‘The Magpies’ have played at York Road since 1871 – 150 years!! With plans afoot to build a new community stadium and wellbeing centre at nearby Braywick Park, we caught up with Chief Exec Jon Adams, to find out what it’s like to run a club in a pandemic whilst trying to negotiate a relocation – not for the faint hearted, we’re sure!

So a challenging year for all, what’s been the most difficult aspect of the pandemic for the club?

People might imagine we have faired differently to others, however I am sure the challenges we have faced are very similar to those which other businesses have experienced over the last 18 months.

Clearly the first lockdown was a huge shock and, like everyone, we had to deal with the practicality of shutting doors to all and the consequent immediate loss of the majority of our revenue, whilst prioritising the need to keep our staff safe whilst working. In this respect I am sure we were no different to many other businesses.

There is no doubt that the uncertainty continues to be the most difficult aspect of running the club during the pandemic. This was definitely the case at the time of first lockdown, as the football season was simply stopped at a time when our first team had just slipped into the relegation zone! There were still 10 games to play and the opportunity to play our way out of the relegation zone had been taken out of our hands. Ultimately a points per game calculation was used to establish positions for the final league table, which worked in our favour as we had played one less game than the team above us, meaning our final position was just above the relegation zone. From a business perspective this was clearly a challenging time. We didn’t know if we were going to be in the same league for the next season nor the extent we would need to adapt our business model in the long term.

This uncertainty has continued.  Over the summer of 2020 we were asked to plan for the start of football, without being provided any clear indication about when the season would start or what it could look like, which directly impacted on our player recruitment process. We are still a part time football club, employing our players on 44-week contracts, meaning we were being asked to plan and recruit for a season without knowing when that season would start and for how long!

It was also unclear as to whether we were expected to play the season behind closed doors. Match day income and sponsorship is a key revenue stream for all clubs, so we were faced with the challenge of having all the operational costs without the benefit of a significant proportion of our annual income. When the decision was made to start the season, the National Lottery did provide some initial funding to compensate for the loss of a proportion of out match day revenue. When we started the season, naively we all imagined that after 3 months the worst of the pandemic would be over, supporters would be back and revenue coming back through the turnstiles. Clearly this did not turn out to be the case, which was tricky financially as we were being asked to continue our businesses operations without the benefit of the majority of our commercial income and without the ability to access any significant financial assistance through the Government’s Covid related funding schemes.

In truth nearly 2 years on from the onset of the pandemic the situation has not changed. The goalposts are always changing….. for a third season in a row Covid is once again causing significant disruption.

And the most heart-warming?

Our community response to the pandemic. I am proud we did not simply think about the club’s needs when we went into the first lock down. Community is an important part of the DNA of Maidenhead United. From the outset of the pandemic we were thinking about how best to use our resources and network to help those in the community who needed it most. We wanted to do something to support the vulnerable, especially the elderly and those with health conditions. We didn’t want people within the community to feel alone or isolated. Working with our charitable arm, the Maidenhead United FC Community Trust, club staff gave their time to set up ‘Magpies Community Care’, a telephone hotline manned seven days a week, which was operational within a week of the first lockdown starting.

The most heart-warming aspect was that we reached out to our supporters and the wider sports community and were able to bring together an amazing cohort of DBS checked volunteers to provide a safe support network for vulnerable people. The response we received was incredible with 180 people volunteering during the first 3 weeks. The volunteers helped collect and deliver shopping, collect prescriptions and anything else people needed to ensure they were supported. 18 months on and the Magpies Community Care hotline is still open.

The club was celebrating its 150th Birthday and even in such difficult conditions, you’ve still found time to commit to raising £150k for some very important local charities. Is community at the heart of what you’re trying to achieve?

Community is at the heart of the football club. Early on in the pandemic we became increasingly aware that many local charities were struggling because of increased demand for their services and loss of income. We had seen how successful the 2.6 Challenge had been for the London Marathon and came up with idea of doing something similar linked with our 150th anniversary celebrations. We launched the Magpies150Challenge in the summer of 2020 hoping it would be great way of enabling local people to get active and raise some much-needed funding for the benefit of 15 Maidenhead and Windsor charities.

