Chairman is working to keep Burton Albion ahead of the game
HE is a chairman who has the answer to football's most difficult question. How does a club make money?
For 25 years Ben Robinson has believed in the potential of Burton Albion.
In small steps he has helped build it up from the struggling non-leaguers who outgrew their Eton Park to an established league two side, which graces the splendid Pirelli Stadium.
But never has the ambition outstripped reality.
In the 2008-2009 season the club, despite being non-league made a profit of £135,000.
And the club is continuing making those steps to bring even more money in.
From the launch of a new and profitable website to an increase of just under a thousand fans in the gate receipts, Burton Albion are feeling the benefits of being a League Two club.
It's a far cry from the club he joined in 1975.
"Back in those days, we always felt the club had great potential to be a football league club," said Mr Robinson, who joined me for lunch in one of the executive boxes at Burton Albion's home, the Pirelli Stadium.
"Even when the facilities were miles apart from where they are today, that concept was always in my mind.
"It was always just a case of gradually improving over the years and, from day one, keeping your feet on the ground."
Last season, when they were champions of the football conference, the club's turnover for the season was £1.5m. Six months into this season, it is already £1.2m. In addition to increased sponsorship, the Brewers have also seen the average gate number rise from 2,400 to 3,300, despite raising ticket prices by £1.
Conferences, weddings, seminars and corporate hospitality also continue to generate income.
The new website even plays its part, offering users a £3.99 subscription to access interviews and special features.
Mr Robinson said: "We need to make sure we can maximise our commercial opportunities whenever we can. It's great that we have a source of income coming in, like the weddings and seminars, that is not affected by what's happening out there on the pitch – that's been the blessing."
One of the biggest changes faced after promotion was the players going full-time.
A full-time press officer has also been hired to keep up with the increased media interest, while tickets are now printed in advance to cope with the increase in visiting fans.
It was while working as an insurance broker in Burton's High Street that Mr Robinson was invited to join Burton Albion's board. A year later, he was already settled as the club's chairman.
In 1985, Ben decided to take a break from the club to focus on his own business interests, setting up financial service and insurance businesses – selling the latter in 2006.
But he was back 10 years later to continue developing the club's potential, despite a cash-flow problem and the fact that plans to build a new stadium on Shobnall fields had been rejected.
In 2003, he started work on the club's biggest project to date, moving it from Eton Park and creating the Pirelli Stadium.
"It was a defining moment," he said. "I was in the dressing room with Nigel Clough and our chief scout at the time, Steve Booth, that summer and they suggested I approached Pirelli to buy this land.
"My reaction was, why would they sell us this 14.2 acres of land, particularly as we only had six? But we went to see them and they were incredibly supportive, as was the council, because we all had this vision of creating a new stadium that the whole town could benefit from.
"The timescale was limited because we had to purchase it by the end of the year. We were fortunate that the Eton Park land sold right at the height of the housing market, which has obviously since collapsed."
Mr Robinson believes part of the reason Pirelli agreed to sell the land was because of the manager at the time, Nigel Clough.
He said: "He gave us 10 brilliant years and put the town and team on the football map. He was one of the biggest factors in developing the Pirelli Stadium and he raised massive public awareness of the club while he was here."
Luck has also played its part in the Brewers' fortunes, with an FA Cup third-round draw at home to Manchester United in 2006 wiping out any debts on the stadium. The match saw Albion hold their guests to a goalless draw and force a replay. The Brewers went on to lose that 5-0 but the two games generated a staggering £1m for the club.
He said: "It was a great challenge and we enjoyed it. We had thousands of people queuing, all the attention from the national press and, at the replay, we took 126 coaches to Old Trafford. It was all about people willing on the little club, watching David and Goliath."
The same approach of steady progress and sensible targets has seen the club to a financially stable, position.
Mr Robinson added: "You have to be realistic with your ambitions and work with your manager at all times on your playing budget, because that's what can cripple a club.
"Manager Paul Peschisolido and his assistant Gary Rowett are doing a great job and have put together a good squad of players with some of the nucleus from last season.
"If one or two more results had gone our way, we could be talking about the play-offs.
"Next season, we'll try to support the manager to strengthen his team within a financial framework but we're not going to rock the boat and spend money we haven't got."