9:00am Thursday 31st January 2013
By Mike Crowther
Gary Fawcett is determined to match Cougars’ progress on the pitch with financial stability off it.
The Keighley chairman is looking forward to his fourth season at the helm, having taken on his position after the club had been docked nine points for going into administration at the end of 2009.
It was not the first time the club have suffered financial strife and he is determined not to see them overstretch themselves again.
Fawcett said: “You need to treat the club as any other business and it needs to be able to stand on its own feet. As a result, you have to cut your cloth accordingly to ensure sustainability.
“Any club can’t keep going in and out of administration. It’s not been easy over the last three years but we have made significant progress.
“This season’s playing budget is less than last year but, even given these constraints, Paul March has got a quality squad together which will, I feel, achieve much this coming season.”
The Cougars have tried to save money by keeping their running costs as low as possible.
Fawcett said: “We have Super League aspirations but in a way where the club can pay its way.
“The support staff is virtually non-existent. There is just me, Neil (Cullen) and Pete (Spencer) as directors, two ladies who run the function suite, Paul and Jeremy Crowther (on the playing side) and a few part-time staff and volunteers who run the club.
“This is a very thin team to run a club the size of the Cougars but we all muck in to help us progress.
“Thankfully there are two charities based down at Cougar Park, Cougars Community Foundation and Sporting Chance, and they help a great deal in many aspects as well – even answering the phone on behalf of the club when required.”
Part of Cougars’ long-term strategy is to build a young fan base, evidenced by their new venture in which they have pledged to distribute up to 20,000 free junior season tickets to local schools for the next six years.
Fawcett, along with some volunteers and the Cougars Foundation, has been delivering batches and said: “We’ve had a really positive reaction. It’s something that has never been done.
"If you are 16 and under you can get in free to all league games at the Cougars with the ticket and, on top of that, you qualify to get into all away league matches as part of the agreement with the RFL and Championship clubs. That’s 26 games for nothing!”
Youngsters can also subscribe to a season ticket online and Fawcett revealed that five times the usual number had already signed up.
He also insisted that the scheme was largely ‘cost-neutral’ as only a small number of youngsters had previously paid for admission.
Cougars are hoping the ticket offer can help swell their average home crowd figure from 1,100 to above 2,000 this season. However, Fawcett admitted that adult season tickets had been slower than hoped for.
He said: “I think people have been putting the decision off until pay day at the end of the month. However, we have had a recent surge, with more being bought in the last two or three days than in the last three weeks.
“We have sold over 100 but are hoping to sell between 250 and 300.”
Having finished sixth in their first season back in the Championship, Cougars are hoping to build on that progress, with Fawcett eying a top-four finish He believes March, a former player-coach at York City Knights and Hunslet, is the ideal man to build on the work done by predecessor Jason Demetriou, who returned to Australia at the end of last season.
He said: “Paul has been a coach in the championship and a player so he doesn’t have to go through a learning curve.
“He also does a lot outside of his role as coach to support the club. For example, he has been dealing with the logistics of getting the replica shirts and merchandise in. He’s not afraid to roll his sleeves up.”
And Fawcett is excited by the style of play March is keen to adopt as Cougars open their campaign at Batley on Sunday.
He said: “We look good going forward. I think the fans are going to see some exciting matches.
“JD, for very good reason, was very keen on defence in our first year in the Championship.
“Paul wants to maintain that defensive legacy and then try to exploit this foundation by putting emphasis on going forward.”
The chairman is pleased with the personnel that March has brought in, as well as those he has kept on board.
“Scott Law is a consistent prop and it’s great to see him back from Australia and playing for the Cougars again. We’ve brought in some good new talent – the likes of Paul White on the wing and Sean Hesketh from Halifax in the forwards.
“Scott Leatherbarrow has impressed in pre-season, he looks as if he has a very good boot on him, while we’ve retained experience with players such as Andy Shickell, Danny Jones, Buster and Olly Pursglove.”
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