Monday, 13 April 2015

A question of Trust

These are my personal views. People are free to make up their own minds and vote as they wish. This blog is not meant in any way to influence people's decisions in Thursday's votes, but is merely my opinion on the matters in hand. 

I WAS on the original steering committee for the Robins Trust when it was formed. Unfortunately due to work and family commitments at the time and since I have been unable to offer more help to the cause, much to my regret.
At those original meetings when the Trust was in its' embryonic stage, I made no secret of the fact why I was there and why I wanted to get involved.
I wanted a fans' representative on the board of directors, so we can get a proper say in how our club is run - a supporters' voice. That wish hasn't changed, and I hope that becomes a reality on Thursday.
Bryan Jacob was also at those meetings, and while I or no-one else can speak for him, I think we were all there for that same goal. I'd like to think he would want his money to bring about a fan-elected director.
I remember being knocked for six when I was told about Bryan's legacy being left, lock stock and barrel to the Trust. 
I knew then that the aim I had a decade ago was going to be fulfilled - despite what I feel is several moves of the goalposts by the board since those days.
The £100,000 threshold has always been a bugbear of mine. You are not telling me that every member of the current board has put that sum into the football club, but that's another story entirely.
My (maybe cynical I admit) feeling is that this sum was put there in the belief that the Trust would not achieve it - or would take a very long time indeed to do so - therefore now it has been achieved, my belief is that the fans must grasp it and take the opportunity.
Therefore it is disappointing to see that option C does not currently guarantee a fan-elected director despite the fact that the £50,000 investment would hit the £100,000 mark.
For what it is worth my vote will go to A or B (I am still undecided on which one) as those options will have that guarantee - but I can understand people being reticent about choosing one of those options.
Poor decision-making at the top of the club has proved very costly and it looks like we will be paying the ultimate price - maybe as quickly as next Saturday at Northampton.
So I fully understand how fans have lost trust in Paul Baker and the board over the course, not only of this season but after the last couple as well, so I can understand their concerns over (as one fan put it to me) "Bryan's money disappearing into a black hole."
But the problem is that the club needs the money. My suspicion (and I stress this is a suspicion) is that the board (and although Paul Baker gets the flak, they are a board - he doesn't make all the decisions alone) have speculated slightly in the hope this money is coming as they try to help keep us up.
It looks like those efforts are all in vain, but they had to try all they could to give us the best chance. 
Other factors including their poor choices of, and too much loyalty to, managers in the recent past and how those managers have spent the funds the board has made available to them have also gone some way to putting us where we are.
So we have to be careful. While I don't blame fans for not having complete trust in the current board to use the money wisely (although I suspect it would mainly be used for paying wages and trying to put a half-decent team out next season) we have to balance that with wanting the club to survive in the medium and long term, and to try to compete at whatever level we are at.
Depriving the club of the money could threaten our survival and competitiveness.
In short, we cannot cut off our nose to spite our face. While the current board have let us down at times in the recent past, the bigger picture is that over 16 years they have rebuilt three sides of the ground, got us one of the best training facilities outside the top two divisions and stabilised us in the Football League (until now).
I know a lot of people want Paul Baker to stand down. But again we have to careful.
The problem is that there is, and never has been, a succession plan. There is nobody on the current board who seems to have the credentials to take the job on. If there was, they'd be doing it by now.
But people can go on too long - in the same way the Mark Yates was kept on last summer when he should have left. 
I don't enjoy seeing Paul Baker's chairmanship soured by recent events.  This is a man, remember, who has paid transfer fees (Steven Gillespie and Brian Wilson to name two) out of his own pocket, and bought a house so we could then knock it down to build the Hazlewoods Stand.
Things like that shouldn't be forgotten amid the broken promises about short-term loans, bold pronouncements about signings at season-ticket renewal time, appalling managerial appointments and crazy votes of confidence 24 hours before the axe fell on Mark Yates.
The last thing we need in the boardroom when we are about to drop out of the league is a vacuum. We have appeared to be a bit rudderless anyway in recent times, and this would only make it worse.
The board have done their best, and yes it might be time for some change, but we must be careful how radical that change is, especially if, as I think most of us expect now, we go down.
A boardroom vacuum could lead to freefall - Stockport come to mind, or an even worse scenario, Hereford United, and none of us want that to happen. Sometimes it is better the devil you know, whatever the perceived shortcomings.
But Paul Baker won't go on for ever. He doesn't want to for a start, but he won't just hand the club over to anyone, mainly for the reasons explained above.
He and the board have been accused of lacking ambition (I don't hold with this - they have always backed managers financially and tried to take the club as far as they can), and also not seeking or welcoming investment. But surely if it was there and (this is the crucial part) from the right people, they would have bitten their hands off? Of course they would.
An approach from the former Southampton owner Rupert Lowe is the one people talk about, but my understanding is that he wanted to buy the club completely. 100 per cent control. 
Who knows how that could have turned out - but I certainly would not be comfortable with anyone having autocratic control and being able to do whatever they wanted with no recourse.
We certainly wouldn't be getting fan-elected directors in that scenario.
We had Simon Keswick here. A combination of Martin Allen and fans on the forums demanding he used his fortune to fund their entertainment saw him withdraw again to the background. 
The mystery man in the Caymans put £500,000 in which - to their credit - the board used wisely, in dribs and drabs but that has now come to an end.
I constantly hear fans saying there must be loads of very rich people around this county who would get involved. Well, I don't exactly see them beating a path to Whaddon Road if they are out there.
Maybe they don't like football, or, if they are sensible businessmen, realise that a League Two/Conference football club would be the 'black hole' which the fan I mentioned earlier referred to.
We are where we are, and we have to try to make the best of it, and to carry on backing the football club we all support.
Thick and thin. That's what we signed up for when we started walking down the Whaddon Road.
Yes, it's thin at the moment. Probably the thinnest it has been for me in my 35 years but we can't turn our backs. If we go down, I know some will. 
I have constantly been staggered at the small number of members the Trust has compared to our average crowds. When I ask people why they aren't members, "what's the point" is the commonest answer. But my feeling is every CTFC fan should join. It's only £12 a year for goodness sake.
Thursday's vote can help us show that there is a point to being in the Trust. 
Supporters' Trusts, it seems, only come into their own when their football club is in some sort of danger, be that financial or from an asset-stripper in the boardroom, but this vote will give our Trust some leverage and a strong position in the club. We will potentially be one of the major shareholders.
There are two candidates for the fan-elected director - should the vote get that far, which I sincerely hope it will.
I must confess I don't know Mike Collins, and he seems to have good credentials, but I will be voting for Clive Gowing. I feel his hard work deserves to be rewarded with success in the vote on Thursday.
Clive is the man who has done more than most to bring us to this stage. He is the one out there in all weathers selling raffle tickets. He has arranged the yearly hospital visit where players give presents to the sick children at Christmas, putting the club and Trust at the heart of the community.
I know he would do his utmost to ensure Bryan's legacy was put to good use for the sake of the football club we all support.
As fans we have the chance now to have a bigger say in the club than we have ever had, and at the highest level possible. We can't throw it away.