SPECIAL FEATURECraig Salmon talks to Neil Reynolds and Fran Doyle about the challenges facing Bamber Bridge FC

Bamber Bridge assistant boss Neil Reynolds and chairman Fran Doyle are confident that the great spirit spanning right through the camp will help pull the club out of its current financial predicament.

By The Newsroom
Saturday, 13th February 2016, 9:30 am
Fran Doyle, Neil Crowe and George Halliwell
Fran Doyle, Neil Crowe and George Halliwell

Doyle this week announced that the club is suffering from an extreme cash flow problem – a direct consequence of the heavy rains which have battered the UK this winter.

The North West of England has been hit worst by the bad weather, which has caused widespread flooding across Lancashire in recent months.

Brig’s home ground – the Sir Tom Finney Stadium – did not escape the attentions of mother nature, with the volume of rain causing a drain at the ground to collapse.

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Neil Reynolds

That has led to extensive damage to part of the pitch at Irongate – thus forcing a number of Brig’s home games over the last three months or so to be postponed.

Since their home match against Spennymoor Town on November 21 – 11 weeks ago – Brig have played just three times in front of their own supporters.

In 2016, they have played only once at home – a 5-0 win over Harrogate Railway Athletic in the NPL First Division North last week – and today they are hoping their league clash against Witton Albion at the Sir Tom Finney Stadium will not fall foul of the weather once more.

Without the much-needed revenue through gate receipts and matchday sales, the club is struggling to make ends meet and the chairman revealed that the players will not be getting paid for the foreseeable future.

Neil Reynolds

Doyle was at pains to stress that the long-term future of the club is not under threat and while the club still has some legacy debts and bills to service, it is hoped that once the remaining 12 home league games are completed, the club’s monetary worries will have alleviated.

Many clubs in non-league are suffering at the moment in a similar fashion, and assistant boss Reynolds admitted a few bumper 500-plus attendances between now and the end of the season will go a long way to safeguarding Brig’s future.

“It would be great if we could get few more people to come down to watch us,” said Reynolds.

“Preston are away at Wolves this weekend, so if a few North End fans not going to Molineux fancy watching some football, then it would be great.

“It’s not that we are getting the begging bowl out, but if the local people can come down and support the club – any help would be greatly appreciated.”

The main issue the club is having is that they need to carry out urgent repairs on the pitch, but currently do not have the funds to pay for the work.

“The problem we have at the moment is part of the pitch is very boggy and that is because of the drain collapsing,” said Doyle.

“There are many parts of the pitch which are perfectly playable – it’s just this boggy bit, which we can’t do anything about at the moment.”

The club has received a visit from a Football Association groundsman, who gave his opinion on the state of the pitch, but it’s a catch-22 situation for the club.

“We can’t start work on the pitch because there’s no revenue coming in,” said Doyle.

“But without the work being done, we can’t get the games on which would give us revenue.

“If there are any donations which could help us pay for that work, it would be a big help.

“We have just got to try to find the money.”

Ground staff and several volunteers have been working hard behind the scenes this week in a bid to try to get the pitch ready for this weekend, but as Doyle pointed out: “We are in the lap of the Gods.”

What will be for certain is that there will be a group of players all determined to represent Brig today.

The players were told about the current state of affairs in a team meeting with Reynolds and manager Neil Crowe after training on Tuesday night.

Reynolds is convinced that all of the squad will stick together despite the temporary stop on their remuneration.

“We had the meeting and all the players said they will stay and are prepared to take a hit on the money,” said Reynolds, who may well be on the subs bench this afternoon..

“I hope this setback does not see anybody leave the club and I don’t think it will.

“Everybody wants to stick it out and a lot of the players – people like Ally Waddecar, Chris Marlow, Matt Lawlor – they were all here three years ago when the club was in a similar position and our budget got drastically reduced.

“The players are not playing for Bamber Bridge for the money anyway.

“They are here because of the great team spirit and camaraderie.”

Doyle added: “The squad is a great bunch of lads.

“George Halliwell, who is the club’s director of football – he’s been at the club many years – and he says it’s the best squad of players the club has ever had.

“They are a really good bunch, there’s no cliques or little groups.

“It’s certainly all for one and one for all.

“That’s a great testament to the management team of Crowey and Reno.

“They have been able to build this great team spirit.

“There’s probably three or four of the squad – maybe more – who could go elsewhere and get more money.

“Unfortunately, we just haven’t got the money to spend at the minute and the banks won’t help us.

“But we are having to cut our cloth accordingly.

“The different clubs I have spoken to in football are all saying the same.

“You can’t go on paying out on players, if you have not got the cash.”

After two great seasons previously when the club agonisingly missed out on promotion to the NPL Premier Division after losing twice in the play-off final, the club was confident of finally going one better this term.

The budget was slightly increased at the start of the season. Crowe and Reynolds were able to attract the calibre of former Football League stars such as Brett Ormerod, Paul McKenna, Jon Macken and Jamie Milligan.

Ormerod and McKenna have since decided to end their careers in the professional and semi-pro game, but Milligan has become an integral member of the team.

On the face of it, the quartet look expensive outlays but the truth is all three joined for very little money.

“This is the unbelievable thing,” said Reynolds.

“The likes of McKenna, Macken, Ormerod – they were not even touching anywhere near three figures.

“They were basically just getting expenses.

“They came to Bamber Bridge because of who they know and what they had heard.

“They just wanted to enjoy a game of football – they didn’t come for the money.

“Jamie Milligan was maybe on a few hundred pounds a week at Harrogate Town a couple of years ago – he’s not seeing a quarter of that at Bamber Bridge.

“Brett came from Padiham, he told us what he was earning there and he was not getting half of that.

“It was not financially driven – Brett just wanted to come and enjoy it and have another crack at it.”

Reynolds is sure that other clubs will likely attempt to cherry-pick some of Brig’s better players, but he believes the club will be able to repel any subsequent bids .

In fact, he believes the news of the last week could create a siege mentality in the dressing room which could help propel them into the play-offs for a third successive season.

“It would not surprise me if this really spurs the lads on and we get a big reaction,” said Reynolds.

“We in good form, we’ve won five out of our last six and the game we lost against Farsley, we should have got something out of.

“We beat Harrogate 5-0 in our last match and we could have doubled that.

“It was probably our best performance of the season.”

Operating with a small 16-man squad, it is unlikely Brig will be able to bolster their squad between now and the end of the season.

However, they have the advantage of tapping into their academy set-up, which is run in conjunction with Preston’s College.

Although the youngsters are currently enjoying a trip to Phoenix, Arizona, in the USA, Reynolds and Crowe are excited about the academy, which is already bearing fruit for the club since their partnership with the college formed a couple of years ago.

A number of youngsters have already graduated into the first-team picture, with the most notable being Regan Linney, who left the college in the summer

The 18-year-old striker signed a contract at Irongate last season and this week has been on trial at Championship high-flyers Burnley.

“Hopefully Regan’s done well at Burnley and we can get a fee of £50,000 to £100,000 for him,” Reynolds said with a laugh.

“But the kid’s got talent and it’s only going to be a matter of time before somebody snaps him up.

“Regan’s got everything for a striker. He’s six foot tall, he’s left footed, right footed.

“He’s quick on his feet, good in the air – he’s got no fear.

“I remember the play-off semi-final, we put him on and he scored. He just loves playing football.

“There’s things he needs to improve, but he’s got a real chance.”