September 12, 2023

John Minards Interview with James O’Brien

Wakefield Trinity Chairman John Minards recently sat down with James O’Brien for The Yorkshire Post. Here is the interview in full:

Wakefield are not quite down yet but what would the immediate cost of relegation be in a monetary sense?

You’re right, it is still alive. We’re not talking as if we’re down but you have to be realistic about the fact four results need to go in our favour for us to survive.
We are looking at what the consequences are. The short answer is we’re not quite sure because nobody knows what their central distribution is going to be next year, either in Super League or the Championship.
We are aware there’s a big reduction. I’m assuming it’s the thick end of a million pounds’ difference but we don’t know yet. I’m chatting to Tony (Sutton) and Rob Graham this week to see how close we can get to knowing what it might be.
There’s doubtless going to be a knock-on effect on crowds, particularly away followings looking at the crowds Championship teams get.

We’re hoping very much that our fans stay with us. We think the vast majority will because that’s what they do and they always have.
We have some very loyal and hardcore fans at Wakefield Trinity. We’re hoping and expecting that they’ll stay with us.
I’ll be buying my season ticket as I always do so I’ll be there.

Is the takeover still on course? Is it dependent on Wakefield still being a Super League club?
It does remain under discussion. I’ve got meetings again this week with Matt Ellis.
There are two sides to this and the timing and the exact terms are still being debated by both sides.
At our end, myself and Michael (Carter), we’re absolutely not standing in the way of it but the timing is not entirely within our control.
There are no alarm bells on that at all. We’ve not heard from the other side that it’s dependent upon staying in Super League.
Matt has been very close to what’s been going on. We’ve had him as a member of our advisory board for the last few months so he’s been intimately involved in what’s been happening on the field as well as the off-field finances.

You’ve had a while to absorb the IMG grading criteria – are you optimistic you will return to Super League in 2025 should the worst happen?
That’s the message. The difficulty with it is that it’s very detailed and it’s not easily explained to anybody because there are so many moving parts across the five domains.
But people should be rest assured I’ve been intimately involved in working through what all that means and where we stand.
The ultimate objective is to get to 15 points and establish a permanent place in Super League, subject to retaining 15 points. I do believe that’s attainable for our club but there are many variables on that.
In the short term, it seems like what we’ll need to be is somewhere close to 15 in order to be one of the better category B clubs. Again, that’s something I’m optimistic about.
Looking at the Stadium in particular, with the plans that are firmly in place and will conclude, we will be as close to full marks as we could possibly be. To have full marks, you’d have to have 100 per cent utilisation – in other words selling out every week. Nobody is going to do that no matter what their capacity is.
The difference between having a stadium that is Super League compliant, which we will bi, and one that is not is worth one whole IMG point. To put that in context, the difference between sixth and seventh or 14th and 15th is 0.1111 so therefore having the stadium up to the right level is worth about nine league positions in the currency of IMG points.
What we set out to do five years ago by turning Belle Vue into something that was Super League compliant – which it absolutely was not – is going to pay dividends in terms of the points we’re going to be getting under IMG grading.
When we set out it was simply to meet minimum standards which we were falling short of. The world has moved on and we’re in a different place but actually the same principles apply that you’ve got to have something that is up to standard.
In addition to the basic facilities, you’ve got to have security and primacy of tenure which we have now, having bought the stadium. We didn’t have that in 2019 when we were a tenant without a lease!
There’s also a lot to be positive about in the Finance domain. We’ve looked at the results that were posted by all clubs for the 2022 season. We posted a loss before the contribution to fund the stadium but – from what I’ve seen – it was a lower loss than anybody bar one other club.
It was about £600,000. This year will be a loss again but it won’t be of the same magnitude.
The loss that we post has always been one that is manageable in cash terms, and our balance sheet is in a much stronger position than it has ever been and there are points for all these things.

