In the final part of the May update chief executive Nigel Clibbens talks about what is happening at Brunton Park as the 2020/21 season comes to a close.
David Holdsworth has detailed the player changes in his recent update.
Operationally, the academy set-up is unrecognisable since the implementation of the Elite Player Performance Plan from the Premier League.
The systems, policies and procedures that must be adhered to are tough and non-negotiable, and are aimed at improving standards and performance. The management is by no means easy. Our academy spending is over £400,000 per year.
The academy has just been through its independent external audit of being ‘Safe to Operate’. This is part of an ongoing process to ensure our academy maintains the required high standards and compliance to retain its academy status. It is therefore critical to get through it successfully. We are working through the findings, and credit to all staff who have been part of this as it is a pressurised time for all involved.
Sheldon and safeguarding
We have had the first two parts of a comprehensive independent external audit of Safeguarding by Barnardo’s. The Sheldon Report highlights how important this issue is. Anyone who saw the BBC programmes will have been moved by what the survivors have suffered. I have listened and talked to Paul Stewart personally, and it’s harrowing.
Carlisle United is committed to safeguarding and promoting the welfare of young players and staff. We expect all staff, volunteers, parents/carers, young players, any partner agencies or any commissioned service providers to share this commitment. We have been developing what we do. Full information is on the website for fans to see, or for anyone with concerns.
Click HERE to visit our Safeguarding section.
Anyone visiting the stadium will see extensive work is taking place to raise the flood-bank defences. This is part of much wider work around the city. It is welcome work, and we hope it will increase the resilience of the site and reduce our flood risk.
That’s really important to reduce our huge insurance cost, and to keep us insurable at all. This critically affects the ongoing costs we face, and the value and the viability of the stadium for future development.
In the coming days we will be announcing a forum for fans to ask questions of directors and board members. The panel will be confirmed when or shortly after we make the announcement.
Throughout the lockdown, and despite social distancing, we have continued to hold Carlisle United Supporters’ Groups meetings to update fans, respond to queries and progress fan-based initiatives (which has obviously been difficult this the last year). Minutes are published on the website.
Click HERE to read the minutes of the April meeting.
We are progressing on initiatives covering disabled facilities, Murphy’s Bar refurbishment and development of the Supporter Liaison Officer role.
Linking in with the football wide, social media blackout last weekend, CUSG members have agreed a Statement of Intent and commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion in our group, and among our constituent member groups, which we welcome as we work together to make everyone welcome at Carlisle United.
This week Carlisle United was judged as the second-best club in the whole of the EFL and Premier League for fan engagement.
It’s pleasing to be right at the top of this table. It shows the work we do to engage with our fans is amongst best practice. I hope it helps fans to understand the fantastic work that goes on at the club in this area.
Why is engagement important?
Having a two-way conversation with supporters, with genuine intent to work together, helps prevents those ‘idiot’ decisions that can come along – like the ESl, for example. It doesn’t stop bad owners, and bad administrators making bad decisions, but it helps to reduce that risk.
It adds safeguards and helps good owners and administrators to make better decisions. That helps make clubs better, which is what fans and good owners and administrators all want.
At big clubs I see no excuse - but I can see why they find it very difficult. It means giving up total control, it means sharing, it means awkward questions, challenge, accountability, scrutiny by people you don’t control at the heart of ‘your’ organisation. Fan loyalty ... yes ... but all that ... no thanks.
Fans are not stupid, owners and administrators say they know that, but some then still make decisions and treat them as if they are!
Too often I see owners and clubs are fearful of being close to fans and increasingly just don’t understand their supporters. The more distant they are the more fragile the club becomes. It may take time for the fragility to be really felt, but just because the evidence isn’t visible, doesn’t mean it isn’t building up - ready to emerge usually when things go bad on the field.
When it does, and it will, the harm is worse. It can be easy to see and value fan loyalty (to make money) but it’s far harder to truly understand what being a fan of a club means, and what creates loyalty and identity. Every club is different.
Genuine engagement is not a veil to exploit and ‘monetise’ fan loyalty, to make more profit. Going down that road but labelling it as ‘engagement’ is misleading, and more importantly a mistake. Clubs and owners who think they can fake engagement for other self-interest reasons (to look good - fake virtue signalling or to fool or placate fans - especially now) will be very quickly found out by fans, and that destroys trust and is immensely damaging. It’s worse than not working together in the first place.
As clubs react to the ESL and the role of fans in clubs is in the spotlight - I can already see this developing as clubs change and involve fans. Is it real and genuine?
Owners, directors, administrators speaking directly with fans, face-to-face, listening to them, all keeps them humble, connected and grounded in my view. It provides a reality check in a football world that can easily become its own bubble.
Football has a growing problem from remoteness that engagement can help fix.
For most clubs the days of local owners who are also club fans are gone. Ownership is becoming more remote. The connection between fans and decision makers is getting distant geographically, emotionally, socially and motivationally.
That creates new challenges for clubs and owners and administrators. They can become very detached and operate in a totally different world, a world occupied with people just like them. Increasingly absent, they rely on people to advise them – ‘experts’ they trust.
They can become equally remote from their fans and the real world they live and work in, from the things the fans value, and what they think good looks like for their club. Even worse they discount fans totally and think they know best, deciding that fans should accept their way without question. As those connections, understanding and shared emotional bonds are stretched more and more, it can lead to very bad outcomes for clubs.
Football is a very complex and unique game off-the-field. It is highly emotional. It is full of uncertainty and unpredictability. That makes sound decision making very important.
In those circumstances it’s hardly surprising with remoteness, plus complexity and emotions all coming together, that owners, administrators and ‘expert’ executives can make totally obvious idiot decisions, which appear complete madness to people on the outside. Yet those on the inside seemingly are surprised.
In adversity these flaws are exposed, as we have seen during the pandemic. The ESL is a perfect example. Those super successful, super rich, ‘expert’ owners and administrators, the elite pinnacle of the game, ALL together, with their combined knowledge, either didn’t understand something so obvious or, and this is worse, did understand and still went ahead.
Either way their judgement, decision making and management processes don’t work. Maybe they are not as skilled as they think. Listening and working with fans, and doing it with genuine intent, is beneficial ... and it works!
Up until the end of January 2021, for the 20/21 season, League Two operated with a hard salary cap of £1.5m on total player spending. This was overruled after a PFA legal challenge and we reverted back to the old Salary Cost Management Protocols - which were heavily condemned after the failure of Bury as not fit for purpose.
It is expected these rules will operate again in 21/22 despite the deficiencies that allowed Bury to become extinct. This is obviously highly unsatisfactory.
With the squad limit on the number of players over-21, which was brought in at the same time, now also under challenge from the PFA the EFL is back to square one with its attempts to reduce overspending and risk of failure in the lower leagues.
To still be in this position despite the extinction of Bury, failure of Wigan and constant warnings of numerous clubs facing ruin through the coronavirus crisis … quite frankly it beggars belief. The onus remains on individuals and individual owners who control them and authorise spending.
Clubs as institutions in their community remain at the mercy of their owner’s decisions, with inadequate regulation in place to protect them as a safeguard. This is despite all the lessons which came our way. The game continues to be unable to come together and face up to this.
It can have nobody but itself to blame for the intervention of the Government. What that actually results in remains to be seen.
The rise and fall of the European Super League proposal, rebranding and resurrection as ‘the best’ of Project Big Picture, and the fan-led review all need their own update. I will give my take on all of that in the near future.