The response has been great with lots have people undertaking a range of walking, running, cycling, paddle boarding challenges to name but some. Thanks to their support and generosity of many we have now raised nearly £40k for these charities which is fantastic.

Does having a background in social enterprise help with these kinds of decisions?

Football clubs often get bad press due to the money in the higher echelons of football. However, the reality is many football clubs struggle financially and operate hand to mouth within a community setting.

It has certainly been helpful to have experience of the community and social enterprise sectors. Maidenhead United is in essence a community business. Our challenge is to develop a sustainable business model with the minimum requirement to break even and the aspiration to make a surplus which can be reinvested in a positive way in line with the principles of a social enterprise.

Our long-term plan for the club is to build a more diverse and sustainable business model without the need of a benefactor.  Football will always be at the core what we do. We want our men’s and women’s teams to be as successful as they can within the resources available. We want to continue to grow and develop our grassroots football provision through Maidenhead United FC Juniors alongside a wider range of health and wellbeing activities we deliver for our community. We are passionate about community adding value within the local community. Our plans to build a new stadium with associated sport and wellbeing facilities is a key aspect of our vision to secure the long-term stability of the club and a community asset which benefits all.

Do you think the club and the community need each other to thrive?

Undoubtedly we need the Community as they are at the heart of the ethos of the club. Whilst not everyone within the community will feel they need us, I have no doubt that many within the local community value the club, whether it be our supporters, those who take part in various community activities or local businesses.

I strongly believe that all sports clubs have an important role to play within their communities. The pandemic has shown us that we can engage the community in many different areas and provide services that make a real difference. MUFC absolutely has a place to support the community and help it thrive.

How have the players faired during the pandemic? Were there any interesting training routines during the lockdown?

Apart from the initial lockdown, life for our first team players and coaching staff has been relatively unchanged with training continuing as normal, although with enhanced safety protocols and regular covid testing!

The greatest change has been ain other areas of club activity (life switched to Zoom!) with a range of activities being delivered online for a large part of last year, including quiz’s, coffee mornings, fitness sessions, Pilates and football training! Our coaches made a fantastic effort to make sure our teams stayed connected. Our new Maidenhead United Juniors under 7s teams, made up of players who hadn’t played football together before, had weekly Zoom training sessions and ‘get to know you’ activities, so the players could come together as a team despite not being able to play games.

We are better placed to make sure we stay connected with those engaged with the club.

What Covid related changes will do you think will stay?

There is no doubt Covid has fundamentally changed the role of the club within the community and has made us feel more confident about taking new initiatives on. We’ve gone into areas that weren’t our core expertise – Magpies Community Care for example.

Subsequently, with the support of the Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead and Frimley NHS Trust, we have a started a pilot project to see if we can take build on Magpies Community Care and create volunteer supported wellbeing circles to support elderly and vulnerable people within the community.  We wouldn’t have had the confidence 18 months ago to organise and facilitate this as it’s not the core of what the football club does. It is however at the core of the community, and we’ve been able to use our network, whether through volunteers or other organisations, to set this up.

The club is lucky to have a benefactor, but your ambitions are for it to stand on its own two feet, what do you have planned to make this happen?

We are definitely very lucky to have Peter Griffin as Chairman of the club. He stepped in at a time when the club was experiencing financial difficulties, and since this time we have grown from strength to strength.

Over recent years our focus has been on exploring the different opportunities available to secure a more sustainable future. The reality is that our ability to develop and grow is significantly restricted by the facilities we have. The dilemma has long been that, whilst the location and history of our York Road ground is unique, it is impossible to get away from the fact that many of our facilities are old and require significant investment, and because of this our football and community development opportunities are limited.

We have therefore reached the difficult conclusion that the only way for the club to secure the step change we need to achieve sustainability is to relocate the club into a modern stadium with community facilities that will enable us to develop and diversify our operations, whilst extending the benefit we can deliver within the local community.

