Due to the lack of anything to write about apart from Spitgate I thought I would publish the FANS FORUM MINUTES here instead of different section pasted here and there.
The group were welcomed by Lee Marshall (LM) on behalf of the club.
Meeting protocol was outlined and members were informed that meeting minutes would be issued for their input and approval as soon as possible owing to the forthcoming home fixture with Manchester United.
Apologies were received from Adam Smith (AS), Damian Peachey (DP) and Nick Stone (NS). Lynn Parmley (LP) represented Newcastle United Disabled Supporters Association (NUDSA) in the absence of Gareth Beard (GB).
Keith Nicholson (KN) represented the Newcastle United Foundation in the absence of Kate Bradley, who is on maternity leave.
LM explained that a new Leazes Stand representative would be sought to replace AS on his instruction due to separate work commitments.
LM provided updates from the last meeting:
As planned in the last Fans Forum, members were invited to the Newcastle United Academy and Newcastle United Training Centre on Wednesday 12th November 2014 to gain a greater understanding of the club’s football operations.
Gordon Gilchrist (GG) praised the Academy set-up and Academy director Joe Joyce for the level of access members were given and the depth of information provided.
GG felt first team players could have been present at the Training Centre to improve the experience and raised the issue that some players’ fan mail was in the corner of the dressing room having appeared to be discarded by players, as their current mail was in the handle of their lockers. GG wanted this issue looked into. LM assured GG that all items of fan mail are given to players.
John Alder and Liam Sweeney big screen image
Members had previously asked for the 17th-minute applause to be referenced within St. James’ Park on matchday. LM explained that this was now an obvious part of matchday on the big screen and that this would continue until the end of the 2014/15 season.
NUDSA trip to Hull City
As also discussed in the previous meeting, NUDSA were to have a paid trip to Newcastle United’s match at Hull City, which Newcastle subsequently won 3-0 in January 2015.
LP confirmed it was a very positive trip based on feedback from NUDSA members. A concern was raised in regard to a lack of barriers to protect disabled supporters at the KC Stadium. Steve Storey (SS) confirmed the club had raised the issue with safety staff at Hull City.
As previously planned, the club held an informal meeting with Forum members to discuss ticketing operations prior to the Fans Forum reconvening.
The club was represented by Stephen Tickle (ST), Chris Scott (CS – Box Office) and LM. The Fans Forum was represented by Steve Cole (SC – London Supporters) and Dave Abbott (DA -Away Fans rep) and Ian Mearns MP, a frequent attendee of away fixtures.
LM gave a summary of discussions:
* Upgrades to improve the online ticketing system are due.
* A key reason fans experience delays and system crashes on the online ticketing system is due to the necessity for a seating plan to load via Flash Player, which enables supporters to select specific seats together. The same company that operates NUFC’s online system also sells tickets for much larger music festivals, however the vast majority are general admission tickets which is far simpler to process.
* For the last derby match, there were queues for around an hour at the Box Office but then very few supporters buying in person after that. NUFC will look at ways to encourage more people to buy in person, with the possibility of opening the stadium and concourse facilities for supporters’ safety and comfort.
* An FAQ document will be produced at the request of Forum members to clarify the delivery of Travel Group tickets, which is largely a very useful system for fans.
* The club will trial ‘print at home’ tickets before the end of the 2014/15 season.
2. SUPPORTER ITEMS
Fans Forum members’ questions – including those sent to them by supporters – were compiled into a five-page A4 document to be discussed in order of receipt. All questions received were included, enabling supporters to set the entire agenda.
Steve Cole (SC)
1. “On New Year’s Day, 50,000 fans made their way to St. James’ Park without public transport. What steps did/can the club take to avoid this situation.”
LM advised that this was a Premier League-wide problem, as well as an issue for all other events within the city on the day. The club had minimal leverage with transport groups.
The board explained that it would need to demonstrate an exceptional reason to the Premier League to convince them to move the fixture and that unfortunately this would not fit that criteria.
Steve Hastie asked the Fans Forum to consider making representation to local authorities and transport groups as a collective for future games that may be affected.
GG stated that Northern Rail had refused to delay a train by 5 minutes for supporters to travel home after the Manchester United match.
Sharron Lee (SL) made a complaint to Newcastle City Council about the lack of transport on New Year’s Day but has not received a response.
The board agreed to support the Fans Forum in making representation to local authorities and transport groups ahead of future games.
