Weekend Interview - Hard work at heart of Wakefield Trinity’s stability

“I think even John realises he wouldn’t quite find another mug like me that works 100 hours per week for nothing!”

Wakefield Trinity chief exec Michael Carter

Wakefield Trinity chief executive Michael Carter is talking about John Minards, the man who became the club’s non-executive chairman in November as part of a boardroom reshuffle at the West Yorkshire club.

Carter, of course, had been chairman himself since taking over Trinity during a perilous financial time in 2013 and helping to assiduously turn around its fortunes.

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Anyone who knows him knows he does not mind hard graft and in the literal sense, too; in freezing conditions, he went out to shovel snow off the Belle Vue pitch to ensure last March’s game against Widnes Vikings at least got underway.

However, tongue-firmly-in-cheek, the question had to be asked: with Minards now chairman, and Carter switching roles to CEO, could he technically be sacked if the business starts under-performing?

He sees the funny side and gives the aforementioned response before adding: “We own 91 per cent of the club between us on an equal basis so we are very much joint-owners.

“Then we have another minority shareholder in John Allott who’s staying on board with us (previous co-owner Chris Brereton having stood down).

“As it pans out my day-to-day role really hasn’t changed; I do all the day-to-day running, the finances but what we have got now is a non-exec chairman in John who will provide a governance and leadership role.

Working together: Wakefield head coach Chris Chester with owner and chief exec Michael Carter. ( Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe)

“Primarily, he’s taken on a lot of the interaction regarding the community stadium so it’s kind of freed me up from that as well.

“And John’s a really good guy. He’s supported the club since 1970, is a massive, massive fan and even though he moved down south, still followed the club and has been a help to me over the last four or five years.”

Trinity – who start their latest Super League campaign at London Broncos tomorrow – are a modern-day rugby league success story given the way they have overcome numerous financial issues to finally find calm under Carter’s watch.

Chris Chester’s side have finished fifth in each of the last two seasons and, although money is always still tight, they have discovered a way of being consistently competitive.

Wakefield Trinity coach Chris Chester at the Betfred Super League launch at Old Trafford, Manchester. (Picture: Tony Johnson)

Carter, 50, said: “It boils down to hard work. We have a really small team off-the-field that runs the whole club and they work extremely hard; we get every ounce of value out of them.

“All the plaudits need to go to everyone in the club. There’s an element of luck along the way but I’m a firm believer you earn the luck you get as you go along.

“There was a key moment when Chezzie (Chester) came in (March 2016). Being a Wakefield boy, he gets exactly where Wakefield’s at; he doesn’t demand stuff, he knows exactly what he can and can’t get out of me and it became a perfect storm. Results are a massive leader in business and our results since Chezzie came in have been pretty good.

“But what I learnt early on is there’s no short-cuts, no magic wand to wave, only hard work gets you the rewards. We’ve tried to stick to the principles of what would you do in a normal business and the best thing you can ever hope for with a club like ours is you break even and you are competitive on the field.”

Running sports clubs is notoriously treacherous with so many reliant on benefactors to keep them afloat.

Of his early days at Trinity, Carter reflected: “We were trying to turn around a business that was losing the best part of £800,000 per year and the team itself wasn’t really competitive either. That was an eye-opener.

“But now, give or take the odd spanner that comes out of the works, we’ve got it on a fairly even keel; matchdays tend to run themselves now and it’s all good.

“You look at any sports business, it’s reliant on TV money. Football’s Premier League wouldn’t be where it is without the mega Sky deal and overseas rights and all that sort of thing.

“I don’t think we’ll ever move away from a model where it isn’t reliant on some sort of broadcast deal. But Leeds Rhinos have been the standout model in terms of profitability over the last 10 years and look at what Castleford have done over the last couple, where they came from three years before that (on verge of administration); it can be done.

“If you have everyone working together, I firmly believe you can run at a profit. Now, where you then invest the profit back in to is probably a different tale.

“I’ve never ever looked to make money out of this. That’s absolutely not my aim.

“My aim has always been to maintain professional sport in Wakefield as I’ve lived here since 1985, there’s no other professional sporting team in the city and I want kids to grow up here wanting to play sport.

“That’s not necessarily rugby league but I want them to play sport, because if we don’t our obesity rates will go through the roof. They’re already high in this city and if we don’t do something now there’ll be a fatal end to it.”

We talk on Wednesday, the day of the Rugby League World Cup 2021 venues announcement.

There are seven towns and cities across Yorkshire that have successfully won their bid to host but Wakefield, of course, were not even in the process. Belle Vue has long been dilapidated, barely fit for purpose for Super League let alone a global event, but the £10m Community Stadium in the pipeline for the club and city for so long has still not materialised.

That is down to reasons out of Trinity’s control but does the World Cup announcement painfully remind them they should be in a new home by now?

Carter conceded: “It does massively. I’ve looked on with real envy this morning.

“I’m really pleased for Doncaster as I supported Carl Hall with his bid. But then there’s Workington who are getting their new community stadium and a World Cup game, Newcastle, Middlesbrough, Leeds, Sheffield and Coventry.

“You think ‘Why can’t that have been us?’ It is an opportunity missed. Eighteen months ago we thought about putting a bid in but weren’t confident we’d have something up and running by then.

“We’ve had six years since the Secretary of State said there was a ‘compelling need’ for a Community Stadium in Wakefield and it’s still not built.

“The city of Wakefield was promised it on the back of a developer getting a shed load of greenbelt land and it’s time for that promise to be delivered.

“Whilst I hope I can announce positive news in the very near future we’re still working tremendously hard – alongside the council – to bring this community stadium to fruition.

“If it’s sorted, 90 per cent of my job would be done and dusted. It’s our last piece of the jigsaw.”

Super League tougher than ever – Carter

MICHAEL CARTER says Super League is now so strong that any one of 10 sides could finish from third to bottom.

On its opening weekend, the Wakefield Trinity chief executive said: “I think Saints and Warrington will be the strongest two teams.

“The rest for me could finish anywhere between third and 12th. It’s a massively competitive competition which we’ve been striving for now, certainly in all my time (he joined Trinity in 2013).

“I feel comfortable we can go anywhere and win a game and it wasn’t always like that in the first two or three years.

“I think the comp’ is better for it. You look at Leeds and Catalans who finished behind us (in fifth) last season; they’ve strengthened and there’s a lot of clubs who have got better in the off-season.

“We’re one of those as well with Danny Brough, Craig Kopczak, George King and Ben Reynolds coming in. I’m massively excited for it.”

Trinity open against newly-promoted London Broncos at Ealing tomorrow.

“They will be all guns blazing, chomping at the bit for some Super League action again,” added Carter.

“It’s a small ground, a 4G pitch and it’s going to be intimidating.

“We have to be good enough to rise to it. I’m confident we are but have to prove it on the pitch.

“It’s an exciting time.”