Terrace Thoughts 15, 25/01/2019

Well, so far as I know, our beloved club has not responded to my comments last week with regards to the Fans Forum – very disappointing – I sometimes find myself wondering if we’ll see anything more of the Fans Forum, or if it hasn’t effectively been replaced by the use of the podcasts. Personally I’m not a big fan of the podcasts – they don’t address the points that interest me, provide no scope for questions to be asked, and I would hate to say that they are contrived in anyway – but the communication from the club is, I guess, better than it has been in recent years – but, irrespective of this, I find myself returning to the subject of communication this week.

There was a ‘flurry’ of communications from the club on Wednesday (with a consequential surge of social media activity) and, having reflected, I will not be talking about Paddy McLaughlin moving to York City or the management restructuring – other than to note the quote from the chairman, “My investment in the Club has been significant and I will continue to support the club financially, but we must see progress. My experience in business is that it is vital that you have the right people in the right jobs if you want to make the necessary progress”.

I totally agree with the second sentence (and I make no comment about getting the right folk in the right place, first time) and, strangely, next week’s Terrace Thoughts was going to be entitled ‘The 3Ps: People, Product, Price’ (and this will need some hasty rewriting following the ‘reshuffle’); but I do find the emphasis on the word ‘must’ to be perplexing – perhaps my imagination is heightened due to a lack of alcohol?

But first, on the positive side, at least I’m not shackled to a club like Oxford United – a club which is showing many (owners, potential owners and Trusts) how not to do things! From lewd videos involving a certain player, HMRC winding up orders and concerns and accusations relating to the ownership of the ground and surrounding area, through to accusations that certain replica kit is an absolute ‘rip-off’,  life is far from good for Oxford fans at present (and that is without mentioning their on-field challenges).

Anyone with time on their hands should try to follow the stories about who owns what at Reading FC and Oxford United and who is a director where – and let me know once you understand it! I think that the current owners of Oxford own the land and hotel around the Reading stadium and the former owner of Oxford still owns the Kassam stadium: confused? I am. Anyway, what I see is totally bizarre and must be of concern to both fan groups – what are the owners really wanting to achieve? Reminds me of the Robert Maxwell plan in 1982 to merge Reading FC and Oxford United to create Thames Valley Royals FC – see, football clubs have always been controlled by the wrong folk!

But back to ‘communication’: The Oxford United Supporters Trust (OxVox) issued the following statement on 18 January 2019, entitled ‘Update on HMRC and related matters’:

“While it is our understanding that the HMRC bill that resulted in the latest winding up petition has now been paid, we still await official confirmation from the club.

“We are now calling on the Directors of Oxford Utd to give some frank and honest answers to the questions we have repeatedly asked, and to do so directly to the fans, in a manner that addresses our fears for the club we all love.

“The time for vague assurances in programme notes and calling on the fans for increased support is over. Fans rightly demand honest facts about the financial health of our club.

“We have on paper a fabulous board of high net worth directors with experience in football ownership, so why are they allowing the club to stumble from one winding up petition to another and damaging the club’s reputation, and their own, in the process?

“The questions we ask are simple but fundamental to our understanding of the situation we now find ourselves in.

Are the owner and shareholders able to finance the club at a level which will see us able to pay our bills promptly and function in this division?

It is clear without additional finance and personnel that the club will struggle to hold its place in this league. If the plan is to move us forward, do the board intend to invest more money and importantly, time and expertise, into our club?

Can the shareholders make clear who is active on the board, what their level of investment is, and what role will they undertake to help improve our club?

How does the internal structure of our club work? Do the MD and FD have a fund to cover predictable and regular bills or does money need to be brought in for each HMRC payment?

Can you give the fans a detailed plan of how the club intend to move us forward? We would like to know timescales, targets, and assessment of the practicalities.

“Oxford fans, like fans everywhere, can be vociferous, demanding and hard to please. We are also knowledgeable, loyal and will drag ourselves from one end of the country to the other to support our team. Having seen our club in recent years plunge to the depths of the National League, we know the cost of failure. We also know that the recovery to League 1 was hard won over a decade and we don’t want to see that lost and a return to square one.

“We are not blind to some of the really impressive things that are going on at our club. The academy programme is as good as many can remember and their success is a matter of immense pride to the fans. Seeing youth players like Shandon step up and make their mark is incredible. The training ground is, I suspect, the best facility we have had in our 125 year history.

“With these positives to hold on to and grow from, we ask our owner and shareholders not to turn their backs on those fans who now fear the worst. Give us something to believe in again.”

A well balanced and clear communication and whilst I frequently criticise our club for poor or lacking communication, I wonder if our own Trust shouldn’t start taking a leaf out of the OxVox book?

As a quick aside, we’ve played Oxford United on 16 occasions, winning 5 and drawing 2 – as usual I can’t calculate how many times we haven’t won or drawn. The first time we played them was at the old Manor Ground on 25 August 1962 in front of 9,099 excited souls – and we got a 6-2 thumping – in a season where we finished seven points behind the second bottom club! Aye, those ‘good old days’…….