GG asked whether the club could make representation to the Premier League in addition to local authorties
SC recommended all Forum members contact their local councillors regarding the issue.
2. “After an embarrassing performance at Man City, it must be obvious to the management that the present squad is lacking in quality and commitment. Can we have a commitment that there will be a significant investment in strengthening of the squad in the summer?”
The board outlined its investment in the squad last summer and stated it is committed to investing in the team again in the summer 2015 window.
Liam Hall asked about defenders and specifically the decisions to loan Davide Santon to Inter Milan and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa to AS Roma.
In relation to Davide Santon, with the player having only a year of his contract remaining in the summer, a decision had to be made with regard to his future and the board accepted a loan deal which it did not feel would still be there in the summer window.
In relation to Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, the board reiterated its view from the previous Forum meeting: the deal was in the best interests of both parties and the player has proven to be better suited to Serie A.
The board confirmed that it had pursued its first choice defensive targets in summer 2014 and had reached a verbal agreement with a player. The deal involving Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa took far longer than anticipated and the target subsequently moved to another club before it could be concluded.
The board explained that January is a very challenging market for clubs. The overall aim is to improve the squad and the club will only move for a player if it is felt they can help to achieve that on a longer-term basis. The club continues to assess its squad with a view to the summer transfer window.
3. “We know that Sports Direct do not pay for static advertising. Do they pay for pitch side advertising?”
The board outlined how LED perimeter advertising space is allocated, with time slots shared between the Premier League and the club’s partners (sponsors, kit manufacturers, beer suppliers, retail etc.). Sports Direct receives no more space on the LED perimeter boards than other club partners, with the relationship unchanged since previous discussions about the company.
4. “Does Newcastle United pay all its employees at least the Living Wage?”
The board said that it does not pay the living wage but it does abide by employment law as per legislation set by the government and pay the minimum wage. The club advised supporters to speak to their local MPs with a view to the government changing the law and raising the national minimum wage if they believed it beneficial for the UK.
It was felt that the issue was one for all commerce and society as a whole rather than purely for football, which politicians often target without knowing or researching clubs’ significant contributions to their communities. Newcastle United Foundation continues to operate programmes that boost the skills and employability of thousands of young people and adults across the city each year.
Gordon Gilchrist (GG)
1. “Can the club please state in simple terms what the aims and objectives of the club are?” A debate followed on cup competitions.
The board explained that in the Capital One Cup, team selections had been generally strong this season. It was felt that the team that won at Manchester City was potentially one of the weakest on paper but achieved arguably the performance/result of the season.
With regard to the FA Cup, the board explained that a number of clubs had voiced concern at a Premier League shareholders meeting about the scheduling of the FA Cup and the number of games during the Christmas period. This was something that the Premier League acknowledged, but it was unavoidable. That said, it was felt that the team selected for the third round tie at Leicester – which was the strongest available with the exception of Ayoze Perez (rested) – was put out with the firm intention of winning the game, and had the quality to do so.
LH travelled to Leicester and expressed how poor the performance was, which the club agreed with.
GG wrote to the Football Supporters Federation regarding Newcastle United’s team versus Leicester City,The FSF requested additional information which GG supplied but never received a reply. The FA said they were satisfied regarding Newcastle’s explanation as to why they fielded the team that they did.
The board contested the idea that the club goes out to lose any match. It was suggested that Newcastle United’s openness in relation to the Premier League being its priority was unlike other Premier League clubs, who operate in much the same way without communicating that view to supporters.
Brian Parkin (BP) expressed his view that the club was “drifting along” with regard to a lack of interest in cups.
The board outlined the strength of its teams in all four League Cup ties, with Newcastle United losing to the eventual runners-up.
GG wanted assurances that the club aims to win every competition that it can. LH added that supporters would prefer to reach Wembley and lose rather than not at all. That view was not shared universally, with some referencing previous “painful” Wembley defeats.
DA referred back to the FA Cup tie at Leicester as a low point for supporters.
The board accepted its messaging could have been different in relation to the strength of the team that John Carver was able to field but reiterated that the starting line-up was the strongest it could be (Ayoze Perez aside).
DM stated the club should be congratulated for its honesty. However, he believes the atmosphere is dwindling and the “feel-good factor” has been eroded as a result. BP and LH shared that view.
DM stated that fans will question the purchase of their season ticket if it is simply based on an aim of finishing tenth.
