“If you build it, they will come“.
The profound words of James Earl Jones’ character Terence Mann to Ray Kinsella – played by Kevin Costner – in the 1989 fantasy-drama sports film about an Iowa farmer who builds a baseball diamond on his land, in the hope of seeing the stars of yesteryear playing on it. Nearly 30 years on, I’m not sure what the opposite of this film would be titled, but it’s seemingly happening at North Ferriby United.
A little over 12 months after a debut season in the National League – a journey that ultimately ended in glorious failure – Ferriby are staring at the possibility of back-to-back relegation from National North. Ten games into the new campaign, Ferriby are rooted to the bottom of the table, with only one win and three goals to show for their efforts. To the loyal remaining ( few ) supporters it’s hardly a surprise. At the end of last season, a 25% budget cut was implemented ( from a figure of around £180,000 ), that went on top of a similar cut the season before.
No wonder the National League campaign was doomed before it had begun, competing with teams with budget’s 8-to-10 times that figure. A year later, and with only seven players remaining from the previous squad, the recruitment process has taken place in leagues lower than the clubs current Step 2 position.
Most of the acquisitions are young lads released from pro schemes, or players given an opportunity from teams at Step 4 and 5. Hardly the kind of policy to inspire confidence from fans. Indeed, many have used the term “managed decline” ahead of this years campaign. It’s a well known fact that current Chairman and Owner Steve Forster is looking for a way out. Having lost 6-figure sums for each of the last two campaigns, local media producer Forster – Son in Law of current Hull City owner Assem Allam – has not only put the club up for sale, but offered to give the club away before the start of this season, if any fans were interested in forming a consortium.
This plea has so far failed to generate a response, hardly a surprise given the clubs hardcore support is now hovering around the 200 mark.
So where has it all gone wrong ? Success arguably came too early into the current ownerships regime. Promotion from the Northern Premier League was followed by promotion to the National League, either side of an FA Trophy success at Wembley. It was quite the three years to be a Ferriby fan. Unprecedented for a club that had spent the majority of its life at Step 4 and 5 of the Non-league pyramid. A behind the scenes falling out after the Trophy success saw Forster take sole ownership of the club. With no real background in football – squash being his preferred sport – his tenure ship has been met with some scepticism from the terraces. Unable to, or not prepared to, put his hand in his pocket anymore, the 59 year old businessman has seemingly called time on his involvement.
Quite where this leaves Ferriby off the pitch is anyone’s guess. Only a brave man would bet on The Villagers retaining their position in the National North. Many people around the club see a relegation as inevitable, not an ideal perspective less than two months into the season. Deficiencies on the pitch are obvious, a goal scorer being a glaring one. Simple fact is, the budget just isn’t there for one at this level. Even attempts to increase income streams aren’t working. Just recently, an email went out via the Supporters Club asking for help filling available match sponsorship packages. Even the players sponsorship page is only half full. A general sense of gloom and inevitability has engulfed the entire club. Even match-day volunteers are at an all time low.
Perhaps a drop back into the NPL won’t be such a bad thing. A far more sustainable level, where the ground will need no further costly improvements, and crowds should just about cover costs. There the club can reinvent itself, promoting youngsters into the first team, something that has been sadly missing during the clubs unprecedented rise ( fans of the Premier League can perhaps see similarities here ! ).
It’s been an incredible ride on the banks of the River Humber. Perhaps now we need to buckle up for the fall from grace.