It is a great honour to become the majority shareholder of Cambridge United, the club of my home town and the team I have supported all my life. I do so recognising that the club can never be "owned" by one person. It will always belong to its fans who are the lifeblood of Cambridge United. I am just its custodian, managing it with the Board. And I recognise my responsibilities both to the Club and also to you all.
Before I say more about our ambitions for the future and talk about some outstanding issues, first a little bit about me. Some of you will know me, others will not. I am not someone who particularly enjoys the spotlight but I appreciate as the new club owner some of you may want to know something about my background and also about my motivations for the Club.
I now live in the US and have done so for 35 years, but was born, brought up and educated in Cambridge. I have followed CUFC since I was a boy. My first memory is taking a bus to the Abbey back in the 60's and, although now overseas, I manage to watch many games online. In addition, I am back several times a year in England for business and family. Those who know me, know that Cambridge United has always been my passion. With the growth of my businesses over recent years it has meant I have been in the very fortunate position to be able to give something back to a club that has given me so much over so many years. I am continuing that investment that started 18 years ago and has put me as the largest shareholder for the last ten years.
Our fans have been pivotal to the club and its history. I would like to pay tribute to all supporters - past and present -, the Board, staff, sponsors and volunteers for all your fantastic work, support and commitment over recent years. It is no exaggeration to say we would not be at this point without the extraordinary team effort to turn the Club around.
It is in the nature of every football fan to be impatient for success. However it is important not to forget just how far we have come over the last decade. At one point we were a game away from relegation from the Conference. I remember it well. We are now firmly back in the Football League, a place where we can continue to grow. The Club is now arguably built on stronger foundations than it has ever been. The challenge now is obviously to build on this platform and to become stronger still whilst still being financially prudent.
My ambition for the Club is very simple. Three things. I want us to play at a higher level. I want us to play in a modern stadium here at the Abbey, which is our home. And I want Cambridge United to do even more for the city and the community that we are proud to serve.
Let me take each of those in turn.
I am first and foremost a fan. That means I want what every fan wants. I want Cambridge United to win football matches so we can play at a higher level. The Club has consolidated its position back in the football league. That is no small achievement given the trials and challenges of recent years in the Conference. But we all know we need to raise the ambition, but sensibly. We can't, and never should never take mid table stability for granted; equally we all want Cambridge United to be challenging for promotion- and then playing in League One and maybe even higher. Our aspirations must be higher.
Second a new stadium has to be at the heart of our future ambitions. We need to be playing in a more modern stadium with more modern facilities. We all love the Abbey. It is the Club's home and a stadium full of so many special memories but we need to modernise and improve it if we are to progress in the way we all want. A new stadium for Cambridge United has been a long running saga. We all know there have been numerous false dawns over the years so any comment about the future inevitably comes with a heavy dose of scepticism. I completely understand that. But I believe there are grounds now for cautious optimism. We are working hard to move plans forward to the next stage.
Which brings me to the third point - the community. Cambridge United is first and foremost a football club. But in recent years it has transformed into a genuine community asset in so many different ways. The Trust currently runs 18 different projects and its new strategy Gameplan 2020 will take that to 30 within three years. From disability sports and lunch clubs through to active science and mental health in schools, the Club is showing the true power of sport to drive social change in what is the most unequal city in the country. It is a fantastic achievement. We are ambitious to do much more and a new stadium, as an event venue and a meeting place is the key to unlocking our ability to do that.
So let me set out the first steps for the future off the pitch and deal with some unanswered questions:
1) I will be putting new investment into the Club but it is important to manage expectations. This does not mean a sudden windfall to the playing budget. We need to run the Club prudently and to break even over the income cycles of a football club. These funds provide additional financial security as we enter and plan for the next chapter of Cambridge United.
2) The interim Exec Board will become permanent following the recent internal review. Shaun Grady, Graham Daniels and Steve Chamberlain have all done a great job over recent weeks and I believe the leadership and more direct involvement of senior board members in the day to day running of the Club can be very positive for the future and make us stronger. The other members of the Board will still help in providing oversight and guidance.
3) Jez George has decided to step down from his position as CEO after almost 12 years at the Club during which time he has made a huge contribution. It is no exaggeration to say he has done everything literally apart from pulling on the shirt - from re-creating the Academy and youth development programme in 2006 and becoming First Team Manager during the most testing of times, through to Director of football when we were promoted back to the football league and then Chief Executive. I know I speak for all fans in saying a massive thank you. Over recent months Jez has been working tirelessly driving the new stadium project. He steps down from his full time role at the Club but will retain a role as an advisor on the potential new stadium and the Chinese Summer School programme he has initiated. There are no current plans to replace Jez as CEO. Jez has brought in some very talented members of staff at every level of the Club and we will see if and where we might need to support them further in the summer.
4) Shaun Grady has now started chairing a sub group of the Board on the Stadium Development Project. As I have stated earlier no one is making any predictions about the future but this is a further signal of our desire to do everything we can to give ourselves the best possible chance of success.
Finally I recognise this has been a period of some uncertainty as we have inevitably had to finalise some of these details. Thank you for patience and, most importantly, thank you again for all your support. Through the good times and the tougher times you have always got behind the team. I am acutely aware of how fortunate we are as a club to have such passionate and devoted fans. We don't take it for granted for a second. Inevitably some things in any organisation will always have to remain private but over the coming months I am keen to look at how we can further improve two way communication between the Club and the supporters.
Yours United in Endeavour,
Cambridge Fans United