Gillingham co-chairman Paul Fisher is working with owner Paul Scally to find an investor that can help turn the club’s fortunes around.
Mr Scally announced his decision to step aside in early August but still has a big part to play as revealed by the co-chairman, who was brought in to take over day to day business at the club. Mr Fisher answered a handful of questions from fans during a pre-recorded Q&A session by the club on Wednesday and says he is working hard to make the club more profitable.
Mr Fisher said: “Paul (Scally) and I have almost weekly meetings with people who approach us to buy the club or get involved, it is an ongoing process. We do lots of due diligence, there are lots of time-wasters and lots of people who are worth a second and third meeting and we continue to talk to people who might invest, or if Paul decides to sell his interest, that is Paul’s decision. .”
In the meantime, the club has a conference and banqueting facility that Mr. Fisher is keen to maximize. The lead story on the club’s website on Wednesday is their ‘Winter Wonderland at Priestfield experience’ in December which they hope will bring in revenue.
“All we can do is work hard,” said Mr. Fisher. “I am not happy seeing Gillingham Football Club third from bottom in League 2. We probably have a better team than that position.
“We have a talented squad, I know under (manager) Neil Harris’ leadership and the coaches they are working extremely hard off the pitch to turn it around.
“As a club, there is lots to do, I don’t want to kid anyone that I can wave a magic wand over this football club, hopefully there are differences with the off field team, lots of feedback that the matchday experience is starting to improve but it is miles off where I want it to be.
“We have got other priorities, with quite limited resources. Number one for me is to build a commercial team, we have got some events planned and I hear what fans say, ‘why are we concentrating on that sort of stuff?’ Well my job here is to generate revenue for the club so we can reinvest that back into the team.
“I really want to turn the club around, we have to do better than we are doing as a club and a football team, we deserve better, rest assured I am working bloody hard to make sure that is the case.
“It is a challenging job. I think I can improve things, absolutely. We are a football club and everything is easier if the team is doing well on the pitch, so there is a certain responsibility on the players to do better for us.”
Fans were invited to put questions to Mr. Fisher on Wednesday through social media, with over 100 submitted.
Supporter Lee Clifton wrote: “Before lockdown, Gillingham used to have a club shop, a ticket office open everyday, program sellers inside the ground, and a half time penalty shoot-out.
“Because it is very unfortunate to say this, but the matchday experience at Priestfield Stadium for supporters is poor.”
Mr Fisher admitted he was surprised and disappointed to see the club’s ‘megastore’ at the ground had closed, with sales now online only throughout the week. It’s something he’s looking at.
Richard Gransden asked: “How are we trying to progress forward or are we just trying to stay afloat?”
Michael Joseph asked why the Gills have failed to attract investment when clubs from top to bottom of the football pyramid have managed it, a comment echoed by Dom Ballard, who tweeted: “Why can’t the club find investment/new ownership? What’s the plan? We’ve been relegated, we’re currently third bottom in League 2, on and off the pitch standards are poor, lack of basics done right. Harris stated this, you’ve also said things need to change. What’s changing?”
Many Gillingham fans have already abandoned the club, attendances drastically down from their glory days of the Championship. Many have gone elsewhere, or watch from afar. There were quite a few at Chatham Town on Tuesday night and the word relegation was top of the agenda. Could the Gills really drop out of the Football League? Lose on Saturday at Hartlepool and they will be in the League 2 relegation zone.
Aside from on-field issues, fans want to see improvements across the board. Wonky lines on the pitch and out-dated pictures on the online club shop have been among the topics for discussion this week.
Life-long Gills supporter Mr Fisher clearly wasn’t happy with the performance of the team last time out, in the defeat to Mansfield, describing it as “one of the poorest performances I have seen from the team.” He added: “The team accepts they underperformed. Everyone was down. We all expected more than we saw from the team on Saturday.”
There is a lot to do, on and off the field. He hopes they can build revenue over the next few months to allow them to bring in additions when the January transfer window opens and said they are already looking at free agents and trialists.
As far as the budget is concerned, he described it as “comparing favorably with other teams in the division” and that it’s in the “middle quarter of League 2.”
He said: “It is a challenge for us, those clubs that have benefactors and subsidize the business does enable them to have a higher playing budget. I would like to give Neil more money but would I do it at the expense of jeopardising the club? Absolutely not. I can’t do that. The long term future of this club is everything to me.”
Ticket promotions, particularly in schools to start with, and pricing strategies were also among the issues Mr Fisher is keen to focus on, while suggesting that this winter’s World Cup could be an opportunity for the club to attract more fans when the Premier League and Championship have a break during the tournament.
He said: “The World Cup is a big opportunity for EFL clubs. Not many people will be going to Qatar and many will have season tickets at clubs like West Ham, Chelsea and Tottenham, it is an opportunity that we can get them to come down and see what the experience is like at Gillingham. Hopefully the team will be scoring a few more goals and winning and we will see them again later in the season.”
There were many submitted questions not put to Mr Fisher but he says he is happy to engage and has already met fans in the club’s Factory bar and invited some into the boardroom. “I tend to walk the floor…come for a chat and tell me what you think,” he said, in a message to fans who are keen to hear more.