New CEO on the mistakes of the past, winning back fans and raising standards
Chesterfield's new CEO believes the Spireites still have the potential to become, in time, a Championship club.
Michael Dunford wants to put smiles back on the faces of those in both the stands and the offices at the Proact.
But he’s warned that he’s also come to raise professional standards and anyone not doing their job will find themselves heading for the door.
Speaking on his second day at Chesterfield, the former Everton, Birmingham, Derby County and Crawley administrator said he was delighted to be working at a club again.
“We sold Crawley in March 2016 but I’ve stayed connected, I’m a trustee of the Football League pension scheme, I’ve done some work for the FA as well,” he said.
“But club football really gives me the buzz and there’s no substitute for that.
“I’m lucky, I’ve got a chance to be in a job I think I’m pretty good at, I think my reputation is intact still and I’m looking forward to it.”
Dunford’s initial assessment of the club has been positive, on the whole, although he admits he would like the League Two table flipped upside down.
He’s ready to work with new manager Jack Lester to try and transform the club’s fortunes.
“It’s quite similar in some respects to when I went to Everton,” he said.
“My first day there, November 1994, I went into the office and the manager Mike Walker walked in and introduced himself as the ex manager - that’s after 15 minutes.
“Joe Royle was appointed on the Thursday and Everton were second from bottom, had just avoided relegation with that memorable game against Wimbledon the season before.
“On the pitch it wasn’t good, Joe came in, the whole place took off and we won the FA Cup that year.
“I’m not suggesting Chesterfield are going to win the FA Cup but there are a lot of similarities, new management and that type of thing.
“Jack is my 29th manager, I’ve worked with Cloughy, Dave McKay, Tommy Doherty, Peter Taylor, Tony Pulis, Ian Holloway, Joe Royle, Howard Kendall, Arthur Cox.
“If the positivity that Jack and everyone want to create works, I’m certain we’ll see fortunes turning around.
“We have to support Jack.”
Dunford says he’s been brought in to oversee all departments and he will report to company secretary Ashley Carson and the rest of the board.
Issues like player recruitment will be a ‘team effort,’ but he’ll be heavily involved.
“I’m not really interested in which players he wants to bring in, that’s his domain. If you ask me about a player I’ve worked with previously or seen that’s fine.
“But I’ll come at it from a financial aspect and I’ll discuss that immediately with Ashley and the board.
“I’m not worried about blurred areas of responsibility, that doesn’t concern me.”
Chesterfield has had a rough ride over the past 18 months with a number of embarrassing scandals, including a faked raffle and an FA investigation into player payments and the playing of a player under false names.
Dunford doesn’t want to discuss the past, but is keen to ensure it’s not repeated.
“I’m a Derbyshire lad I’ve kept an interest at what’s gone on at Chesterfield, albeit from a distance,” he said.
“We don’t find ourselves in this position without mistakes having been made, but I’m not really interested in going round casting aspersions.
“The questions I’ve asked are about the future, not really about the past. The past is gone, we can’t undo it.
“Other people who’ve been involved with that can fight those battles, that’s of no interest to me.
“But what we don’t want to do is repeat the problems we’ve had in the past.
“Supporters have been very tolerant and I can imagine there’s been a lot of pent up frustration.
“One of the jobs is to try, over a period of time, to be as transparent with them as much as we can. Some things have got to stay within the four walls, given the situation you’re in commercially.
“We’ll have disappointments along the way, every decision I make won’t be right but I think if you hold your hand up and explain what you’ve done and why you’ve done it, I think the Chesterfield public are decent, hardworking people and will call a spade a spade. They’ll tell you where you’re going wrong and I accept all that.”
If they can indeed turn the club around, Dunford insists the potential is there to play at a higher level.
“If you look at Burton and Yeovil, there’s no reason in times to come – I’m not putting a fixed period on this – that this club can’t eventually go into the Championship,” he said.
“The facilities are fantastic and comparable with the best in divisions one and two.
“That means nothing at 3pm when the ball starts being kicked around.
“Everyone has a part to play. Supporters have a part to play getting behind their club.
“Alright Dave is the owner because of the share situation, but there are people out here who have been watching this club for generations.
“We’re simply custodians of it for a short period of time and we’re lucky to be that.
“I want to see a smile on the faces of the supporters and smiles on the faces of people working here.
“It would be nice to accumulate a few points as well. Football clubs when you’re winning are happier places.”
Dunford plans to meet fans in monthly surgeries, where supporters will be able to speak to him on an individual basis to express their concerns and opinions.
It’s something he’s done at other clubs and believes it was successful.
“I’ll be interested to hear what they say. The only thing I won’t discuss is the team, Jack can have that problem.
“People care – if they stop caring you’re on a real slippery slope. I don’t get the sense that’s the case here.
“We’ve made mistakes in the past, we might make a few in the future, but the public here care for this club.
“If we can engender that sort of feeling and increase the gates, the atmosphere, the whole town will be buzzing about football again.”
One of the criticisms levelled at Chesterfield over their well-documented issues, is a perceived lack of accountability.
Dunford makes it clear that everyone will be held responsible for their performance, whether it’s on the pitch or off it and if they’re not performing at all there’s only one outcome.
“Well they’re sacked, aren’t they?
“If I don’t do my job or you don’t do your job, if people don’t perform, there’s a big door available to them.
“I’m not being facetious about that, I sense we’ve got a good bunch of staff who care for the club.
“But at the end of the day they’re working in a professional environment, people have got to raise their standards.
“That’s one of my briefs, to give them my experience and knowledge of 40 years, that word has got to spread amongst the staff and I’m sure they’ll respond to it.
“But those who don’t perform, there will be some who fall by the wayside.
“There will be players who fall by the wayside because they don’t perform.
“All you can do is create a backroom team capable of coping with not just Division Two, and Division One but hopefully, eventually, the Championship.
“We’ve got to be careful, financially, we’re treading a tightrope but I’m going to enjoy it I assure you.
“If we don’t do our jobs it will be a short tenure, won’t it?”