The Saints City Trust Fire The Perfect Broadside

The Saints City Trust Fire The Perfect Broadside

By on Jan 28, 2010 in Latest, Non-League | 9 comments

We live in challenging times, and these extend to every corner of the game and every aspect of how clubs run themselves. One club that has found the going tough over the last couple of years or so is St Albans City of the Blue Square South. Increasing concern over the way that their club was being run led to the formation of the Saints City Trust, and the Trust has already been fundraising with reasonable success. This week, however, the directors of the club held a meeting and chose to send an open letter to the Trust, outlining why they think the Trust should give them some of the money that they have raised. The Trust replied with an absolutely outstanding response, one that sums up the exact nature of the fractious relationships between the companies that own football clubs and the supporters trusts whose most important single aim is to ensure the long-term future of their club, and should act as a template for any supporters trust that finds itself at the point of being treated like a hole in the wall machine by the people that are running their football club.

We note the contents of the open letter issued by the Board of Directors of St Albans City FC to the Saints City Trust.

Unfortunately, we did not receive our invite as expected to the board meeting that resulted in the letter that has now been issued, which is unfortunate. Had we been present I am sure we would have been able to address all the points raised in the open letter.

We have provided more lengthy responses to each point raised by the Board, but would like to summarise our general views as follows:

  1. We are deeply concerned that the Board appear to be having difficulties with the finances of the Club, particularly the wage budget. We are prepared to back the difficult decision to cut the playing budget if it means that the Club will not get into even more severe financial difficulties.
  2. We already provide money to the Club in two ways, and are satisfied with those arrangements. Until this letter was issued we had believed the Board to be too. They are as follows:
    •     We agreed to provide the resources and manpower to operate activities on a matchday, and provide a proportion of money generated from those activities to the Club to do with whatever they chose (including the wage budget). Part of this arrangement would involve the Trust being able to attend board meetings.
    •    We also agreed to consider the provision of funds to the Club on an ad-hoc, case-by-case basis, provided that the requests related to sustainable activities.
  3. We do not believe it is fair nor right that the Directors have effectively placed responsibility on the shoulders of supporters and the Trust for matters such as the playing budget. This is supposed to be the responsibility of the Board of the Club, as with the Board of any company.
  4. At no time can the Directors claim to not understand the role or the aims of the Saints City Trust. We have always been open and honest about them, and indeed have purposely spent time explaining them to Directors.

Although we have already corresponded with the Board privately on many of the issues raised in their letter (believing that to be the most appropriate way to deal with issues such as these), we now feel it necessary to respond publicly, or risk a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of the Trust.

The open letter says
Getting straight to the point.………… we need your help during this period of the season as we seek to stabilise the Club and to give Steve Castle extra funds to improve our squad so as to make a push for the play-offs.

The Trust’s response
We give money to the club in two ways, discussed in full with the football club:
• We agreed to provide the resources and manpower to operate activities on a matchday, and provide a proportion of money generated from those activities to the Club to do with whatever they chose (including the wage budget). Part of this arrangement would involve the Trust being able to attend board meetings.
• We also agreed to consider the provision of funds to the Club on an ad-hoc, case-by-case basis, provided that the requests related to sustainable activities.
We have not been asked to contribute towards the playing budget, and note that the £6,000 that has been requested is for a range of items, at least one of which does not appear to be football related.

The open letter says
As you know it has been a difficult season financially. However, despite the general economic climate the Board has been able to attract several new shareholders who have generously contributed to the cost of running the Club to this point in the season.

The Trust’s response
In the interests of the transparent way in which we’re required to act, we would like further details of these investors and their financial commitment so far to this point in the season. We would also point out that we have made over  £3,000 of funding available to the Club for pre-identified and agreed items.

The open letter says
However, cashflow is presently difficult and more financial assistance is needed urgently.

The Trust’s response
We completely understand that in the current climate in business and with the recent poor weather, cashflow is a difficult issue. To that end the Trust – and individual supporters – have helped with several purchases totalling over £3,000

The open letter says
Four weeks ago the Saints City Trust was asked to contribute some money into the football club and they were told that one of our new shareholders had generously offered to double that amount out of his own pocket.

The Trust was asked for approximately £6000 that would have therefore resulted in £12,000 being donated to the Club. The Trust has subsequently avoided making the contribution and the shareholder has now withdrawn the offer because no progress has been made with the discussions with the Trust.