The board accepted DM’s view and agreed there is a misconception that the board wants the team to finish tenth. The board’s aim is for the club to finish as high up the table as it possibly can, with tenth a minimum position for this season.
Vishal Vedhara (VV) questioned the application of some players in matches rather than team selections. VV asked if the idea of the league as a priority had transmitted to the dressing room.
The board assured Forum members that players want to win every match that they play in, regardless of the competition.
SH suggested the club’s messaging ahead of the Leicester City match should have been clearer. SH’s view was that expectations can be handled differently and was critical of the word ‘priority’ in relation to the league and cups.
The board assured Forum members that John Carver played his best possible team in the Leicester cup game and the board did not influence his team selection in any way. The board stated that its priorities had been disclosed in order to be open and transparent with supporters.
Due to the large number of questions raised by supporters, DA suggested that some simpler ones could be answered prior to future meetings to save time. Such “one word” answers would still be referenced in the meeting minutes.
LM agreed this would be done to allow additional time to debate more complex topics.
2. “Can the club give the percentage change in first team salaries from February 2014 to February 2015?”
The board stated that the figure was not something they would disclose.
GG was asked if the question was driven by a belief that the wage bill would have intentionally been lowered in that time, which he confirmed.
The board has not discussed reducing the wage bill and conversely it continually assesses its transfer spend and wage bill in order to set it at an appropriate level to ensure the club meets one of its strategic aims of improving the quality of its squad.
GG referenced a recent club interview in the Chronicle newspaper and a point that the board wanted to improve communication. GG welcomed the clarity offered by the club.
Bob Moncur (BM) stated the club had been criticised in the past for not communicating. BM suggested the club was now being criticised for the messages it is communicating.
The board stated it is aware of supporters’ concerns and is reviewing how the club communicates and how its messages are delivered and presented to supporters.
3. “Can the club give an indication of the proceeds from home strips over a season compared to previous years (i.e. adidas kits). Can the club also comment on whether it chose the cheapest design it could this season?
On the first point, the club stated that domestic shirt sales generally across most Premier League clubs are lower compared to what they have been historically.
In reference to the second point, the club gets three final designs and they all cost the same to produce. The Fans Forum was reminded that it had actually selected the 2014/15 third kit from a number of designs presented to them.
GG questioned the material used in manufacturing, with some apparently cheaper than others.
The board explained that this season, the PUMA match shirts that players wear are a different, more advanced material to normal replica shirts, but that the more expensive players shirts could also be ordered in store.
4. “Has the ban on NCJ Media been lifted and are they now allowed free speech without the ban being re-imposed?”
The board confirmed the ban has been lifted and that it is rebuilding its relationship with NCJ Media. The board stated the media group has absolute editorial control and that the club simply asks for balance in its coverage.
The club noted that a vocal minority of supporters on social media heavily criticise NCJ Media and its journalists when articles are positive about the club, which in the board’s view puts pressure on them to write critical pieces to compensate.
5. The atmosphere on match days is non-existent for obvious reasons. Will the club consider:
a) The re-creation of a singing area
b) Allowing fans to bring banners/flags into the stadium
c) A standing area
SS trialled the reintroduction of a singing section area for an European game, however a number of individuals within that area breached certain ground regulations, including the use of smoke canisters, a high level of drunkenness and significant levels of foul and abusive language, so the club did not progress this further.
SS stated that banners are permitted inside the stadium providing they meet safety criteria, do not cause offence and do not cover advertising. LM advised supporters wishing to bring banners to the stadium to contact the safety and security team in advance in order for it to be quickly assessed. The same process is in place for away supporters.
In relation to a standing area, SS stated that legislation had not yet been changed to permit it in a Premier League stadium.
Vishal Vedhara (VV)
“Given recent news stories about racism and abuse from supporters of other clubs, I want to table that the club has a firm equality statement/charter in place and that Fans Forum members contribute.”
LM agreed with VV’s view and advised that work was continuing in this area. LM outlined some of the club’s recent activities which helped to send out a clear message that discrimination is not tolerated at Newcastle United. This including highly-visible support for Football v Homophobia during the match with Aston Villa at St. James’ Park.
VV was complimentary about Newcastle United’s recently-published ‘United Against Discrimination’ poster, which included references to sexual and racial equality.
VV also placed on record thanks to SH and members of the NUFC Fans United group for their public letter which condemned the recent march by Pegida in Newcastle city centre.
