Interview with Bill Waterson by John Edwards, joint Press & Media Officer, April 2016,
following his donation of £10,000 to Altrincham FC
Q: How long have you been an Alty fan, Bill?
A: Since the Cheshire League days. My dad used to bring me in the late 60s when I was three or four years old. The first season I remember properly was the beginning of the Northern Premier League. I was here for the 8-1 win over Northwich, and I was at Everton, Tottenham and Anfield, those magical days when we used to go giantkilling. I moved to London in 1980 to go to university and have been down south ever since. I am now in a position to put some money into the club, and the timing feels right.
The club is being run much more as a community club. It has a much broader base in the community than it did in the Noel White/Peter Swales days, when it was run by businessmen to a large extent. Now it's a much broader base. We have a model which has successfully taken us up to the Conference National. We have got to look at the way we run things and perhaps tweak the way some of it is done.
It is evolution, rather than revolution. An injection of money from myself might help us achieve some of the objectives we are aiming for in terms of evolving into a club capable of staying in the top division and making our mark there.
Even if we go down this season, let's build a platform that enables us to come back up and be resilient in this division. We have been unlucky with injuries, but I think we now know much better what is required at this level. But there are just a few bits of the business model we need to overhaul. My love for this club is deep. I was at Bognor this season, when there were only a few of us there. OK, I live down south, but I was also there at Blyth last season for our FA Cup demise, so it's not just a question of making it to games that are local to me. I get to maybe 15-20 games a season, which is a lot of miles when your starting and finishing point is Beaconsfield.
The fact is, this club is very close to my heart, and I just want to make sure I do everything I can to provide support and help Altrincham achieve its objectives. It's easy to stand there and snipe. I want to actually make a difference by making a positive contribution, and the amount of money I have contributed is not insignificant for me. It's basically my entire annual bonus from work. I can spare it, so I just thought the club needs it more than me. We need to find people who can contribute similar amounts. The aim is to find a number of people who can contribute enough to make up the budget deficiencies we have when measured against some clubs who ought to be on a par with us. The Wokings of this world. Maybe not Eastleigh, because, like a number of clubs, they have had a lot of money injected. We want to be looking at being sustainable in positions nine to 15 in the Vanarama National League. We must try and attract the income needed to do that.
Q: Attracting investment has been a priority for a while. Do you feel you are someone who can make a difference?
A: What I would say first of all is this is a donation, not an investment, and what I have committed to Grahame Rowley and the board today is to look at making a donation of a similar size at or towards the beginning of next season. After that, to make it on a more regular basis. My great hope is it will prove a catalyst for getting others involved and making donations. Perhaps even investments, but donations primarily, to increase the income at this club and allow us to move forward. I had to dig deep to find this money, but having done it, I can see how I might be able to do the next one and the next one after that.
Q: So how exactly do you go about persuading others to provide financial assistance?
Q: I think it's a case of setting an example that shows people what a difference it can make to the club's fortunes and why it's worth doing. Also, if we can tweak the business model here, so people can see there are better opportunities for their money to make a difference, they are more likely to want to do it. This is not a club where there is a bottomless funnel of money coming in and huge amounts being spent.
But if we can demonstrate a clear link between money coming in and the consequences of that income stream, in terms of performances on the pitch, ground improvements or whatever, it might just be the very thing that convinces people to make a financial commitment.
Q: Presumably, people would expect some sort of return, in some guise or other, to make it worth their while?
A: For me, the return I will get on my money is an emotional one. I'm a fan. This is my club, my team. In this part of the world, there ought to be people capable of helping out financially and drawn to the bragging rights that would go with it. Say, for instance, we get Arsenal in the third round of the FA Cup, they can think to themselves: "My money has helped this happen, and here I am in the boardroom at The Emirates."
That to me is precisely how it worked in the 80s, a bunch of local businessmen piled money in and got their rewards by being able to take photos of themselves in boardrooms at venues like White Hart Lane. Reviving those third-round "days out" at the big clubs has got to be a major attraction for anyone.
I remember a press description of the Alty board being like "school boys let loose in a sweet shop" after the draw with Tottenham in '79. They were evidently "dancing round the Spurs board room taking photos of each other". In short what we invest in is the experience - the sheer euphoria attached to Alty over-achieving.
