Below are the minutes for the latest fans forum, I think you will all agree that Steve McClaren comes across very well and seems to be very positive going forward. We just need a couple of good signings in and things will look much brighter.
Lee Marshall (LM) welcomed all attendees to the meeting and meeting protocol was outlined (no live tweeting or recording, production of official minutes to be approved by the group).
As scheduled, six members’ tenures have come to an end at this meeting and all were thanked for their time and contribution to the Forum. The club will be arranging to send each departing member a small token of appreciation for their time and contributions to Forum debates. Due to work commitments, Adam Smith (AS) will be replaced and a women’s representative will also be sought.
LM stated that all vacant seats will be advertised shortly.
The club’s pre-season schedule was summarised, with details given of a ticket on-sale date for the home fixture with Borussia Mönchengladbach.
LM confirmed details of the club’s annual open day for supporters. The open day at St. James’ Park – which will include an open first team training session – will provisionally take place during the school holidays on Tuesday 4th August.
2. Steve McClaren
The club’s head coach, Steve McClaren (SMc), was introduced and was formally welcomed by Fans Forum members.
SMc addressed the group and thanked them for their welcome.
SMc: “There’s a great determination with myself and the board and the people behind the scenes to take the club forward.
“The key thing was Mike Ashley’s interview before the West Ham fixture. What he said must have given everyone at the club an enormous lift. Certainly I said that for whichever head coach came into the club, what a fantastic situation. That’s what I’ve sensed going around and meeting people.
“We’ve needed to get things in place. It’s taken a while to get my staff in place because they’ve been here, there and everywhere. We didn’t want to rush that because the people around you are important. It’s important to get the right people.
“I think we’ve got a great coaching team. They are the right people to work with the players. Our culture is that we’re here to improve them. If we improve them, everyone will benefit.
“We’ve got quality people in and from day one, we’ve come in and just worked how we normally work. We set the culture and the environment. We want everybody to get up in the morning and want to come to work. That’s they key thing – they enjoy the work, it’s beneficial, they get
coached, they get taught and they get made better – as far as they want to go. We have the staff to do that.
“We set the ground rules. There are two agendas which run parallel. One is the present squad and present staff. Two is adding to that and looking at how we are going to improve the situation. That for me has been what we’ve been doing; identifying what’s present and what do we need to take us forward.
“The present staff have been fantastic. They’ve been really good. The players have come in and we’ve set out our culture, our rules. Discipline is the key to it.
“We’ve stressed from day one the kind of discipline we expect from players, as well as the discipline that they expect from us. We ask them to be professional; to do the right thing every day. Everybody knows what’s right and what’s wrong and we ask them to come in and do the right thing, to be professional.
“If we create that environment, people – players – will follow. It’s about setting up, getting the players in and identifying what success is. We want to win something and get into the top eight. That’s been stated by the owner and that’s our objective. How we get there is our job. You start right at the bottom in terms of what you create, the culture and the climate, what rules you set, the discipline, how you work, the professionalism, the character.
“My first job at the training ground is to create that culture of professionalism. That has to be the first success, then we’re building on that with recruitment – which is being worked on day and night relentlessly. Despite what you may read or hear, that’s what has been happening.
“Through the years, I’ve learned through experience that things will happen. That’s football. They don’t always happen when you want them to happen but if you hold your nerve, they happen how you want them to happen.
“Getting back to work has been great. Getting the players on the grass has been great. Saying to everybody, we’ve got nothing to hide. We’ve got an open door policy. We think that what we do is very good for the players and very good for their improvement.
“In the longer term, we have got to think strategically about how we develop this team into a top eight team that is going to win a trophy.”
Paul Loughlin (PL): “There has been a lot said over the last few months about the current squad of players. What’s your view on that current squad and how much potential do you see?”
SMc: “We’re trying to raise the standards. The key thing is talking to the players one-on-one. The majority of people who say things about players don’t have the benefit of knowing what goes on behind the scenes.
“I’ve been asking why is it that fans – who are the most important people – are questioning some of the players’ attitudes, ability, talent and things like that. It’s asking the players that question – why. They get to answer that. We believe with a change of culture and approach, we can change them. Will we change them enough so that they’ll improve and come with us to get back in your good books? That’s down to them entirely.
