Worthing Football Club held a mid-season fans' forum last night where the club revealed their vision of the future, talked about the season so far, the rumours linking Omar Bugiel with a move away from the club, along with many other topics.
Worthing chairman George Dowell, general manager Calvin Buckland and joint managers Gary Elphick and Jon Meeney were all on hand to take questions from fans.
The evening kicked off with Pete Stone, a Worthing fan who has been helping the club on a consultation basis for the past few months, talking about the club's vision.
He said: "We're a club that's going places and has a sense of direction and we know what we're trying to achieve.
"A lot of work has been going off the pitch, as well as on it, and not everything has been perfect. Mistakes have been made, financially and operationally, so we're all trying to learn as we go forward but we are trying to take the club to a positive and successful place."
In a seven-day period, more than 1,750 people now use the facility at Woodside Road. That includes more than 500 local club youth players and 180 to 200 children from Worthing schools and colleges.
In a slideshow, Worthing revealed three elements to their vision for the future:
1: To be a club Worthing can be proud of.
Being more than a football club, and serving the community and its members
Getting as many people as we can interested in and excited by the club as we are.
People actively look to play a part in our club, watch our team, use our facilities on the pitch or off.
We want to create memories for everyone, especially for the youngsters of the area, whether they play football or not.
We become the ‘first’ or ‘second team’ to follow for everyone.
2: Being as professional off the pitch as we are on it.
Worthing FC being stable financially with minimal and manageable debt.
Not being dependent on a generous owner and a dedicated few to survive and thrive.
Being business-like without being a commercial, profit-driven business.
Being organised with high and professional standards of behaviour in every activity, understanding there is a right and a wrong way to do things.
3: Being regarded as a National League level football club.
We do want to be in the National League. The original intent of at least two promotions in five years still stands. Our success last year puts us ahead.
Our standards of playing, coaching, management and support will be at National Conference standard for all our teams from first team through U18s, the ladies team and down through the Development and Elite groups.
The facilities we are able to provide to players, supporters and guests.
We want all young footballers in the broader area to aspire to play for Worthing FC, such are our standards and our reputation.
Question: Is the club looking to get state funding?
Calvin Buckland: "There is a stadium improvement fund which will give you 50 per cent if you match it. We started to go down that path in summer but it was so long-winded we took the decision to pay for the work for the new stand but we did it ourselves and saved the labour charges.
"If we'd been more organised, we could have applied and got it. It was a massive learning curve for us.
"There's hundreds of things you can apply for if you have know-how and commitment. We now employ, through the Football Centre not the Club, a consultancy and they will apply on our behalf for all kinds of things.
"Once we're on top of it, there should be a regular stream of income to develop different areas. "
Worthing will look to set up a meeting with volunteers who will help out the club when needed - for example when a big crowd is expected for a game.
Fan: I speak for everyone here that over the past year or two I've seen a remarkable difference in this club. The quality of football I haven't seen over the past 20 years and it's getting better.
The second half against Bognor, I've never seen a team represent Worthing so powerfully and strong. Jon and Gary, Matt and Mick, your effort is being recognised and I want to wish you all the best.
Jon Meeney: "From management team and players, win, lose or draw, there is a strong bond between fans, players, and management here.
"Some teams talk about a 12th man and at this club it is extra special. Everyone needs to pull and push in the same direction. If we can do that together, we will be stronger.
"As much as we all get frustrated at times as it's an emotional game, we are a powerful family when we're all together.
"When you see 1,800 people here watching a game, wow. This club and potentially where it could be in time, there can only be forward progression, so thank-you for all your support."
The season so far
Jon Meeney: "In the opening four months this season, we've learned more than the whole of last season.
"We got off to a flyer at the start of the season and that was due to beginning not long after last season ended because we had to wait for the Sussex Senior Cup final.
"We had a good pre-season and everyone in the town was still on a high. The opening games showed that we can compete at this level.
"Then we had a period where we lost five on the spin. That Bognor day especially was our worst day in football (5-0) but it will be our best one. That period where we lost five on the spin was our best education we could have as a management team but also for the playing staff.
"We found out things about ourselves and our players, past and present, and you do a lot of analysing. It's easy to turn the other cheek but we challenged ourselves.
