In the penultimate section of our club press conference coverage the Checkatrade Trophy vote and plans for the stadium are discussed.
A while ago in a CUSG meeting, Kevin Dobinson was quoted talking about issues with sponsors not getting on board, with some citing Brexit and issues with the ownership. I wondered what your view on that was and what ownership issues could mean in the bigger picture, and how do you get over that?
NC – I was at the meeting where Kevin said that, it was at one of our CUSG meetings which we have every six weeks. They invited Kevin because they wanted to understand what his role in the club was, so he came along and chatted and said that. That’s good, because the minutes are taken and the record is there. I don’t think Kevin said anything in that meeting that anybody would deny. We don’t live in a vacuum, whilst not every single fan talks to me about that, some do. I’ve spoken to some fans who have said ‘that’s me done’ andm as I said before, one is too many. With the gates where we are and the benefits of having more fans, one is too many. I don’t think he said anything that was a surprise to anybody. How you fix that is down to each individual. For a lot of the people who might be in that boat, I feel that having spoken to them it’s a very black and white issue, there are no shades of grey. It is a case of if there’s no change, they won’t come back. For other fans, I think if the club can do things in a different way and they can grow to trust the club more, and see that it’s doing more of the right things, and less of the wrong things, then some of those fans may come back into the fold. That equally applies to businesses as it does to fans on the terraces. You can’t get away from it, we’re all realistic, but as a club and as people making decisions day-to-day, we’ve got to do all we can to get every fan we can to come to our games because it’s vital.
Are there any plans for a fans’ forum at any point in the near future?
NC – no, we haven’t considered that. If there’s another demand, we can look at it. But we tend to have them at the start and end of the season to bookend the year. That’s worked well, because at the end of the season you can look back as well as forward. In the middle, things can change so fast and be so inconsistent, so you never know where you are from one week to the next, at times. I don’t really think looking at things in the middle of the season works. I think towards the end of the season is better, and we can have the AGM and that kind of thing all together.
Clubs have been asked for their views on the Checkatrade Trophy, can you say where the club have gone with that in terms of the vote?
NC – the Holdings Board voted to continue with the competition as it is. It was a split vote, as marginal as possible, there was one vote in it. That shows where we are with it.
This is with a view to another three years of it, so you would imagine that will go through now?
NC – I expect it will go through.
Given the crowds we’ve seen, can you see that some fans will hear that the club has voted in favour and see it as a slap in the face? They’ve made their views very clear since this has been a concept.
JM – so have CUOSC, and we’re opposed to the current format.
NC – the position of the fans has been clear since the format was brought forward. Nothing has changed from a fan perspective since then. If anything the fan sentiment towards it has hardened, which has come across in the declining gates. We see that, the fans tell me in no uncertain terms, there’s no hiding from that. Those issues were heavily discussed around the boardroom table but the view was taken on a financial basis, given where we are as a club, that the money that’s involved meant we needed to support it. There is nobody in the club who doesn’t recognise the fan view, but the decision has been made as it has.
How concerned are you that decisions like that across football makes supporters feel they’re being pushed away a little bit? It seems money wins every time.
NC – I think you’re being generous in how you describe that. I think football does have a problem in terms of the disconnect between supporters and ‘the game’. Individual clubs have their own issues, we can talk about ours, but we accept them and we can try to fix those ourselves. The wider issue about fan disconnect across the wider game is a bigger issue, and I hope that situations like this are as rare as they possibly can be, because football can’t afford many more of them.
JM – the fans’ directors fully understand the financial situation of the club. We’ve talked about how important the finances are to the club, and to maintaining the form we have and to challenge. CUOSC tend to look at it as a longer-term issue, and if you alienate fans constantly you know where you’ll end up.
Is anything happening stadium wise?
NC – we had a discussion with the council last week. We met the leader of the council, the chief executive and Jane Meek, who looks after commercial business development. We discussed the stadium issue with them. We updated them on the challenges we face and the steps that we’ve taken to consider options around this stadium. We went through what we’d discovered about flood defences and the scope for funding developments. We had a very full and frank discussion about the long-term problems that this club and site face, in terms of the viability. We started off talking about attendances, recruitment of players and ownership, but the stadium will ultimately be more important than all of those. The stadium is absolutely vital to the viability of this football club in terms of the income it could generate, the amount of fans who want to come, the facilities we could provide, the legal obligations we have to fulfil and what people expect from a day out when they come to be entertained. All of those things are going to come into sharper focus, and that isn’t just an issue for this club, it’s for the whole city and wider community. A football club is part of the community, and all those things I mentioned earlier play a vital role. If you look at the good work that football clubs do, it can make a difference. They showed Chelsea players on Match of the Day on Saturday talking about helping mental development with social media in schools. There’s something like that on every week. Football clubs make a difference, whether it’s Chelsea or Carlisle United in London or in Cumbria. These issues are really important to our wider community, well-being and health, etc. It’s part of what a vibrant city is about, a successful football club. It’s what our culture is in England, football clubs are central. You only have to look at what a successful club at the higher levels has brought to other towns and cities in this country to know how a joined up community approach, and some vision in terms of working together to create a community facility, can make a real, real difference. That’s what we’re talking to the council about. They took it all on board and it gave them a lot of food for thought. I think we need time to reflect over Christmas then we need to push on.
Are there any plans on the table, or a particular direction you’re going down, or is it just talking at the moment?
NC – there was an acknowledgement, and it’s easy for me to say because I haven’t been here very long, that people have been talking about this for ages, and the problem isn’t getting resolved, it’s only getting more difficult. I think that was taken on board, and I noticed a change in attitude. I don’t want to go into the details of what we agreed because that’s unfair, but we’re going to go back in early January. Both sides have got some things to do before that next meeting to try and move this forward. You only have to look at other clubs we go to and what they’ve achieved, and we should look at them and think we can do better than that. It’s going to need everybody together and wanting to do this, and that’s why doing the right things on and off the pitch all have to come together. That’s what I’ve been trying to promote for a long time.
The final part of the press conference transcript will be online this evening.