Chairman Kelvin Thomas has spoken of his frustration, devastation and anger at the Cobblers’ relegation from Sky Bet League One - and says he accepts full responsibility for the club suffering the drop.
In a wide-ranging interview with club media officer Gareth Willsher, Thomas has opened up about his annoyance at relegation, admitting Town ‘have been pretty rubbish on the pitch this season’
He also discusses and gives his reasoning for the timing of the sacking of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, speaks about the financial implications of Town dropping to league two, and revealing there are clauses in the players’ contracts meaning they will be taking pay-cuts.
An emotional Thomas also speaks about the fantastic support the club has received despite the on-field problems, and defended his and board’s decision to go into partnership with Chinese company 5USport last summer.
The chairman also hits out at the Borough Council for their stalling over the east stand development, declaring the delay has nothing to do with the club, which he says has ‘been treated very harshly’ by the council.
Thomas also outlines the excellent shape he feels the club is in on the whole, rubbishing talk of it being in some kind of turmoil, and what he thinks will be needed to ensure the Cobblers bounce back next season - declaring that the budget will be bigger than it was when Town won the league two title two years ago.
The Cobblers end their season on Saturday when they host Oldham Athletic at Sixfields, and Thomas also made it clear that once that game is finished, the focus will be on deciding on who the next manager is going to be.
Below is the full Q&A with Thomas.
Kelvin, what are your thoughts on Town’s relegation...
“Obviously we are all devastated. We are all feeling the same, the way the Walsall game went was a real kick in the teeth.
“The boys had a real go and at least went down fighting and we aren’t going down because of Saturday or even the few matches before that, it is because of the whole season.
“To concede a goal as we looked to go and win the game was frustrating, we went for it at Bury and it worked, we went for it at Walsall and it didn’t. We are all deeply frustrated and disappointed.”
How do you feel about the reaction of the club’s supporters?
“Our fans have been fantastic. The support at Walsall was first class and the support shown in recent games has been immense.
“I have to say thank you to the supporters, the response to me personally has been very positive and supportive.
“There is always a lot of frustration that spills out along with some anger, but the majority of supporters have been supportive and have stressed their support as we look to bounce back. As a club we can only say thank you to the supporters.”
What are your views on the season as a whole?
“We are feeling angry, frustrated and disappointed.
“It is a position we should not be in and the buck stops with me. I take responsibility for that.
“We have made decisions in the best interests of the club that haven’t worked out, and at times we were maybe distracted with the 5USport partnership.
“They came in and no one would have known that things would have changed there dramatically like they did.
“We brought them in and I still think that was a positive move because if this club is to compete at the higher end of league one or even higher then it does need that outside investment.
“There was nothing wrong with that decision, but the way things panned out was a frustration and I take responsibility for that as well.
“We brought Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink in early in the season and that was a popular decision.
“It didn’t work out how we planned or how Jimmy would have wanted it to.
“However, even as recently as February 10 we were coming away from Wimbledon having won 3-1 and looking strong and I would not have thought we would be in this position.
“Hindsight is the easiest thing to run a football club with and you live and die by the outcome of your decisions.
“The decision we made didn’t work out as we would have liked and we accept the responsibility for that.
“I have looked back and thought could I have changed things sooner?
“But we won three in a row and drew at Blackburn in January ,and then won at Wimbledon in the first half of February.
“Around that time, John-Joe O’Toole was the league one player of the month and we were looking good.
“After Wimbledon, we played well at Scunthorpe and against Oxford and again at Bristol Rovers.
“The Rotherham loss was poor but we bounced back well against Shrewsbury on March 20, and everyone was buzzing with performance but then we fell away and lost four games in a row and we made the change.
“All decisions were made with the facts as they were at the time and in the best interests of the club. They didn’t work out and I do take responsibility.”
You will be looking to bounce back with a successful season in league two?
“It is still very raw, but we have had some early discussions and we are looking at a budget next season that will be higher than the budget we had in the championship season a couple of years ago.
