A detailed look at Carlisle United's latest accounts, which cover the 2017/18 season.
Profit or loss?
United suffered an overall loss of £121,000.
This is less than the previous campaign, when they lost £209,000.
They got through much more than this, though, in a 2017/18 season where they finished 10th in League Two under Keith Curle.
Bearing in mind that £860,000 was loaned to the club during the season by Edinburgh Woollen Mill - the same amount converted into shares by chairman Andrew Jenkins from his own existing debt - it means that, in reality, Carlisle spent just short of £1m (£981,000) more than they could themselves afford in 2017/18.
The Edinburgh Woollen Mill influence
You will not find the words ‘Edinburgh’, ‘Woollen’ and ‘Mill’ anywhere in the accounts. This is consistent with both United and EWM's policy of saying very little about the firm's involvement with the Blues.
Nonetheless, their financial part in the club is clear enough when looking at these new figures.
They indicate that Philip Day's firm loaned Carlisle United another £860,000 in the 2017/18 campaign - taking the club's overall debt to EWM to £1.31m.
This is the only possible interpretation of a note in the accounts which states: “Included within other creditors is £1,310,000 (2017: £450,000) which is secured by way of a fixed and floating charge over Brunton Park and land around Brunton Park.”
EWM are the only creditor whose loans are secured in this way – the charge, in fact, covering all the club’s assets.
The fact their £860,000 of new loans is the same figure Jenkins wiped from his own debt appears to support what the chairman has previously said: that he would remove £1 of his debt for every £1 of new money that came into the club.
The chairman and his fellow owners, meanwhile, continue to supply personal guarantees over the EWM debt.
The 2017/18 season is the first full campaign in which EWM have been financially involved with the Blues in this way.
There remains persistent speculation about whether Day's firm could step up their involvement and, eventually, take over the club.
United, though, remain reluctant to be drawn on such a possibility, while EWM continue not to comment.
The overall debt
The above figures indicate United’s increased reliance on EWM.
Indeed, loans from Day’s firm now account for more than half of the club’s overall debt – a significant shift from the period when Jenkins, along with his firm Pioneer, was the Blues’ major creditor.
By the end of the 2017/18 accounting period, United’s total debt stood at £2.26m – an increase of £245,000 from £2.01m.
That figure is largely comprised of loans from EWM, Jenkins, the chairman’s firm Pioneer, and bank debt.
The Blues have said they have been striving to keep their overall debt at a similar level.
Asked for the reasons for the £245,000 increase, United said: "The total debt includes all bank finance, such as overdrafts and finance lease, which changes day to day and month to month with the normal trading circumstances, and this affects the reported figures."
Jenkins, meanwhile, loaned the Blues more cash last season - even as a significant part of his debt was removed.
The accounts show he put a further £260,000 into the club during 2017/18.
Taking into account his conversion of £860,000 into equity, this means United’s overall debt to Jenkins fell by £600,000 during the year.
As of June, they owed the chairman £135,000.
The accounts also show that debt from “other related parties” – understood mostly to refer to Pioneer – went down by £85,000 in 2017/18. As of June, that debt stood at £493,000.
The question of why some of the existing debt has been converted to shares by directors, as opposed to having it written off, receives this answer by United: "The loan providers offered to convert, and the board decided they wished to agree to it."
The shares received by those directors are non-voting 'B' shares in United's holding company.
A confirmation statement from CUFC Holdings, filed in January, showed Jenkins' allocation of such shares to have increased from 400,000 to 1,198,000.
John Nixon's B shares also significantly increased - from 20,000 to 132,000.
The News & Star has asked United to clarify these figures.
Spending on the team
Carlisle’s spending on the team in an attempt to get out of League Two went down in the 2017/18 season – but only slightly.
Their total football expenditure was £2.6m, having spent £2.76m in their play-off campaign of 2016/17.
These figures include players’ wages, bonuses, agents’ fees, football staff salaries and costs, and spending on such things as travel and accommodation for away games.
The small reduction, United say, is simply as a result of fewer bonuses being paid in a less successful term.
Otherwise, the club say the largely similar amount shows they maintained their spending levels in a bid to back another promotion attempt.
Indeed, they note in the accounts that their spending on the team remained “significantly in excess of what the club could afford without external funding support” – which is where EWM and Jenkins’ loans came in.
They remained, too, at the upper end of their spending limit under League salary cost management protocol rules – 96 per cent in 2017/18, as opposed to 99 per cent the previous year.