Liam Hall (LH)
“Are fans getting their money’s worth on season tickets? With money increasing from TV deals, can the club not follow German clubs and lower ticket prices instead of pricing fans out of the game?”
The board stated that one of its key aims had been to keep ticket prices affordable and that Newcastle United was very competitive in terms of pricing and the structuring of its ticketing deals against its peers in the Premier League.
LH agreed the club had done well in this regard but stated the problem was across the Premier League in comparison to the German Bundesliga.
The board reiterated its aim of ensuring season ticket holders get the best possible value at St. James’ Park and underlined the value and importance it places on its season ticket holders.
The board looks at pricing on an ongoing basis and considers league-wide trends. Following the success of the family area, it has introduced more 18-21 spaces for next season to make matches more accessible for young people.
GG agreed the club is very good on pricing but questioned why season ticket holders have to renew by January/February.
The board said this is in relation to when it initially set its direct debit scheme, which is 12 months interest free from March to February to make having a season ticket more convenient and affordable for supporters. This timing also enables the club to plan from a financial perspective.
Brian Parkin (BP)
1. “When Alan Pardew departed, the club released a statement saying he had left the club in a better position on and off the pitch. Can you explain why the club believed it was now in a better position on the pitch?
The club listed some of the players in the squad that had not long achieved promotion from the Championship in 2010. The club believes its squad at the end of Alan Pardew’s tenure is significantly better than at that point, both in terms of age profile, value and quality.
2. “Will the club ensure the transfer activity it does in the summer ensures we have a squad that’s equipped for the full season? I am also concerned that the club seems to be prepared to let players go in January, but not prepared to replace them in that window.
The board’s aim is to complete its recruitment for the season ahead each summer on the basis it will likely do little or no business in the January window.
3. “Most fans are happy to see the club signing promising young players for the future. However, should there not be some consideration for the present when we’re short in some areas? Would the club be prepared to do a loan deal without a view to signing a player long term, so that we could fill gaps we were short in?”
The board’s aim is to complete its recruitment each summer with the focus on a medium to long-term view, as opposed to short-term ‘quick-fix’ deals. The board confirmed that its preference in terms of loan deals was always to look to secure loans with an option to buy rather than simply to fill a gap short-term.
4. “There seems to be a small flood behind the Gallowgate turnstiles towards the South East corner. Do the club have plans to fix the problem?
Eddie Rutherford (ER) asked supporters to notify stewards so that the club could rectify the problem.
DA raised another facilities issue with regard to queues outside the women’s toilets due to increasing numbers of female attendees at matches.
ER stated that the number of toilets provided for women were at an equivalent ratio to those provided for men. However, the club will monitor it.
5. Beyond wages and Premier League football, what attraction is there for young players intending to win things to join the club? Do we sell ourselves as a stepping stone?
The board stated the club is sold as one that wants to compete as high in the Premier League as possible. The reality is that because of the age profile and ambition of the players the club will target, it is not unreasonable to think that Newcastle United may not be the last club they will play for.
LH asked if the club consistently finished eighth, would ambitions change to top six?
The board confirmed its aim is to see improvement and progression, and in the event that the club consistently finished eighth it would, at that time, assess its future target.
The board is also realistic in terms of the clubs it is competing with and, due to the revenues of the top six and therefore their financial power in respect of transfer fees and wages, it is extremely difficult to mount a sustained challenge on them.
SH stated that if the club aspires to grow, excite and to be successful, there is no reason it can’t go on to challenge at the top of the division.
The board stated there is absolutely no appetite just to exist as a Premier League club and reiterated it wanted to finish as high as it possibly can in every season, but that it had to be realistic and not over-promise and under-deliver.
Phil Patterson (PP)
1. “How does it appear that most teams are fitter and stronger than Newcastle United? Why does it take so long to get players fit again (e.g. Rolando Aarons)?
The board stated that it assesses on a daily basis the performance of its players both individually and collectively and compares the statistics against its opposition after every game. Any issues will be identified and this would then reflect in the physical programmes delivered to the players.
In terms of injuries, the club accepted Rolando Aarons has had problems during his recovery. The club discussed other injured players and stated their impact injuries could not be blamed on the club’s fitness and sports science staff.
ER stated that the Training Centre has four ‘stadium pitches’, which are the same specification as St. James’ Park, one with undersoil heating, in order to give the players a like-for-like training environment.
