Billy Bowie confident that Kilmarnock will ride out virus storm
In a time of crisis for football clubs worldwide, Billy Bowie, the chairman of Kilmarnock, is insistent that his club will survive the coronavirus trauma and will remain “strong and stable” under his stewardship.
Bowie’s private Ayrshire-based company, Billy Bowie Special Projects, deploys a fleet of 24 industrial cleaning trucks and employs 140 people, having just delivered further profit on £19 million worth of contracts this year. But the 53-year-old’s other great concern is Kilmarnock FC, into which he has injected nearly £1 million in soft loans, with the aim of consolidating the club’s status in Scotland’s top flight.
“Kilmarnock FC has no overdraft or bank debt whatsoever,” says Bowie. “We are actually sitting with some money in the coffers at the moment and the players are all getting paid what they are due.
“Cash flow is not a problem for us. If this [the health crisis] goes on for five or six months, then yes, it could be, but the club has two millionaire directors on its board and we are both here for the long haul. We care about this club.”
Along with Bowie, fellow director, Phyllis McLeish, who earned a multi-million pound windfall through selling her company, QTS, can also help guarantee Kilmarnock’s safety and consolidation. The former Labour MP, Cathy Jamieson, makes up one of the most intriguing boardroom trios in the Scottish game. Kilmarnock’s top player salary is £2,000 a week, and Bowie insists he runs a tight ship.
“I run Kilmarnock like a business, with a budget to stick to. I’ve got Phyllis on board, and I’ve got Cathy on behalf of the Killie Trust. Cathy helps to rally the fans, who have just put in £50,000 themselves. Between the three of us, we are brain-storming in terms of bringing in funds for the club.
“My own loan to Kilmarnock at one point was £900,000 but that has been cut back to about £680,000 as things stand. Obviously, I’m not looking to have any of that paid back just now and, if I need to add to it, I will.”
Bowie hopes that, when football is up and running again, Kilmarnock will sustain their recent attendance-increase of around 1,000 fans per game. It was this percentage rise which allowed Bowie and his board to cut the Old Firm visiting fans’ allocation at Rugby Park to just one stand.
“We made absolutely the right decision to give only one stand to the Old Firm,” Bowie insists. “Cathy, myself and Phyllis looked at what was happening, and we listened to our fans, and we decided to go for it. We knew we had the fan-base out there and we said, ‘let’s give it a go.’
“My arithmetic was quite simple. If we cut the Old Firm visiting fans by 4,000 seats, then that’s 16,000 bums on seats down for the season [over four matches]. But if we could increase our walks-ups by 1,000 per game — we have 18 home games — then that more than makes up for it. And that’s what we’ve done. So far as I know we’ve not lost any money on making the decision.”
Stability at Kilmarnock also comes via the manager’s office. The appointment of Angelo Alessio did not work but, in Alex Dyer, Bowie says he has a coach he deeply admires.
“Alex understands what Kilmarnock FC is all about,” he says. “He totally gets it. That’s what I like about him. He knows we have a budget to stick to and that we need to have a good dressing room. He is also a total gentleman. With Angelo, it just wasn’t working. He was a nice guy, but something wasn’t right. It’s all I can say on that.
“I don’t know when football will return — the end of April feels a bit optimistic to me — but this club will be OK.”