The challenge for us now is to monetise the new stadium and to make money on non-matchdays which contributes to non-centralised revenue. There are points for having higher non-centralised revenue and for your non-central revenue being a higher proportion of the total.
Once the new facilities are finished – and they’re almost finished – then we have to monetise those and attract business into them, which we have plans to do.
So, Finance and Stadium, I think we’re in a very good place. I’m having a conversation about Catchment area. Our Community Foundation is successfully.
In the Fandom domain, we’re also doing pretty well. We’d obviously always like bigger crowds but our social media engagement is pretty strong.
That just leaves Performance on the field which is all pretty clear. It’s a rolling average of the last three years. This year is looking like 12th and the previous two years were 10th. That’s just factual.
Looking forward to 2024, there is the point that if you finish top of the Championship, win the Grand Final and 1895 Cup as well, you would receive more points in that year than the team finishing 11th or 12th in Super League.
That will clearly be another area of focus so whilst there isn’t automatic promotion to the team that does that, it gets some good points that would hopefully put it in a good place.
If we don’t get to grade A at 15 points in time for 2025, we’ve got to be one of the better Bs. That is obviously a relative game and I’m not aware of where every other club is but I know where I think we are – and there is everything to play for, on and off the field.

Finishing bottom in the final year of automatic promotion and relegation could be seen as quite daunting but is relegation actually not as damaging as it usually would be? Is there a scenario where you could finish fourth, get knocked out in the semis next year and still come back up?
There is absolutely that scenario. It would depend on how you were performing in the other categories and how everyone else did as well.
In the old days up until now, the team that got relegated knew they needed to win the Championship Grand Final. That was the only way of getting back in, whereas now the way of getting back in is across a whole range of things that you can affect – not just on field.
Whilst it’s absolutely not where we want to be, it’s a better year to finish bottom. It’s possible the team that finishes 10th or 11th next year could end up not in Super League in 2025 because of the points system.
Not finishing bottom also won’t necessarily be enough to preserve your place next year. That’s looking at it through the other end of the telescope.
It is very complicated.


In a strange way, being in a situation where it’s not all about “on the field” might play in our favours. By that I mean that everyone associated with the club can really make a difference. By buying season tickets, merchandise, holding events at the stadium, sponsorship, supporting the lottery and the Foundation etc our supporters can make a direct contribution to us achieving Super League status – and on a permanent basis. That is the  challenge for all of us who care about the club.

On to this season, has it been a bit of a slow death given it’s looked likely from the early stages?
I wouldn’t describe it as a slow death at all. We had a period a few weeks ago when we won three out of four. Up to the point of the Castleford game, we were absolutely toe to toe with Castleford. Had we won that game – and I don’t want to get into ifs and buts because clearly we didn’t – we would have been ahead of them.
It was absolutely game on at that point. It was still game on last Friday because if we’d won and they’d lost, we probably would have been ahead of them on points difference.
It wasn’t inevitable and still isn’t inevitable today, even if it is looking very likely.
The way we played against Warrington and Salford, and the way we came back against Leeds was remarkable. We played some quality rugby on those days but just haven’t repeated that in subsequent games, which is very disappointing.

There have been a lot of mid-season signings – is that an acceptance that the squad was ill-equipped at the start of the year?
What I said at the start of the season was that, as ever, funds were tight and we weren’t able to spend up to the salary cap, as we haven’t done in any of the previous years I can remember. We spent what we believed we could afford to spend without putting the financial stability of the club in jeopardy.
The philosophy under Michael’s tenure has been that you spend what you can afford to spend. We did that this year and put a squad together.
What we then said was that if we got a decent run with injuries – because we knew the squad was thinner – we would be competitive. We said that, believed it and I still believe it, if that had been the case.
I don’t want to give a tirade of excuses but do want to say that we’ve had three starts out of Kelepi Tanginoa this season. We had Lewis Murphy for little over two games and Max Jowitt missed the best part of the first 12 weeks of the season.
I could go on. There have been some key players for us that have had substantial injuries. Reece Lyne and Samisoni Langi would be two others one and Josh Bowden was missing for around the same time as Max up front.
Even when we brought players in, we got Luke Gale and he immediately picked up an injury in training. These things just happen.
The fact that Kelepi has had three distinctly different injuries this season is almost unbelievable, when he’s clearly one of our star performers and key players.
It’s not a matter of making excuses and I know other teams have had injuries too, but other teams haven’t had as many and that’s just how it goes in sport.
We started the season with a squad that was thinner than others and didn’t get a good run with injuries, which is why we had to bring in players mid-season.
We took action mid-season. Luke Gale came in. Mash (Mark Applegarth) had kept in touch with big Dave (Fifita) and that dialogue resulted in Dave saying he really wanted to come over.
We signed a couple of lads from France and they’ve both picked up injuries as well as a suspension. We’ve taken Isaac Shaw and Jack Croft back in so we’ve taken a lot of action to bring players in. Josh Griffin is obviously a major signing for us as well.

