Richie Wellens arrived at Swindon Town last November, their fifth manager in three years, and his immediate job was to start putting out fires.
After one win in eight games under Phil Brown, Swindon were only going one way, and could easily have been dragged into an ugly relegation scrap. Wellens improved results to the point that they were in with an outside chance of reaching the play-offs, but late-season results saw them settle in mid-table.
Now the short-term concerns have been dealt with, he has an eye on something bigger, something longer-term. Wellens has said he wants to build a greater community around the club, and to get more fans through the turnstiles of the County Ground. But, he admits, there is some way to go.
“We’re miles off it, still,” he told the Totally Football League Show’s Sam Parkin this week. “We’ve just got a new 4G Astroturf pitch out the back, which on match days now will become a family fun day, a fan zone where kids can get here a little bit earlier.
“We’re trying to go out to schools and local football teams because at the end of the day, if we’ve got kids aged from five or six to 15, 16, why are they not coming to Swindon on a Saturday? There’s something wrong if there’s not. The catchment area that we’ve got is quite vast. So let’s get out and try and sell a product that is attractable and can keep them coming week in, week out.”
A successful season might help that. Some fruitful transfer business wouldn’t hurt either, but Wellens believes the current way the window is structured hampers clubs in Leagues One and Two.
As things stand, the Premier League and the Championship must complete their business by August 8, while the other two divisions can still sign players for the remainder of the month. According to Wellens, that creates more problems than it solves.
“I’d like [to sign] Championship players who aren’t getting in their squad,” he said. “I’d like top League One players who aren’t getting their squad. So the window goes on for too long. It just kills us because the players on the periphery of those teams, they’ve got that two or three weeks extra where they might not quite playing, but they go ‘Well hang on, if there’s an injury, or if there’s someone who hasn’t scored or played well in the first three or four games, I might get a chance.’
“Whereas if the window just stopped August 3 for everyone, the clubs will go ‘we need to get him out.’”
Undoubtedly Swindon’s target will be promotion this season, so who does Wellens think will be their main rivals?
“I think Plymouth, because they’ve got 50 per cent of a team that got relegated from League One, and 50 per cent of a team that got promoted from League Two last year (Bury). Ryan Lowe has been quite shrewd: he’s brought six or seven proven League Two players in from Bury, so they’ll know each other and it won’t take him as much time to settle in.
“I think Bradford will be strong. I think Salford will be strong. Exeter will be strong. Northampton will be strong. I think Scunny will go on a run when Paul Hurst gets his players in. It’s difficult, but if you offered finishing a point above Plymouth now, I’ll probably take it.”
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