Now, back to communication and an interesting piece from our very old friends down at Blackwell Meadows. In the Northern Echo of 19 January 2019, ahead of the Darlington v Spennymoor United match (see how I’ve avoided mention of our visit to Harrogate that day?) Tommy Wright, the Darlington manager was quoted as follows, referring to his treatment by supporters during their nine match winless run which ended on Boxing Day:

“All my friends and family are Leicester supporters, and I saw them turn on Claudio Ranieri three or four months after they’d won the Premier League title – if fans can turn on him they can definitely turn on me!

“When you’re losing games you need people to stick with you, but I understand the supporters.

“Speaking from a player’s point of view, when you’re losing games and your confidence is a little bit low and people are after you, it creates an atmosphere where you can’t relax and express yourself, particularly when you’ve got young lads.

“I think that we’ve got the best fans in non-league, the best fans that I played for. I get their frustration and I understand the players have to give the fans something to cheer about.”

Well, credit to Tommy Wright – that’s much better than any rant to the effect that fans know nothing or that they are too negative.

Can we learn from our neighbours? Perhaps yes, but not from all of our neighbours. The Echo of 21 January 2019 carried the following quote from Middlesbrough’s Adam Clayton under a Scott Wilson article entitled ‘Downing at an impasse as Boro aim to avoid deal’: “Booing after 25 or 30 minutes in a home game when we’ve got so much time to get back into it isn’t what the players or fans need. We need to stick together as a club – that’s fans, players, everything. When we do get adversity, that’s when we need the fans to turn it around for us and get us on the front foot.”

So, Adam, it’s down to the fans is it? What do you guys get paid for? What do you mean by everything? Do you want additional, fervent support from the catering vehicles?

But his point about booing after 25 minutes is fair – at Ayresome and The Riverside, Borer fans have always been hyper-critical, and loud and early with it! And someone like our newly reappointed manager should acknowledge that;  however bad things get at Pools, we never boo that early – in fact there is little booing – and I believe that the vast majority of Pools fans have always been, and continue to be, exceedingly patient and tolerant.

There are always two sides to every story and folk within the club have clearly been frustrated by the antics of some fans. Now I (I stand in the cold opposite the dug outs so hear little other than your usual cynical Terrace wit) don’t know if some Hartlepool players or staff members are being abused to an unacceptable level – it would not surprise me – but the club should not tar all supporters with the same brush and should take appropriate action if it is that bad. In this regard, the following announcement by Darlington FC (a fan owned club!) on 22 January 2019 is of interest – and warrants some respect:

Individuals excluded from home games

Over the last 48 hours since the Spennymoor game last Saturday, the club has taken strong action against individuals who have ignored our warnings about bad behaviour at home matches.

A number of individuals have received notifications that they have now been permanently excluded from Darlington FC home games because of their continued bad behaviour and general foul and abusive language.

We are also working hard on identifying other individuals who are indulging in anti-social behaviour, and they also face permanent exclusion.

We are sure that all of our fans, who want to enjoy their football in a family-friendly atmosphere, will support our action. We are grateful to those who have supplied us with valuable information regarding the incidents during and after the Spennymoor game.

Let us be clear – this football club will not tolerate the unacceptable actions of a tiny minority who are tarnishing our reputation, and we will not hesitate to issue further exclusions if necessary.

Nice, clear and effective communication and action – somewhat similar to Brighton & Hove Albion FC banning an individual for five matches after he posted offensive comments on social media.

Returning to the Echo on 21 January, under a piece by Nick Loughlin entitled ‘Money understands the consequences at Pools’, Richard Money is quoted as follows:

“I’m well aware that any manager can’t keep asking for time and patience.”

“I’m well aware we need to win a football match very quickly, otherwise there might be someone else stood in this position pretty quickly.”

“None of us are stupid alright?”

“I’m well aware we need a win, I need a win.”

“I genuinely think that will be the case but the supporters will demand something pretty quick. I understand that.”

These comments from Richard obviously pre-date the reshuffle on Wednesday: although the 23 January communication clearly states that discussions on the reshuffle had been ongoing for some days.

There have been some interesting debates on the HUST Facebook during the last seven days (I’d like to think that they were initiated by last week’s column, but I’m not convinced) and in one mention was made of the composition of the Pools board and how Raj has (correctly) said that any new members must bring something extra to the club – and someone commented that the board doesn’t include anyone with a history of supporting Pools or of understanding and speaking for ‘the fans’. Fair points by both the Chairman and the Facebook contributor – so my question’ does the club need to strengthen its PR/ fan communication skills?’ Or does it simply need to give greater consideration to the needs/ concerns of the ‘average fan’?  It could, of course, start by delivering what it promised with regards to the Fans Forum – but I look at Richard Money’s comments and find myself thinking that some of them are too late and that, with a little care over the last few weeks, he would have greater support and understanding from the majority of the fans.

And how financially stable are we? Does the Trust need to start upping its game on the fund raising front? What did Raj mean by ‘we must see progress’? See, communication, if effective, is powerful and its importance simply cannot be over-estimated – otherwise you (the paying fan) find yourself sitting there feeling bemused, confused, concerned and increasingly disengaged. Surely not what any business wants from its paying public at a time when attendance levels are dropping?

Pip Pip

John

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