Castleford Tigers investor Martin Jepson predicts IMG score and explains Wheldon Road redevelopment

Aaron Bower

It may only have been five months since Martin Jepson officially came on board as an investor and board member at Castleford Tigers, but he is quick to joke that it has felt more like five years on occasions.

Jepson, a boyhood Castleford fan who now lives in the south of England due to a successful business career, has invested around £1.2million into the Super League club and has also purchased around 32 per cent of the club’s shares from the Fulton family in an entirely separate transaction. That was originally intended to be the scale of his involvement – providing a cash injection – but he has found himself unable to sit still.

“There’s lots going on off the field, but I’m getting more involved in the on-field stuff, as well,” he tells Love Rugby League.

Jepson admits he is investing almost all of his free time into Castleford in what he believes is one of the most pivotal year’s in the club’s history. It doesn’t sound very sporting, but the priority for the club this year is making sure they are inside the top 12 ranked clubs when IMG announce who has made the cut at the end of this year.

On-field matters – which will be discussed at length in part two of this interview – are to follow. Right now, IMG takes priority: and Jepson is hopeful that Castleford will do enough to make the cut.

“Ultimately, the priority has to be Super League next year and I’ve told the board we have to do everything we can to improve those rankings,” he insists. “If at the end of it, we’ve not made it, we need to put our hands up and say we did everything we can.. but I’m confident our score will be in the 14s. It’s just what end of the 14 scale it is.”

A score of exactly 14 may not yet be enough to make it, but Jepson insists there are various metrics within the gradings system Castleford are targeting improvement in: some of which have already been achieved, including adding streets to the Princess Street Stand at Wheldon Road.

“For a club like us – well, for all clubs in Super League – it’s well accepted that finances are not healthy,” he says. “For a club like us, our finances change immeasurably if more people turn up and spend their money by attending games.

“That would then boost our finance score, and our crowd score.

“15 might be a stretch, but I really think we should clear 14 points. There’s a few bits on the finance side I can’t quite comment on yet – partially because I’m still trying to understand it – but that’ll become clearer when we get to our end-of-year accounts, which are being audited and dealt with right now.

“Last year, we were given 12.1 but there was a mistake in the submissions as everyone knows – if that had been accepted, we’d be up towards 13. There’s extra points coming for the ground, improving our facilities, and things like a media room.

“That will give us another point, my investment – by my calculations – ticks us above 14 in my opinion. I’d expect us to get 14.1 at least. My investment will take us up 0.25 points this year, and another 0.25 next – we’ve spread it over two years, because I was advised it would be the best way.”

Of course, should Castleford make the cut this year, there are big plans afoot at Wheldon Road in regards to the long-awaited redevelopment of a ground that Jepson himself admits is far from up to scratch.

Plans to redevelop the facility, including a brand-new main stand, have been approved by Wakefield Council and having received £2million from Wakefield Council already, which will be spent on other areas of the stadium like the Princess Street Stand, there is a commitment of over £12million incoming as part of the Axiom proposals.

When does Jepson expect that money will arrive – and more importantly, when does he expect major works to begin?

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“While we’ve got planning consent for the new stand, we’ve not got the money from the developer yet because he’s got other things to deal with for his site,” he said. “I don’t think we’ll start on the new stand this close season, I think it’ll be another year before that.

“But we have lots to deal with before then that we can improve in other areas of the ground with the £2million worth of Council funding. That money won’t go onto the main stand because you can’t spend grants like that on a stand you’re going to knock down.

“I’ve insisted that as a bare minimum, the ground looks clean and respectable. We’ve scrimped and saved on the bottom line but we can’t cut any further and I said to the club that the overall impression is it’s dirty, and there’s absolutely no excuse for having dirty facilities.”

The redevelopment plans are now with the Secretary of State and the Government, but Jepson stresses there is no cause for alarm. “We’ve been told its cleared as it’s not being called in,” he says.

“I don’t know the exact process because I last spoke to the developer three weeks ago, but I’d hope by summer we’d have proper clarity on that because that’s how long these things take. Then he’s got to mobilise his team and pay his money to us before he starts on his site.. that’s why I think the close season this year is probably a year too early, or six months too early.

“What we’re busy doing in the background is making sure we’re ready for when the money comes in. We’ve got to finalise our drawings, talk to our contractors and when that money lands, we’ve got a plan and we’re ready to go.

“We want to start on it tomorrow, but the reality is that it’ll be the end of next season. We’ve also got lots of land around the club so let’s look at how we can use that to build a legacy.”

Jepson also insists nothing is off the table in regards to the development plans, insisting the training pitch behind the main stand could yet be used for other purposes as the club look to make a new-look Wheldon Road the beating heart of the town.

“We’ve got a training pitch next to the club – but do we take our training ground somewhere else? I don’t know the answer, but this is what we need to think about in the next six months.

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The Jungle, Castleford Tigers

“Are we better off building a community centre on that land which enhances our ability to use the site 365 days a year? Or are we better developing our training facilities. Those are the things we need to look at.

“Really, I’d like to make the stadium the centre of Castleford – why shouldn’t people come down here and use it for their coffee clubs, or social clubs? I know the plans now call for a training pitch there but if it’s more financially prudent to take that somewhere else and use this land for other purposes.. we’ll look at that.”

And he insists that while there may be some short-term pain on the field, there is a clear plan to make the club self-sustaining within five years – and that they are in a strong position off the field to build for a bright future.

“I’ve been asked why I put my money in and what it’s for,” he says. “It’s largely there as working capital, so if we want a player, we can draw into it, but it’s also to get through the next two or three years, to the point where we can become sustainable as a club.

“The club has no debt except to myself and the Fulton family. We’ve got our own ground, we’ve got £2million in funding from the Council, £12million coming in from a developer.. there’s a lot of rugby league clubs who’d love to be in that position. I wanted to give the club some breathing space financially.”

In part two, which will be published on Saturday, Jepson discusses the club’s recruitment plans for this year and next, the rugby structure and the overall financial outlook at Castleford.

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