Read all the minutes from the latest SCG meeting, including CCFC Chairman Tim Fisher...
COVENTRY CITY SUPPORTERS’ CONSULTATIVE GROUP
Butts Park Arena
Wednesday 12 October 2016
Present: Pat Abel (PA), Steve Brown (SBR), Declan Connolly (DC), Darren Davies (DD), Tim Fisher (TF) (via telephone), Michael Garlick (MG), Colin Henderson (CH), Mark Hornby (MH), Chris McGrath (CM), Pat Raybould (PR), Tynan Scope (TS), Ray Stephens (RS), Jonathan Strange, chairman (JS)
Apologies for Absence: Steve Barnett, Adam Brearley, Jim Brown, David Busst, Sandra Garlick, Kevin Heffernan, CJ Joiner, Jan Mokrzycki, Mark Venus and Peter Ward.
Telephone Call with Tim Fisher
JS opened the meeting by asking if anyone knew of an Anne Fenton. She had emailed JS asking for the names of the SCG members either attending or apologising for absence from the previous week’s teleconference.
TF responded that he and others at the club had been previously contacted by an Anne Fenton who was a fake – this was when Weber Shandwick had led a PR campaign against the football club in 2014. Weber Shandwick are the PR company previously retained by CCC and ACL.
Under no circumstances should the names of SCG members or contact details be handed over.
JS: We are here to take matters on further from the previous week’s teleconference.
CH: Political issues on planning at BPA?
TF: The political embargo is in effect in two stages:
1) Coventry Rugby Club are in a difficult position in terms of doing a deal with the football club because of the shadow that is cast across BPA by the legal work stream that is going on between SISU and CCC.
2) We cannot even reach second base because there is no local political will for football to be played at BPA. However, in respect of planning, a precedent has been set with outline planning for a 15,000 capacity stadium previously. CCC could add delays of course and the project could get kicked into the long grass.
At last week’s teleconference, I’d like to think the club indulged the SCG by showing this year’s financials ahead of formal release by the auditors – Can I ask the Sky Blues Trust to also indulge the SCG and present the financials for Sky Blues Supporters Initiative Ltd?
SBR: I can send them to you but as of 6.00 p.m. today I am no longer the chairman of the Sky Blue Trust.
TF: Is there any other member of the Sky Blue Trust present apart from Steve? Steve – can you go through the numbers now?
SBR: The numbers are a couple of thousands of pounds.
TF: Really? How could you be sure? The Trust has not filed accounts for the last three years – which is a requirement under the Cooperative and Community Benefit Societies Act 2014. Audited or unaudited you need to show revenue accounts, balance sheet and have filed annual returns.
TF: Following on, have you made a formal approach to the football club owner to take control of the football club?
SBR: No, we have written asking for a meeting to discuss certain points.
TF: Are you sure you did not make a formal offer for the football club?
SBR: No we did not. Anyway the letter was confidential.
TF: No it was not. I understand that the letter that was sent in response from the owner was marked confidential but the Trust’s letter was not marked Private & Confidential.
TF: So you have not made a formal approach at all – has anybody on your behalf? Perhaps the Sky Blues Supporters Initiative Ltd – Yes or No?
SBR: There has been communication – I am not prepared to answer the question, you know why.
TF: This is absolutely ridiculous; you represent a company that hasn’t filed accounts for three years and has a ‘couple of thousand pounds’ at the bank and yet makes a formal offer for CCFC?
SBR: You’ve seen the letter; there was not a formal offer. It was asking some questions, as you’ve been asking questions yourself.
TF: For the record and it is really important – you have sent a letter to SISU to offer to take control of the club, have admitted your turnover is but a few thousand pounds, not filed accounts for three years and yet you’re trying to take over a multi- million pound turnover business?
SBR: I am not saying that.
TF: Does your adviser sit on the board of another football club?
SBR: I don’t know.
TF: Let me be crystal clear. If there is any suggestion that the Sky Blue Trust has agitated and created supporter concern in the club and therefore prejudiced the current shareholder position then you need to be very careful, especially if you have made a formal approach to take over the shareholder position. I quietly worry for the directors and officers of Sky Blue Initiative Ltd. The behaviour is reckless.
Do you think it is appropriate, Steve, to stay in the meeting? I think it is improper that you be here because you are undermining the football club in terms of the management and the shareholder.
Further, in terms of how the SCG is run, you openly criticised the framework of the SCG and the people who sit on it. Why are you sat in this seat?
