The Free Press spoke to chief executive Gavin Baldwin last week about the rebuilding process following relegation to League Two.
Baldwin also spoke candidly about the lessons learned from last season, this year’s budget and the owners’ faith in manager Darren Ferguson. Here’s the transcript:
FP: It’s been a fairly unprecedented summer, in terms of how quickly and efficiently the transfer business has been done. Are things changing at this club?
GB: No one wanted relegation and no one expected relegation, and the owners are adamant that they don’t go through this again, and the pain of it. The owners all live locally and bump into people and they just don’t want that pain.
We agreed a playing budget very early on, Darren presented the players he thought would get us promotion and we were then tasked to go and get those players.
A lot of the players we got in early because there was competition for them, and if we didn’t get them early other clubs would have got them. So we had to act quite quickly. Tommy Rowe, for instance, had clubs queuing up for him.
We did it slightly differently this year in that Darren presented the team to the board that he thought would get promoted and then we created the budget from there. Whereas before we might have said ‘you’ve got X available’ and worked backwards from there, we actually worked forwards from which players do we actually want and which players are going to get us promoted.
The owners have been successful in business throughout their lives and this hurt them. They don’t want it again and they’ve tasked Darren and myself with making sure it doesn’t happen again.
FP: Is there one big lesson that has been learned from last season?
GB: You look back to January and, probably as a club, we were driving away from the Stoke game probably patting ourselves on the back and thinking ‘we’re all right here’.
We got invited to the play-offs meeting with the Football League, thought we were doing all right, and it went horribly wrong.
That’s probably one thing we have to take on the chin. We were quite happy with how we were performing.
That’s probably the biggest lesson.
What we believe is that the club has been very strong in producing financial revenues and commercial sponsorship but our strike product [the football team] wasn’t good enough. Therefore all emphasis this year is on our strike product, which is getting us promoted and creating the momentum which will give us the best chance of reaching the Championship. All focus of any spare monies or revenues that are generated are being given to the first team to get us promoted.
I think it’s created this focus and emphasis in everyone’s minds that our strike product is football and we need to put every bit of money we’ve got into that to secure ourselves the best possible chance of getting promoted.
FP: Are the finances a difficult balancing act, when you’ve got Dons to consider and such like?
GB: The Dons make a profit so they don’t hurt us at all. The Foundation makes a clear profit, and the stadium is doing very well now. Those monies go across to the football. But also the owners have put considerable monies in as well because, you’ve seen the type of players coming in, they don’t come cheap - and especially when there’s other clubs that want them. That just spirals the cost up.
FP: Has the budget gone up compared to last year, or is it on par with last year?
GB: The budget will be on par with the League One budget, yes.
It’s easy for clubs to say this, and clubs have said it in the past, but quite genuinely if we haven’t got the second or third highest budget in League Two we’d be very, very surprised.
We probably expect to sit just behind Portsmouth with their playing budget. We’d be surprised if anyone else has been given the same resources as us to get the promotion we’re after.
FP: You’ve put your faith in Darren Ferguson to get you that promotion. Why?
GB: There wasn’t a doubt. At the end of the season I’m sure the owners will have considered all options with every position within the club. There have been changes throughout the football staff and there have been changes with the off-field staff.
Darren shared a vision with us when he was recruited and we bought into that vision.
Yes, we had an unprecedented bad spell, but we hope that’s an unprecedented bad spell of half a season within five good years, if you like.
We’re looking at a long term vision and we do buy into what he wants to achieve, how he tries to achieve it and how he conducts himself and his passion.
Just to put it into context, obviously I can’t name the player, but every manager I have worked with at this club has wanted to bring in one of the players we have brought in this year and Darren’s been the only manager that’s been able to do it, despite relegation.
The players buy into Darren, and that has been a massive selling point of this club.
One agent I spoke to was honest enough to say he was in a really weak position when he was bargaining with us because the player had said ‘I only want to play for Darren Ferguson’.
From our point of view it makes conversations very easy.
Therefore it wasn’t a conversation at the end of the season, it was a tick box.
FP: What would you say to the fans out there who are wavering on whether to return to the Keepmoat Stadium next season?
GB: The signings are a sign of intent. Even down to the friendlies that Darren has organised at home, again that’s a sign of intent.
I think everything about the club since that day against Burton, and even before Burton, has been about signs of intent and showing our commitment to the future.
Everything is positive. Talking to the staff, and talking to the fans that I talk to, people are saying they’ve never felt so positive.
They feel more positive now than they did before we started in League One last year.
I think as a club we have been clear about our intentions and we have backed up those intentions with actions. Therefore it makes it believable - this club is committed to be playing in the Championship in the future.
That is everything that we have been tasked to deliver over the next few years.