“We want to give the leaders, the senior players more respect and more authority within the group. That helps young players.
“The best thing we can do is have one-on-ones with the players. You, as fans, are questioning players but believe you me, I’m also questioning them one-on-one and saying ‘this is being said
of you, give me some background’. From that, we assess if they can change and if they can get better.
“We’re assessing what we have at the present moment and if it can take us forward. If the character, attitude, ability, mentality can help us to win a trophy and take us into that top eight. That’s a totally different level to where we are at the moment. Can the present squad do it? We go through each player and we’ll assess. Is he a winner? Is he with us? Can he go with us? That’s what we’re assessing.”
PL: “Has there been a lot of buy-in in terms of ethos and culture from the players? There have been positive things written about the impact of that so far.”
SMc: “We’ve said the players have a fresh start. We’ve written a lot of things down too and stated we’re here and this is where we want to go, but you’ll only judge us on the actions every day. It’s small steps. Is there a buy-in? Yes, but let’s see in 2-3 weeks when we assess the players and it becomes more apparent.”
Vishal Vedhara (VV): “It’s refreshing to hear about the new culture and that action is being taken.”
SMc: “You have a perception and an idea and previously I’ve gone for revolution and it hasn’t worked. It’s evolution and identifying what needs to be done. Every place needs something different so the last three weeks have been asking what this place needs and then trying to give it.
“As staff we’re here to help and we’re telling the players that they’ll improve, they’ll be a better team for all fans to enjoy.”
VV: “We want to see passion. That’s what’s been missing.”
SMc: “Speaking of passion, when Steve Black had his first chat with the players, he frightened them half to death. Everybody knows him and his reputation and it has been well received. He’s good at his job and has done it in every sport. He has told the players that we are here to help.”
Liam Hall (LH): “There has been a lot of negativity, lots of fans who have fallen out of love with the club. What would you say to them?”
SMc: “We can’t just say ‘come on, fall back in love’. I can write things down and we can say it here but you’ll only believe it when you see the action. That’s the job we’ve got to do, to show that passion and attitude.
“That last game against West Ham last season, the team was never going to lose that. The attitude, the passion wasn’t just on the field, it was also off the field. I’ve watched the whole game three or four times and we’ve clipped it down to 8-10 minutes to show the players. Within that clip, it shows their attitude and passion. That’s what you want to see. That’s the platform every time we turn up, that’s the least we expect.”
Brian Parkin (BP): “Did you have an idea of the positions you want to strengthen before you arrived, or is it from scratch on the training ground?”
SMc: “I’ve talked to the current staff and board but I also know the players so we’ve got a good idea of what we need.”
VV: “Most previous managers/head coaches have a brand of football. What is yours?”
SMc: “We’ve put the statement up that we want to be respected in football as an attractive, attacking, but effective team. That’s what we’ve always done. It’s trying to get a balance; a product out on the field and a product from individual players. “Everyone is different. I’ve talked to Peter Beardsley and he tells me the crowd like to see the team getting the ball forward, not passing backwards. We might have to adjust a little bit. I’m talking behind the scenes, talking to staff, talking to you (the Fans Forum), reading things and finding out what kind of football you like to see.”
BP: “You always hear in the media that we’d rather lose 4-3 than win 1-0. Not for me. I’d rather win, whatever the football is like.”
VV: “Fans want football which will get them off their seats.”
Phil Patterson (PP): “We want to see players who care for the club and not hiding.”
Steve Hastie (SH): “We’ve never expected to come from behind when we’ve conceded first. We need a winning mentality and attitude.”
SMc: “We’ll swap sides of the table and I’d say exactly the same thing. That’s what I want to see. Words are easy but I do. We want people to try, not to hide and people who can take the ball and want the ball all the time.
“That’s why Steve Black has been brought in. It’s easy to constantly tell the players to do something but we need the right characters in the team, the right mentality. When you cross the white line, everyone has talent but you have to have courage. At top clubs, the shirt is heavy and you have to have the personality to wear it. I’ve seen it – players are fantastic at some clubs but at others, they can’t handle crossing the white line.”
Following SMc’s recent email which was sent directly to supporters, the club outlined changes to how it will be communicating with supporters.