"The message to the boys has been to be better at what we're good at but also be adaptable and keep learning.
"If you know look at it, Bognor away and on Monday, it's fair to say we've learned and are still learning and are in a much better state now on the pitch.
"You look at the 11 game unbeaten run we're on and the level of performance we're showing and we're getting the results we deserve.
"The mentality of the group is stronger, we're harder to beat and we're always in games."
Gary Elphick: "We've improved immensely but I'm motivated by the fear of failure. I'm looking at Grays Athletic on Saturday, which is a potential banana skin and we could get beat. We don't want another bad run.
"The points tally we have returned is great but I'm not resting on my laurels because this game will bite you on the backside.
"I'm just looking at Grays and getting to that 40 point mark, which was our target originally but we're looking for a strong end to the season.
"We've got a lot more work to do but you'll have the hardest working management side you'll ever see because we don't stop analysing ourselves, players and whatever we can analayse we'll do.
"That's something I'm very proud of and when Jon and I leave this club, I'm sure it will be in a better state than it's ever been.
"Promotion last year was absolutely massive because momentum is everything in football.
"And you look at Ryman South this year and that's a very tough league to get out.
"I'm delighted with how things are going but we definitely won't be resting and there's more to come."
Fan: Meetings like this are useful. Within reason, let us know what's going on as this didn't happen before.
Calvin Buckland: "I've been here 20 months now and had no concept of what went into it. I knew what it took to run a youth organisation with 200 kids. This is far more difficult and far more time consuming with the regulations but we are learning.
"We do make mistakes but they are genuine mistakes because we're naive to certain things but we'll only get caught once with it, learn from it and move on.
"Saying these meetings never happened before, I can completely understand why they didn't. It wouldn't be because no one wanted to share information.
"But we're in a great position now, the club is solvent, the first team are flying, the under-18s are doing well, the ladies have started and are doing well, so we can sit here and not get a real grilling.
"Before, maybe there wasn't the time to do it and who's going to want to sit there and get roasted because there isn't much positive to say. I wouldn't be too harsh that it didn't happen before.
"The difference now is we have six full-time staff that are paid by the Football Centre, which is a completely different entity but the Football Centre gives them to the Football Club on a voluntary basis."
Q: How does the Football Centre and Football Club work? What's the structure?
Calvin Buckland: "When it became apparent that the club was in debt, George was already in the process of looking for some land in Worthing where he could put a 3G pitch down and build some facilities because he wasn't long out of youth football himself.
"He understood the shortage of training facilities for youth team players.
"There was no land in Worthing available but I was already here with the under-18s anyway, so I knew the situation. We kind of said why don't you take over the club, pay the debt off and install 3G here as they have planning permission and run the centre out of here and the club will carry on alongside it.
"It wasn't really the intention to take the club over and run it but it became quite apparent early on that if you're going to pay £200,000 of debt and invest £400,000 on the pitch and spend more money on other areas, you probably need to have control of everything.
"That was why it was awkward for a while but if you're going to have that investment, you're going to have to protect it.
"The Football Centre was set up to run the facility but part of the agreement with Morty, Deborah and the old board was that the club would have use of the centre for matchday, training, etc for free.
"There's no secrets to the way it is structured. All gate receipts, sponsorship around the ground, anything generated by the club, prize money etc; goes to the club.
"All bar takings, food, etc; goes to the Football Centre to support that and the Football Centre pays for all stocking and staff.
"There are two income streams, the club income that comes through the gates and the food and bar taking which support the centre.
"George is protected by the Football Centre and has a 25-year lease for the Football Centre on this facility. People probably don't appreciate that George put money in when he could have let the club go bust and he would have still had all this and saved himself £200,000.
"The debt and the club would have disappeared, down to County 2 and built up from there but he obviously didn't want to do that.
"With how we're running this season, with higher crowds and the FA prize money, there is going to be a £5,000 deficit. George still has to pay £5,000 but it's better than the £35,000 from last season."
Only 43 per cent of people coming from the gate pay the full £10 of which 17 per cent goes to VAT. 22 per cent of people are under-16 and come in for free but that is an investment in the future for the club as they are the people who will keep coming back.
Rest are concessions, season ticket holders, etc and nine per cent are coming in for free.
