Where To Now?
Thoughts after the Fans Forum

After the Fans Forum I was reflecting on the meeting itself, where the club is now and a few matters that fans might need to think about. First were my reflections on DC’s time at S6. The positives about DC’s running of SWFC for me are:

  • He has invested a significant amount money into the club both on infrastructure and playing staff, but more on the latter
  • He has instilled a sense of ambition into the club and fan base
  • He has developed an affinity with the club, a passion for it and displays that passion
  • He has been open to communication and engagement with fans
  • He gave us a brilliant 15/16 season and a very good day out at Wembley, even if we came home defeated.

But there are downsides to the DC regime and for me these are:

  • The enormous amount of money spent on wages and transfers since May 2016 that hasn’t taken us forward a great deal, and has not all been well spent
  • A focus on getting to the PL as quickly as is possible at the risk of medium and long term stability of the club and our consequent difficulties with FFP/P&S
  • Regarding fans as people who should fund the club without question or complaint, or regarding them as having a ‘customer’ mentality if they don’t want to fund in the way that he prefers
  • A lack of understanding of football  fan culture and how fans respond to poor performances and what they perceive as lack of effort
  • Not understanding that those fans who can’t afford season tickets (or can’t attend all games)  still want to have an emotional connection with the club through things such as reasonably priced tickets, memberships, access to radio commentaries etc

Sadly, a minority of so called fans have thought it appropriate to hurl insults or abuse at DC and his family which he says has had a negative impact on them, not surprisingly. Shame on the people who do such things, particularly when hiding behind social media accounts – they need to be rooted out. But because such terrible things happen cannot mean that legitimate criticism or respectfully expressed challenge have to be outlawed. If someone takes on the role of custodian of a football club there will be challenges and criticisms, as well as praise.

What became clear at the Fans Forum was confirmation of what we all already knew which is that we are under a transfer embargo and are awaiting EFL confirming what action they will take in respect of our boundary testing of FFP. There was hope though that we might be able to make loan signings before the end of August. Secondly, if we are not promoted to the PL in 18/19 we face real problems in 19/20 with the need to reduce the cost of the squad substantially. Should we forget seeking promotion this season and start the process of wage budget reduction in earnest by selling more players now or in January whilst they have more value? We don’t know what action EFL will take - in Birmingham City’s case they have imposed a limit on player signings, have imposed a business plan and referred them to a Disciplinary Commission for consideration of further sanctions. Even if EFL go lightly on us I am sure they will still monitor our position to secure action towards FFP compliance which will mean a recent Forest style situation in which we have to sell or lose our better played players, replace them with cheaper ones and younger loanees, and promote our own youth players. The ability to compete at the top end of the Championship may well be curtailed unless we can build an effective team on tight resources – a bit of a Millwall model?

I think the above changes need to accompanied by a calm and reflective conversation about what are realistic expectations for the club in terms of both its football performance and its business and operating model. On the football side are we hoping for a period of retrenchment followed by another gamble on promotion and with FFP? Or, do we envisage slowly rebuilding the club to establish it as an upper mid-table club that can have a pop at the play-offs? Or do we settle for quiet mediocrity? On the business and operating model do we want the current style to continue or do we want to ensure a strong connection between the club, the city, the community and fans, and an approach that is inclusive rather than being exclusive; where inclusivity isn’t related to a person’s ability to pay to be part of the club?  What is the fair balance between what the owner funds and what fans should fund? Does DC see himself as leading a club in these very different circumstances? Do we think that different leadership might be needed for new times?

On a wider point what are we going to say and try to do to get the EFL and other clubs to recognise that the current Championship model of how clubs are operating, the issues with FFP (P&S) and parachute payments (PP), and how all these things weave together are unsustainable and just encouraging gambling and boom/ bust football economics? Would we suggest changes to the rules and what would they be? Or, do we accept that FFP was introduced for the right reasons and so were PP’s and the problem is that some clubs just don’t get their business and operating model right? A calm and rational conversation about these issues ought to be taking place too.

Related to these potential conversations areas is a point about whether we have the right forum for engagement between fans and the club. The Forums are ok but they do not facilitate effective two way communication with so many people in the room. I also think DC’s style doesn’t help – with that many people in the room the meeting needs to be chaired very skilfully. There could be a role for the CEO to engage with fans on more detailed matters. Do we need a much regular, smaller forum that connects fan representatives and the club on an ongoing basis? How do we ensure that the forum is effectively connected with the wider fan base?

For me all these questions are not simply academic. We are asked by DC to trust him and to stop allegedly ‘damaging the club’ by asking questions. But some fans have been sounding alarm bells for a while now about the way in which the club is being run and they have been shown to be right given the challenges we now face. Football clubs have been negatively affected by owners before and fans have learnt that they have to be diligent and watchful about what happens to their club. A broader consensus about the way in which the club should be run would be very helpful in minimising the need for questions and challenge. To achieve that consensus it means that DC, the loyalists and the critics will have to change their approach, it would be great if that could happen - my questions are an attempt to start us down the road of building that consensus. Whilst that is happening we can support the team to try to make sure we have a decent season before the re-structuring and changes take place.

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