It’s good-bye from me
I am writing these notes both for The Mighty Trin as well as a general message to everyone with an interest in Wakefield Trinity in what is a very significant week in our history. It is the week when the custodianship of our club passes to Matt Ellis and his family, and we are all excited to see where this new era will take us. I have got to know Matt well in recent months. I know he will give it his all and be a fantastic leader of our club.
As Matt takes over, I will be standing down as Chairman after just about five years in the role. As something comes to an end, it is only natural I think to reflect of how it began and has played out and so I hope you will indulge me in my sharing a few reflections on the past five, hectic and turbulent years.
I took on the Chairman role in November 2018; simply as a lifelong supporter who felt he could make a positive difference at a time that we were in some peril. Although the 2018 season saw us achieve our second successive fifth place in Super League, our future as a club was very bleak. Michael and Chris had brought a degree of financial stability to the club, but the facts were that we did not own our own ground and instead were “tenants” of a rather volatile landlord with whom we had no signed lease. The prospect of a “new stadium”, so often promised but never delivered under a succession of ownerships, was as remote as ever. We didn’t publicise this at the time, but in early 2019 there was a real threat of us being evicted from Belle Vue. Had that happened it is difficult to see how Wakefield Trinity could exist at all. Even as continuing tenants, we had received very much the final warning letter from the RFL that our stadium facilities were not up to Super League standards. No more dispensations would be given after 2019 without demonstrable progress on improvements.
It was clear to Michael and me that to have any long-term future we had to take back control of our own destiny. We rebuilt relationships with both Wakefield Council and the only realistic prospect of a developer making funds available. The purchase of the Belle Vue and adjacent site was ultimately followed by the raising of over £11m of funding to redevelop the stadium with new floodlights, pitch, and screen. The crumbling and increasingly unsafe North terrace was rebuilt and the flagship East stand and associated car parking works are almost complete.
The paragraph above, read quickly, sounds straightforward! It does not however begin to tell the story of 2020-22. All that has been achieved has been in the face of some significant headwinds. The first and most obvious was the COVID pandemic which beset all of us from March 2020 and which for some, sadly, the effects are still being felt today. Despite it being a dreadful period of history, within the club it brought out the very best of the Wakefield Trinity spirit and the sacrifice and hard work of our staff, very much including those of our Foundation will be a humbling and uplifting memory for many of us.
We kept the funding deal for the redevelopment alive and ultimately achieve planning permission in January 2022. We then had the challenge of fully costing our plans in the face of global economic downturn and rampant inflation fuelled by the conflict in Ukraine. The cost of all the raw materials we required – steel, cladding, and concrete – spiralled. It was very much not the ideal time to undertake a rebuild of a stadium – but for us it was the only time!
Throughout all this extended redevelopment phase, we continued to strive for success on the field. For Wakefield Trinity at Super League level, without a very rich benefactor or excellent facilities capable of generating substantial non match day revenues, this has always been a struggle. Throw in the significant reduction in central funding – £500,000 per annum less in 2023 than in 2019 – and that struggle becomes even greater. It is a huge disappointment that we could not survive again this year, just as the redevelopments have come to a completion.
Despite this massive disappointment however, I am proud of all we have achieved and am very positive about our future as a club – more than at any time in the past 50 years. The criteria for Super League membership in 2025 are, of course, based on the Grading measures and benchmarks recommended by IMG. Our initial score for the “dummy run” of 2023 will be public very shortly. I am confident that it will demonstrate that we are well placed, especially in the domains of Finance and Fandom. The benefits of our completed East stand will be reflected under Stadium in 2024 and we have a continuing discussion with the RFL as to how Catchment should be measured for us when the exercise is done for real next year.
I am also proud that we hand custodianship of the club over in a stable financial state, probably the first time in living memory that this has happened. Our new owners have both the financial clout, and, equally importantly, the desire to take the club to the next level. Our ambition has always been for a sustainable Super League club for the city of Wakefield. Having re-established secure roots at our historic home at Belle Vue and achieved financial stability, obtaining a Grade A licence and permanent Super League membership is firmly within our grasp.
All that we have achieved, taking the club from the brink of extinction to where we are today has been the result of a massive team effort. I would like to thank every player, coach, staff member, sponsor, supplier, advisor, board colleague and above all supporter for the part you have played in the journey. It has been the privilege of my life to lead this club as Chairman. An unexpected, challenging, exciting and above all uplifting experience.
See you at Belle Vue soon!