Equally, we are a much stronger community club now than we ever were back then, so we have the two layers working in parallel. The club has been moving forward over the past 10 years from when it was close to bankruptcy. I was here on a Tuesday night when we beat Worksop 2-1 with 10 men to go up into the Conference North first time around. There were 400 of us, but the gate was over 1,000 this Tuesday night, and that's with us in the bottom four, so huge progress has been made.
The club is advancing, but it's essential we all do what we can to help the team achieve the level it is capable of, based on the solid foundations we have. The kind of club we want to be over the next three to five years is mid-to-upper-mid-table in the Conference National. That is the trajectory we need to make sure we are on. There may not be that many lifelong supporters who can put this sort of money into the club, but how many people are there in this area who might quite like the idea of going to Wembley or a Premier League club in the FA Cup third round with Altrincham? Quite a few, I would think. We are not saying bankroll the club, please. We are saying make a donation or investment that can make a material difference.
Q: One of the returns might be a seat on the board, perhaps?
Q: Personally, I would love to be on the board, because I've got experience in business and of businesses, specifically ones that have grown, encountered teething problems that have slowed them down but have then changed what they are doing and started achieving growth again. I think Altrincham FC, as it stands, is exactly one of those balance points where what has worked in the past is no longer sufficient to work in the future, so a few tweaks need to be made to the business model.
I think I can bring some of that learning to the club. There are others who would automatically expect an investment to lead to a place on the board, but the money I am putting in is down to the fact I love the club. My experience is where I can add value. Bring the two together, particularly if I can continue to make further investments, and maybe that is where I can 'earn' a place on the board. I don't think anyone should expect by right simply to be welcomed with open arms, unless it's a really significant investment, and what would worry me then as a fan is that such an investment could lead to a loss of control.
We have been through a couple of situations in the past where that sort of 'takeover' has not been for the good of the club. The direction we want to be travelling in, looking at the immediate future, is establishing ourselves as major players in the National League. That trumps anything else, so any personal interests in doing an Eastleigh or Brackley should be discounted. It has to be sustainable. Speaking personally, I'm not saying: "Here I am, I'm going to do a Fleetwood for Altrincham."
No, my contribution is to help the club move towards achieving its aims. There is many a challenge facing the club as we move forward, and we need to be focused on each and every one.
Q: What sort of business are you involved in, Bill?
A: When it comes to business, I've never actually run one myself, though my brother Peter runs Watersons estate agents and advertises at the Gold Road end. As a family, I can remember our Alty connections going back to the 60s, though in my dad's case, it goes back further. He started coming to games when he was evacuated from Manchester during the war. His uncle Walter lived in Byrom Street and regularly took him to Moss Lane as well as cycling to places like Rhyl for away games, so there are generations of the family who grew up as Alty fans. #
I work for a major IT company, and I have been moderately successful working for them. It's not like I'm an internet billionaire. I recognise that the amount of money I'm contributing will make a bit of a difference, but we need to multiply that by a number that will provide a revenue stream capable of making a significant difference to the club's fortunes. I have been a shareholder for 10 years or so but a supporter for more like 50.
My brother isn't hugely into football, but he is a local businessman and he can see the local community involvement the club has, so there is a combination of factors that can attract people to get involved. It can be a way of tapping into your customer base, so there are a bunch of self-interest elements that can work in our favour.
Q: You presented a cheque to the chairman tonight - what sort of planning went into it?
A: I spoke to Grahame a few weeks ago when I realised I might be able to raise some money. It was partly because of the whole atmosphere shortly before Lee Sinnott's departure. There was so much negativity around the club, I just thought this might be a positive injection of good news. The intention was there, so I thought I'd tell him in advance, so he knew it was on its way. There was also a bit of "if I tell him, then I'm committed. I can't then back out." So this morning, it was a case of getting the cheque book out, though I actually had no idea where it was, because I haven't written a cheque for ages! I actually thought I had the money available a week or so earlier but then realised it was April 1st and wondered what Grahame might think if I phoned him and said, on April Fools Day, I was just writing him a cheque for a large amount of money! Anyway, it's done now. I've handed it over without any regrets. I'm happy to have done it.