Where did the club rank for player spending?
The accounts appear to shed some definitive light on how Carlisle measured up to their League Two rivals in terms of spending.
They suggest that, although United finished in mid-table, they were a play-off side in terms of budget.
"According to EFL independent benchmark data, our spending was in the top six of League Two in 2017/18," a note in the accounts states.
United remain at pains to point out that the amount a club spends on the team does not automatically equate to improved league position.
They say that the focus of that spending, and aspects like the quality of coaching and recruitment, is also crucial.
Another striking revelation connected to this area is mentioned later in the accounts.
It observes that, while Carlisle finished 10th in both the 2015/16 and 2017/18 seasons, they spent £575,000 more to do so in the latter campaign.
On these figures in general, Nigel Clibbens said: “We reported similar information in the previous year too, and we have continued to do that again in the 2017/18 accounts.
"Firstly, it gives some wider context to the level of the club's total spending on football.
"More importantly, it also helps bring together information about the spending decisions made by the board, the financial consequences and the numbers we report in accounts."
Turnover and income
The effect of an underwhelming season and falling crowds is reflected starkly in these areas.
United’s headline turnover figure went down – from £4.27m to £3.99m.
This figure covers all club activities, including money from cup runs and player sales.
With average home attendances down by more than 500, the club’s business turnover also fell to £1.97m from £2.28m.
This, United say, was the “understandable” result of those lower gates - with income falling in certain specific areas.
Ticket income, for instance, dropped by £204,000. Retail income took a £30,000 hit, and commercial income was down £74,000.
The accounts further note that “commercial activities had a difficult year”, adding that “sponsorship and matchday hospitality were particularly challenging” in 2017/18.
This period included the departure of former sales and marketing director Phil King, who left the club in March and was not directly replaced.
Certain areas of the club’s income, though, did go up.
Season-tickets, for example, provided a boost, United making £374,000 from these as opposed to £327,000 the previous year.
This reflected the sale of 2,236 season tickets, up from 1,858.
This helped offset very slightly the damaging £250,000 loss in matchday ticket income.
The fall in ticket sales and sponsorship also affected United’s “underlying contribution”.
This refers to the money Carlisle were able to put towards their football spending before receiving outside help from the likes of EWM and Jenkins.
In 2017/18 this fell by £260,000, to £1.39m.
United’s income from the Premier League and EFL, meanwhile, went up to £960,000 from £919,000.
Academy grant money from the EFL also increased, to £466,000 from £424,000.
The amount United raked in from “football fortune” – player sales and cup runs – also suffered a small reduction.
In 2017/18 the accounts show they made £449,000 from these areas, as opposed to £484,000 in 2016/17.
This reflected, in part, a season of modest cup runs, including second-round exits in the Checkatrade Trophy and Carabao Cup, and a third-round departure from the FA Cup at the hands of Sheffield Wednesday.
They did earn more from player trading, though, than in 2016/17.
The rise to £223,000 from the previous year’s £209,000 is down in part to the January sale of striker Sam Cosgrove to Aberdeen.
The figures are also believed to include further instalments from the departures of Brad Potts and Kyle Dempsey to Blackpool and Huddersfield respectively in 2015.
They do not, though, include any money from the January 2017 sale of Charlie Wyke to Bradford, all of which United say was included in last year’s accounts.
Asked whether there could be any further instalments in the future from some of the above, United said these were only "hypothetical" and depended on a host of different factors.
As such, these are estimated at £nil for the purposes of the accounts.
These increased from £424,000 to £482,000.
The explanation given for this is the extra cost of running the club day-to-day, plus the retail cost of sales for purchases, as well as matchday staff and stewarding. Costs from minimum wage and holiday pay legislation regarding matchday staff are also cited.
United, though, say they reduced certain overheads in order to help balance the books.
Overall, total business costs and overheads went down from £1.525m to £1.44m.
Change of approach
United have conceded that the sceptical feeling among many supporters inevitably took its toll last season, with a change of financial approach having been made since then.
Nigel Clibbens said: "If you aren't getting as many supporters through the turnstiles and commercially, it starts to make an impact very quickly in many areas.
"In the second half of the season in particular, from Christmas onwards, it was a difficult time with off-the-field issues like manager and player contracts to be decided, and we were firmly fixed in the table just above halfway, unable to mount a challenge and struggling at home.