The Trust’s response
We have not been party to any discussion of this type, and we don’t think it’s reasonable to make or attempt to make commitments on our behalf without our knowledge, involvement or final say. We will always consider reasonable requests for contributions from the Board. However, as the Board know, spending decisions are made by the Trust, its Board, Membership and always in accordance with the objectives of the Trust.

As a more general point about this request and other similar requests to provide funding for non-agreed expenditure, particularly the wage budget, we already talked through all of this with the football club on the 7th January and explained our position fully, which we felt was understood.

We always consider requests such as these in detail. In this case particularly we cannot satisfy ourselves that spending on this will contribute to the long term sustainability of the club. Not only do we believe in general that a £6,000 donation would just be a drop in the ocean and not make a difference to the long-term finances of the Club – particularly given the concern over debts to HMRC and St Albans District Council – there are also other long-term debts and running costs that are more critical to address than a wage budget that could actually be cut with little difficulty, given that most of the players at the Club are on week-to-week deals and not long-term contracts.

The open letter says
The Board are of course extremely disappointed in this outcome and especially the frustration felt, having just lost two quality young players to Luton Town because we couldn’t afford to put them on contracts.

The Trust’s response
It is indeed disappointing to lose promising players, however given that the Club is not owned by the Supporters’ Trust, it is not our responsibility. It is the responsibility of the Board of any company to ensure it can meet the demands placed upon it, to find other sustainable sources of income (and not short-term measures to plug gaps), or to cut back expenditure if it can’t.

The open letter says
In this regard the Club has had an ongoing dialogue with the Supporters Trust who have managed to accumulate a sizeable amount of money through their fundraising activities over several seasons at Clarence Park. Activities that the Club allowed to take place at no cost.

The Trust’s response
The Trust has already continued in this area the work of the old Supporters Club in providing all of its surplus income from these activities to the football club.

The open letter
The Supporters Club believed this to be their own money and the Club disagree…The Supporters Club has historically used the Club shop rent free, sold club merchandise with only selective return to the Club and used the bar facilities free of charge for quiz nights and such like. The money was moved across to the new Trust without the Club being asked for an opinion or having any say.

The Trust’s response
This decision on the transfer of monies was made, according to the rules of the old Supporters Club, by the members. Both the tradition of the former Supporters Club, and the subsequent agreement made between the Trust and the Club in 2009 recognises that it is the supporters’ money and therefore they who should be consulted where it is spent, taking into consideration the principles of the organisation. The club have no legal right to demand where this money goes. In addition without the efforts of the volunteers concerned, we are not clear how this money would ever have been raised in the first place, and all events held in the clubhouse benefited the club by raising revenue through a bar that would otherwise have been empty

The open letter says
Documents were tabled at our meeting, which stated the aims and objectives of the Trust and these were examined in some detail although it was generally felt that the documents said much and concluded little. The absence of a commitment to playing quality football and providing fiscal backing to give us our best shot at wining Cups and Titles was particularly noted.

The Trust’s response
The aims and objectives of the Trust and the movement it belongs to were explained very clearly and very publicly throughout the period leading up to and following our formation last year. More importantly, we ensured we did the same with the Chairman and Vice-Chairman in January 2009, and indeed on at least 2 subsequent occasions, who both understood and accepted these as legitimate.

There is and never has been any reference in the rules that our national governing body Supporters Direct promotes that makes a reference to ‘playing quality football’, nor to providing ‘fiscal (sic) backing to give us our best shot at winning cups and titles’, and neither would there ever be, as this is not and never has been part of the features of a supporters’ trust like the Saints City Trust.

We’re also very surprised that the Board of Directors has seen it fit to have a discussion of this type and to issue a critique of our rules, all without discussing the issues with the Trust at any time.

The open letter says
The Club believes that the Trust should aid the Club going forward and the financial aspect has to be the priority. The Trust talks about now being a legal entity and their intentions to work in the community, but surely the priority has to be the Club and the finance.

The Trust’s response
We understand that the Club has cashflow problems at this moment in time, and are willing to help the Directors to bring this under control. However there is clearly a fundamental misunderstanding as to what the Board thinks the Trust is, and what it is in reality. As we have already said earlier in this letter we ensured we explained these to the Chairman and Vice-Chairman in January 2009, and on at least 2 subsequent occasions, and both of them understood and accepted these as legitimate. Why the sudden change of mind?

The open letter says
The Board’s rationale is that if there is no Club, then what use is a lengthy document stating lots of good intentions when, if The Trust really have the good of the Club at heart, the available money should foremost be repatriated back into St Albans City FC for the very benefit of the Club itself.