SBR: I am here as an individual as per most of the SCG and rightly pointed out by the Chair on previous minutes. I heard what you said and the wording of the letter makes me think you shouldn’t have read it and I shouldn’t say anything.
TF: My concern is your behaviour around the football club – I don’t think what you’re doing is particularly helpful and I wonder if it is self-serving.
Two further important points:
1) I do not want any more Sky Blue Trust approaches to ex colleagues of the club asking for confidential financial information.
2) Can I ask you to think of the EFL rules? They are clear on people being involved in one football club making an approach to another club. It is ethically inappropriate and you are putting the Football Club at risk with your behaviour. Take stock of ethical business practices, I suggest you read EFL regulation 100.2.
All this is undermining the club. It is the first time in years and years that we are making a profit. Last year we lost £1.1mil, this year before interest and tax we were up making a profit of £700,000.
SBR: Yes, but before tax?
TF: Steve, we have that many losses it will be years before we pay tax on profit. But to be clear, being profitable doesn’t detract from the fact that the business model is not great. I’m not happy we have to sell footballers, the current model concerns me, but we keep moving forward. The whole idea that you agitate and move negatively around the club is not good. Think about the football club, Steve.
SBR: Solicitors may have contacted the owners. Is that anything to do with you? You have made it clear SISU and the football club are very different.
MG: We all know what the problems are – but it serves no useful purpose protesting etc. We should all be expending our energy and efforts on supporting the team because this is what really matters at the present time with the team in its current position.
JS: The SCG is and always has been a consultative group; our function has never been to act as a protest campaign group. You have sought to turn the group into becoming that – which is not its purpose. We cannot consult with employees of the club over the position of owners on whom they are indirectly dependent and to whom they owe a responsibility.
SBR: When chairman of the Sky Blue Trust, I had to respond to members – if you were to ask those people what their views were, what would they say? Am I a minority supporter with my views on new owners?
SBR: I got asked why I was not involved in these protests. The majority of members wanted it and I needed to act on this. The SCG is the one way the fans can have access to owners and people at our club.
JS: The problem is people don’t want to ask questions. So many think they know the answer. The contact e-mail is prominently advertised and I have never failed to forward a question sent to me.
MG was unhappy over comments about the SCG on Friday’s CWR forum and about RS’s comments at the Diamond Club lunch. JS challenged RS’s assertion that there had been a change to the constitution forbidding members from speaking about anything but matchday issues.
JS: What were we talking about to Joy Seppala, to the directors of CovRugby, to Mark Venus, to David Busst and others? Why were we talking repeatedly with Chris Anderson about the Academy?
JS said that the function of the SCG is to represent all supporters but we contribute to the group as individuals. There is nothing on our season ticket application or above the turnstile demanding that we belong to any group. SBR and others, however, are in an especially useful position to communicate with other groups.
SBR: I have over the last few years tried to be a diplomat – however, the pressure from Trust members and supporters as a whole have worn me down. I cannot run or be part of the Trust if I was not to follow what they wanted.
JS: You’re angling for protests – we have to differentiate between outright protest, which you are pursuing, or sitting around the table asking questions like the SCG – but we need to have those questions put to us in the first place.
SBR: One way or another we have to make decisions – you’re a diplomat.
JS: Information about the members is readily available. The nature of the group is misrepresented.
TF: Nothing has ever been hidden or misleading; it feels like the behaviour is almost reckless. With a sporting performance we need everybody behind the team and Mark Venus. Behaving this way is just inappropriate.
Another question that has been fired at me was, ‘You earn £200,000 a year Tim from the club’. I’ve not taken anything out of this club for eighteen months because every single penny is needed for this club on the pitch.
As a club we need to pull together. Put the club first. Forget the owners, they come and go. We have a sense of responsibility to act appropriately around the football club and support the players.
TS: If people are not emailing, members can raise questions they see on social media.
SBR: Tim, the majority of the fans have nothing to say positively about you because you are giving nothing back. I think you’ve lost the fans’ support – the phone call last Thursday was very good but people haven’t got access except through here.
TF: This isn’t a popularity contest – this is about putting the football club first.
SBR: You are the football club. Would you come to an open Trust meeting?
TF: Of course, I’ve never turned down a meeting. I have been to them before – I welcome meeting fans.
PA suggested TF should accept invitations to speak on CWR’s Friday night programme.
JS: When I respond to emails, I try and encourage supporters to actually ask questions; to separate attitudes to the owners from the real day-to-day issues of the football club.
