Off Into The Summer
End of season thoughts

In August last year most of us believed we were a mid-table team with an outside chance of making the play-offs. In the first half of the season we demonstrated that we were not much better than a relegation contender overall, (gathering only 36% of the possible points) until JL’s unhappy reign was brought to a conclusion. The second half of the season was a happier affair during which we gathered 56.5% of the possible points (W9 D10 L4) and which would have delivered 78 points and a play-off place had we rolled that out across the season. That achievement was despite the rolling saga of injuries and patchy form in some games. But in the end we finished 10 points off a play-off place (11 given our goal difference), smack bang in mid-table, and SB was able to get stuck in to delivering his plans for next season with the almost immediate announcement of the retained list.

The retained list is an important thing that we do know, but we don’t know where we are viz a viz the FFP (P&S) rules. SB seems to think that we are not under a transfer embargo but it would be nice to have that confirmed. The club accounts are now officially late, even after moving the reporting date back, and therefore what should have been clear to us all at the end of April is still a mystery. Have we sorted the 8 figure FFP problem that DC said we had during a Fan’s Forum? If we have, how have we done it? Have we sold and leased back the stadium? Have we lined up any player sales? I guess that the release of the six players will have saved something like £6-£8m in wages, but that only helps in stopping the future FFP problem and I suspect there needs to be a bit more shaved off the wage bill to achieve that too. I know there will be some fans who will say we have no right to know all that and we should just trust DC. Whilst I accept that a business can’t be run in a goldfish bowl our club is a major part of city life - it means so much to so many people - and knowing how its future might pan out is not too much to ask I think.

There was no surprise in the retained list, with the one exception for me in the commitment to offer Kieran Lee a new contract which I had not anticipated, but SB is clearly right that if we can get him fully fit, firing and back into his perpetual motion mode we still have one of the best midfield players in the Championship on our hands. Hopefully a deal can be done that is acceptable to all parties. I suspect that Westwoood will have other suitors and we will we see if we can afford to pay what he might be seeking. Liam Palmer’s efforts deserve a new deal – the transformation in him from the dog days of JL’s regime to that under SB has been remarkable. There will be a mixed reaction to the list of released players: Pudil and Hooper were a key part of the 15/16 team and will always be remembered for that, Matias was always the nearly man, and the other three will always be synonymous with what started to go wrong after the May 2016  play-off final. The first 3 will go with our best wishes and some fondness, the others with just our best wishes.

The other interesting list will be the one that has on it the players that SB might like to move on to create the space for his re-structuring, if he can move them. We have to accept that there will probably be a very small number of players who SB would actively resist moving on, but who might move on anyway if good bids come in. On which list Jordan Rhodes sits is the subject of much speculation – we will see on that one. Anyway SB is clear that he needs a smaller, younger, fitter squad that is more imbued with the pace that it so badly lacks at the moment. Those of us who have watched the team regularly since May 2016 will echo all that.

Of course there have been developments on the other side of the city that have not given us a great deal of pleasure. I can accept and acknowledge that they have done a much better job than us in recent times and they now have a chance of their 15 minutes of fame! I will do my best to ignore them. The national media focus will now shift and also the commercial investment. South Yorkshire is not a powerful financial or economic area and any money available for investment from the region and beyond may gravitate to the 'other' side of the city in the way of sponsorship and advertising. This could have a negative effect on our club. Also the draw of PL teams may affect our 'walk up' sales considering it will be cheaper to watch PL football on the 'other' side. Our income may suffer. If 'they' stay in the Premier league for a while then young supporters will also be more prone to watch and follow 'them' which could have detrimental effect on our future support. I hope that our pricing and marketing strategy, both on the commercial and supporter sides have been considered in this regard – we need to get this right.  I am not one for being too pessimistic regarding Heeley’s promotion as there is a fair bit of water to flow under the South Stand Bridge yet, but we cannot be complacent about it either - a positive response from out club is needed. What initiatives would fans like to see the club take up to try to maintain our commercial and supporter attractiveness?

So, it’s going to be an interesting summer – potentially exciting and scary. Take the time to rebuild your reserves of emotional energy ready for August!

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