The Trust’s response
We’re concerned at the use of the word ‘repatriated’, as this implies that all money raised by the Trust is the Club’s to take when and how it chooses, which is not and has never been the case. We have already explained the relevant agreements that were reached with Directors over how money raised by the Trust is treated, agreements which were reached between the Directors of the Club and the Trust.

Indeed as part of those agreements, the club committed that we could take part in Board meetings and operate matchday fundraising, and that this was not dependent on any future donations.  This was agreed in writing with the Commercial Manager (who noted that he had the agreement of the Chairman).  We were not invited to the next Board meeting (11th Jan), and so the club is in breach of this agreement. In addition we were advised verbally that we would be prevented from continuing matchday operations without making an additional donation (which is also a breach of the agreement).

The open letter says
The Board would like to pose three key questions to Saints City Trust:

1. Did the fans that recently joined the Trust, contributing to the bank account of the Trust, realise that the money may not be used to help the Football Club?

The Trust’s response
We have made it abundantly clear about the agreements made between the Board of the Club and the Trust about raising money, how that should be treated, and what rights that granted the Trust.

The open letter says
2. Do members of the Trust know that money earned by the former Supporters Club in harmony with the Club and subsequently transferred to the Trust is lying dormant in the bank and is being withheld from the Club and that this is preventing improvement of the playing staff and further investment?

The Trust’s response
We have made it equally clear that the transfer of monies as outlined above was done with the full agreement and knowledge of then members of the Supporters Club.

We have also stated repeatedly in this letter that the agreements we reached with the Board of Directors never related to the playing budget, and would not have done so given the principles that we so clearly operate under.

However when or if the Board comes forward with a suitable project for this money to fund, then in line with the agreements they have reached with us and which we have restated several times in this letter, we will consider it.

The open letter says
3. Do members of the Trust realise that the objectives of the Trust do not state that they want the Club to play at the highest possible level and to have a strong squad and successful team?

The Trust’s response
The members of the Supporters’ Trust having voted for the adoption of these rules, we believe they do. If members, fans or the Board of Directors are not sure, we would refer them to our website.

As a general principle, the aim of any supporters’ trust including The Saints City Trust is not to provide support to short-term cashflow problems or the playing budget at the expense of dealing with the long-term financial issues the Club has.

The open letter says
Investment now would see improvement of the playing squad, a possible promotion challenge resulting in better crowds, enhanced commercial activity and increased revenue all of which would lead to a sustainable future.

The Trust says
We want success for the Club too. And there is always a compelling argument for investment in the playing squad; it is difficult to argue against it. But even if we were to agree, what would the longer-term cost be – particularly given that the Board appears not to have learned the lessons from past failures? We’ve seen our Club fall down before because it bet the house on promotion, we are seeing many clubs now fail because of this, and will do all we can to resist that happening again at St Albans City.

The open letter says
The alternative, without a contribution from the Trust, is to cut the playing squad, forego a play-off challenge, start next season with a reduced playing budget, and the prospect of financial instability.

The Board are putting relative large sums into Club to keep it running thus it is not right that supporters’ contributions are being channelled into a fund that won’t release that contribution.

We ask that our supporters pose these questions and discuss the situation urgently with the representatives of the Trust.

The Trust says
We are staggered that the Directors are prepared to place on the shoulders of the Trust and the fanbase the responsibility for financial stability of a business it has no control and little influence over.

It is a fact that the Directors have agreed a budget for the year, and it is a fact that if those directors cannot meet that budget they must, as with all businesses – particularly during tough economic times – cut their cloth accordingly. We will not be providing money to patch up short-term problems that need to be addressed for the long-term.

The open letter says
In concluding this open letter, the Board would like to make it clear that we are unhappy with the Trust and we would ask quite simply, if the Trust has money in their bank account which the Club that we all love is requesting, then why hold back and not support the Club in a time of need?

Hopefully the Board and the Trust can reach a sensible way forward so that the monies can be transferred to the Club within the next few days and to work together in the longer term.

We are ready and willing, to meet with open minds, so as to conclude matters.

The Trust’s response
We all love this Club, many of us as fans for many years. That makes it all the more disappointing that the Board has decided to take this approach towards such a willing partner as the Trust. We are also disappointed that contrary to all the previous public statements by them, the private understandings reached, and the agreements signed up to, that the Board has decided to change its mind without any discussion with the Trust. We are also equally disappointed that instead of discussing concerns with us privately and in the way most people would agree is right, Directors have taken the opportunity to deliver a public chastising of the Trust.

