On Thursday 31 May the HUST board had a formal one hour meeting with new Pools CEO Mark Maguire. The discussion was very frank and honest, as we went through some of the content of the 36 page Supporters Direct report into the clubs finances with him, and he gave us a progress report on where the club is at.
We agreed at an early stage of the meeting that the detail of the discussions would be confidential, but that we would be able to share in general terms with you what was discussed.
We started by providing some of the background around the formation of HUST and how we felt things had deteriorated at the club over the last 5 or 6 years. Mark was very much on the same page as us there. We were aware that he had been at the club in an unpaid capacity for a while, and he clearly was fully up to speed with the financial situation as it has developed over the last few months.
Obviously at this stage he is publicly saying much the same as Pam Duxbury said this time last year, and Coxhall and Harris before her. However what was pleasing was that he was able to put some meat on the bones around actual measures he has already put in place to make genuine savings on costs, and increase revenue. It was re-assuring to see that he had identified many of the areas that SD had flagged up as prime targets for efficiency savings. The club will no doubt be making announcements in that regard in the coming weeks but it was good to see fat being trimmed in the right areas.
It was also noteworthy that the funding he stated was needed in year one from Mr Singh was almost identical to the figure calculated by Supporters Direct. Again this suggests that the club is being realistic about what needs to be done to get the club back on a level footing, rather than just pulling figures out of thin air, or unrealistically assuming money will come from a fantastic cup run or huge attendances. We advised him that fans really will not tolerate another season where the money had run out by December and staff wages were not being paid on time. We were given assurances that certainly would not be happening with the budgetary controls they were introducing.
One area of concern for us from the SD Report was around first team costs. It is already in the public domain that the club is looking to offload some of the players that are still under contract. The club are also looking to be more financially efficient around travel, accommodation, and training ground costs, which again were flagged up by SD as areas where money was being spent needlessly last season when benchmarked against other clubs at this level. We believe it is safe to say the club won’t be paying for expensive overnight stays at places like Morecambe next season.
We were genuinely convinced that the club does seem to finally be cutting its cloth to suit its means, but doing so in a way that is prudent, and which will still mean that we can be competitive in this division if we can bring in the right players.
In terms of revenue generation, we did stress to Mark that much had been done by custodians of the club over the last few years to damage the relationship with both fans and local businesses alike. We pulled no punches there and made it clear to him that the club needs to be much more open and honest, it also needs to be much more active in the local community.
One area of concern to both Mark and HUST was the reduction in funding from the FL for the youth set up at Pools. We reminded him that we had raised a four figure sum for Keith Nobbs recently with a joint Fundraiser, and have offered to run similar fundraisers in the future if the club is willing to co-operate in setting up a programme of events. We made it clear we would not be giving the club money unless we were getting something in return but were willing to work with him in ways that were mutually beneficial.
We ran a Fundraising Golf Day last week for example, which again made a four figure profit for HUST, so we do believe that we are ideally placed to assist.
Fans can expect to hear more about the ways the club intends to grow revenue in the coming weeks and we understand there will also be some much needed and no doubt long overdue changes to the Club Shop in the offing.
Likewise we have offered to provide practical advice around the match day experience, especially around the sale of food and drink, as we have Trust members with a lot of experience in the fields of catering and retail management.
All in all we felt the meeting was very positive, and that while we need to keep the HUST identity separate from HUFC, there are areas where the parties can collaborate in everyone’s best interest.
We did raise the issue of the publication of the club accounts being late, and were given an explanation for this. We will continue to monitor the situation.
We have agreed to meet formally again within the next two weeks, and will release a statement once said meeting has taken place. We will also be making a brief video statement via Hartlepool Media Group over the weekend for those who prefer that medium to reading written updates.