Direct communication to supporters will be a key element and emails will be sent on a regular basis from key individuals within the club.
As part of the club’s new strategy, it will communicate with supporters directly so they get the news before anyone else does.
The club will also be delivering more content via official channels, more short clips from the training ground, when the team are away, the academy etc. and giving fans an insight behind the scenes.
Dave Abbott (DA): “Have you considered making access to the entire website completely free?”
The club is looking at options and is continuing to review everything it does digitally.
Steve Cole (SC): “Can the club expand on why only Sky Sports and the Daily Mirror spoke to Steve McClaren first?”
Alongside Sky Sports and the Daily Mirror, SMc also gave interviews to the club’s media channels followed by local written media and BBC Newcastle. The club felt that this was the most appropriate way in which to announce SMc’s appointment to fans and best control and re-enforce the positive messages the club wished to deliver to them.
VV: “The club should be mindful of the negative impact that could have if journalists are unhappy.”
The club emphasised that it meets all of its obligations to the written media under Premier League regulations.
4. Supporter items/open questions
PP: “Motivation can be key and Steve Black could be a great appointment in terms of instilling belief into the players and making them feel confident to show their ability.”
The board noted that they have spoken at length about what they want in potential new players and character is key to that.
Dave Abbott (DA): “We had a lot of injuries last season. Have there been any changes?”
SMc: “It’s one of the first things we look at and we talk to the doctor and the medical staff. We’ve got very good staff behind the scenes. We’ve gone though training methods, what we do and seeing how we can avoid injuries. The doctor was one of the first people I spoke to.
“We want players to be available every Saturday so that’s our target. If a player gets injured, we need accurate diagnosis, good treatment, good rehab and to get him back as soon as possible.”
BP: “The club has admitted to making mistakes. Can you clarify what these mistakes were and what measures have been put in place to ensure that they don’t happen again.”
The club stated it did not wish to dwell on the past and stated its objectives are clear. With Steve and his staff now in place, the focus is now very much looking to the future.
SH: “Are we back to square one in terms of player recruitment since the new head coach came in?”
The club stated that its targets have been refined in some cases following conversations with Steve about his style of play and the specific expectations he has for each position.
LH: “Other teams on a similar level as us are reported to be making bids for players that we’re linked with. Why aren’t we?”
The club suggested that view was based on the presumption that it wasn’t doing the same and that what the media writes is often not necessarily the reality behind the scenes. In terms of the calibre of player and level of fees, the club is confident it is very competitive within its grouping.
The club affirmed that while its business principles still apply, there is the possibility to consider players that may command a higher transfer fee than previously considered. The club’s view moving forward is to pursue quality over quantity and the club is confident it can attract those type of players.
Taylor Payne (TP): “From fans, there’s a lot of residual frustration about last season. Why did the failures occur – was it the model, personnel or finance?”
The club stated that a combination of factors occurred but repeated it did not want to dwell on the past.
To club did however underline that its final position and being in a situation whereby it needed to secure its Premier League status on the final game of last season was wholly unacceptable.
TP: “What has been done to make sure that doesn’t happen again?”
The club stated its objectives have been revised and are clear. In addition, the appointment of a new head coach and new staff who have their own philosophy gives the club a platform from which it can move forward.
Sharron Lee (SL): “What can the club do to attract new players?”
The club’s view is that Newcastle United has always been attractive to new players. In addition, the appointment of the new head coach is a big step forward. Privately, Steve McClaren has been a big draw for players the club has been speaking to both at home and abroad. The club has no concerns about attracting players.
SMc: “I’m excited because the objectives are clear and you can sell that to players coming in. We want to win something. We are going for something.
“I’m excited because of the plan I’ve seen. We don’t just go short term with this transfer window, we look at the next window and the next one. We have a great opportunity in the next three windows if we get the recruitment right. I can understand if there is negativity but if I was a supporter and I knew what I know in such detail, I’d be very excited about the future.
“Talk is cheap. We have to make it happen.”
PP: “The statement from the owner seemed to lift the club but supporters still know we haven’t signed a player. The mood will change when the first player is brought in.”
The club is working hard to ensure the players who come in are the right players whether it takes a week, two weeks or more but understands there will be scepticism until that happens.
