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Mid-table Championship club?

13 September 2013

Chairman upbeat about 12th season in charge but striving to improve

JEREMY Peace says he is more determined than ever to keep moving the club forward after entering his 12th consecutive season at the Hawthorns helm.

At the end of the last campaign, supporters could have been forgiven for thinking that successive finishes of 11th, tenth and eighth since 2010’s automatic promotion meant Albion had well and truly shed their ‘yo-yo’ tag.

But Peace was adamant then, and remains equally so now, that there is still much work to be done before the Baggies can truly consider themselves an established top-flight outfit.

Albion have made significant progress on and off the pitch under Peace’s leadership and he hopes that trend can continue this term after a slow start.

However, Peace has very much consigned last season’s highest-placed finish for 32 years to the history books and says the club will have to keep working as hard as ever to remain competitive in the top flight.

Peace, who was appointed Chairman in 2002, said: “The club has made significant progress in the past 11 years but we have never rested on our laurels – and we certainly won’t now.

“We have to remain vigilant, keep thinking outside of the box and endeavour to improve all aspects of the club so that we can make our finite resources stretch as far as possible.”

Albion may have spent seven of the past 11 years in the Barclays Premier League, but Peace believes the club are in many respects still playing catch-up, largely due to their 16-year exile from the top flight which began with relegation in 1986.

When the Premier League was formed six years later, Albion were about to begin only their second-ever season in the third tier of English football.

It was not until ten years later that the Baggies made their Premier League bow – an absence that Peace feels is still impacting the club some 11 years on.

“While things have generally gone from strength to strength over the past few years, I think it is important for us to remember where we have come from since the advent of the Premier League,” he said.

“Prior to that, Albion could quite rightly be regarded as a top-flight club. It is the division in which the club had spent a significant part of its illustrious history – 68 years compared to 24 at Championship level and one in League One – and won the Division One title, five FA cups and one League cup during this period, as well as being a Founder Member of the Football League.

“However, the formation of the Premier League completely changed everything. It heralded a new revenue-rich era. If clubs without a huge benefactor were not dining at the top table and capitalising on the Premier League’s increasing worldwide media profile, they risked being left behind.

“There were some sensational headlines a couple of months ago following a lengthy interview with local journalists. When asked whether the club could be in danger of standing still in the Premier League, I stated that: ‘What are we? Where have we come from...The club is probably a mid-table Championship team that is massively over-performing’.

“I think it’s important that I put that quote into its proper context.

“I didn’t suggest we would be satisfied being in the Championship. If that was the case, I don’t think we’d have even tried to entice the likes of Ben Foster, Nicolas Anelka, Scott Sinclair and Stephane Sessegnon to this football club.

“Supporters got excited by what we achieved last season and it’s great they have generally been feeling positive about the club’s progress – but it’s important we remain grounded.

“Since the inception of the Premier League, according to a table produced by Deloitte which is based on Premier League finishes, we are ranked 29th. Our average league position since 1992 is 26th.

“Also, during the first ten years of the Premier League, our Championship revenue streams were average by that league’s standards.

“If you take these stats on board, and look at where we are now, they show we have been generally improving.

“However, they also reveal we have been playing catch-up since 1992 when we were in the lower leagues, hence my comment.

“In terms of revenue and resources, there is still a sizeable gap compared to many of our Premier League peers.

“But it is a gap we are actively trying to close and, while that process continues, it is vital we remain competitive by making our resources stretch as far as possible.

“We can achieve this by striving to become better at everything we do. This includes key areas such as player research, analysis and trading. The maintenance and rehabilitation of our squad through medical and sports science is also an area we are continually looking to improve.

“In reality, outside of the top six clubs, we are one of about 25 teams – most of whom have been in the Premier League at some point – who are consistently trying to either remain in the top flight or achieve promotion to it.

“We have managed to be positioned high up in that category of clubs in recent times and we’ll be doing everything we can to stay there.

“Studies have shown that Premier League teams generally finish in line with their wage bill ranking and we’ve managed to massively outperform this key indicator, hence my comment.

“In Deloitte’s 2011 and 2012 tables, we finished five places higher than our wage bill ranking. The 2013 wage bills have yet to be published but as we finished eighth in the league, we would expect a similar outcome in our outperformance.

“During the existence of the Premier League we have come from finishing seventh in League One to eighth in the top flight.

“During my time as a director at the club, our turnover has also grown tenfold, from around £8.5m to a forecast of more than £80m in the current financial year.

“We have come a long way very quickly but we will have to work just as hard, if not harder, to stay there.”

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