The panel for this Fans' Forum comprised the club's Board (Geoff Goodwin, Andrew Shaw and Grahame Rowley) and the management duo (Graham Heathcote and Dalton Steele). A wide range of topics was covered from car parking and club finances to the management's tactics on the field this season and their vision for the future.
This Forum followed a routine meeting of the club's Board and the first topic raised was the issue of the car park at Moss Lane and Trafford Council's plans to develop it. Andrew Shaw (AS) explained that the club currently has a lease from the Council for the Moss Lane ground but the adjacent car park is held on a lease from the Council by the owners of the derelict nightclub, which stands behind the 20/20 End of the football ground. The Council is seeking outline planning permission to "regenerate" the site. As yet it is unclear what will be built on the car park, but it could be up to 25 residential units. The nightclub owners would benefit from the regeneration, as would Altrincham FC, who currently have rights to the car park on matchdays. The downside for the Football Club would be the loss of 30 or so car parking spaces but a recent agreement with nearby Blessed Thomas Holford School allows for 200 parking spaces on their premises on matchdays. The Football Club has asked that, as part of any redevelopment of the car park, the boundary wall between the football ground and the car park site should be straightened.
Asked by Mark Eckersall for his view of the season to date, manager Graham Heathcote said that he was slightly disappointed, having now seen 15 league games, that we had not taken more points, especially from the fellow part-time sides in the Conference. His target remains to finish above the bottom two in the division and he believes this is most likely to be achieved by two or three bursts of wins interspersed by less productive periods. He explained how team spirit is tested when a side is not winning regularly and that, whilst one or two players may have fallen short this season, it was not easy to bring in anyone to improve things given our financial status. One potential player to whom he had spoken had immediately asked for £600 a week- Graham indicated that the conversation after that was pretty short! £600 is not an outlandish wage for an established Conference player nowadays, he said, but it is a sum that we cannot afford.
Asked if we are a stronger side this season, GH said he thought that we were a better footballing side than last season but not necessarily a stronger side. The loss of Eddie Hussin to injury had been a massive blow. Dalton Steele added that he thought that the current side would have been title contenders in Conference North but the Conference National was obviously a level higher. Dalton has been busy clocking up the miles watching potential recruits.
Graham Heathcote went on to say that the league's two leading teams, Grays and Exeter (whom we meet on Saturday) were totally different in style. Grays were an impressive footballing side whereas Exeter were more of an organised, powerful and well motivated side who wear down their opposition with pressure.
Asked about our lack of goals this season, Graham outlined his and Dalton's dilemma. If we try to push forward we do not always have the pace to cover at the back and if we sit back we have difficulty getting forward quickly enough. He had tried to address this against Burton by playing Colin Little in a deeper role as otherwise Colin was getting isolated by lack of service. He described the season as one of "mixing and matching until you find a system that works for the players that you have available". He felt new signing Ged Murphy was a "tenacious player who can pass the ball well and has a good engine" but, under new FIFA transfer rules, he cannot play for us for 30 days. He also indicated that Ged could have gone to either Stalybridge or Worksop but chose us even though we were not the highest payers.
Graham paid tribute to Neil Brown and the Reserves as well as to George Heslop's youth team as both teams were doing well this season. However, it was a big step from the Reserves up to Conference football, said Graham. Graham and Dalton had been busy looking for new players and had reached a provisional agreement to bring in Tristram Whitman from Tamworth. As Tristram lives in Nottingham this would initially be as a loan rather than a permanent move but, unfortunately, he would be unable to play in our two matches against Tamworth, the Cheshire Senior Cup and possibly also our Trophy games, all of which are coming up in the next couple of months. So, the move remains unfinalised at the moment. However, Graham Heathcote revealed that two new players will be included in the Reserves' squad at Marine this Tuesday (weather permitting). They are James Robinson (d.o.b. 18 September 1982), who had a brief earlier spell at Alty in 2002-03 season. [It was coincidentally at Marine that James made his Alty debut, whilst on loan from Crewe Alexandra, on 2 December 2002. However, a collision resulted in a lost front tooth and substitution at half-time as a result of this injury. He returned to Crewe after making 2(+1) appearances for Altrincham. James was subsequently converted by Dario Gradi from a striker to a midfielder]. Also playing for Alty Reserves will be Chris Butler, a young left-back, released by Accrington. Graham has also been negotiating with Warren Peyton but the player is yet to make a firm decision about continuing to play football for anyone. [Warren's career has taken in Bury, Rochdale, Doncaster, Nuneaton and Leigh RMI]. Graham indicated that he had been impressed by Kyle Wilson's finishing in training and that we may not have yet seen the best of him as Graham had been playing him on the left flank.
Geoff Goodwin confirmed that promotion had meant an increased wage bill but the VAT and Inland Revenue debts were being addressed.
Asked for details of Eddie Hussin's injury, Graham stated that he would consider it a bonus if Eddie were fit to play any games this season. His cruciate ligament injury is obviously a major injury and the club is keen not to rush Eddie back too early. GH went on to catalogue other injuries. Richard Norris is to have an operation on 22 November, Steve Aspinall is with the Reserves again this week and, if he comes through that, he will be involved again with the first team squad. Val Owen has a knock but is suspended anyway for this Saturday. Gary Talbot is a major doubt with his foot problem and Chris Adams and Mark Maddox have knocks but will be fit for Saturday. Richard Acton should be back playing in 3 or 4 weeks, Stephen Rose is recovering well from his broken leg. Colin Potts is fit but Rod Thornley is working on his fitness levels.
Graham repeated his comments to the press that he feels that the linesmen in football matches should cover the same half of the pitch throughout the 90 minutes so that any good/bad officials are shared by both teams. Graham was full of praise for Val Owen and Peter Band and revealed that Owen was almost withdrawn from the starting line-up, with injury, after the warm-up at Burton but managed to complete the game. Conversation turned to the sell-on clause for Ian Craney. Should Craney move on from Accrington, Altrincham are entitled to 50% of the fee but the club could not bank on any lucrative move happening.
Graham guessed that the average Conference wage bill is £20,000 a week. Barry Pond indicated that Stevenage officials had told him that the additional cost of going full-time is in the region of £120 to £150,000 a year. Barry reminded everyone that going full time increases costs such as laundry and kit provision for daily training and the need to feed players if they are at the club every day. Graham's vision for the future is of Altrincham as a club with teams ranging from schoolboy level to the first team. In short, he wants us to develop as Trafford's second team, after Manchester United, drawing on the local talent which United do not sweep up. Tribute was paid to chairman Geoff Goodwin whose provision of coaches to the club is worth in the region of £25,000 a year. Barry Pond was also acknowledged for his efforts in bringing in £50K sponsorship this season. Geoff went on to say that he felt unlike a lot of the Conference chairmen in terms of their attitude and preparedness to throw large sums at their football clubs. Geoff reiterated that he was not a rich man and that to him football was not his entire life. At least one chairman had told him that he was putting in £15K of his own money every week. After Geoff had paid tribute to Graham and Dalton, the manager quipped, "Is that a vote of confidence then?"
There was then some debate about admission prices with Graham pointing out that some Conference clubs did make visiting fans pay more than their own fans but only by obliging them to go into a stand. He confirmed that it was against the rules to charge different rates for home and away fans for the same facilities (e.g. standing) but where away fans had to use a stand they might not have the option of cheaper terrace prices