The board stated huge effort goes into monitoring players and their health and fitness to ensure fatigue injuries are kept to an absolute minimum. With signing younger players, the club believes injury levels should be below squads with more players aged 28+.
SH said it didn’t help that previous interviews had mentioned Rolando Aarons had been risked. His view was that Forum members had benefitted from seeing how the club looks after players’ fitness during their Academy and Training Centre visits.
PP asked if it is unusual for a player to have a collapsed lung twice in 18 months (Siem de Jong).
The board explained Siem’s injury and the likelihood that if a person has one, they are more prone to a second. The second developed without warning or prior symptoms with the player close to fitness. The operation the player has since had means there is a very high probability it will not reoccur.
2. “Why over the last few years are Newcastle incapable of looking dangerous from corners or free-kicks?”
BM stated he was impressed with the positive change in this area against Aston Villa and that John Carver and his staff had been working on it on the training field. PP agreed and praised Sammy Ameobi for his deliveries. PP was also pleased to see Ryan Taylor back healthy on the pitch.
Sharron Lee (SL)
1. “I would like to see the club engaging with more female fans. Is there more the club can do to encourage women into the stadium?”
LM stated the club is continuing to make the stadium a welcoming place for everyone. The family area in particular has been very successful, with lots of women attending games with their children, partners and friends.
In reference to the earlier comment about women’s toilets, the club will review facilities at the end of the season to ensure they best serve all supporters.
The club will also introduce a women’s representative onto the Fans Forum for 2015/16.
2. “Supporters who travel from a long distance struggle to park near to the stadium. Is there anything more the club can do?”
LM stated that the stadium’s central location made it difficult to assist supporters in parking very close but did point to excellent transport links, a dedicated football park and ride system and care share scheme which have all been praised by other clubs. LM encouraged supporters to check www.altoonativetravel.com for recommendations and further information.
3. “Can cup tickets be added onto season tickets for a small charge? It may be a gamble but it may encourage more supporters who travel long distances to attend more cup fixtures.”
The board stated this was likely to be an unpopular addition at the moment given the club has had very few domestic cup ties at home in the last four seasons.
DA raised a recent issue at Old Trafford, whereby Manchester United fans were duty bound to buy a cup ticket or face losing their seat for the next Premier League game. Consensus was that it would not be a popular scheme. LH proposed the club lowers cup ticket prices instead given the attendance
LM explained that cup tickets had generally been low anyway, with Europa League tickets down to £15/£5 right through to the quarter-final stage.
The board stated that cup ticket prices had been lowered as much as Newcastle United possibly could. Gate receipts are shared, therefore prices have to be agreed with the opposition club.
4. “Is there anything the club can do with regard to hotel prices in the city on matchday? Can the club partner any hotels?
The club does have discounts via Impari cards for members but it was stated the pricing of hotel rooms is unfortunately out of the hands of the club. Based on the simple concept of supply and demand bars and hotels are likely to raise prices for 50,000 visitors rather than reduce them.
Paul Loughlin (PL)
“Having seen the success of the Kings of Leon concert and the Olympics in 2012, what is the club’s vision regarding utilising the stadium as a multi-purpose venue?
The board stated it will continue to look for opportunities which create value for the club.
The board explained that there will not be a concert this year due to the Rugby League Magic Weekend. The board is continually seeking additional opportunities to enable it to increase its commercial revenue.
Taylor Payne (TP)
1. “With the club unable to win the league and seemingly unwilling to compete in cups, what would attract young fans and overseas fans to supporting Newcastle United?”
The board accepted there was a need for it to look at its messaging and branding, including where it tours for pre-season in order to try and grow the club’s fan base internationally.
The board accepted it is challenging to compete with clubs in the Champions League in attracting otherwise neutral supporters due to their increased global visibility and the profile and marketability of some of their individual players.
DA talked about the 11,664 fans at one of the club’s FA Youth Cup games recently and the fact the average age was 12-13. DA felt gaining support was not a problem on a local level.
LH asked if the club provides free tickets to primary schools.
LM explained that the club does provide a very small number of tickets as prizes and rewards for Newcastle United Foundation participants but that the club’s bigger focus was on engaging with young supporters across hundreds of Tyneside schools and taking the club out to them.
2. “Is there a reason why Fabricio Coloccini doesn’t play in FA Cup matches?”
The board stated it may have been due to injuries and, in the past, a manager’s decision to rest him. This season, Fabricio Coloccini played in all of the club’s midweek Capital One Cup games.
