The minutes from the the Supporters' Consultative Group meeting on January 16th, 2014
Venue: The Squirrel Pub, Coventry City Centre
Pat Abel, Tickets for Schools
Steve Barnett, CovSupportNews
Steve Brown, Sky Blue Trust
Lee Corden, Advent/CCFC Programme
Ian Davidson, Coventry City London Supporters Club, SBI
Darren Davies, "No one likes us, We don't care"
Kevin Heffernan, Coventry City Supporters Irish Branch/Vice Presidents
Mark Labovitch, CCFC
Jan Mokrzycki, Sky Blue Trust
Kevin Monks, CovSupportNews
Pat Raybould, Junior Sky Blues
Ray Stephens, Diamond Club
Tynan Scope, CCFC
Jonathan Strange, Long Distance Supporters
Andy Powell, 25-35 Demographic
Apologies for absence
Minutes from last meeting
CCFC update - Mark Labovitch
Publicising SCG – Jonathan Strange
JSB Christmas Party, and the Family Zone at Sixfields - Pat Raybould
Terms of Reference - Kevin Heffernan
Any Other Business
Date of Next Meeting
ML – Football side of the business, the biggest thing is Leon Clarkes Transfer Request – Steve Waggott is looking for a replacement. Clarke’s agent can be difficult but Leon has 18 months to honour. Steve Waggott is a breath of fresh air. He knows so many people in the game we’re confident he will find the right replacement.
The FA Cup draw with Arsenal at the Emirates has been a huge unbudgeted commercial boost. It couldn’t have been better.
ID – why no increased allocation? It was clear that the majority of supporters couldn't obtain tickets until later in the allocation process.
TS – Tried to clarify this yesterday but not satisfactorily. Last year we had an allocation of 8k and sold 7k. The club had to pay for the additional 1000. Arsenals policy is you must take entire upper tier and pay for them all. The upper tier has 3500 seats so we would need to be confident we would sell them all. Last year it cost us £10k (1000 tickets @ £10 each). This year tickets are £25.50 and Arsenal set a deadline of Wednesday to make a decision, we tried to get them to extend but this request was refused. Given all the variables (Friday night, BT Sport, etc) we decided the financial risk was too high to buy an extra 3500.
ID – That sounds like a sensible economical response and should have been on the press release. Another chance for club to put out clear communication but they haven’t.
JM - £90k risk that we can’t afford.
TS – We will issue a new press release explaining this.
ID – great news that transfer embargo is over. But March 1st for last few years has seen us back in a transfer embargo because of unfiled accounts. Will it be different this year?
ML – I have intense interest in filing accounts. I’m personally liable if they’re late. Accounts being filed is only item on the next board meeting agenda I’m interested in. Steve Brookfield as finance director is working with the accountants to prepare the accounts and the directors are responsible for the accounts being in order. Last time ACL wrote to our accountant and tried to persuade him not to file the accounts. This was unprecedented.
IB – So just to be clear, what’s the current status on Leon Clarke?
ML – Steve Waggott has been speaking to the agent but no news. He’s made it clear he wants to be transferred. Hopefully Leon will continue to play for the time he is contracted to be here. He has an asset value and that’s it.
IB – Does Steven Pressley think he is in the right frame of mind to play?
ML – Steven is a team builder with strong ethics. Hopefully Leon Clarke will live up to those.
JS – Can we discuss the Ann Lucas statement and your response?
ML – This is my personal opinion. There was a huge drumroll to the Lucas announcement, I thought it would be either ‘lets enter proper sales negotiations’, or the council announcing they had bought the Higgs charity out. But it was neither. Delivered in a code. ACL is functionally bust (ML opinion) as it can only survive with an injection of more cash. Accounts will contain a going concern statement. This is a statement from the Accountant saying – “I guarantee this company is solid for next 12 months. If you don’t get that statement you have to pack up. ACL going concern sign off last year said it was in continuing negotiations with the club. When it comes to their new accounts we are no longer in negotiations. In addition the JR might mean they have to pay back £14m. How will they get their going concern statement?