RS: Surely Jonathan, this all comes back to the owner. I couldn’t take part on Thursday, but Tim has said there is a political embargo. When is SISU going to drop these things – no negotiations with anything will go on because of this.
We can’t talk to them, we can’t talk to the council. Until these actions stop, we can’t go anywhere.
JS: So you think Joy should drop legal proceedings that she feels are legitimate? There is nothing the football club or we can do about it.
TF: Ray, it’s the prerogative of the owner to take whatever action they want. The challenge I have got is that we can’t influence that. Do we really think if we shout louder, that will change the legal position of the owners? The answer is no.
Unfortunately, there is a downside to the situation that doesn’t affect SISU, it affects the club. I can’t affect the legals – I can only look to the day-to-day running of the football club.
Steve, your points on communication are spot on. If you organise something I will turn up and answer everything, you know that.
SBR: If Joy was to sell, could she still take legal action?
TF: I am not qualified to answer that, I’m not a lawyer.
SBR: Surely Joy wants to recoup her money – is she ever going to recoup a fraction by owning this club – No. My attitude is, by all means take the council to court, but don’t affect the club by doing it.
We’ve got an anonymous owner; people won’t deal with the club because of this.
TF: I have no idea if SISU could still take legal action without owning the club.
I appreciate Steve’s question – to be clear, I and the board cannot influence what SISU do – I have been very open about that. Instead, I have made it my aim to keep the club away from the political side or legal side. That’s not always been achieved.
When I try and separate club from the legals, others try and stitch them back together and create a negative atmosphere. Why don’t we focus on getting the football club right? I think we’re very close to doing that in terms of financial numbers.
The rest of the noise we have to ignore, as it’s becoming more of a problem. It’s having an effect on the club, not the owners!
Last year when Mowbray had us in the top six, nobody was saying anything! We’ve got to focus on the football, and colleagues like Mark Venus are distracted by all of this.
TS: The political and legal environment hasn’t changed from a year ago – what has changed is that we’re bottom of the table.
For the most part, no-one cared because we were doing well. Bottom of the table and everything is the end of the world.
Are we saying if the football is good, the club is fine?
What Tim is trying to do is bring everything together.
The problem with football is football supporters want the owner out when things are not going well. That’s just football.
TF: Sometimes you have to get it out on the table. Can I reiterate I will go and talk to absolutely everybody, but can we please adjust the needle on the protest dial because this affects the football club, the club’s employees - including the footballers. It is hard for the footballers to ignore the chanting and protests if they happen during a game.
We need everybody pulling in the same direction as the club.
JS: People give up when we’re bottom of the league – The real problem is that it is now 46 years since we had a team at this club that finished in the top six of any division.
TF: I want to make it about the football. I want Mark Venus to talk, for example, because then it’s about the football and not all the political noise.
I’m calling for positivity inside the ground and for those who go to the games. Outside, do whatever you wish and protest, but inside please get behind the team. We are in a difficult position sporting wise; let’s not make it worse.
Steve I’ll come and speak to your members and I’ll front up any questions whatever they may be. I am just asking for some sense of responsibility.
For example, we are apparently selling Ryton for asset stripping. Absolute rubbish! It will one day be sold by the club, for the benefit of the club to get a bigger and better footballing facility for the club.
We need everybody in the SCG to pull together. Let’s keep it on a positive tilt if we possibly can.
CH: Having the minutes on the website is a great thing. The supporters may not like the answers but it is there to be seen and communicated. I feel in the past the club hasn’t communicated properly but that is starting to be different and you need to keep that going.
TF: Fair point – let’s keep the questions coming and make it a regular thing. With regards to communication I took a tactical view, when Chris Anderson came in. I thought it was a fresh voice and he would lead all communication. I regret taking a step back, but I am desperately keen to get the message across that there are good things happening at this football club.
Fans require and deserve answers so we will communicate them. We have lost supporters, hopefully not forever; I regret we haven’t communicated well as a club. As an example, when it came to Ryton going into the local plan we should have come out and said what was happening ahead of Rugby Borough Council – I was wrong, we as a club should have got it out a couple of days before. It was poor communication, I accept that and we need to improve.
MG: John Sharp had commented when the Telegraph announced that the Butts Park Arena deal was off but there was nothing from the football club. This showed that the club was lagging behind in the communication process to fans and public at large.
TF: I feel from time to time the Telegraph don’t accurately report what we tell them, which is frustrating, so I don’t want to talk about the Telegraph and their reporting.
