Berwick Rangers needs ‘a little bit of love’

Ask many people what they know about Berwick and there’s a fair chance they’ll tell you that it’s got an English football team playing in the Scottish leagues.

By Ian Smith
Friday, 08 March, 2019, 11:45
John Bell

That unique status helps put Berwick Rangers and the town on the map every weekend – even if the results aren’t always that great!

Chairman-elect John Bell, in a presentation to Berwick Town Council, revealed that great efforts are being made behind the scenes to get things right on and off the pitch at Shielfield Park.

Berwick Rangers v Rangers

However, he insisted the support from the local community and the council itself was crucial to bringing about that success.

“We played to audiences of over 10,500 last year and we have been doing it for over 130 years,” he said. “We are one of the 92 senior football clubs in England and 42 senior football clubs in Scotland.

“We happen to play our football, because it suits us geographically, in the Scottish leagues. There are not many towns in the whole of the UK that can lay claim to having a senior professional football club.

“That means that it brings the town of Berwick on to every Saturday evening sports show, to every Sunday national newspaper, and you could argue that it is perhaps one of the single biggest contributors to keeping the town of Berwick in the news.

“It’s common knowledge that the club has run at a deficit for the last four seasons and we are currently addressing that but we are still without any mortgage, loans or overdrafts and it’s my job for the next coming season to make sure that we get much closer to a break-even situation. We have plans to address that need and will be speaking to our fans on March 30, at the Black and Gold Club at Shielfield.

“We demonstrated a growth last year of 1.6 per cent in our attendances from the year before which is quite exceptional in Scottish football, or any football at lower level. We were one of only four clubs in our division to do that and that’s perhaps very surprising considering it was a pretty awful season on the pitch. The other three clubs were occupying the top three places. We have got to build on that and take it further.

“We do this without any public funding at all. We do get support through the Scottish Football Association and the SPFL but that’s money generated from within football, from sponsorship deals, from the success of the Scottish national team, and some of that money filters down into the lower leagues.

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“As Berwick Rangers, we often fall under the radar when it comes to talking about the town’s assets. It’s very easy to highlight things that happen at specific times and make a big impact for a week or a fortnight. What we do at the football club for 46 weeks of the year is drip-fed into the local community and we certainly feel we do our bit to attract new investment to the town through visiting fans, groundhoppers travelling around the country taking in Berwick Rangers as the 93rd (English) football club. We see a surprising amount of them and they make huge efforts to get to Berwick.

“Our website has over one million hits a year – quite staggering for a small League Two club, we have 10,500 Twitter followers, 4,500 Facebook followers and our Berwick Rangers YouTube channel has over 100,000 views annually.

“We are currently a Public Limited Company (Plc), a structure created for the club in the 1950s and that was all about raising money over a short period of time to create what we now know as Shielfield Park. We have considered moving to a Community Interest Company (CIC) but currently we have about £10,000 of shares sold every year in the Plc. Until we come up with something to replace that lost income we have put the CIC idea on ther backburner.”

In an appeal to councillors, he concluded: “Show us a little bit of love. Bring us to the fore when talking about the town’s assets and keep that in mind when making policy. We were a little disappointed in the recent change of policy on advertising (on the digital boards) which meant Berwick Rangers could no longer advertise its fixtures so I ask you to reconsider. We do think we provide an event which brings people to the town and excites local residents.”

Mr Bell also says there is not enough depth to the local talent pool to move first team training back to the town.

“We don’t feel we have enough players in the Berwick area to provide a team to compete at League Two standard,” said Mr Bell. “Most of our players are drawn from Edinburgh, the Lothians and the Borders so we base training at Haddington.

“It’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation because you could argue that by moving training to Berwick we would attract players from south of the border. When trying to sign a player, the prospect of the team bus leaving at 6am to go to Elgin is a bit of a deterrent, certainly on the wages we’re paying.

“I would love to see a team full of Berwick players but in our current climate that is unlikely to happen. We do produce good footballers in Berwick but, generally, not enough of them at any one time.”

The lack of training facilities at Shielfield was another issue.