Ann said she would give them support and indicated there would be 2 tough years but then improvement. She will support ACL, probably financially. Going Concern will get signed off if someone commits to inject cash to cover shortfalls. This might be a letter of support from council or perhaps a rich investor. Not sure on legal ground of council putting more money in. A councillor has today said it won’t be financial support but I’m not clear on that.
ML – Mixed messages from the council recently. From a speech in chamber there would be no freehold sale, but would not rule out any sensible options. Then Ann Lucas, on the steps of council house, says it’s like a house. It’s not for sale but if someone makes an offer we’d consider it. But in big commercial property deals you don’t just make offers – you get an independent valuation for a price. Having said that, she then comes on the radio and says freehold, leasehold and charity share is not for sale. Its confused lots of people, including me. I think there are reasons why council officers wouldn’t want it to be sold on the basis of an independent valuation.
IB – do you need permissions form ACL to conduct an independent valuation?
ML – No, but to do a proper valuation you need access to ACL’s books. To clarify commercial property valuations, the stadium isn’t worth what it cost to be built but on the income it can produce. The council had a valuation of ACL done so it could lend it money. They kept quiet about having had this valuation done but it came out in court. My opinion is it’s a conflict of interest to be a council officer – as distinct from an elected councillor, like on the Belgrade Theatre board - and director of ACL. If ACL is run badly, council officers aren’t going to say its run badly. If the Ricoh isn’t earning much then the value is low. It might show up ACL as a bad business so they might not want a valuation done (it’ll make them look bad). Paying a fair price drawn from 2 independent valuations would be fair.
IB – why not do a valuation and make an offer based on that and see what they say.
ML – Why don’t we both get independent valuations done and publish them? You need more than 1 for a sanity check and to dispel any suggestion that the valuer might be influenced by a client who gives them other business.
KH – how feasible is it to make a formal offer to the council to buy Ricoh at the right price and get an Independent Valuation done.
ML – we’ve said that till we’re blue in the face but Ann Lucas now says nothing is for sale
SB – I don’t remember it being said that you want to make an offer.
ML – we’d need access to their books. We could ask that if we get an Independent Valuation done, would you (ACL) give access to carry that out.
All – yes, do it.
ID – fans are fed up of no clarity. If you make the statement at least it would force the issue.
ML – we could easily do that. Lots of urban myths on what the Ricoh is worth. I’ve heard ranges from £5m - £160m. But the stadium isn’t on land which is valuable for other uses. If it was on Bond Street in London then sure. But it isn’t, it’s on the Foleshill gas works site. It can only really be a stadium. It needs to be run by professionals. It only has a value if the business is doing well. A proper valuation carried out and made public would kill urban myths.
JM – that means getting the freehold.
ML – No. Ann says it’s not for sale. It’s an ideological policy, much like North Korea, that they don’t sell freeholds. There comes a point though where a really long lease is essentially a freehold. My opinion is that ACL is an artificial construct which kills the value of the Ricoh because it doesn’t realise its financial potential. I’ve been told that it employs only 9 full time people (approx.). My personal opinion is that it needs to be dismantled to allow the Ricoh to flourish.
To illustrate, if you were offered the freehold of a shop and had a really great retail idea, you might think you could make a fortune. But if the current shop keeper has a lease for 40 years, you couldn’t do anything for 40 years so it wouldn’t be worth much.
JM – Do you want the council to shut down ACL?
ML – My opinion is that ACL only survives because it receives injections of tax payer’s money. You wouldn’t shut them down you’d just stop injecting cash.
RS – what if the Judicial Review goes against you and in favour of council.
ML – it doesn’t matter, the future of the club is not dependent on the Judicial Review. It’s looking at whether it’s lawful to use Tax payer’s money in the way that it was. If it goes the council’s way I assume they will be relieved. Maybe ACL have ideas up their sleeve and the investment will be a success.
SB – It’s logical to go back to Ricoh. But with recent announcements of imminent land purchase, at what point do you perceive it’s a tipping point and it’s no longer logical to go back?