"At the same time we had to deliver some difficult messages about the future direction of the club.
"Andrew Jenkins has commented on this being a 'difficult but necessary transformation' and I would certainly endorse that."
This became a briefly hot topic this year when a football finance expert suggested there was a director at United earning about £174,000.
This was not the case, as that figure in the accounts covered expenditure on all three salaried directors at Brunton Park, not just one.
In other words – Clibbens, King and finance director Suzanne Kidd.
That overall amount in the 2017/18 accounts fell slightly – to £168,000.
That small drop reflects sales and marketing director King’s departure in the latter stages of the accounting period, in March.
As well as salaries, the figure is believed to cover pension and national insurance contributions, plus other costs.
It does not, though, cover David Holdsworth coming onto the books as director of football. That was not confirmed until later in the summer and will be included in next year’s accounts.
Carlisle have, meanwhile, said that these accounts do not include the payment of any expenses incurred by co-owner and "director of external affairs" John Nixon whilst carrying out his various EFL and FA duties.
"That is not the case," Nigel Clibbens said. "Only bona-fide club-related expenses wholly, necessarily and exclusively incurred on CUFC business and authorised in advance are reimbursed.
"This simply policy applies to everyone, regardless of who they are, including John."
Clibbens added: "The expenses of all the Holdings directors together are almost nil over all my time here."
In terms of the club’s overall staffing, the accounts show Carlisle hired extra football employees, but reduced staff in other areas.
On the football side of the business, numbers grew from 46 to 54. Admin staff, by contrast, went down by 15, from 177 to 162.
Asked to explain these changes, United said the numbers reported in each area are the "average monthly number".
Admin staff, they said, "mainly comprise stewards", meaning that attendances, opposition and cup games affect matchday staffing numbers.
"Football staff includes players and support staff - again this is an average rather than being specific individuals," the club add.
Overall, United's wage bill came down slightly. By the end of the season, wages and salaries stood at £2.96m, down from £3.14m. Overall remuneration, which also includes social security and pension costs, dropped to £3.25m from £3.43m.
United’s community work is once more highlighted in the accounts as a source of positivity.
One aspect clearly growing is their community ticket scheme, which saw 2,585 complimentary tickets issued to groups over the season.
This was an increase of 22 per cent, up from 2,119 in 2016/17.
Nigel Clibbens said: “It’s something that is going from strength to strength.
"Our long-standing support from the Cumberland Building Society is fantastic and makes a real difference to that.
"With the young fans we have coming to games, both in our community stand and those playing on the pitch, it all helps create the next generation of fans, which is something we have been focusing on."
United did, though, see a decrease in player appearances in the community in 2017/8.
Some 368 appearances were made, down from 430 the previous campaign.
Asked about this, Nigel Clibbens said: "The 2016/17 season was exceptionally high due to more events which featured a larger number of players all together.
"Our players are hugely supportive and you can see from the club reports and social media we are active most days, and that really makes the difference."
Risk of “further remedial action”
In Clibbens’ notes to the accounts, the chief executive sounds a warning.
He writes: “If the recent trend in falling attendances and associated income continues to be downward, then it is inevitable that, even with the funding support in place, there will be a need to take further remedial action to address any unplanned losses.”
This, in simple terms, means that, if attendances continue to slide, either the funding provided by such as EWM and Jenkins must go up, or spending on the team must come down.
Clibbens added: "We have to operate in a prudent and financially sustainable way that doesn't risk putting the club at risk.
"We have to spend what we can afford. By growing our income and controlling our costs, that makes us more able to invest in the team and the club.
"That's why #8kforMK was important in showcasing the potential of the club."
What could next year’s accounts look like?
For some time now United have talked about making “difficult decisions” in a bid to better balance their spending.
It is likely, then, that a significant reduction in football outlay, for instance, will be shown in the 2018/19 figures, as well as in other areas of the club.
How heavily they have relied this season on EWM and Jenkins, in light of this spending policy but often lower crowds again, will be interesting.
Jenkins, at least, believes United have emerged “stronger, more resilient and better prepared for the future” as a result of their changed approach, which includes the appointment of DOF Holdsworth, a restructure of the commercial team, managerial changes and, he says, “a number of strategic signings”, as well as a better campaign in League Two so far.
In the meantime, Nigel Clibbens said: "The club has had some hard decisions to make and that continues, but the decisions are for the good of the club, with the aim to have a club that is stronger and successful.