SMc: “As a coach coming in, I want to know what we’re doing and who we’re going for. It doesn’t always work. You need the right people and it has to be at the right time.
“I’m very chilled about it because I know what’s going on behind the scenes. Eventually, we’ll get there. I wouldn’t have come here if that hadn’t been the case. I know what we can do and what we intend to do. We’re in control of things and they’ll happen in their own time. There are clubs around the world chasing the type of players we’re interested in and that’s the challenge for us.”
BP: “Fans are waiting for something to happen. Do the club give false hope to fans ahead of important season ticket renewal dates?”
The club stated that it does not and emphasised the need to maintain a consistency of messaging via its direct communication to fans.
PL: “Will Mike Ashley (MA) be involved in that communication following his interview?”
The club explained that MA has made a statement and the objectives are clear. It is now up to the club to deliver on his statement.
SMc: “Would the club have been different if he hadn’t spoken?”
PP: “The atmosphere was negative and flat until we listened to MA’s interview. The place lifted and it went from negative to positive. That went from the stands to the players and we were never going to lose the game.”
VV: “Hardly any owners do speak so we should hear from Steve and get behind him.”
The club underlined that SMc will play an important role in communication but that fans will get an insight from right across the club to share that responsibility.
TP: “In terms of grassroots football, why would boys clubs be actively encouraging their best young players to join other academies rather than Newcastle’s?”
LM asked members who visited Academy for their views.
DA referenced Newcastle United players in the England youth teams and stated: “We have a better base of young players now than we’ve had for years.”
The club stated it has worked hard to develop good relationships with boys clubs and those relationships are now as good as they have been for many years. The general feedback is very positive.
SH: “What stage is the club at with the new training ground?”
The club outlined that planning has been approved, tenders had been out and prices had been supplied. In order to proceed, contracts needed to be signed well in advance but because of the position the club found itself in towards the end of the season, the decision was taken not to commit at that time.
Along with the head coach, the club is now identifying the best time to start work and is mindful of disruptions mid-season.
VV supplied a question from a supporter in Australia in relation to club finances and the use of funds across different bank accounts.
The club states that NUFC and all divisions within the football company operate a number of bank accounts and it is the consolidated balance of all accounts that is disclosed in the year end accounts. All funds are in current accounts with our bankers (Barclays) and form part of our working capital.
VV: “Based on the success of the England women’s team at the World Cup in Canada, are any plans to associate more with NUWFC?”
The club is continuing to work with NUWFC and further details for the 2015/16 season will be confirmed shortly. LM stated that the Newcastle United Foundation was capitalising on the success by inviting girls to take advantage of its coaching in the community.
No further questions were tabled and following the Q&A segment, LC, SMc and BM left the meeting as scheduled.
5. Meeting minutes
The club invited members to feed back on the production of meeting minutes and how the club conveys messaging from the Fans Forum.
TP: “The minutes can lose the nuances of conversations, tone and atmosphere. People pick up on it in a negative way and feed back that the club sound robotic.”
VV: “The club could condense the minutes in future but should keep it consistent at the moment.”
BP: “Making them shorter would probably leave more questions than answers.”
DA: “Lots of supporters I know read the minutes, especially on long away games.”
Forum members agreed that rather than producing a smaller executive summary, the club should continue to produce extended minutes. Instead, the club should add to the minutes with smaller, digestible stories on the website to convey key messages and raise the profile of the Forum.
The club will also send a personal, direct email with a summary of the Forum to bring it to bring it to fans’ attention.
The club also confirmed it will add members’ email addresses to the system behind the website so that they receive fan emails directly.
VV: “A fan from Australia found me, saw what I do and managed to send me a fairly complex financial question which has now been answered, so it does work.”
SC: “Our members have asked me to lobby for a permanent seat on the Fans Forum, on the same basis as NUFC Fans United. London Supporters Association has been going since 1962 and is the longest running democratically constituted supporter group that the club has.”
The club will consider adding the group permanently.
DA: How will the club replace members who are scheduled to leave the Forum?
The club confirmed that vacant seats would be advertised this summer and that new members will be appointed as previously (supporters fitting the criteria required to take a particular seat will be selected at random from applicants). The seats will be advertised via the club’s digital channels and if possible, via external media given the public interest in the Forum.