We will happily ‘meet with open minds’, and have an honest discussion about this issues, but we fear that this request only applies to the Trust.

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    9 Comments

  1. Tell the club to get f*cked.

    AA

    January 28, 2010

  2. I wouldn’t say “perfect” as the trust still have not explained what has happened to the £10k+ they have in the bank

    a fan

    January 28, 2010

  3. Absolutely superb response from the Trust and shows that most people who run football clubs are clueless idiots.

    Jertzee

    January 28, 2010

  4. Directors of football clubs need to get a key fact into their heads,- If they run the business in a prudent manner, are open and honest with fans, budget for medium term sustainable growth rather than mortgaging the future stability of the club on chasing a short term dream and are consistent in their approach including treating all fans with respect rather than as a cash cow, then they will get backing from their ‘customers’ that no other business could dream of. If the dont conduct themselves in the above way then they deserve nothing and supporters everywhere should stand up to them.

    Well done SCT.

    Phil

    January 28, 2010

  5. @A fan *cough* – what £10k is that?

    The £10k that was raised by the fans and which was voted to be transferred to the new organisation, and which the Directors agreed would remain with the Trust? Or are we talking about a different £10k?

    Just wondering, ‘a fan’ – did you ever hear of a silly billy called Rupert Lowe who got PR people to pretend to be Southampton Fans in order to bash the Trust there? Coincidentially a Trust that shares a similar name; the Saints Trust!

    Wibbly Wobble

    January 28, 2010

  6. @Phil – I agree with the sentiments, but sadly sometimes the problem at some clubs is that it doesn’t take too much struggling before the demands to open the chequebook come along. A quick look at Darlington’s main fans forum a couple of months back showed that while quite a few appreciated that the current chairman there is doing his best to set sensible budgets and not have them become a basket case yet again, there were others (a minority, but vocal) arguing that he needed to spend some money on players….

    I think at a club run more openly, and with Trust involvement, there IS more chance of what you say happening – but unfortunately one of the big issues IMO in the whole of Football is that many fans are seduced by the aura of money and sensible, open boards are in the minority. The result: when a club is struggling, the call is for more money for players…. and not a recognition that actually they may be competing at a level too high to afford and have to cut their cloth….. I wish it was otherwise, but then again I’m getting quite pessimistic at the moment.

    Albert Ross

    January 28, 2010

  7. It strikes me that only fans (be they on the board or on the terrace)of football clubs would and should be interested in the ownership and running of a football club. Far too many board members nowadays see football as a speculation on either success or the land the clubs are built on.
    A touch of realism from the St Albans Board of Directors towards the clubs prospects seems in order and, as with most companies,blame for poor performance is directed towards the minions who “could do better” rather than any meaningful self examination of their own failures.
    To the St Albans board I say “You Haven’t put any money into the club without getting representation on the board – Why would you expect anything less from the Supporters Trust? They have a responsibility to their members to make sure that money is spent wisely. Maybe if you had done the same, things wouldn’t have come to this!”

    Lol

    January 28, 2010

  8. Albert – I agree that often a vocal minority put pressure on boards, however if those boards are prudent and communicate openly with fans groups including trusts then I believe ( especially at the moment ) that the majority of fans will back them up on a prudent approach. There are so many clubs under threat. The supporters of those clubs want to be able to attend games way into the future and to give their kids and grand kids the opportunity to do so also.To this end I am sure that most fans would be willing for a little sacrifice on short term ambition. This would also depress costs to clubs in general if they acted in a concerted manner.
    Realism must kick in sooner rather than later and we should also remember that the management boards of the leagues hold some responsibility for creating this problem eg Conference Management board have created an environment where probably 18 teams are competing on a fulltime basis for 2 promotion spots when I would suspect only 4 or 5 could afford this on revenues. At the same time the league has lost sponsorship / TV money further damaging clubs bottom lines.

    They dont seem to take a sustainable approach and this is reflected in most of their member clubs.

    Phil

    January 29, 2010

  9. Good grief, the directors of SACFC appear to be utter morons. I am genuinely astounded at their complete lack of insight, and attempt to appropriate other peoples’ money for their own ends. The only people with responsibility for the costs of playing staff and running the organisation are the owners of the business.

    If they want investment from the supporters’ trust, perhaps they should consider tying it to representation and a share of the ownership.

    Fisher Dan

    January 31, 2010

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