SC asked why Fabricio Coloccini did not attend warm weather training in Dubai.
The board stated that the player had been given permission to remain in Newcastle.
3. “Did the club receive any income from hosting the Olympics in 2012? Manchester United filed accounts with this income stipulated but Newcastle United didn’t.”
The board explained that the club made no income from hosting Olympic activities in 2012. This was a deal struck by a previous board that wasn’t as commercially viable as the current board would have accepted.
The board explained that it did the deal for the Rugby World Cup and Magic Weekend and that accordingly, income would be noted in next year’s account.
David Maudlin (DM)
1. “Given the club’s concerns about Premier League scheduling around the FA Cup, will there be a difference next season?”
The board believes the fixture congestion in and around the Christmas period was due to a number of unusual circumstances which made the schedule tight. The board believes this will be eased next season.
2. “How does the club see the issues surrounding Rangers? UEFA and the FA seem to be sitting on the fence with regard to potential Europa League qualification?”
The board stated it is aware of the UEFA regulations regarding the situation. The club and its owner would not put Newcastle United in a position where it would lose a European place because of Rangers.
DM asked if there is any addition to a previous statement that Mike Ashley will not sell in Newcastle United until “the end of next season.”
The board explained that any link between that date and the point at which Rangers could potentially qualify for Europe again was purely coincidental and completely unrelated.
The board stated that the date was specified in order to dismiss incorrect stories in the media and that Mike Ashley remains committed to Newcastle United.
DM asked if Rangers could be a feeder club for Newcastle United similarly to the relationship between Premier League clubs and those in Europe.
The board stated that it is exploring the possibility of strategic partnerships with a number of clubs. A number of Premier League clubs already have this type of arrangement/relationship. The purpose of this would be to send players to these clubs to aid their development with the ultimate beneficiary being Newcastle United.
3. “The club has been criticised for not communicating and then criticised for banning NCJ Media. However, it is then criticised when it tries to put messages out to supporters and does interviews with NCJ Media. Where does the club sit, given its frustration with this?”
The board felt the fall-out with local media and a number of stories that followed during the period of the ban were unhelpful, but the board stood by the decision it made at the time. The relationship now enables the club to reach a wider audience with its key messages, as with the recent interview on the head coach situation and on John Carver. The club will continue to keep those channels of communication open but accepted there will be some supporters who will not agree with what the club has to say. The club is looking to improve the means by which it communicates.
4. “Would the club match the Premier League’s Away Fans Fund?”
The board explained how the Away Fans Fund works, in that it is club money ring-fenced by the Premier League rather than a pot given to all 20 clubs.
As the away fans representative, DA suggested the Away Fans Fund was extremely popular with supporters who travel and would like to see it continued. DA feels the club has spent the fund wisely for the benefit of away supporters.
5. “Whether we like the answers or not, the club does answer our questions extremely honestly. Can we make more of an effort to promote the existence of the Fans Forum through the local media?”
LM indicated that the Fans Forum minutes are already widely scrutinised and covered by local media once they are published. LM and the board suggested that media observers from NCJ Media could be invited to a future meeting in order for their journalists to gain a greater understanding of how the Forum operates.
The group unanimously agreed the process was worthwhile. DA, who attended previous incarnation of the Forum with the club, felt the current Fans Forum is the best the club has had in terms of structure and honesty and depth in answering questions. DA feels more questions are now being put forward by supporters.
TP and VV asked about making members and the Forum more prominent on the website.
The club stated that there is a page with Fans Forum members listed and the mechanics for supporters to contact them but that the club also wanted to protect them and their personal details.
LM explained that the club has continued to promote the Fans Forum via social media but will look at ways to enhance this so that more fans are engaging in the process.
PL encouraged the club to expose Fans Forum members to the club’s wider fan base.
The club contested the notion that the board and management pay ‘lip service’ to fans in the Forum, pointing out that all questions are included and are answered honestly and openly, save for the very few occasions when the board has been unable to disclose commercially sensitive or confidential information. The accusation is usually from people who know little about the Fans Forum or have no involvement in it.
DM stated that there had been some criticism of the Forum as a whole from some supporters on social media who had suggested questions that they felt ought to have been asked.
TP wanted supporters who criticise the Fans Forum to send in their questions so that they can contribute to discussions and then read the answers.