VV: “After Steve’s attendance, there should be a lot of interest so the club has a good opportunity to raise the profile of the Forum. Mentioning vacancies in the news stories and email would be useful.
6. Department updates
Media/nufcTV SH: “Could nufcTV be open to season ticket holders or members? Could there also be a Forum section in the programme with questions between meetings?”
The club is already discussing changes to its digital operations and will suggest the programme article.
TP: “Fans buy membership primarily so they can buy away tickets and the current benefits aren’t useful. If there was an extra incentive, you would see the numbers spike rather than paying separately for nufcTV.” Members agreed that adding nufcTV to the membership scheme would be a very positive step.
Following a ticketing sub-group meeting, a ticket Q&A and a St. James’ Park Visitor Guide are in production for 2015/16.
Stephen Tickle (ST) stated his view that the sub-group meeting was very beneficial and is open to future meetings.
LH: “Can the club give an update on season ticket renewals after what has been reported recently?”
The club stated that despite what has been reported, renewal rates are strong and are similar to this same stage last season. The club is pleased with the take-up by existing and new season ticket holders.
LH: Are we getting new season cards during the summer?
ST confirmed that new season cards have been delivered and will be issued to supporters shortly. All season card holders will get a new card.
TP: “I’ve been asked by a fan to ask what the thinking is behind 100 loyalty points for York City?”
ST stated that the club had decided on that initial starting point because seating was so limited at Bootham Crescent (less than 300) in addition to around 1,500 standing spaces. The club has to anticipate demand and the 100-point mark is a safety net to protect regular away travellers. The level will drop quickly in coming days.
LM confirmed a discussion had taken place to gather feedback from other staff members in order to set an appropriate first level.
DA – away supporter representative – felt the first level was a good idea given the limited space and the high level of interest supporters had shown in the York City fixture above most other pre-season matches.
BP: “Do the club regularly review the loyalty point scheme? I ask this as fans who may have built up a lot of points over a decade ago are still able to get tickets for popular games such as Sunderland away even though they may not attend many, if any, games today.”
The club does review it but explained there will always be some supporters who benefit from it and some who don’t.
DA felt that if a supporter wanted to push up their loyalty points, there should be ample opportunity across at least 19 away league games per season. DA responded to an email from a supporter with the same opinion. DA explained that many supporters who travel to all away games had to go through a long period of queuing for tickets overnight in order to obtain them, which in turn pushed up their points total.
SC: “Will the club be inviting others to enter into reciprocal ticket price deals again?”
The club confirmed it had already discussed deals with a number of interested clubs and that it was likely to continue into the 2015/16 season. Feedback from supporters has been excellent.
Gareth Beard (GB): “Will the club be providing free away trips for NUDSA in the 2015/16 season as it has in previous seasons? Very few disabled supporters are able to benefit from reciprocal prices between clubs.”
The club confirmed that this will be discussed shortly and that the club will work with NUDSA during that process. Again, feedback from supporters on the trips had been very positive.
SC: “I know of supporters who were adversely affected by the delayed kick-off against Leicester City last season and they have not had any contact from the club.”
The club asked SC to refer those supporters to LM.
LH: “The new kits include the sponsors’ old logo, why is that?”
The club explained that it was simply due to the advanced lead-time required for new kit (usually by October in the previous season). In short, the logo did not change until a long period of time after the production process had commenced.
PP: “How will the Rugby World Cup matches in October affect Premier League games?”
Eddie Rutherford (ER) confirmed the club was scheduled to be away from home for that weekend’s round of fixtures. The club has invested in additional provisions including new pitch lights to concentrate on areas that may take greater strain. ER confirmed his view that the pitch will be fine.
DA: “Have there been any changes to stadium during the summer?”
ER confirmed that £47,000 has been spent on the PA system and new speakers have been added. 12,000 seats in paddock areas have been replaced and a number of corporate areas/boxes have been refurbished.
Safety and security
LH: “Celtic have been granted permission to introduce ‘safe standing’. Can NUFC do the same?”
Steve Storey (SS) stated that permission had been granted by the local authority but that it had not occurred similarly within the Premier League.
Next meeting date: TBC.