Tell us about the proposed development of a sports hub in Braywick, with MUFC at it’s heart?

Our vision is to build a new purpose-built Community Stadium and Wellbeing Centre at Braywick Park in Maidenhead. We are lucky to have the support of the Royal Borough of Windsor which has agreed to make available a small part of Braywick Park on which to construct the facilities.

Braywick is the ideal location for the club to move to. Located only a short distance from our current location it is close to the town and is already the main designated area for community sport and leisure in Maidenhead, and benefits from fantastic transport links.

From a football perspective, the stadium and associated facilities will extend the football development opportunities available to the club and the experience we are able to offer both our supporters and community users.  We currently have over 700 people playing football for the club at different levels, with the numbers growing year on year. The relocation will provide state of the art, football league compliant, ground and training facilities which will benefit all the club including our men’s and women’s, academy, Maidenhead United Juniors and walking football teams, whilst enabling us to extend our disability provision.

As importantly, it will enable us to transform a range of sports and wellbeing facilities for the benefit of the wider community, which will complement and add value to the other sports and leisure users at Braywick. It will firmly establish Braywick Park as a unique sports, leisure and wellbeing hub for the benefit of the town.

How will you fund the development?

The funding required to build the new stadium will be provided by the sale of our York Road ground. We know the thought of giving up York Road doesn’t sit well with some our supporters, which is understandable given we have occupied the ground for 150 years. Our responsibility as custodians of the club is however to plan for a successful and sustainable future, which requires us to have substantially improved facilities, and the only realistic way of raising the funding required to achieve this goal is through the relocation.

We are in a relatively unusual situation in that the ground is owned separately for the  benefit of the football club. The advantage of this ownership structure is that the money realised from the sale of York Road will go into developing the new facility. Importantly we want everyone to know that the new stadium and associated facilities will be operated under the same governance structure, meaning they will continue to be owned independently for the benefit of the football club. This approach preserves our existing model and ensures the new ground will be secured in perpetuity as a community asset, whilst enabling the football club to be sustainable, allow growth and have a long-lasting positive impact for at least the next 150 years!

What role do local businesses need to play both in terms of funding and awareness?

We want to engage with local businesses as much as possible and our partnerships with business will continue to be of great importance to the club.  There is no doubt that sponsorship income will always be a vital income stream which supports both our football and wider community activities. We are confident we provide positive profile both locally and nationally for the business partners. I would welcome the opportunity to speak with businesses that are excited by our vision for the future of the club and would like to help us achieve our goals as a successful community focussed club.

Our goal is always to develop mutually beneficial relationships with our partners so that we support them in the context of what they want to achieve. We often work with businesses that share a commitment to making a positive impact within the local community, which is often aligned with their CSR commitments.  By way of example, we work with a number of local primary schools to provide wider support, such as extra help in maths or English for specific children and wider social engagement projects. Local businesses can work with us to provide skilled resource to support these activities through their volunteer programmes and volunteer days. So rather than have a team of staff painting walls, as at the club in the past, and their staff are allowed to give one hour a week for a period of time for reading or maths support. Our business partners are great ambassadors for the club and hope we provide the same for them – we want to grow our relationships with business and to build networks.

Work life balance: are you good at it and what are your tips?

No I’m rubbish at it – I love my job and it can be all consuming! One thing I have learnt over the last 18 months is the importance of a good work life balance. Golf helps!

Which football team do you support, other than the Magpies? 

I support MUFC (Maidenhead United) AND MUFC (Manchester United!). I’ve supported Man U since I was 7.

Quick fire

Beach or mountain? Mountain

Fine wine or cocktails? Fine wine

Home working or office? Office

Fast car or luxury car? Luxury

Movies or books? Movies

Favourite: Shawshank Redemption

Jon, thanks for your time. We look forward to supporting the Magpies through an exciting season and look forward to seeing all the developments at the sporting hub at Braywick, Maidenhead.

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