Letter outlining issues raised by Trust Members in response to the meeting with the club in November
As you are aware Trust In Yellow was set up as a Supporters Trust as part of a government sponsored initiative to improve the accountability of Football Clubs to supporters. Although Southport supporters have not always been in agreement on matters relating to the club, supporters have always taken comfort in your stated goal of safeguarding the future of the football club.
There was considerable disquiet, therefore, about some of the responses of the club to the questions posed to them in our last meeting, Saturday 28th November. We think the club should appreciate that members who expressed this disquiet included long standing supporters who are, in general, very appreciative of the contribution made to the Club by the Chairman and Vice-Chairman over a considerable number of years.
Below are some of the specific points raised by members.
One of the key successes for supporters this season has been the reintroduction of a reserve team and the introduction of the Southport Soccer Education Scheme (SSES), however despite previous promises from the former Chief Executive of the club, the Chairman stated that in order for the Reserves to continue beyond this season, the supporters trust would again be required to fund them.
We realise that the Learning Skills Council is to be abolished and indeed the government announced these plans as long ago as March 2008. In effect the Trust funding was to “kick start” the reserves as the club had to be able to demonstrate progression from the youth scheme in order to qualify for funding. The Trust were led to believe that funding in future years would subsequently be provided from the money the club would receive from the LSC. Although the LSC is disappearing the funding is being transferred to the local authority and, therefore, if the scheme is given the go ahead to continue the funding levels should be sufficient to enable the running of the team as initially suggested.
It has also become apparent that the set-up is not being as fully utilised as had been suggested to members when the then Chief Executive and the Manager made the appeal at the open Trust meeting. In any case, as stated at the time the agreement was for one year and any further request from the club for support for the Reserves would have to be put to members for them to decide.
On the subject of Catering at Haig Avenue, whilst the failure so far to gain planning permission for improvements to the catering facilities is disappointing, we are, however, satisfied that the club has so far made reasonable attempts to make improvements and that alongside Caterforce owner Richard Hughes, they will continue to do so. The Trust will follow the developments with a keen interest.
Over the past year the Trust have been attempting to work with the club in order to improve disabled facilities at Haig Avenue, including an offer to add to the publicly declared £6000 of funding already raised between 2004 and 2006 by the ‘Centenary Appeal Committee’ which was earmarked for the same purpose. Trust members had been informed as recently as May that the money was still available should an appropriate project be found.
As the money had been raised specifically for ground developments, supporters, especially those involved with the centenary appeal, have requested that the Trust asks the Chairman to provide details of the developments that this money has been spent on?
The chairman highlighted in the meeting with the Trust that the amount of football foundation funding available now is at a lower level than it had been, but we would ask why football foundation funding was not applied for when it was available, particularly as the ground centenary committee was created five years ago.
The Trust continues to explore any ideas our members and fellow fans have that could be of assistance to both them and the club they support. The vision underpinning the Trust is medium-to-long term. Our platform is about how the club can be run in the future and be a better club for it. Much disappointment therefore greeted the news that there were no plans for the development of the club in the medium to long term, and more alarmingly no plans were in place if circumstances arose in which it could no longer depend on the financial support of its present major backers. Whilst we are reassured that neither the chairman nor vice chairman have any immediate plans to walk away, in the light of events at many other clubs it was hoped that the Chairman would be able to put on record his plans to ensure that a similar eventuality might not occur at Southport FC if he or any other significant backer was to step away.
Of course everyone involved with Southport wants to see the club become as successful as possible but ultimately Trust In Yellow and the supporters they represent, see their role as to act as the guardians of the club, and this is about working with the club, not simply for the club. Whether that work is bringing the club closer to the community or being involved in the day-to-day issues from finance and administration, or the long-term, ensuring that when – as it always does – the club changes hands, the Trust are the watchful eye.
Trusts are about building that bridge between the club itself and the community of fans that sustain it, season in, season out. It is about making that bridge something based on mutual trust and respect. The history of Southport Football Club is plagued by “near-misses” and on more than one occasion supporters were faced with the very real possibility that their club might not exist.
The willingness of the Chairman and Vice-Chairman to discuss their personal situations has underlined the investment that they have to date made into the club and it is clear that they have not made these investments in the expectation of personal gain and that is fully appreciated by the Trust members.
The club does have a reputation for providing information on a ‘need to know’ basis which, in the current Sky-inspired environment of blanket coverage, leaves too much room for conjecture. The Trust believes that the communications between the football club and the fans are improving, but they still have some way to go.
Both the chairman and vice chairman highlighted that no offers for significant investment had been made and that they would welcome any offers in the future with “open arms”. The Trust would like to know why there has been no concerted effort to attract that investment by the board and quite why they believe that such investment might be forthcoming given the aforementioned “need to know” approach often taken and the lack of any realistic stated targets and lack of any strategic planning. What do the chairman and vice chairman classify as significant investment and have there been ANY offers of investment from any interested parties in the past that they have discounted? If so, on what basis was the decision made to not accept the offer?
Whilst the club has requested that the trust encourage members to join the Goalden lottery, the Trust is concerned that with the lottery’s sizeable membership already that it doesn’t already make significant profit. Has there been any analysis into the reasons for the lottery’s current failings and the reasons that it no longer generates the desired return for the heavy investment?
Whilst our league position is currently quite healthy, attendances certainly have not been and therefore the assumption can only be that Southport are operating at a loss against target. In an environment where 99% of the work is done on a voluntary basis, sharing ideas and solutions to achieve common goals makes perfect sense. The Trust repeats its request that the club undertakes an analysis of the numbers of Under 16 supporters on a typical match day. Whilst the £50 season ticket is an applaudable offer it must be acknowledged that this does nothing to attract those supporters who are not already keen followers yet who might still be the future of the club. One of Haydn Preece’s particular successes as Chief Executive was the implementation of a ‘free tickets for schools’ scheme which now appears to be sadly defunct.
The chairman stated that a number of Haydn’s duties and responsibilities had been taken on by other people, including himself. Please can the chairman clarify which duties this includes and which roles are now no longer being fulfilled?
The Trust looks forward to our next meeting in March and future meetings after that.