We’ve got a website and we’ve been using it.
RS: A big mistake was made regarding Ryton, but then the man you put forward to talk about the plans was a director of a property company and the current first-team manager.
TF: Mark Venus is a director. Mark, way before he joined this football club, had an interest in a building company in Essex – he is not going to be building houses in Ryton.
RS: He was the wrong person to put forward is what I am saying.
TF: Was it ill-judged to send Mark? Maybe. Perhaps I should have made my train and shouldn’t have been late.
I’ve acknowledged that we’ve made mistakes regarding the communication. I know this, I have admitted this and we all have learnt from it.
JS: I think it’s important that people realise that Mark is going to talk principally about football issues.
TF: That’s right – I would be disappointed if you associated Mark with the political embargo. He hasn’t been here long; he has been trying to support the footballer recruitment process, the Academy.
DD: Where are we with the Academy?
TF: The club is working with Coventry Sports Foundation, who are committed to support us moving forward. We are looking at options around the city and once we’ve got a solution we’ll talk about it, certainly. The CSF want to help protect our Cat Two status.
DC: Any news on a new manager?
TF: We collected all applications and CV’s on Friday. Mark is still sitting in the caretaker position. We will go through the process and the profile of the manager we want. In the interim, Mark will continue to stay in charge.
TF was asked about the conflicting responsibilities of technical director and caretaker manager. Iff you were to make Venus manager and it didn’t go well, it would be difficult. Would it be better to leave him at what he was doing before?
TF: I believe that Mark wants to be technical director, but he is taking responsibility of the first-team right now and he is not throwing his hat into the ring to be the permanent manager long term.
DD: With transfers allowed twice a year, a new manager wants to come in around January, surely?
TF: Budget is set-aside for January, we know we are short in a couple of positions, that’s obvious, and we’ll look to strengthen then.
In terms of a manager, it is about making the right appointment at the right time.
DD: Will it be closer to January appointment?
TF: We are going through the process – but the impact of a new manager would certainly be felt in January, but we are only focused at getting the correct person.
In the interim, in Venus we trust, and he needs all the support.
End of telephone call with Tim Fisher
Adoption of Minutes
The minutes to the meeting on Thursday 8 September 2016 were formally adopted.
JS: We can go into further details about the issue of confidentiality in due course.
TS and RS discussed issues raised over car parking involving the undesirable use of disabled spaces for season ticket holders who are not blue badge holders. TS said that a number of other car parking issues had been discussed.
RS: There are now two bays - the first one for the disabled, the second I think for season ticket holders. People who are not season ticket holders are also parking in the second bay.
JS: Has the problem with damaged children’s playing kits been resolved?
TS: Anyone who has an issue, please contact the club shop - email@example.com
JS: Bruce Walker’s transport presentation at the last meeting had been extremely helpful. What about his crucial point about the reinstatement of direct bus services to the Ricoh from the city centre on a matchday?
MH: On match days we are promoting these services. There is a group offer that saves money on National Express buses all day, with as many stops as you want. We are promoting that on social media. They are regular scheduled services – we have to fill them to make the argument for further ones.
EFL Structuring Proposals
JS read a note from Jim Brown:
‘I wanted to raise the subject of the FL reorganisation plans but the statement from the FL regarding amendments to the original proposals including ruling out PL clubs’ B teams in a restructured league have reduced my concern. Until we have had more concrete proposals there is little point in discussing this further. I was pleased, however, to read in the statement that fans’ organisations will be involved going forward.’
Any Other Business
Steve Barnett wanted to compliment Laura Hunter on making such a good job of The Wall.
JS said that he would discuss with DD addressing outstanding questions posed on the Coventry City Supporters Forum.
TS: Regarding the price of corporate seating and packages. Some of the suggested prices wouldn’t make financial sense. We currently offer a very good price compared to others in the division.
MH: Just to update everyone on some positive news items:
We have 133,000 likes on Facebook, which is the fifth highest in the league, and we are the fourth highest on Twitter with a regular dialogue line kept open as much as possible on both. The dialogue is about supporter queries on ticketing etc
There are over 1200 Junior Sky Blues. Plans are moving forward for JSB party - no idea where we are going to fit them all! MH brought out the gifts for everyone to see.
He explained process for Sky Blues Membership and what is involved.
MH: We have the whole squad going to various community events and football courses.