"Crucially this must come without making it fragile.
"We are starting to see the benefits and improvements on and off the field, and the future accounts will reflect that."
In a more strict, short-term basis, there is no immediate threat to the viability of the club according to auditors MHA Moore and Smalley.
The Preston-based firm say there is nothing in the accounts that casts significant doubt over United’s ability to continue as a going concern for the following 12 months.
The club’s directors later in the accounts concede this remains dependent on the “ongoing support of its directors and financiers”.
Over a broader period, it can also be noted that these are the 10th accounts to be filed by United under their current “custodian” owners, who took control of the club in the summer of 2008.
The past decade has seen the regime report a loss on six occasions and a profit four times. Over 10 years, United have suffered a total loss of £1.19m.
Timing of these accounts
United are again filing their annual accounts at a relatively late stage before the April deadline.
This renders the figures increasingly historic, with shareholders and fans having to wait nine months in order to get a full financial picture of the most recent season at Brunton Park.
Asked if they could not file their figures sooner, United said: "The board contains the majority of shareholders, and they approve the timing.
"The practicalities of the preparation and normal audit process takes at least six months for us, given the club and finance business we have to deal with.
"We are then into January when the transfer window takes priority.
"Once that is complete, we are planning for the AGM with the notice period and filing - that means February/March."
That AGM, which offers shareholders the chance to question directors on the 2017/18 accounts, is being held next Thursday, March 21, in Foxy's Restaurant.
As well as the financial figures, the 37-page accounts contain detailed comments about the state of the Blues.
Indeed, the accounts open with a 12-page strategic report by Clibbens. This, he says, is provided because the board believe “all supporters and stakeholders have clarity on the direction and progression of the club”.
It states United’s “key priority” is to rise up the pyramid, starting with promotion to League One, while the club’s “overall objective” is to “work together, building a sustainable and successful club that we can take pride in”.
The report is divided into sections, one of which highlights fan relations with bodies such as the Carlisle United Supporters’ Group (CUSG).
Clibbens adds that the club’s relationship with supporters’ trust CUOSC “remains good – [their] appointed director continues to play his part in holding the executive directors to account and providing oversight”.
The chief executive, though, also acknowledges CUOSC “face challenges in engaging and communicating with some fans.”
He added: “We hope it [CUOSC] can grow and have stronger links to all fans. This inevitably will need new fans to join to shape its approach”.
Under a section entitled “pride”, Clibbens says United aim to be “open, honest and straight-talking”, saying the club make decisions for the right reasons.
He reiterates that the 2017/18 season was disappointing, with poor home form, while he calls for "improvement" in recruitment and player development.
As he did last year, Clibbens conducts a statistical review of the season in the accounts document.
He states that United began the 2017/18 season having added to their strike force (the £50,000 signing of Richie Bennett from Barrow) and with a number of targets for the campaign ahead.
This included: conceding fewer goals, achieving more clean sheets, scoring first in more games, converting more leads into wins, improving home results, becoming stronger against the best teams in the division, maintaining their habit of coming from behind to gain points and, overall, finding greater consistency.
All laudable targets. Reality, though, was different.
"We didn’t achieve our objectives,” Clibbens says. “We underperformed.”
The chief executive notes that United’s points-per-game average went backwards and, despite three January loan signings and the permanent additions that month of Cole Stockton and Jamal Campbell-Ryce, a better second half of the campaign did not deliver enough victories.
“We failed to win any of the last five home games, all of which cast a cloud,” Clibbens adds.
He notes that United were only in a top seven place for seven days of the entire season - and only in the top half of the table for 43 per cent of the campaign.
Just seven points, meanwhile, were taken from 14 games against the top seven sides.
“We showed no ability to beat the top 10 in the division either, winning only one game out of 20," Clibbens adds.
While United’s record of points after scoring first in games actually improved, “too often winning positions became frustrating draws,” Clibbens says.
Their record of conceding equalisers (16 times) was the worst in League Two for a second consecutive season.
This, the director says, was “a fundamental, long-standing, recurring weakness,” which United failed to address. A failure to get two goals ahead in enough games is also cited.
Only twice, Clibbens adds, did Keith Curle’s team gain extra points “late in games” (ie the last 10 minutes), both times against relegated Barnet.
Goals conceded in this late period of matches accounted for 23 per cent of those United shipped, Clibbens says.
