Tom Wotherspoon - One Year On
22nd July 2016
A year has passed since Tom Wotherspoon bought a controlling interest in Airdrieonians and became chairman of the club.
Much has changed in those 12 months, with the Diamonds beginning this season as a full time club at their new Ravenscraig training base and three managers taking the reins in the last year.
As season 2016/17 gets underway, Media Scotland journalist Colin Paterson caught up with the chairman in an interview for the Airdrie and Coatbridge Advertister.
You have been in charge at the club for a year. How have things gone?
“It was a very, very difficult first year. Not just because I was new to football but because of some circumstances including having three managers.
“I didn’t push Gary Bollan out the door. Gary decided that he didn’t like the way the club was going and got a job [Forfar Athletic manager] closer to home. Good luck to him.
“Eddie Wolecki Black came in and was doing a great job but then suffers a stroke. We were shell-shocked for weeks. The first game after Eddie took ill [1-1 draw with Forfar], I sat in the stadium and have never felt an atmosphere like it; really strange.
“The league was really tight and I needed to get an experienced pair of hands in which is why Danny Lennon took the team. It was a tough year. Almost all of our plans got scrapped as Eddie was the nucleus of what we were doing. The lesson there is that the burden has to be spread.”
What makes you think Kevin McBride is the right man to take forward the first team?
“I looked at what my starting point was, my vision and beliefs. We couldn’t continue to do the same things better. It was never a case of bringing in a manager who had been around the block.
“I looked at the job he did with the under-20s, I looked at what he was like from the day he left the dressing room as a player to where he was at the end of the season and it was night and day.
“He had matured, moved on and become a leader. I was out with Terry Butcher and George Burley on Sunday night. Terry couldn’t say enough good things about Kevin – good guy, everybody likes him, intelligent, likes football played the right way. His assistant is Donald Jennow and the two complement each other with their skills sets.”
What is the situation with Eddie and has a timescale been put on his return?
“Eddie is having a phased return to work. Timescales are completely up to him. He will maybe come in two days a week and observe training.
“He is the elder statesman, although he’s only 51, the two younger guys can bounce ideas off. We don’t want to lean on Eddie this side of Christmas but we’re not leaving him out. What we have to do is not put any pressure on him whatsoever. None. His health, and his family, come before the game of football.”
Chief Executive Iain King departed in the summer. Did you want to take control of the off-field operation?
“Yes. I thought I could put a vision in place and then stand back from it. I underestimated my own character because I can’t do that. I have to be in front taking my vision forward.”
There has been a massive overhaul in the playing staff. Were there players you would have liked to keep?
“Absolutely. I’d have loved to have kept Nicky Cadden. I personally worked on that for six months and at various points I thought we had an agreement.
“I dealt with him and his dad and then, at the 11th hour, an agent appears. There were demands I couldn’t meet.
“We spent a lot of time, money and energy on Nicky and that was a sore one. There were others but we move on.”
Will Airdrie be looking for development fees for Cadden and Liam Watt?
“Absolutely. There haven’t been too many tribunals over the years in our division. There haven’t been many full stop. But the way things are, there will be for these guys. We want no more than what we’ve spent on them.”
What is the current relationship with the stadium company?
“They are very supportive of the club. I haven’t spoken to Paul Hetherington [stadium owner] in months. Everyone seems very professional. We’re in it together and I want that to continue.”
Have League One Airdrie got a Premiership training facility in Ravenscraig?
“We have indeed. It was a statement of intent from us. We can never be accused of scrimping on the investment, not being professional and not being prepared.
“Ravenscraig represents where I see our football club going but it won’t happen overnight. The three-year plan starts now. I think the future is really bright.”
The club seems to have a higher profile in the community in terms of its marketing but has it punched below its weight commercially in recent years?
“I think so. It’s not about failures in the past, it is about bringing forward new ideas. We are fortunate to have an award-winning marketer [Anna Kozlowska] working in our business [M&H Logistics and also Airdrieonians].
“Some of the stuff she has delivered is bringing an identity to the club. We will communicate with everyone in our community. There are positives and the only negatives for me will be losing football matches – but everybody loses games.”
Were you happy with the reaction to Friday night’s Betfred Cup game at home to Partick Thistle?
“It’s only one test but the fans are doing their bit. I walked out the stadium with a big smile on my face.
“In our budgets, we had 800 people at that game but 1,600 were there.
“Almost to a man, they clapped the team off the park. I’ve never saw that before at the stadium. The players appreciate it.
“Perhaps one of our harshest critics – and one of our biggest fans – Ian McMillan was glowing. He says he sees a plan. The fans are delivering for us. We have to deliver for them.”
What are your thoughts on the changes to the League Cup and Challenge Cup?
“I’m quite unusual in that I think any change is good change. The status quo wasn’t working.
“I’m quite positive about the changes to the League Cup. A lot of teams will treat them as pre-season games but they are games you want to win.
“As for the Challenge Cup, I get why they’re doing it. They are creating interest that hasn’t been there before.
“The competition has had a heyday with Rangers being involved and big TV audiences. That has disappeared now.”
What do Airdrie hope to achieve this season?
“I know what I would like. We think we have an opportunity to challenge.
“Over the last two seasons we have been nearly men. We would now like to go at least one step better – we could start by beating Stenhousemuir at least once!”
Interview © Colin Paterson for the Airdrie and Coatbridge Advertiser. Photograph © The Scottish Sun. Reproduced with permission.