“We have that experience as a club and as a board of winning league two, and we have that to call on. We know what league two is about, we know the levels we need to be at.
“Contractually the wages of the players will reduce following relegation which will help, and we will be looking to bounce back.”
How does relegation affect the players’ contracts?
“In terms of contracts, we ensure we protect the club. There are bonuses for the players for getting promoted, and there are wage reductions for getting relegated.
“It is not the ridiculous financial impact it could be had we not got those clauses.
“There will of course be player movement this summer, and we need to ensure we have a squad together ready for bouncing back next season.
“I always allow my managers to manage and make the decisions, but personally I feel we need more characters and more leaders on the pitch.
“We have the basis of a good squad here, but we need to prove that on the pitch.
“We need to start moving forward as soon as we can to make sure the squad is ready.”
What is the short-term plan for the club?
“In the real short term we have to try and win the Oldham game to finish as strongly as we can.
“The main discussion is then around the manager position.
“I think Dean Austin has conducted himself really well, but we have an agreement that we wouldn’t talk about things until after the end of the season.
“I think the supporters have seen that Dean and the players have given their all in the last few games but we won’t rush in to anything.”
And the medium term plan?
“The short to medium term plan is being as competitive as we can be on the pitch, winning games of football, challenging for promotion.
“Our longer term aim is to compete at the highest level possible and if that requires extra, outside investment then we will consider that as we go along.
“Then there is of course finishing the east stand.”
Yes, what is the latest on the east stand redevelopment?
“The frustration about the east stand is up there with the frustration over the relegation.
“The stick that we get over the East Stand is deeply frustrating, it is just plain wrong.
“We are not responsible for the delays and we will talk about this more and more over the summer.
“It is something I will come out strongly about in the coming months. We feel quite strongly that we have been treated very harshly by the council and I am happy to say that.
“What we can say is backed up by facts.
“We have shown the Trust the lack of communication from the Council, and I know the Trust are trying to get a response out of the Council.
“The reality is that we have hit a brick wall. People say it is a land grab, but we control all of the land. That’s not the issue.
“It has been agreed that the council need to regularise these leases, that is in writing and it is David Bower and myself, as owners of CDNL, giving the football club land back.
“It does get me frustrated because we take unfair criticism on this and I invite the Council to say anything different.
“We will continue to work hard on this, we have worked quietly to try and resolve the huge number of issues regarding the stand and we have made progress, but we have come up against an immoveable force at times - there is no information coming back to us.
“There was a public email I sent to the Council in September and I still haven’t had a response. If the Council can say anything different then I invite them to.
“If the Borough Council can say their lawyers have responded to ours since December then fantastic, show us as we must have missed it.
“The latest is we are still in the same position, we are waiting on the lease confirmation to come back to us from the Council.”
So, what is the overall state of the Cobblers?
“We have been pretty rubbish on the pitch this season. No one can say any different and I accept responsibility for that.
“When relegation happens, you see people use it as a chance to bash the club and get out their frustrations.
“People might say the club is in turmoil, but to me that is rubbish.
“You look at all the work that is going on in the background.
“Everyone at the club is affected by relegation and they are hard working staff giving their all who are taking things forward.
“Commercial revenues are above budget in a poor year on the pitch, the education centre is expanding, the academy is going from strength to strength, Mustafa was recently the EFL Supporter of the Year, the disability squad have had a great season, the youth team could win their league, the Ladies team won the County Cup, the huge amount of community work we do and the Family Excellence Award.
“These things are not easy to achieve, and we are not a club going down in turmoil.
“We are a club that has had a bad season on the pitch and I take responsibility for that.
“We have to change that and look at that but we are not going to get down on the club being a mess - it isn’t.
“It is stable and we are proud of much of what we do, we have to get the bit everyone sees, the first team, right.
“Two years ago we all enjoyed a much better end to the season, but four years ago this club was close to going out of the Football League.
“There has been worse times, there will be better times ahead.
“We are hurt and angry but we have a sound base to bounce back from.”