The board underlined that it encourages Fans Forum members to continue to engage in this process as they have done. The board welcomes the questions which have been offered by Forum members and will continue to answer them as honestly as possible.
The club will also continue to promote the Fans Forum minutes as visibly as possible via its digital channels.
Steve Hastie (SH)
1. “How committed is Mike Ashley to Newcastle United?”
SH felt the club had already covered this earlier in the Forum.
2. “What is the take up on season tickets for 2015/16 and what is the drop-off rate for renewal?”
The board stated that a percentage is always lost but that it is generally offset by a similar number of new or returning season ticket holders. The board stated season ticket levels are similar to last year at this stage in the renewal process.
3. “In terms of the Living Wage, it would resonate a lot more in the North East. Bearing in mind the club won’t have very many staff below the Living Wage, agreeing to it would send out a strong message of its importance.”
The board explained that the Living Wage had only very recently come to public attention but referred to the response given earlier in the Forum.
4. “What is the club’s position regarding the sale of land behind the Gallowgate End and will income raised be put back into the club?”
The board explained that the land has not been owned by the club or appeared in its accounts since before Mike Ashley’s time at the club. It is under the umbrella of Mike Ashley’s ownership, separate to the club. A public consultation has been called for 12th March, which is to assess the potential development of the site.
5. “Why does the club continually play Under-21 games behind closed doors?”
The club explained that it tries not to where possible. To ensure the quality of the playing surface – especially when first team players are returning to fitness – the club sometimes has to switch games to the Training Centre, which isn’t equipped for supporter access. The club would like to get to a point where more of the games are played at St. James’ Park or a suitable alternative venue.
BP: “Has a decision been made on a new head coach, is it delayed, or is it ongoing?”
The board stated that it will not consider the matter again until the end of the season.
The board went through a lengthy process in terms of speaking to a number of people about coming to the club as a potential head coach. The outcome of that process was that the board felt the best option was for John Carver to be appointed to the position until the end of the season, at which point it will be reviewed.
In the event the board should need to look for an external candidate in the summer for the position of Head Coach, the board would not have to start the process all over again due to the level of detail and work which went into the initial search.
LH asked about the criteria of a potential new head coach.
The board would look for an individual who would fit into the club’s structure, someone who is tactically astute, and who has a track record of developing young players and the ability to improve players. The club has no concerns over whether a potential new head coach is British or from overseas and deems other criteria far more important.
LH asked if head coaches may be put off joining the club, suggesting it may be the case because they would not have a say in transfers.
The board feels the media has misrepresented the head coach role to a degree; incorrectly suggesting that they would have no say in transfers. The board explained the reality is that a head coach would have an opinion and an input into transfers, just not the final say.
The board and chief scout would sit with the head coach with a number of options in line with the head coach’s template for the team. The initial scouting and shortlisting would be done by the chief scout, while the board would take care of financial elements to ensure the head coach could concentrate on his duties.
The board explained that this sort of system happens in a lot of football clubs across the world. The board feels this structure enables individuals to focus on their respective strengths.
TP asked if the club would revisit the Director of Football role, suggesting the chief scout – Graham Carr – was assuming the role.
The board stated it is not planning to reintroduce the role. The responsibilities associated with that role are shared between several parties within the club and the club feels its track record in recruiting players is generally strong.
BM stated that as a former manager, the new system of a head coach works far better given the depth of responsibilities modern coaches have to contend with.
3. DEPARTMENTAL UPDATES
Newcastle United Foundation
Keith Nicholson (KN) provided supporters with a copy of the Foundation’s latest annual review.
KN outlined pages 3-4, which summarise the Foundation’s achievements and outline its current mission statement.
Supporters were encouraged to read the review and to support the Foundation where possible.
FA YOUTH CUP
DA noted that stadium didn’t open early enough for FA Youth Cup tie with Chelsea and that new seating areas could have been opened quicker.
DA asked if any pre-season tour plans were close to being announced.
The board stated no announcements were imminent. The gap between the end and start of seasons is tighter than usual so it is more challenging. The process is ongoing.
VV underlined the importance of the forthcoming derby fixture in April on supporters.
SH outlined scheduled police meetings ahead of the derby and encouraged younger supporters to attend to have an input. DA confirmed the next meeting will be at 7pm on Wednesday 18th March at Gateshead Civic Centre.
SH welcomed a change in how the last derby match was policed and the good behaviour of the vast majority of supporters from both clubs.
Next meeting: end of season (date TBC)