This cost them 11 points from five games.
Against this, Carlisle’s overall clean sheet and defensive records improved. They were fifth best in the division with a “very creditable” 15 shut-outs.
Home and away form also differed. United were only the 16th best home side in League Two in 2017/18, but the fourth best on their travels.
United had 28 contracted players over the campaign, down from 34 in 2016/17. They used more loan players (five, up from three).
The Blues, Clibbens says, made 15 signings overall in 2017/18, yet these played on average fewer minutes than those who had already been on the books.
He does note, though, that there was “more consistent selection of starters” than before.
United, meanwhile, fielded an older team in 2017/18, with an average age of 28.3.
This was an increase of more than a year, making them the fourth oldest side in League Two. Clint Hill's involvement, aged 39, helps account for this.
Excluding loan players, only four of the Blues' 23 contracted players were aged under 25.
Elsewhere, Carlisle’s injury record went up, with injured players missing the equivalent of 150 games (up from 92). The long-term loss of Jason Kennedy helps to explain a rise like this.
Suspension levels were broadly the same, while in terms of substitutions, Clibbens notes that Curle used all three subs in 43 of United’s 46 games.
More often, too, did the manager make a change at half-time than in the previous season: 12 times, as opposed to nine.
The chief executive also devotes a section to United’s academy, noting that an extra £119,000 was directed to the club’s youth department: partly from EFL grant income, and partly from the club.
There were few grounds for celebration, though, in terms of the path from youth to first-team in 2017/18.
“For the second year in a row no academy player received an opportunity to start a first-team League Two game,” Clibbens writes.
The need for the academy and senior department to work with a “shared vision, common purpose and proactive desire to provide opportunities” is described as a “priority area for cultural change within the club”.
Clibbens adds: “The board remains committed to club developed players, but this needs opportunities to be given wherever possible.”
The EFL Futures scheme – which rewards clubs for introducing young English players into their line-ups – was not particularly lucrative as a result of the above.
United earned £10,900 from this, ranking them 18th in League Two. The first-placed club, not identified here, made £50,000.
Other money matters
Noting the "difficult" year in the commercial department, Clibbens observes that last summer’s major concert at Brunton Park - Lionel Richie - was a success. But it was "not as lucrative" as previous gigs at the ground.
Clibbens further says that changes have since made to reorganise this department, seeing the departed Phil King’s duties allocated to other staff.
The club, he adds, are also now receiving “additional external support” in this area of the club – a likely reference to individuals such as Kevin Dobinson, a Carlisle businessman close to EWM's Philip Day.
Matchday income, referred to earlier, receives its own section. “We are grateful for every fan who supports us and spends hard-earned money backing the team and club,” Clibbens writes, but he concedes that the team’s performances and results “were damaging to match ticket sales in the second half of the season, and season tickets for 2018/19.”
Sales and profits from the matchday programme were “poor”, continuing a wider trend of falling demand, United having since changed to a smaller publication.
Lotteries and promotions remained “stable” but “discretionary spending” on matchdays was reduced.
The ongoing issue of Carlisle’s stadium is mentioned.
Clibbens comments on Brunton Park’s high-risk location with regard to flooding, also stating that “most areas of the buildings are well over 50 years old.”
He adds: “The facilities are now, more than ever, struggling to keep up with the passage of time, the expectations of supporters and the ever-growing regulations of all authorities we come into contact with.”
Addressing the stadium issue, he adds, is a “top priority” for the club’s owners, including CUOSC.
He reiterates that United are unable to self-fund a new ground and, while the matter remains under review, it will require a “united and community-based approach, with fans and public and private sector working together”.
Looking ahead on a financial footing, Clibbens talks again about efforts made last summer to “restore the viability of the club” by bringing down football spending “to affordable levels”.
He notes that the number of senior and “high-earning” player contracts that expired last summer “gave an opportunity and flexibility to improve and reshape the squad, and achieve a more effective use or our playing budget”.
Alongside this, he says the managerial change, plus the extra “football expertise” brought by Holdsworth, were necessary parts of this new approach.
“We expect 2018/19 to be even more challenging, commercially and in terms of ticket income and attendances with a further resultant fall in underlying contribution,” Clibbens concludes.
“The general upward trend in attendances and total ticket income reversed in 2017/18, and this is the major business issue facing the club.
"We need to provide entertainment and winning football that our fans, especially at home, want to see and can afford to pay to watch.”