ML – Well it’s almost past that already. Ann said she wanted to discuss a sale, then she met Joy and said not now, but maybe at some point in the future. Then it became clear we needed to go ahead with the new stadium. We will get to a point where we will have invested so much in new stadium that it wouldn’t make sense to come back. My opinion is once you’ve bought the site you might be close to a tipping point.
SB – Until a brick is laid things can change can’t they? Once foundations are down that’s it.
ML – Yes. My opinion is if you get close to building it then that’s it. Acquiring the site is the longest part of doing it. Economic Impact Assessments are being done to help us get planning but the actual build is quick. Brighton and Hove’s Amex Stadium took less than 2 years to build.
ID – what if the club wins the Judicial Review? What are the potential Scenarios? Another council recently announced it had to sell assets to pay off a legal case.
ML – The decisions made by this council are confusing. The deal SISU agreed in Aug 2012 was a win win for everyone, including CCC. The decisions are at odds with Ann’s declared commitment to regeneration. You have this arena and the world’s best stadium management company (AEG) think they can turn it into a fantastic national destination and CCC turn it down. If you talk to the other clubs which Preston Haskell has courted before CCFC such as Leeds, Bolton and others it appears that he wasted their time suggesting he might buy them. It was all so incompetently handled – CCC need to get real and do the right thing. I’d love the council to put me right if I’m wrong, but I don’t think they want the Ricoh sold off the back of an independent Valuation because they’re covering up. Perhaps they don’t want past transactions to be revealed. Bob Ainsworth asked if we would like binding arbitration. We said yes, but added we wanted it to be thorough and take place in public. I think it will all will come out in the JR hearing and there will be nowhere to hide. If I was in the council I’d try to do the right thing to make this go away.
ID – Ann Lucas said she’d defend the Judicial Review. If the club were to win would you go after substantial damages?
ML – I think the Judicial Review hearing is likely to show that there was a conspiracy to wrest control of the club in a way that was going to do damage to the club. It’s against the law for 2 or more people to conspire to cause damage to the business of a third party. Rejecting the CVA causing a points deduction even if it meant turning down money you claimed you’re owed is a good sign of that in my opinion.
DD – When you say all will come out, do you mean with regard to SISU as well?
ML – There is nothing to find out about SISU. I don’t think Martin Reeves wanted arbitration. I think they wanted to cover up. Bobs response was to say in the House of Commons under Parliamentary Privilege protection, that SISU was dodgy. SISU is London-based and fully regulated by the FCA, its clean otherwise it wouldn’t be able to operate. Joy is a part time regulator at the Takeover Panel. We want full disclosure by all sides. SISU have nothing to hide. I wouldn’t make myself unemployable by being a director of a company owned by an outfit that was dodgy.
DD – My problem is I just don’t trust any of you anymore.
KH – If council officials haven’t been doing their job properly they should be accountable. We pay their wages to manage our taxes yet they’re unaccountable.
ML – My personal opinion is this. Joy met Ann and likes and respects her. But I think Ann feels she is out of her depth and relies on Martin Reeves’ advice. If you’re keen on regeneration why would you walk away from a deal with AEG?
ML – At the final creditors meeting, the first vote was Peter Wyndham Knatchbull-Hugessen, he voted for the CVA on behalf of the Alan Higgs Centre Trust. Martin Reeves then rejected on behalf of ACL. HMRC always reject CVAs and in any case this is irrelevant as Ltd. is in the same VAT group as the other club companies. I was confused by Peter. He approves it, then a company he’s 50% shareholder of rejects it. I wondered if that suggested a split on the board of ACL. Then he said on social media that he fully supported ACL rejecting it. Very confusing.
ML - When I joined the board, after a short time I felt we needed to change the management of Onye and Ken Dulieu. If Steve Waggott wants to do anything on the football side, he consults the board and gets approval. I felt that Ken took key football decisions – for example not retaining Marlon King by a relatively small amount of money – without full board consultation and it was bad decisions that got us relegated. CCFC does not belong in League 1 Now, getting promoted back where we belong is key to me. The decision to reject the CVA and cause a points deduction hinders that and it really frustrates me.
