As one of the things I am always calling for is transparency, it is about time I practised what I preach before I go on. I started tweeting anonymously in order to be careful about personal information in a “Wild West” environment like Twitter, and I think it’s still a valid concern for a great many people. But actually, my name is Stuart Crow. I’ve worked for PFC in the past, which as you can imagine was a frustrating, indeed enraging, experience. My admiration for all those who have stuck at it at Fratton through thick and thin is limitless.
But down to business.
There are three motions on the agenda at the Pompey Supporters Trust AGM next week, all calling for some reform of the Trust’s rules. If you’re a Trust member, you should have had an email with those details and information on registering your intention to attend. I will be proposing the third motion, calling for reform of the Trust’s rules, and will vote for the second one on reform of the Trust’s election procedures.
By contrast the first motion on the agenda proposes detailed changes to the rules, and until someone starts explaining why we should rush into such a level of detail when there is a more open-ended proposal for reform, I’m going to find it very hard to vote for it. Some of the wording makes no sense.
Both the motions I’m urging you to support are worded in deliberately open terms, mandating the Board to draw up proposals for reform in consultation with the membership. They are worded that way for good reason; it would be unwise to present the AGM with pre-judged solutions, without first having some time to reflect and see what the consensus among members is. I wrote a blog a little while ago which looked at some specific potential rule changes, but everything should be open to debate at this point. It is also true, I’m sure, that some members will need to be convinced that there is in fact a problem with things as they are.
We need to update the rules because the ones we have at the moment are an outdated template PST inherited from Supporters Direct. Moreover, they were written envisaging a situation where a trust owns the football club directly. That isn’t the case with Pompey. Other clubs in our situation such as Exeter and Swansea have also found it necessary to amend the original Supporters Direct template to suit their needs.
PST acts on behalf of the community shareholders and has three representatives as directors on the football club board, chosen from the PST Board. We have to be sure that they are clearly accountable to the membership and the shareholders, and that their powers to act on our behalf are clearly set out. Also on the football club board are other shareholders, the Presidents, who own over 40% of the shares in the club. PST members have no direct control over the football club board, the PST directors are in a minority, and in the absence of information in the “shareholder agreement” (which has not, as far as I am aware been made public), members are a bit “in the dark” as to where the Trust stands in relation to the other shareholders in the football club. It’s also open to question whether the non-PST shareholders could take up an option to buy more shares, leaving the fans in a minority. We could do with clarification from the Trust on what the football club articles of association mean in that regard.
So we need Trust rules that reflect the actual ownership structure of the club, and assure the membership that the democratic aims of the Trust are honoured in practice. They also need to enshrine the “community” and co-operative nature of the operation. There have been a few instances since the takeover of people asking, “If we’re a community club why aren’t/can’t we………?” Some of them are good questions, but the rules lack a clear “plain English” definition of what a “community club” should aim to do. If those aims were stated clearly it would set out the principle that should underlie decisions taken by the Trust and the club management.
In terms of means, the job of the PST board is to develop ways of furthering the community ethos, and work in accordance with policies which reflect it. Scott McLachlan wrote a blog explaining this more fully a little while ago, with reference to the work of Dave Boyle. I’ll also quote here a paragraph from the election manifesto of Stuart Hardman, who was unlucky not to be elected from a strong field in the Trust elections but who still makes an excellent point:
“The Trust must continue to be the monitor of the Club and work with the Presidents to ensure the club is a success. This should not be through day to day involvement, but by setting the strategy and letting the professionals get on with their jobs whilst we keep a watching brief.”
That’s an important point, that the Trust should not become source of nagging of the pros running the club. Many of them have already had a gutful under dodgy owners and incompetent administrators, they could do with a break. One or two I’ve spoken to are disappointed that some supporters expected everything to change like turning on a light after the takeover, or have found that decision-making under the new ownership isn’t always as clear as they’d like yet. It will take time for things to settle.
The motion I will be proposing gives the Board up to next March to define (in consultation with the membership) what being a community club means, and to write a set of rules that reflect the aims and objectives that emerge. We all have some idea of what “being a community club” means, but it isn’t there in those current rules. It should be. Those rules are the foundation for everything that is done in our name.
It’s important that we take our time to get the rules right. We know from bitter experience that we cannot rely on the competence or consistency of the game’s authorities when we get into difficulties. While I hope we never end up in such a conflict over governance or ownership of the club again, I am not prepared to rely on hope and optimism. I am a firm believer in putting our rights into writing, indeed I would go a lot further than the Trust’s rules and would like to see statutory action to clean up and regulate the game. We just can’t trust the FA, the Premier League, the Football League, or the PFA. As readers of past blogs will know, I’ve even started harbouring doubts about Supporters Direct. Call me paranoid if you like, I make no apology for it in the light of our experience in recent years.
The rules at present don’t say anything about transparency. It is appalling that we have got to this AGM without having access to board minutes for the last 18 months on the website. It is equally appalling that we’ve conducted the latest Board elections without having minutes for the previous year. There are other things I wonder about, such as where the Board’s authority to extend life Trust membership to shareholders comes from (I don’t mind about the move, but I’m sure the rules forbid it), or why the share-selling drive has died off.
Board minutes for the earlier period which were on the PST website have now been removed. I understand that in that period the board has been working flat-out, and it’s obvious what it has mostly been working on. But there is a fundamental principle of openness being missed here and it alarms me that the Board can be so cavalier about it.
These criticisms are made in good faith, out of a desire to make sure we proceed properly. There are plenty of loons and cranks peddling conspiracy theories about PST – read them on The News website comments, or just follow Mark Littlewood on Twitter – and the best way to defeat them is with openness and pride in what we are doing.
We must not take goodwill and responsibility on the part of anyone involved in running the Trust or club for granted in the future, we have to buttress our position with strong rules. If we ever do get into a position of uncertainty again, what are the Football League going to say to us? “You said you are a community club, you had the chance to write your own rules and enforce them. Why didn’t you take that chance?”
If you’re going to the AGM on Monday, please do support the second and third motions, and let’s secure the principles everyone has been fighting for since the Trust was founded.