The Time For Change
Thoughts on where we are before the Fans Forum and what we need to hear

May 2016 seems a world away doesn’t it? A team playing attractive football that had just been to a Wembley play-off final, and appeared to need a few well-judged player investments to have greatness in its grasp, has descended in 2.5 years, into something that resembles those dark days of the early noughties. How did we get here and what should we do to try to put it right?

What’s clear is that competing at the top of the Championship whilst ensuring compliance with P&S rules, and doing it without PL parachute payments, requires significant investment from an owner that also has to be very well spent. Or, it requires a decent amount of investment from an owner backing up a well thought out strategy of steady building of a club. Since May 2016 our club has done neither. We have thrown money at a PL ASAP strategy that was focused on too many older, experienced players, some injury prone,  with little or no resale value. Fans have had to pay high prices to help subsidise this model and fans were disingenuously led to believe in that infamous survey question that the old model could continue when the club must have known that it was hurtling towards a collision with P&S rules. This is the boom and bust model of gambling with P&S rules for 2 or 3 seasons at most and then having to retrench; when the fun stops so the club has to stop. At the same time it feels like the club has disconnected itself from the fans, the community and the city.

Meanwhile on the pitch the rot that set in in May 2017 after the play-off semi-final defeat has continued to gnaw away at the club, and the patience of fans, with more money wasted on players who are too old, unfit or are misfits. Whilst senior players are frozen out, conspiracy theories abound and we risk damaging young players in a team that is struggling to keep a clean sheet, create chances to score and then score the few we do create. The manager, who came into a very difficult situation not of his making, has not been able to organise the right balance between attack and defence, he has failed to build a team with an identity - he looks to not have the answers to the challenge facing him and his team. It is very hard to see how his credibility with fans can be restored.

This is the background for the Fans Forum on 20th December which has the potential to turn into a bloodbath between the chairman and over 1,000 fans if it’s not well managed. A strong independent chair who can command authority in a room of 1,000 people is a must. It could add to the feeling of the 1999-2004 misery period by being redolent of those shareholder  AGM’s and EGM’s of that period. The forum cannot just be about the chairman defending his actions in long diatribes, accusing critics of “damaging the club” and making bravado statements about perceived faults at the club on the other side of the city or talking up our chances of promotion. That just won’t wash this time. We need a new strategy for the club that is realistic about the circumstances in which we operate, that is honest about the challenges faced, that engages fans in it, and re-positions the club at the heart of city life. A few suggestions for how this might look are here:

1. Tell us openly and honestly about where we sit in relation to P&S rules and the scale of the actions the club will have to take in order to remain compliant and avoid further transfer embargoes or a reference to an EFL Disciplinary Commission. We don't want the club to operate in a goldfish bowl but it's only right we have a sense of where we are going.

2. Explain to us what has been learnt by the club from how we got from May 2016 to where we are now and what gives confidence that we won’t make the same mistakes again, because fans are not in mood to be fooled again.

3. Set out a new strategy to build the club slowly, certainly and sustainably so that it becomes a well-established top half of the Championship club that might have a chance of mounting a promotion challenge at some point in the future.

4. Set out a new approach to engaging with fans which should include two forums. One  being a small (12 or so fans + key club figures) stakeholder board that meets four times a year and is a forum for detailed discussion, particularly about these 5 strategic points, but with key messages for wider communication being agreed at the end of each meeting. Second, an open fans forum, a bit like the current model, but much smaller. Both the board and the forum should have an independent chair who has the job of facilitating discussion, keeping things on track and hold both sides to account.

5. Commit the club to being a major institution in city life, reaching out to the community, being open and accessible, having active engagement with the voluntary and charity sector, and a clear strategy for supporting community sports clubs etc with gifts for fund raising etc and gifts in kind.

Others might have better suggestions than these, if they are out there let’s hear them. What is not acceptable is for the club to think that carrying on as we have in recent times is acceptable. We need a fresh approach to the running of our club and hopefully the current hierarchy will willingly recognise that and buy into it – if they won’t they need to be put on notice that we simply won’t accept continuance of the status quo. Change needs to happen either with those currently leading our club or with new faces. The time for change is at hand. It’s our club and without us it’s nothing – let’s make our voice heard.

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