‘We have to work smarter’ – Hartlepool United chief executive Mark Maguire on accepting National League position and defending unpopular decisions
In order to come back stronger, you need to take a step back and accept where you are – that is the message from Hartlepool United chief executive Mark Maguire.
With Pools currently midway through their third season in the National League, their aspirations are obviously to make a swift return to the Football League, though that’s no simple task.
Hartlepool are no doubt one of the ‘big clubs’ in the National League given their league heritage and fan base. But that doesn't get you anywhere at this level, if anything it makes things more difficult as the sense of expectation and being seen as a scalp as we’ve seen over the two and a half seasons the club has spent in the non-league system.
The perception that Hartlepool United are a Football League club in the National League is becoming something of a myth. The fact of the matter is they’ve finished 15th and 16th in the last two seasons and currently sit 14th in the table – they’re a National League side, a distinctly average one at that.
The same goes for Stockport County, Dagenham & Redbridge, Chesterfield and most of all, the National League’s longest serving side, Wrexham. Currently sitting in the relegation zone, The Dragons are facing a 13th straight season in non-league purgatory.
Many of these sides are being shown up by ‘smaller’ clubs and even part-time outfits with the likes of Woking currently challenging at the top having beaten Pools 2-1 last weekend.
A part-time hybrid model has previously been discussed at Hartlepool though they remain very much a full-time outfit for the time being as they look to turn things around under Dave Challinor.
On the pitch things are going fairly well as the side progressed through to the third round of the FA Cup and have bagged a six-figure sum by doing so.
Off the field, finances are being carefully scrutinised and cuts are being made to the backroom staff and other areas of the club.
Pools’ Project 25, was expected to be announced this month though we’ve heard no further update as of yet as focus seems to have turned elsewhere for the time being.
An FA Cup third round tie at Oxford United will no doubt provide a boost but difficult and perhaps unpopular decisions are being made by chairman Raj Singh as the focus remains on the bigger picture and the club’s long term goals.
“The FA Cup provides a great opportunity to earn serious additional income and test ourselves against a team doing well in League One,” Maguire said.
“The fact remains at our club that we are still facing up to the legacy of relegation to the National League and are still having to make tough decisions to make sure we are aligned to the level we are at.
“The difference between funding in the two levels is pretty much £1 million. Central funding, we receive is circa £80,000.
“We rely heavily on the chairman to fill the gap and it is essential that we recognise that in the way we operate and the plans we put in place for the future.
“Additional income from FA Cup progression or the occasional player transfer would, of course, be welcome, but you simply cannot build a business plan on it because it’s uncontrollable.
“Between the football side and commercial, admin side of the club we have to work smarter, harder and better to deliver value for money across the board.”
The club’s current mindset of cutting things back may have alarm bells ringing as it highlights its unsustainable business model which will inevitably lead to financial disarray if not sufficiently addressed.
In truth, as long as Hartlepool remain a non-league outfit, its long-term future will be uncertain as it’s a club whose foundations are propped up by a local businessman who can pull the plug at any time.
Efforts ultimately need to be made to make the club sustainable, promotion to the Football League goes a long way to doing this but it’s not something you can pin all your hopes on.
“However, there is a positive outlook,” Maguire continued.
“There are several examples of clubs who have used the opportunity of relegation to the National League to sort their messes out, prepare themselves for the future and go back up cleaner and better and ready to progress further.
“The likes of Lincoln City, Tranmere Rovers and Leyton Orient addressed what needed addressing and came back stronger. Macclesfield Town went up without having looked at what needed looking at and are amongst many club is League One and Two who live on a knife edge.”
‘Get us out of this tinpot league,’ is a phrase often spouted by fans of former Football League clubs, particularly on social media.
It’s this sort of attitude that is perhaps in need of some adjustment as this ‘tinpot league’ will soon swallow you whole if you don’t come to accept the level you’re at.
In his programme column, Maguire sees Pools’ current predicament as an opportunity to assess things and come back stronger as he stated: “The National League has become a place where clubs, if they are prepared to, take stock, address the issues and create a model which with some momentum on the football side, can genuinely have an aspiration to challenge in League Two and beyond.
“The tough bit, of course, is getting out of our league.”