Question: How many players are under contract?
Gary Elphick: "All of them, the only ones who weren't have left.
"We've got to be on the ball, especially with clubs potentially trying to poach our players. We've got to make sure they're all contracted up and that we look after this football club, especially with some of the talent we've got."
Question: What's the ruling with players under 24 and transfers?
Gary Elphick: "For instance, Omar Bugiel: Even if he runs his contract down, because he's under 24, with the amount of years he's been at this club, we would be due compensation for him.
"And if you just offer a player a new deal, that straight away protects the club as well. They're sort of still under a contractual agreement. It's vitally important for us that in this second part of the season that not only do we keep trying to do what we're doing on the pitch but we need to protect Worthing Football Club.
"We maybe need to get these players under longer contracts for next season and build off a solid platform."
Question: You signed a young guy from Portsmouth (Brandon Joseph-Buadi) in August but he never played. What happened?
Gary Elphick: "His heart wasn't in it and we thought it's not going anywhere. He's someone with potential but, like many youngsters in the game nowadays, they do go by the wayside."
Question: Is Omar Bugiel going to leave?
Gary Elphick: "Nothing concrete has come to the club, so until then he's a Worthing player.
"My advice to him is to wait for a solid offer to come because his next move, I feel, has to be one where he's full-time and to a professional outfit as he's one of the best talents I've seen in non-league football for a long time.
"He'd be lowering himself if he goes to join a part-time team, other than Worthing. He's definitely getting the best coaching here and he should just sit tight and wait for something solid to come through.
"Until that time, we've got to make sure we're still moving forward on the pitch."
Jon Meeney: "There's no plans for Omar to leave. The lad's performance levels this year have been consistent but we sometimes forget he missed 15 games last season, so he hasn't actually played a consistent season.
"He's a Worthing player. My message to football clubs and agents out there is respect Worthing Football Club but first and foremost respect Omar.
"We spoke to him about a month ago and he was a little bit unsettled because all the rumours and talk were new to him and it's new to Worthing Football Club to a degree.
"But he's got his head down, concentrated on playing, let his feet to the talking and he enjoys being a Worthing Football Club player.
"He's not unhappy, he loves it here and working with the management team and players. Rumours can sometimes be a distraction, let Omar be Omar and if we do that then we're going to have a side than can continue the run that we're on.
"Let's appreciate having Omar as Worthing player. Me message for everyone is stop talking and really enjoy him being here because sometimes you're a long time missed.
"He's a Worthing player and we'll do everything to keep him here until it's right."
Question: Are you going to make any new signings?
Gary Elphick: "I'm really happy with the squad but we'd be dumb if we're not looking. There's a couple of targets Jon and I have spoken about so we can act quick if Omar was to go."
Question: Are there plans in case we go up to make sure we're sustainable?
Jon Meeney: "There's lots of plans in place as we've got to prepare for different situations."
Fan: Jon, can you tell us about your work with the Development Centre?
Jon Meeney: "One of the things we pride ourselves on is giving youth an opportunity. It's important you have an infrastructure at a club, we have a first team, we no longer have an under-21s but we have an under-18s.
"Under that, it's important that we gauge with the community and we've now got a structure in place for under-sevens to under-16s. We look at them physically, technically, tactically and psychologically.
"We'll plan and prepare and deliver our sessions, focusing on each aspect over the course of a four-week cycle, month upon month, looking to progress them whether it be in the development phase or the elite phase.
"The development phase is football for all and we focus on them physically and technically. When we feel they're ready to progress, they'll come into our elite phase and that will be the skills and decision making.
"We're looking for that ladder when they can progress into the under-18s and in time the first team.
"I'm very fortunate to have a strong coaching team behind me."
Question: Many of last season's under-18s dual signed with Worthing United. What's their progression?
Jon Meeney: "At this present time, it's the best thing for their progression getting senior football. What they're embarking on at the moment is a change for them as there's been a change of manager at Worthing United, so that will test their characteristics.
"Are they in favour? Are they in the new manager's plans?
"Jack Punter and Mike Waller have suffered injuries, Matt Hards has been highly thought of at Worthing, like the others, but with a new manager coming in has been a bit-part at Worthing United.
"But they started the season well and you've seen them all return at some point to be involved with the first team.
