The latest Newcastle United Fans Forum took place on Monday 24 September, with the club’s minutes of the meeting not published until yesterday, 11 days after the event.
Jon Lane (representing Members) is one of the NUFC supporters who takes part in the Newcastle United Fans Forum.
Here he gives us his view on what has gone on…
This particular Newcastle United Fans Forum was always going to be interesting, lots of questions that wanted to be answered and it’s fair to say that we got answers to those questions. Lee Charnley was very open in his responses and talked about stuff that he wouldn’t be able to in public, mostly about transfer targets.
It should be common sense that tells the wider fan base that he was happy to tell us in a room to illustrate a point, stuff that he couldn’t put out in the public domain, such as who Rafa targeted but we couldn’t sign.
Off the back of this there was conversation about other players we’d targeted but not secured for a mixture of reasons, again talking about other club’s players can’t really be published publicly and I’m sure the wider fan base understand that.
Reassurances were given around S….. D….. Sponsorship, the NUFC Club Shop and clarifications on Justin Barnes and Keith Bishop’s roles which had been sought after for a while. The only question that couldn’t be answered at all from what we asked, was regarding the ongoing HMRC investigation.
The biggest obvious concern is the manager’s position. Lee Charnley made it clear that he wants to keep the manager and that’s what the club want going forwards. They have the same aims but the timelines are different due to affordability. This comes back down to the club needing to “live within it’s own means” and there is confidence from the club we can sustain our PL status. Like many I’d like us to be pushing to be a stable top-ten club as a minimum and pushing to win a trophy or for a European place and like most I struggle to see how that isn’t possible when we look at the investment other clubs have put in.
We asked about the money, Lee explained about the cash flow model we operate. He explained we spend what comes in which gives us our budget. He was questioned in depth about player instalments from previous sales and what’s coming in and he answered accordingly. We challenged points about how the money comes in and that it doesn’t appear possible that we don’t have more and he covered it off. He advised there are times we’ll either go to the owner for a loan to see us through the year or a bank to do the same.
The biggest mistake I made was tweeting on the Monday evening (24 September) when I was asked how the meeting went: “Very open, lots that can’t be minuted from that perspective but the big questions were answered as far as they could be #nufc”.
This invited a lot of comments and concern around how the minutes are “watered down” and totally missed the point I had been trying to make, and something I raised in my first article on The Mag. Talk about players from other clubs or commercially sensitive stuff (such as England Rugby being played at SJP) won’t be minuted, but anything else raised will be. We have to approve the minutes after the meeting before they are released publicly to make sure it’s a fair reflection of what took place.
Of course most have seen NUST’s tweet advising they haven’t signed off on the minutes – what I would say is that although I can understand and support the concerns that were raised by NUST, the minutes are far from pure fiction and do give the key points of what was discussed in the meeting along with the club’s answers.
I was asked if I believed what I was told by Lee Charnley in the meeting, and said that I did. I could’ve not responded or just said no – but whatever I said I’d be criticised. I think he’s talking from a position with handcuffs on, he’s operating within the financial model he’s allowed to and there have been relaxations on certain parts of the “structure” such as instalments for new players (by matching the incoming payments up). Lee was challenged on this around only using player revenue, and he clarified that the club will use everything, and explaining that we don’t have £120m arrive from the Premier League on 1st June. The majority of this comes from 3 instalments throughout the year.
There is also criticism about us (Fans Forum members) being invited to a game in November, which is a shame. The Forum (with the exception of those Magpie Group Members) don’t see each other unless we’re at a meeting. The club have decided they want to invite us to a game, so why should we say no?
This will have ZERO impact to the questions we ask because ultimately we ask them what the fans want to ask them. It’s like people forget that at least three of the Fans Forum Members are also members of The Magpie Group who have open issues with the current ownership. Also bear in mind the members who travel long distances to be part of the process at a large expense, do they not deserve a thank you?
I’m getting to the point where I’m starting to accept that no matter what we do as Forum Members, a portion of those who aren’t within the process will always criticise because it’s easier to.
I don’t see it as a duty, I see it as an honour to be given the chance to question our club board directly on behalf of the fanbase. In saying that, on Monday I worked 8-5.30, then had to leg it to SJP from Central Station for 6pm, and we didn’t leave until 8.45pm. I didn’t get home until 9.45pm. The Long Distance Rep and London Supporters Rep both have to travel long distances and in cases stay overnight. To the best of my knowledge this is not “expensed” back to the club. We don’t have to take part in the process, but as a whole I believe we all think it’s better to be engaged in the process rather than to dismiss it.
I don’t think the Club helps itself in this process though.
There are a few extenuating circumstances as to why the minutes were delayed this time round. When the person responsible for compiling the minutes wasn’t present it’s going to be a difficult task. It’s not Lee Marshall’s fault the meeting was moved to a time he was on leave. And for the record, it’s not the Club’s fault they had to move from the original date, but moving forwards I don’t feel producing minutes is the right way to engage the process and I’ve made that clear to the Club and the rest of the Forum Members. Some other clubs (I believe Southampton and Brighton) do theirs live on YouTube. I believe doing this would take away some of the genuine openness we’ve seen in the room but taking an approach such as an edited video or an audio Podcast would help re-engage the more sceptical fans out there in the process.
In terms of my personal opinion, I believe the answers we were given.
HOWEVER, it doesn’t mean I’m not concerned by the current state of play with the club. I think there is more the Club could do to be more competitive and more the owner could do to increase the value of his asset – such as invest in the Training Ground now, which could be enough to encourage the manager to sign a long term contract. The Club has openly stated that the ambitions are the same but the timescales are different – and that is the biggest reason we risk losing our manager at the end of the season unless something drastically changes.
So in summary – we’re part of a process. We submit questions in advance but aren’t restricted about what we can/can’t question in the room. We get answers to almost everything and anything we don’t is minuted (IE – HMRC no comment is minuted). We give up our time and a few members travel at great expense to take part in the process. Finally, we can only ask what you ask us to.
If you don’t like the process raise it with Lee Marshall, but suggest what you’d do to improve it.
My other ask would be that you don’t criticise the Members, we all want what’s best for the club which is why we give up the time and take the flak we do to take your questions directly to the Board.”