Pic: Peter Else
IT’S probably a sensible thing that Terry Barratt has the builders in at his Hertfordshire home, rather than attempting some summer DIY. He’s got a rather large restoration job of his own that’s about to start.
For the first time in nearly a decade, the Southern League will be under new rule.
Depending on who you talk to, it has been governed like a dictatorship for a while now.
It may appear an unwarranted barb on his exit, but Ken Turner’s departure, confirmed at last weekend’s AGM in Torquay, hasn’t been greeted with a great deal of regret.
Truth of the matter is, though he’s committed and with undoubted heart for the league, the out-going chairman is a difficult man to get on with. A lot of people, it seems, have a story to tell. Few are glowing.
It was time for change and, after someone finally put their hand up to take on Turner, Barratt, 72, got the nod. No figures released, of course, but word on the street is that the new man won by a landslide.
In or Out has been the question on everybody’s lips. The Southern League decision makers have decided it’s out with the old and in with the new.
The problem is probably best illustrated by attempting to log on to find out more. The league’s website, a week after the appointment, has still made no mention of this rather telling development. Its well- followed twitter account is about as active as some of the biscuit-laden league board meetings.
No news, Barratt demands, is not good news. Standards have slipped and not just from a PR and image point of view.
The Southern League have fallen way behind their senior feeder league friends at the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League and the Ryman. And that’s just not on.
As a case in point, the Southern League share a sponsor with the NPL. Wily Mark Harris negotiated a highly respectable deal for his league and his member clubs.
In the summer of 2014, the Southern were searching. They didn’t get anywhere fast.
In the end, they couldn’t find one. It took until October to sign a deal with the adhesive specialists who had backed them before.
The deal? Said to be less than half of what the Northern Premier League pocketed.
Mistakes, they’ve made a few. Barratt, the Hitchin Town chairman, says it’s time to focus on the future and make the Southern League special again.
He said: “It’s a big challenge ahead. There are still opportunities out there for the league. We have to move forward, we mustn’t live in the past.
“As an organisation, we have missed out on a lot of things, a lot of chances for us to grow and become better. The Isthmian and Northern Premier have taken their chances. We’ve said ‘no, no, no’. Why?
“We have got to sell ourselves now. We have one more year to run with Evo-Stik, and one of my big concerns previously has been that we do not look after our sponsors.
“Ryman have sponsored the Isthmian League for 20 years. Evo-Stik have been with the Northern Premier for seven years. In that time, we’ve had five.
“People do seem to think some of what’s happened before reflects on the Southern League as a whole, but it shouldn’t. Some of it has been embarrassing, but we’ve got to try to move forward. We’ve got a lot of work ahead but I still believe this league is a very good league.
“It has history, it offers fine tradition and we’ve got a duty to try to make it great again.”
Barratt has seen what’s on offer on the other side as a vice president of the Ryman League, a non-active position he intends to keep.
It has given him a view of how he would like to see his league run.
“It’s purely honorary,” he said. “I do not attend board meetings. I hold the position because I did ten years there when Hitchin were a Ryman League club.
“There’s a good atmosphere about the league and we, perhaps, can learn something.
“There was a lack of comfort with that before, but I always maintained that being on the Southern League board was a priority.”
He has already got his thinking cap on, and an early aim is to improve the relationship between league and clubs.
“There is a good, strong board of directors here,” he adds. “I would like to give them more responsibility – that’s vital.
“I want them more involved in the running of the league and we want far greater input from all. We have a regional meeting and we talk at people. That desperately needs to change. I’m not into talking at people, we need to talk with them. We need to listen.
“I am going to allocate 11 or 12 clubs per director. The clubs then have a go-to person,. There will be an agenda but it will become a talking shop. We want to hear views, we don’t want to just give them.
“The regional director will then come back to the board and say ‘at my meeting, this was discussed, this is a good point, what can we do about this?’ There are issues that they want to tackle. Voices now need to be heard.
“Giving our clubs a point of contact and a direct line to the board is the first of a number of new ideas we’re looking at.
“I suppose it’s bringing a freshness to it. Ken (Turner) served the league well and worked very hard.
“That is not in question, but now is the time to look forward with optimism.”
He won’t be able to paper over the league’s cracks, but Barratt seems to possess all the right tools to get the structure of this big rebuild right.