SB – With regard to the CET article on the Higgs suing SISU. Can you clarify?
ML – Ok, at the beginning when agreed a deal with CCC, there were a number of components of that deal. SISU would buy the Higgs stake in ACL and SISU would pay off ACLs mortgage. To buy the Higgs stake, SISU needed to do normal due diligence. Higgs said they needed accountants and lawyers so if Joy walks away from the deal it was agreed that SISU would pay those costs. SISU didn’t walk away, it was prevented from fulfilling its part of the deal and paying off ACL’s mortgage because CCC used tax payer’s money to pay the mortgage off. A normal thing to do to defend yourself when someone sues you is to state a counter claim. But remember, there is a history of ACL shareholders launching legal actions which don’t work, such as the first petition for administration of the whole club last March, suing Northampton, etc. Councils and Charities shouldn’t be risking tax payer’s and donors’ money like that. For clarity, SISU is not suing anyone, it’s being sued.
JM – I’m not saying pay it. But to counter sue?
ML – SISU are not counter “suing”, but counterclaiming as part of their defence. It’s a very good point that needs clearing up. It’s all one case. SISU is the defendant. SISU are NOT suing the Higgs and the judge it going to hear it in one session.
lD – so release a statement and clarify it.
ML – We will set the record straight.
JM – Just stop letting stories fester. Make it clear.
ML – fans are bored with statements. But if it’s incorrect we need to clarify. This law suit was launched by Higgs months ago but Peter Wyndham Knatchbull-Hugessen has kept it quiet until now.
JM – it sounds like it happened yesterday going on the reports
ML – ok we’ll clarify.
PW – when’s the next set of accounts for the council published? How much are they spending on Weber Shandwick for their PR?
KH – CCC Accounts not published yet.
PW – they’re accountable to the public. I want to know how much they spending on WS.
TS – Could this be an FOI request?
ML – I think that they rebutted several FOI requests because they say ACL have engaged the company not CCC. A journalist from a national paper wants to cover this but hasn’t had FOI requests sorted. I think they intend to take it to the information commissioner.
JM – Onto the new stadium. Sandra Garlick committee seems to be doing SCG job?
ML – It’s a different thing. Sandra runs it, unpaid, doing it on her own. She’s passionate. She decided she doesn’t want to be affiliated to any specific fans organisations. Talk to Sandra, she decided how she wanted to run it.
JS – I’ll speak to her.
ID – invite her to next meeting?
JS – ok. ACTION – JS to invite Sandra Garlick to next SCG meeting.
ML – she wants to make sure the architects are responsive to fans views.
TS – Sandra is a huge fan, and a solicitor which brings credibility.
KH – She is a Friend of mine and a member of the FPA Committee. She accepted my invitation to become a FPA Sponsor and Friend of the FPA (like a CCFPA Partner) who's Company was prepared to offer Free Legal advice to Former Players who needed help and she was the first to do so.
It was noted that 4 members of the SCG group went to the first stadium forum meeting.
JM – but it could be SCG?
KH – this group has been focussed on match day experience. We were formed to try and put a sky blue imprint on the Ricoh. If a new stadium is built, it’s only right that the fan base has a say.
JS – I’ll initiate discussions with Sandra.
PW – when will the Judicial Review commence?
ML – not sure. Expect it around June. Its administrative law and normally for important things they like to fast track them if they can. At the hearing, the councils QC asked for the main hearing to be heard as quickly as possible. But when the judge asked him if he wanted her to fast-track it, he pulled back. Our view is as soon as possible. Some discussion about possibly late Feb. The Judges allocate reading time, then time for arguing. They got that wrong last time so they need to get it right. I think that 5 days reading has been suggested. I think that there will be witnesses but no cross examination, witness testaments are done outside court.
DD – would AEG be involved in new stadium?
ML – we will take advice but it won’t be same thing.
AP – What about these FOIs with other councils. Can you clarify?