It’s tremendously disappointing and absolutely not how we wanted it to go – but that is sport.

Were the mid-season arrivals due to a cash injection?
It was a couple of things. It was partly due to the financial support from Matt Ellis and his company, DIY Kitchens who came on board as a major sponsor.
It’s also easier financially to make moves mid-season because in simple terms you’re only paying people for the second half of the season. If you’re signing someone in October, you have to pay them for the pre-season when you’re not playing.
It’s often the way that clubs are able to make signings mid-season. When people say: ‘Why didn’t you make that signing at the beginning of the season?’ The answer is because it would have cost us twice as much – any money we didn’t have.
We’ve had some great support from DIY Kitchens and others. We’ve supported it ourselves to an extent as well. We’ve found ways of generating the cash mid-season because some players have left as well.


On the retentions for 2024, can you confirm there are no relegation clauses?

There are a bunch of players who have signed a contract on either basis and so they will be with us if we are in the Championship, unless both parties decided they’d had second thoughts.

If you’re on a Super League only contract, they have the right to walk away and we have the right to walk them away.

We’re comfortable we’ve got a core who will be big players for us next season. You never quite know until you’re there and there’s a bit of recruitment work still to do.

If you had your time again, would you have appointed a more experienced coach?
No I don’t think we would have. There’s bound to be criticism out there because it’s always on the coach first but I don’t believe that this year’s failings have been down to poor coaching. I believe Mark Applegarth is a good coach. I’ve also been very impressed with his strength of character in what has been a very difficult situation. He was inexperienced but he’s not now!

I say all that as somebody who has been close to what’s been going on, as opposed to just watching it on a matchday. I’ve been at training, inside the dressing room and close to the players as well. I don’t think the players would say that they’d been badly coached either.

Can you say now whether Mark Applegarth will remain in charge next year?
That decision will come after the end of the season. We’re not reviewing that at this stage.

Would you change anything about the approach to 2023?
I would have liked more money to spend! We have always built a squad to the budget available. Sure, with the benefit of hindsight we might have gone for player A rather than player B having seen how the season panned out – but that is easy to say now. We were certainly caught short in the fullback/halfback spine positions when Max went down after one game – and then Lee Gaskell a week or two later.


People don’t always like to hear it but it does come down to money when building a squad. I don’t think we could have with the resources we had. In recent years one of the things that has hit all clubs is the severe reduction in the central distribution. In 2019, we were receiving about £2million in central distribution, largely from the broadcast deal and other sponsorship. This year it was just over £1.5m.
When your total turnover is £4m or just under, to lose half a million is quite significant. If you are a club with facilities that enable you to generate income off field, or have a benefactor in a position to write a personal cheque for half a million pounds it is less of a problem. We have had neither.


Will you stay on following the completion of the takeover?

I don’t know, to be honest. That isn’t the important part of the discussions. I believe there are projects I’m deeply involved in such as completing the stadium that it makes sense for me to see through.

I came into this role five years ago with a view to thinking I could make a difference to the off-field activity and negotiate a position where we did finally get the stadium redeveloped – after 50 years of false dawns and broken promises. That project was delayed by Covid – as the whole world was for a couple of years – so it’s taken longer than it might have but we’re nearly there with it now and I want to see that through.
I’d love to also see us through to that position of achieving 15 points, a Grade A licence, and a permanent place in Super League. That must be strategic objective of the club and will be whatever the ownership is.

I will be do everything and anything I’m asked to do and can do to make sure that happens, in this role or any other.

So the appetite is still as strong despite the club’s struggles on the field this year?
I’ve been a supporter of the club for 50 years – it’s in my blood, so nothing changes in my desire to help it move forward. I will be there every week I possibly can, in whatever capacity I can, to make the most difference. Absolutely I have the appetite!