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Devoted duo plan to get department on line

TWO devoted fans are aiming to get Wrexham's commercial department back on an even keel.

TWO devoted fans are aiming to get Wrexham's commercial department back on an even keel.

With off-field activities at the club dominating the headlines - three commercial managers have left in just one year - "stability" is the key word as local businessman Dave Bennett and stalwart Phill Sadler take on the running of the club's commercial department.

Bennett, a fan of the Dragons since 1958 and chairman of the club's highly successful Revival Committee, answered a SOS call to join the board and become the commercial director.

"I was asked to become a director about eight years ago," said Bennett. "But I thought I could do a good job for the club outside the board at that time.

"But there was a lot of bad publicity for the club over the pre-season with the attempted takeover and everything else that happened. I could see us going at 100mph backwards so I decided to try and come in and steady the ship."

Within two days of becoming a director, in which time high-profile Christian Smith quit his commercial manager role, Bennett was asked to take charge of the department.

"His leaving was a blow because of the timing," added Bennett. "It was very disruptive coming as it did just before the season started, but myself and Phill knuckled down and in the end we managed to get the matchball, ground hoardings and most of the match sponsorships sorted out."

Yet there was no denying that the commercial side of the club had been rocked by yet another high-profile departure, with Allan Thomas, Cindy Toth and Smith all leaving the hot seat in quick succession.

"I don't think Cindy was given enough support," said Sadler, promotions manager at the club. "Being American she had different approaches and fans didn't respond to this.

"When Christian came in with a proven pedigree, you could see a lot of people willing to help him, support that Cindy just didn't get.

"Christian had a lot of ideas. Other clubs could have given him the money and staff to get them off the ground, but unfortunately here it is our job to make money and not spend it."

However not all the ideas from the Smith-era are dead and buried, with the new commercial team especially keen to open a town centre shop.

"We've got to generate more money from the commercial side," added Bennett. "We can't just sell a few items every now and again in the existing club shop, that doesn't generate the sort of money the club needs.

"I announced a plan at the last board meeting to open a town centre shop and they've shown interest as it's a very sensible idea."

With finances already stretched at Wrexham, opening another club shop would be a gamble, but with even Nationwide Conference teams having those sort of premises, the club may have to speculate to accumulate.

"That's the way forward, we have to branch out," said Sadler. "We have to take the risk, a lot of supporters ring up the shop asking where we are, what time we are open and so on. If the shop was on the other side of the ground this wouldn't be such a problem, but a lot of casual customers don't realise where we are located."

Bennett added: "I'd like to start up a museum as well. The club is 128 years old with a rich history. We have got plans to expand the shop here at the ground and incorporate a museum into that, but of course this is still in the early stages.

"It would be easier to position it in any town centre development."

But with money tight, Bennett and Sadler are aware that all these ideas will stand and fall by how many fans pay at the turnstiles.

"We're in a Catch-22 situation at the moment," said Bennett. "We need more people to come, to get more money, buy players and improve the football."

But Bennett also admits that Wrexham itself may never have the fanbase to make it a top club.

"Things have changed since the great teams of the 1970s," he added. "I think the most you could get into the ground would be 10,000, and even then that amount would only come if we were a successful First Division club. That's why we have to look at new avenues to increase funds."

Such ventures include a boosting of the corporate hospitality facilities that Bennett is overseeing, with a new restaurant in the Pryce Griffiths Stand called "Changing Rooms" set to open.

And both members of the new team are confident about the future of Wrexham FC.

"The off-the-field developments in the last few years has been phenomenal," said Bennett. "Now I think we've come to a crossroads, but it is possible to go forward again.

"It's going to take about a year for us to catch up with all the disasters over  the pre-season. Unfortunately fans want success sooner rather than later.

"The aim is to get into the First Division. I asked the managing director David Rhodes about six months ago if we were geared up for the first Division and he said "yes".

And Sadler added: "I've spoken to some fans who've said that Wrexham don't want to get promoted because of the increased wages it would bring.

"They don't realise the benefits from such outlets as television rights. If we went up companies would be eager to sponsor us and not the other way round. Wages are fixed by contracts anyway."

With both team members having long connections with the club - Sadler has been involved in the commercial department for eight years - the pair hope to guide the club forward.

"Hopefully what people will see now is two people who know the club and have its best interests at heart," said Sadler.


David Holmes
Chief News Reporter
David Norbury
Mike Fuller
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