Terrace Thoughts 8, 4/12/18 – AGM Special

I know that you couldn’t wait until Friday to find out what happened on Saturday evening (after the Daggers Debacle) with regard to ‘take-awaygate’…………..

‘What was consumed and is Aldi two-ply of any use?’ I hear you ask. Well, I’ll get around to these two questions at some stage.

In the run up to the 2018 HUST AGM I thought that it might be useful if I was to quickly summarise some of the Trust related issues that I’ve covered in previous editions of Terrace Thoughts. I started writing these articles after hearing numerous folk argue that there was no longer any purpose in having a Trust – Raj and Jeff had stepped in and all was now hunky dory (Great album by the way).

My hope was, and still is, that there is no need for HUST. My fear and the experience of clubs such as Wrexham (Terrace Thoughts 2) is that you should always expect the worst to happen – and, putting that fear to one side, why can’t we have a situation where the Club’s owners and the Trust work in harmony?

On the subject of clubs and trusts working together we have recently seen Supporters Direct and Football Business Awards announce the winner of this year’s inaugural ‘Club & Supporters Group Relationship of the Year’ award – Fulham Supporters Trust and Fulham FC being the winners.

The following supporters groups and clubs were shortlisted in the award category:

  • Cambridge United FC and Cambridge Fans United
  • Fulham FC and Fulham Supporters Trust
  • Portsmouth FC and Pompey Supporters Trust
  • Rochdale AFC and Dale Supporters Trust
  • West Bromwich Albion FC and Proud Baggies
  • Southend United FC and Shrimpers Supporters Trust

The aim of this award was to specifically highlight all the good work happening across the country at all levels of football. The entry by Fulham FC and Fulham Supporters Trust showed a genuine commitment from both sides to work together and it was overwhelming evidence in this facet that secured the award. Now, remembering that HUST is NOT a supporter’s organisation as other groups may be, surely a way can be found to set up a meaningful dialogue between the Trust and the club’s owners? A dialogue for the future: a relationship which can be developed so that trust and understanding will exist when/ if circumstances require.

Much of Terrace Thoughts 1 was dedicated to the argument that TV is killing the game but space was found to talk about the success of Leyton Orient Fan’s Trust (LOFT) – and, from a quick read of the two websites you’ll see many similarities between HUST and LOFT.

Terrace Thoughts 2 touched on the Sutton United Supporter’s Trust but focussed on the amazing journey of Wrexham Supporter’s Trust. A representative of the Wrexham Trust will be in attendance at the HUST AGM and will be well worth a listen – and there’ll be a ‘Q&A’. Wrexham fans thought that they had been saved! They hadn’t! Now, for the avoidance of any doubt, I am not drawing any parallels between HUFC and Wrexham – many folk see Raj and Jeff as saviours and that is fine up to a point – but remember, a condition was that the town/ the fans would provide significant financial support too. Remember Darlington anyone?

Some folk may remember what Raj said at the ‘talk-in’ at The Corporation Club. Given the number of season ticket holders and social media experts, the turnout at The Corporation Club was disappointing – but I heard Raj say that additional investment into the club by external parties would not guarantee a seat on the Board (something which would surely be a pre-requisite for any HUST investment), any additional Board appointments would be on the basis of the skills or experience of the individuals (which is a pretty sound approach in my humble opinion) and that, at this stage, the club was appropriately funded.

Now, given this position I ask ‘what can HUST do, other than continue to raise funds for the day that no one wants?’ It takes two to tango and if one party doesn’t want to then you can only wait, patiently and constructively.

But how is ‘our club’ currently funded?  Clarence 18 Limited has one director (Raj), is 90% owned by Prestige Group Investments Limited (a relatively young company with a share capital of £20) and 10% by Jeff Stelling, and this company now owns 6,942,557 of the 7,002,242 shares in Hartlepool United FC Limited. How much money has actually been invested in the football club? How much have the shareholders in Clarence 18 actually invested? We don’t know and, in fairness, they don’t need to tell anyone any more than they are legally required to. But, if they ever want any financial support then these opaque arrangements need to be explained and the Trust board, on behalf of the membership, will need to secure a shareholding which cannot be diluted and which brings with it some level of control.

