Berwick Rangers chairman John Bell has voiced his concern that the club faces desperate times if it cannot secure increased support from the local community.
In a statement issued today (Monday), he said the Shielfield side had consistently lost tens of thousands of pounds every year, for a long time now, in trying to maintain a semi-professional football team in the town.
It had been kept going by favourable Scottish Cup ties, such as Celtic in 2011, and the bonus of having Rangers in their league in 2013.
However, that well was running dry and Berwick wanted to avoid any future crisis by getting the issue addressed now.
“To do that, we need to increase the attendances at Shielfield and we’d also appeal to local businesses to offer whatever support they can to keep the club viable,” said Mr Bell.
“We have a number of very loyal and extremely supportive contributors – but we’d love to have a few more.”
Bell is well aware that some supporters would question if he’s the right person for the role, having served as vice-chairman since 2011 and during the disastrous campaign last year, which saw the club
relegated from the SPFL to the Lowland League.
“Relegation was a massive blow to the club, and, of course it’s fair to say decisions made in good faith didn’t ultimately work out,” he said. “I was very much a part of that decision-making, as every director
should be, and, as such, fully accept my share of responsibility.
“I also feel a responsibility to try to put things right and create a platform for the club to bounce back. I’ve recruited some new board members I feel have a lot to offer the club and we’re fortunate to have some great volunteers who are really committed to the cause – without them, we would have folded a long time ago, as we couldn’t stage a game.
“It’s been heartening to see former volunteers returning to the Club too but we’d welcome more help, especially on match days.
The infrastructure that runs the club is almost entirely unpaid and, as any club committee will appreciate, various bits of legislation consistently
serve to increase demands on our time and funds.
“On paper, it’s a PLC, a business but, in reality, it’s a community organisation that needs the generosity of the community to make it work. Every penny generated is ploughed back in to keep the club functioning.”
Bell doesn’t fit the stereotypical image of a football club chairman, having returned to his home
town 25 years ago to head up a new charity in Berwick working with teenagers.
Berwick Youth Project now employs five full-time staff and is one of the largest youth organisations in the area.
“I’m extremely proud of what the Youth Project has achieved,” he added. “We’re placed in a position of trust and
work with some of the most vulnerable young people in our community. Individuals and foundations trust us to spend their money wisely and get maximum benefit from it, and that’s the philosophy we have to employ at Berwick Rangers.”
Having supported the club since childhood, Bell would find it difficult to walk away. “I served as chairman of the Supporters’ Trust for 10 years and now for 10 years in my second spell as a director, so it’s difficult to imagine a life without the club being part of it,” he said.
“However, the club has been around for more than 130 years and is bigger than any individual, so if it can progress better
without me, I’ll step aside. It’s fair to say there might not be a huge queue to take the job on at present but, hopefully, that won’t always be the case.”
“There’s a lot of emotional connection to the club from a lot of people. People whose parents, grandparents and great-grandparents have watched the club, who’ve bought shares to help build the stadium in the ‘50s, who’ve watched great cup ties and taken pleasure in the attention the club
brought to the area.
“But that emotion doesn’t pay the bills and, while people might currently choose to attend games or not, that choice won’t be around in a couple of years unless we turn the tide. I’d love every adult in the Eastern Borders and North Northumberland to pledge to attend just
one game each season – that alone would probably secure our future.”
On the playing side, Bell is optimistic about the coming season: “We’re very much a work in progress. Ian Little started in June with a handful of signed players and has worked tirelessly to bring a squad together that we believe is capable of being among the top sides in the Lowland League.
“We had to be realistic in what we could achieve this year and Ian’s brief is to play entertaining football and get into the top four or five, where fixtures are meaningful every week.
“There’s a lot of youthful energy and inexperience in the squad and that might lead to inconsistency as well as excitement, but I’m very content with what I’ve seen so far. Fans want to be entertained and the Lowland League should give us the opportunity to do that.”
The continuing development of more local players such as Grant Rose (Jedburgh), Gary Windram (Eyemouth) and Jack Cook (Dunbar) is also a reason for some satisfaction for Bell: “These lads came into the U20s Development Team a couple of years ago and they’ve put a lot of effort into their
football. They’re getting their reward now and I hope this is a continuing trend and we can find more like them.”
Berwick Rangers’ next game is this Saturday, August 17at Shielfield Park, when Spartans of Edinburgh are the visitors in the East of Scotland Qualifying Cup.