Den 29.november kom Bolton Wanderers styreformann Ken Anderson ut med en av sine jevnlige «Chairmans note». Denne gangen ble ordlyden, i det meste han skrev, tatt dårlig imot av Bolton Wanderers Supporters Trust, som flere av oss har en aksje i.
On 29 November ’18, Mr Anderson posted a public response to our recent update to members regarding our attempts to establish some meaningful communications. This was included within the most recent of his regular «Note from the Chairman» articles on the club website.
During a recent exchange of emails with the Mr Anderson, via his consultant Paul Aldridge, we were advised that the updates posted on the club website are considered by the club to form an integral part of the owner’s interface with the BWFC supporters.
Of course, we welcome such communications as a part of the process of engaging with supporters, promoting the club and keeping all readers in the loop regarding what is going on at BWFC.
However, what we do not accept is that such a method of communicating with the BWFC supporters provides a forum for a full and frank exchange of views between the owners and those supporters. This is the very reason that we suggested to Mr Anderson that engagement in a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) could allow progress to be made in establishing such a platform for communication. The content of the draft MoU, which was forwarded to Mr Anderson for his assessment, references that such an arrangement would be fully inclusive of all interested fan groups associated with BWFC. Such diverse groups, including other supporters’ associations and online forums, would also be invited and encouraged to nominate representatives to become involved in engaging with Mr Anderson.
The reason for asking Mr Anderson to consider such a proposal arose as a result of the club’s financial distress being reported in the media on a continuing and regular basis. This is not considered to be the time and place to document and discuss such ongoing events, but suffice it to say that supporters concerns have been increasing steadily for some time.
In early 2016 and with the club’s future at that time still very uncertain, the BWFCST posed a series of questions prior to the Sports Shield Consortium takeover, which was finally sanctioned by the EFL in March 2016. Some of the points raised at the time are now not relevant, but we invite you to view those important questions once more and to form your own opinions as to their continuing relevance.
The adoption of a MoU would, in our opinion, allow supporters representatives some access to those who control our club in order to obtain information and, hopefully, reassurance that the stability and sustainability of the club is being adequately addressed. Indeed, this is a process recognised by the Government, the Premier League and the EFL when they incorporated a requirement for all clubs to meet with supporters’ representatives at least twice a year.
As Mr Anderson considers that he is meeting this requirement by posting regular notes on the club website and holding infrequent, comparatively ad-hoc Q&A sessions before home games, we attempted to establish a more formal structured dialogue forum by suggesting the MoU.
Mr Anderson used the club website on 29 November ’18 to state his views on the BWFCST’s recent MoU proposal and we would like to address each of his comments below in turn and record our observations as follows:
- Request for Structured Dialogue
KA: «I am aware of the Supporters’ Trust’s recent statement in which they have requested for me to engage in ‘structured dialogue’ with their own representatives and the wider support, which I quite frankly find astonishing.»
BWFCST: We find it «astonishing» that Mr Anderson appears to accept that there is no requirement for more meaningful dialogue with supporters especially given this current climate of financial instability and distress which the club is experiencing on a regular basis.
- Lines of Communication
KA: «Since I became involved with this club, it has been my intention to have an open and honest line of communication with ALL our supporters and not to hold exclusive conversations with individuals or groups.»
BWFCST: Surely, an «open and honest line of communication» infers a two-way dialogue and not a one way monologue? If the structure of a MoU was put in place, this would allow ALL fan groups’ representatives, including, but not limited to, the BWFCST, access to a forum in which to engage in such lines of communication. If Mr Anderson considers that this would be an «exclusive conversation with individuals or groups», then how does this differ from the situation at all other football clubs and what is a realistic alternative?
- Board Representation, Shareholding & Nothing Positive?
KA: «During one of my early meetings with them they requested board representation and a shareholding. Their financial offer was what I can only describe as derisory and insulting and generally speaking nothing positive ever came out of the meetings.»
BWFCST: Board representation for the Trust is always an option for discussion with any owner of our football club. As a registered Community Benefit Society, our Model Rules include the following words under Item 5 – Powers:
5.2 secure democratic and accountable representation on the Club’s Board
The suggestion of the BWFCST acquiring shares in the club has been discussed with Mr Anderson in the past. At one of our meetings, we were handed a quotation of approximately £140,000 which had been obtained by the club for some pitch remedial works at the Lostock Training Facility.
We had explained to Mr Anderson at earlier meetings that, as a Community Benefit Society, we do need to obtain some return for our members in consideration for any investment of funds. For the sake of clarity, noted below is an extract from a letter we sent to Mr Anderson after a meeting held with him on 14 February 2017:
«As we have indicated previously, the Supporters’ Trust has the power to invest in the club and to do so in both equity and debt. Furthermore, FCA regulations allow the Supporters’ Trust to finance such an investment by making equity and debt issues to the public in a clearly defined and prescribed manner.
We would like to discuss with you the possibility of an allocation to the Supporters’ Trust. In order to progress such participation we will need further insight and information relating to the current financial situation and your planned refinance so as to allow us to plan a public issue. To make a public issue worthwhile, we would propose to revert to our membership and expressions of interest from one year ago to invest sums of money to help make the club re-draw its position and proactively move forward. Our proposal is not undertaken lightly and will require the co-operation of several stakeholders to succeed but at the core is an instinct to help preserve the club with significant supporters’ involvement, as well as recognising your efforts in steering the club through this difficult time.
Rather than provide you with a long list of requests for information we would like to discuss this more clearly defined participation with you.
Following a discussion in principle of mutual co-operation we would also wish to discuss with you heads of terms for a shareholder agreement that would reflect the community & football interest objectives essential to underpin community funding initiatives.»