"What we don't want to do is keep disrupting their development, by bringing them back, sending them back and then bringing them back again.
"Any player needs continuity. They're just getting their head down and performing at Worthing United when able to.
"They are still Worthing Football Club players. Calvin goes to watch them when he can and we get feedback from Steve Taylor, the chairman at Worthing United, but they have been getting game time there when fit and able."
Question: Many of last season's under-21s are at East Preston. Are you in contact with them?
Gary Elphick: "No. We have the best of the crop here but we wish them well."
Fan: There's been two or three games this season when seven-plus of the team have played 100 to 150 games. That's impressive at this level.
Gary Elphick: "They're not playing for the pay check, they're playing for the badge. Jon and I wear our hearts on our sleeves and for me that's a massive thing.
"To be their age and to have played that amount of games for this football club goes a long way with me and also Jon."
Jon Meeney: "There were a few people here today who were in this room when he had the meeting two years ago (talking about whether the club had a future).
"Hinsh (Adam Hinshelwood) was here and so were Mick (Fogden) and Pipes (Matt Piper). We sat down and the news then broke regarding whether the club was going to continue.
"We knew there was going to be a budget cut but then were told there was no budget.
"There were a fair few of the players who are still here that played for nothing. One of the players, I won't name him, didn't ask about the money, he asked about the ambition of the club.
"You talk about loyalty and we give them so much but they give us so much. I'm not blowing smoke up their backsides but this group is very unique.
"One player asked about the ambition and they all followed. If they can see that the club is going somewhere and is sustainable and is progressive, they want to be part of it.
"That's why Omar is just carrying on with his football at Worthing, because he is happy.
"They're a very unique group and there's a strong bond. As long as the club has ambition, the players want to stay."
Worthing general manager Calvin Buckland: "There is a reason why these players have played so many games at their age.
"It's because the club had no money but there was a massive lightbulb moment: You don't have to go and pay fortunes for someone from South London because they have played 200 games at this level.
"The ability is out there and the key is recruitment and the coaching of the management team. We're reaping the rewards and are getting the glory now for things that happened in the past.
"They could have gone and picked up £50 somewhere but because of the standard of coaching , they stayed. It just proves that you haven't got to go and spend money, the players are there.
"The reason we have got a low budget isn't because George is tight, it's because we think our investment is with these guys and the pitch here.
"We don't have training called off and the proof is in the pudding. If you give a 19 year old 30 games and they have got the ability, you'll reap the rewards.
"Omar is a classic example. I watched him at 20 playing for Selsey and you wouldn't have noticed him. Now look at him. He was given a chance here because the club had no money but now he earns every penny he gets."
Question: Is there a problem with the red touchline?
Calvin Buckland: "You can not play in any FA competition with a non-green run off and we had to apply for dispensation last year.
"The rules changed at the end of last season, so this year the FA said you can have any coloured run off but the first metre has to be green.
"We asked if we were in breach of the rules and they said yes, so we had to ask them for dispensation to play in the FA competitions this season but we have to change it in the summer and it's probably going to cost us about £16,000.
"If it was a grass pitch and the run off was red, it's not an issue. But the pitch does meet requirements to get promoted."
Question: Will we see Ben Pope again this season?
Jon Meeney: "After the severity of his injury, there is no deadline or date for his return.
"It was a serious injury, we are all hopeful you'll see Ben in Worthing shirt again if his rehabilitation is a healthy and safe one, which I'm sure it will be.
"There is no pressure on him to return this year. He needs to take his time and not rush back. If he rushes back, it's just going to put him back in future months or years."
Question: Was Brannon a substitute when he was sent off against Tonbridge Angels last week?
Jon Meeney: "Yes, but we're in the process of appealing it."
Question: Jack Fagan has done very well, hasn't he?
Gary Elphick: "He's been a massive reason why our form has turned around. Banksy (Rikki Banks) is one of my best mates but at this level we know that you've got to speed up the way you play from the back and you won't get a better keeper doing that in non league than Fagan.
"He can ping a ball 30 yards right to a full-back's feet.
"We've still got to work on him physically, he's got to get fitter and stronger but that's scary. If he can add that to his game, then who knows? Why can't he get picked up by a pro club."
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