The Scunthorpe game will be our Remembrance game. There will be a minute’s silence, and poppies on the shirts. We will be inviting the armed forces and having a collection. We will also be attending the launch of poppy appeal as we have done for five years.
Plans have been made for the annual hospital visit, charity collections for air ambulance, Coventry Girls FC, Guide Dogs Trust and Jimmy Hill Legacy Fund. There have also been over 400 tickets donated to local causes with raffles and fundraising events.
We attended the Coventry University Freshers Fayre, and will be working with Coventry University and Warwick University on several things, including ticket offers for students and staff. We will also be extending ticket offers to large employers in the city.
The new email system is up and running.
From the community side, there is a lot on match day so we are generally promoting what they do. I just wanted to say thanks to the fans for the reception of some of those who took part in games on the pitch, specifically the Frame Football.
Funding has been granted for the third year of the ‘Move and Learn’ project, that has been delivered locally in 55 schools involving 3687 children so far. There will be a further 30 schools and 1800 children next year.
There has also been funding for disability football and ‘Cov One Big Thing’, which aims to encourage people to get active.
MH mentioned ‘It Takes Balls to Talk’ – encouraging men specifically between twenty and fifty to talk about their mental health and well-being to combat the issue of depression and suicide in men of this age group.
The Jimmy Hill Legacy Fund is moving forward. There has been over £5500 raised so far.
JS: I’m sure I speak for everyone that if Laura can put some of these wonderful stories on the website or in the programme that would be fantastic.
SBR said that he was unhappy that no-one from the club had contacted him regarding his ideas on the matchday experience following the last meeting. He was prepared to invest in some flags but not without the OK and some support of the club. In response, TS and MH said that they welcomed the support of SBR and acknowledged that they hadn’t yet met with him but that the two of them along with Adam Brearley would meet with SBR to progress this.
SBR suggested that the SCG invite Moz Baker from the Trust to attend future meetings. He is now chairman of the Trust and well-known as a helper in the JSB area.
SBR: I’ve stepped down as chairman of the Sky Blue Trust. I am still a member though. I won’t hide what I feel, but I am no longer the chairman.
RS: There was an email going round that reported what I had to say at the Diamond Club. When I got back I sat down and wrote an email to Tim Fisher and Joy telling them what I said.
A week or so later, I got an email from an unknown person and below was the email of an exact copy I sent to Joy and Tim.
Each time I have stood up and reported to the Diamond Club it has got back to Tim and Joy – that is why I got home and wrote the email.
I tried replying to this email and it just bounces – looks like a spam email account.
MG: Tickets – Now we have the new office, when I come and buy tickets I flash my season ticket and I get reduced to watch the rugby. Are we doing a similar scheme to the centurions and everything else?
Also on the corporate food, at the Rugby club there is one girl serving and one girl on the till selling a plate of chips, faggots and peas for £3 a plate.
For something similar at the Ricoh, it would be £13!
PR: It is very frustrating for the Family Zone Volunteer Team that we have recently ‘lost’ two Saturday games – Chesterfield last weekend and the movement of Sheffield United to a Thursday. This means we have no weekend league match in December. As we still want to bring Santa in to see our young fans, we will arrange this for 15 December before the Sheffield United game in our concourse area.
Our JSB Christmas Party is being arranged and will, hopefully, take place on 22 December. More details at the next SCG meeting.
CH asked whether the Wasps vehicle is still being parked in front of one of the Legends walls at the Ricoh. MH said it had now been moved.
CH asked whether in the case of a home draw in the FA Cup, tickets paid for would automatically be uploaded onto season tickets. MH confirmed they would.
DC: At the last meeting when Adam was in attendance, he mentioned that part of his remit was to improve the matchday experience and to make the stadium as welcoming as possible. When I arrived at either the Wimbledon or Oldham match, I entered the atrium where there was Wasps paraphernalia knocking around which isn’t exactly welcoming…I understand that there are things we cannot change but there were three or four large floor mats with the Wasps logo on and there was Wasps adverts all over the screens. Could we just replace these things with City things for the time we’re there?
My second point/question was whether or not we could introduce some music into the corporate lounge areas before, during half-time and post-match to try and improve the atmosphere in these areas? Or better still, just play the music/PA feed from the stadium into the lounges? MG mentioned about reintroducing the post-match quiz again. I appreciate that Tynan did mention that they are making steps to make these areas more welcoming with new branding and looking at sky blue lighting.
TS: Only 11% of customers questioned wanted music in the lounges.
Date of Next Meeting: To be Confirmed