When asked to consider funding the pitch works, we agreed to consider the proposal and subsequently suggested a 10% shareholding in return. Mr Anderson’s comment that he considered our offer as «derisory and insulting» is somewhat concerning, particularly in the light of the fact that the Sports Shield BWFC liquidators report, dated 20 Sept ’18 and filed at Companies House on 02 October ’18, records that Mr Anderson’s company, Inner Circle Investments, acquired the SSBWFC 37% shareholding in Burnden Leisure on 08 Sept ’17 for the sum of £150,000.
In response to Mr Anderson’s dismissive statement that «nothing positive ever came out of the meetings», we would reference his «notes» on the club website on 15 Feb ’17 which includes the following words:
«Before the game I met with the Supporters Trust and had what I think was an open, frank and meaningful meeting.
I am hopeful that going forward we will be able to work closer together and be more supportive of each other, as it is essential that we get the club back on a financially sustainable foundation and work our way through eradicating the losses and putting ourselves in a position to refinance the club through a debt and equity offering.
I have to say, I came away from the meeting believing that they were on side and would be very supportive going forward in helping, supporting and understanding the difficult and at times painful decisions I am having to make to ensure the future of this club.
Together, I am confident we will come out of this much stronger for the actions we are currently having to take.»
- Open Invitation?
KA: «In the Q&A sessions I have held at the club, the invitation has always been open for every single Bolton Wanderers fan and no questions have been off limits. These have been timed to coincide with match-days to ensure as many supporters as possible can attend. The Supporters Trust and other supporter groups are able to participate in these forums and ask whatever questions they would like.»
BWFCST: Two pre-match Q&As with Mr Anderson in attendance have been held in the Whites Hotel, in November ’17 and October ’18. There have been members of the Supporters’ Trust in attendance at both the Q&A sessions and questions have been asked by those members. Whilst the access to Mr Anderson for the supporters is very much appreciated and in great contrast to the previous regime, we still feel that this is not a forum in which to conduct structured dialogue.
KA: «In the letter they sent to me requesting said ‘structured dialogue’ they added in a paragraph to the Memorandum of Understanding to suit their own agenda which isn’t included in the current regulations. We felt this to be disingenuous.»
BWFCST: It was with the specific purpose of commencing a process of structured dialogue between the club and the supporters that we issued Mr Anderson with the draft MoU for his consideration. This draft document is based totally on the template MoU as prepared by Supporters Direct. We would also point out that Supporters Direct played an active part in the preparation of the Government report, which, in turn, went on to form the basis of the EFL Regulations update with regards to structured dialogue between clubs and supporters representatives. Indeed, it is the Government report which specifically references the involvement of any Supporters Trusts in such structured engagement. It is on this basis that the Supporters Direct template MoU contains such a reference and is not, as noted in Mr Anderson’s statement, a case of us being «disingenuous».
- Board, Elections & Direct Debits
KA: «It’s perhaps pertinent to mention that the Supporters Trust have had three changes in leadership in relatively quick succession which would make ‘structured dialogue’ somewhat challenging and I have some concerns about how they operate their elections and not to mention the direct debit subscriptions fiasco.»
BWFCST: The trust has operated with a properly constituted board since formation. Initially, this was as a Steering Group, with members added by the trust founders in line with the trust constitution, and thereafter as an elected board after the first elections held in 2016. As a properly and formally constituted board, the change of chairman is irrelevant to the process of establishing structured dialogue protocols. Indeed, the fact that the BWFC «board» consists of a single member, who generally only attends the stadium on match days, is considered as a major factor in making arrangements «somewhat challenging».
With regards to Mr Anderson’s «…concerns about how they operate their elections…», we would confirm that both elections held to date have been carried out in full accordance with the BWFCST Model Rules and overseen by an Election Management Group (EMG). Subsequent to each election process the EMG issued a statement to members in June/July ’16 and October/November ‘17. In addition, the EMG employed the services of an independent and established election management company, Electoral Reform Services.
Mr Anderson’s reference to the «direct debit fiasco» is somewhat puzzling and a little surprising considering the financial problems the club itself is experiencing. In October ’17 we undertook an upgrading of our online membership processing procedures. As a result, some members experienced minor delays in completing subscription transactions. Members were kept informed at all times and any queries were resolved on an individual basis. However, at no time were direct debit transactions affected.
- Next Q&A Session
KA: «I’ll be looking to have another Q&A forum in January and of course representatives from the Supporters Trust are more than welcome to attend alongside all our other supporters and we can all engage in some ‘structured dialogue.»‘
BWFCST: Whilst looking forward to seeing Mr Anderson at his next planned Q&A in January ’19, we would reiterate our opinion that such an event, most likely held in the Whites Hotel prior to a game, is not the time and place to engage in true structured dialogue.
In summary of the above, whilst hoping that we have clarified some of the inaccuracies in Mr Anderson’s «notes», we would register our concern that he chooses such a medium to engage with the BWFCST, a group of committed BWFC supporters who have no agenda other than ensuring that our club remains in existence as an integral part of the larger Bolton community, as has been the case for well over 100 years.
We would also like to place on record that we have never nor do we ever want to run/own or takeover this club in any way, shape or form and that we are just passionate BWFC supporters who place the survival of our great club as our main focus.
Ongoing problems continue, including late payments to staff and the continuing struggle to find new investment. This means that we really do need a method of structured dialogue and on that basis, we again urge Mr Anderson to consider opening up a two-way conversation with the dedicated BWFC supporters.
Apologies if this seems to be a somewhat extended review of Mr Anderson’s comments, but we feel that the off-the-cuff nature of some of his words questioning the actions and intentions of the BWFCST required clarification and putting into perspective.
As we said in our open letter to the Mr Anderson on 30 November ’18, the time for prevarication is over and the time for positive action is upon us.
03 December 2018