Terrace Thoughts 2 also introduced the story of Bolton Wanderers and, over Terrace Thoughts 3 and 4 I developed the argument that some owners, through their generosity or otherwise, ‘spoil’ the clubs and fans, creating unsustainable success and expectations. In Terrace Thoughts 3 I also touched on how ‘the Vic’, like Bolton’s stadium, had been made an ‘Asset of Community Value’. And ‘well done’ and ‘thank you’ to all concerned in that achievement.

In Terrace Thoughts 4 I moved on to comparing the Bolton experience to our own and asked Was Ken, in a way, too good for Pools? Was the ‘bar’ set too high? What happens when a generous benefactor leaves a club and a new one cannot be found? I think of Pools. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. And I, like many, wonder if our club is still structured as if we were continuing to enjoy the largesse of those glory days: have we ‘cut our cloth’ appropriately.

In Terrace Thoughts 5 I moved onto the success of Portsmouth Supporter’s Trust (PST) and made the points “Supporters trust boards are elected from their members and are volunteers.  None are paid for the work they do in connection to their trusts or clubs, all united by an overwhelming dedication to serving both their clubs and their communities.  The PST showcases the true diversity of skills found within a football club fanbase and the impressive success a group could have when effectively accessing, nurturing and channelling those skills. Our very own HUST is very similar to PST, albeit that HUST, like many trusts, is always looking to strengthen its membership base and board.

So, in advance of the AGM can I reiterate that the guys working on behalf of you, as the Board of the Trust, are doing it in their own time – for free – because they, like you, want the best for Hartlepool United. Now, if you have a problem or concern with what they are doing, go along on Thursday and ask them. I did!

As a paid up member I, like many others, was somewhat bemused by the ‘community support activity’ and approached a Trust Board member to ask – the responses were simple and laudable. The Trust was set up as a Community Benefit Trust and so needs to deliver some community based work. ‘Fair enough’ says I, but, being less than bright, I wasn’t aware of this and thought that all of my dosh was going into a fighting fund – ‘It is’ came the reply, ‘all funds for community based work are raised separately from monies for the acquisition of an investment in the club and the funds are kept apart’. Now I was happy with these replies; some folk may want to know more – such as how does the Trust select which ‘community based initiatives’ to support?  All I can say is go along on Thursday and ask – get out from behind your keyboard and go ask the volunteers – and then say ‘thanks’.

Terrace Thoughts 6 focussed on Northampton Town and the creation of Supporters Direct and Terrace Thoughts 7, for a wide variety of reasons, garnered the greatest reaction to date, including folk making the point that during the ‘glory’ days to which I was referring our gates were much lower than they have been in recent times. This is a fair point and we should reflect on the fact that in the not too distant past most fans paid on the day; that following the days in League 1 and Cardiff the club offered some amazing season ticket deals and so, on the back of relative success and increased expectations, the core fan base was increased. Are we going to see a decline in the season ticket holder base? Probably. And this will surely impact on the business model that the owners have in place – and again, Raj has made it clear that his support is conditional on support from the town. As a long term season ticket holder this makes me worry; and this is one of the reasons why I support the Trust.

Other feedback to Terrace Thoughts 7 got me to revisiting the past few seasons in search of ‘heroes’; I struggle, I really do. But, outside of some comments about my advancing years, fair points were made about how one remembers players of the past in terms of how you watched games, circles of friends, alcohol consumption and so on.

So, who can forget Simon Walton? Remember the great ‘fist-pumpings’ that he used to dish out to opposing defenders? Is there any truth in my daughter’s theory that Devante Rodney inherited Walton’s shorts?

How many referees have been forced to rethink their decisions after a good ‘gurning’ from Carl Magnay or the threat of a take-away with Liam Noble?

Rhys Oates anyone? Seems to be doing OK now that he’s moved on.

I must admit defeat: for me one of our better players in recent years has been Michael Woods and knowing how divided opinions are on him I guess it’s time to get my coat. If I’m missing anyone, then let me know.

I’m sure that many will disagree with some, if not all, of the comments that I have made above – if you do then please go along on Thursday and make your views known.

I’ll be back on Friday, if I’ve recovered from that prawn vindaloo…………..

Cheers, John

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