ML – If it’s commercially sensitive all councils clam up. I’m not surprised that FOIs don’t get very far.
JM – we’ve been devoid of facts for years so we need more.
ML – I’ll give opinion but I won’t give facts without proof.
PA – what can we do?
ML – I’m not a Coventry tax payer. If you feel your elected representatives aren’t spending your money properly then raise it as an issue. Politicians fear losing votes more than anything else. Some of the things Weber Shandwick said are reprehensible. One fan, expressed himself against the council on social media and local journalists were sent an email by Weber Shandwick discrediting this individual.
PW – there are plants all over the place. Weber Shandwick are paid to do this. They’ve been paid a lot but they’ve performed. They’ve caused you more problems than anybody.
ML – During the Onye years we deserved to be unpopular. But Weber Shandwick were hired to make the club and its owners look as bad as possible and they’ve done a good job. Tim gets emails whenever I’m on the air saying “get that Labovitch off the radio”, he calls their bluff and offers to meet them but they never seem to want to.
JS – Thanks for the update Mark. We’ll be moving onto other agenda items now.
ML Left the meeting at this point.
JS – Nick Connell is working on the website and the SCG page.
*printout of webpage was circulated. Group suggested amends to certain wording on the page. JS noted amends and will feed back to NC.
KH – SCG email address has been manned by me (firstname.lastname@example.org). Happy to continue to do so.
DD – IF people put the name of person they want to contact in the subject header KH can forward.
SB – I’m conscious about getting some wider representation on the group.
JS – Let’s get the site sorted as it’s taken a while to get here. We need to establish representation of members of group.
SB – at trust we have fans who look after social media. But it is a source of a lot of abuse.
KH – Claus Jorgenson looked after twitter for FPA. He would sometimes put links to stories as opposed to commenting.
PR – JSB update. Whatever is going on young fans are the future. JSB Party on 23rd December at excel centre. Not as many as previously as you can imagine but there were a couple of hundred there. 25 players, Steven Pressley, Neil McFarlane and Oggy were there, and sky blue sam. Players were there from 1:30 and got involved in everything. Tombola for kids, really well supported and players donated loads of things. Really grateful and everyone seemed to enjoy it. Volunteers worked so hard. Raised £157 on tombola which will help family zone at sixfields. Big thanks to all. Family zone is running, not ideal location but we’re getting there. Reports from Sheffield Utd game was great.
JM – big thanks from SCG to Pat for her efforts and the volunteers.
TS – We took our kids and turnout was great, team did a great job. Arts and Crafts were great. Big Thanks to Pat and the team. On the excellence visit, the report was very positive.
IB – Player’s attitude at JSB party was brilliant.
KH – TOR. Formalising the decision of last SCG and Secretary Role to group. Need to write in the position and make it electable every 1 or 2 years. AP agreed to perform the role.
JS – Actually, AP was suggested by SB and I seconded it. Given the years of CMcG taking minutes I think we perhaps acted too quickly.
KH – can we formalise the role.
AP – I’m uncertain about my future on the group. Extremely busy over the coming 12 months and it’s impossible to take minutes and actively contribute when there are sometimes 20 people in attendance. I’d like to get someone who can stand in for me if I can’t make it. I also believe we need some wider representation with younger fans involved.
TS – I’ll look at getting a minute’s secretary.
KH – write in the role. Edit the TOR.
ID – CCLSC asked me on the voting of the vice-chairman about who was representing who. I wasn’t able to explain that. I think we need clarity on representation.
TS – I don’t understand it either, let’s get it clear for the website.
JS – 2 days to get the minutes circulated to the group. 2 days for group to reply. If no reply received they’re deemed approved. On the 5th day NC puts them on the website.
JS – Minute’s secretary and general secretary roles will be created and added to the TOR. JS to circulate.
TS – Landlord of the squirrel gives us it free of charge, so let’s try and give something back by all at least buying one drink at the bar.
Date of Next Meeting
20th February 2014. 6:30pm.
Venue – The Squirrel Pub, Coventry City Centre.