Give me shelter part 2- How much shelter could Shelter have actually provided?

Tags

After my last well-argued rant on why doesn’t Shelter actually provide shelter, high functioning alcoholic and fellow misanthrope Christopher Snowdon set me a simple challenge: Work out how many houses Shelter could have built with its budget in last decade.

Now unfortunately I will already fail in my quest because I can only access Shelter figures going back to the year 2006/07, with figures coming from Shelter’s own annual reports or impact reports. Also, I’m going to cheat and see how many houses Shelter could buy and not build. Small distinction you may say but in this case, it will also make the amount of properties that Shelter own fewer than they would if they purchased land in bulk and therefore this is a conservative estimate of the houses they could provide.

Chris himself has estimated a new build at £100,000, which means Shelter could have 4,100 houses providing shelter to roughly 15,000 people. Not bad but nevertheless, let’s give this a go on a more conservative estimate.

The incoming resources for Shelter over just the last eight years was (rounded up) £410 million. I’ll write that again just in case you missed it, 410 million pounds. That is a hell of a lot of money you will agree. So let’s imagine a scenario: I am now head of Shelter and I am going to make a drastic change to the charity, no longer are we about lobbying or providing helplines and guidance to people but we are in the game of buying houses.

So no more complimentary wine for fringe meetings at party conferences or in Westminster, no more ‘creative directors’ on thirty grand plus, no more jobs for well-meaning graduates with a commitment to being a ‘voice for the voiceless’ and all that crap. No, we are simply going to do exactly what we say on the tin.

Now I would hear no arguments about taking every penny away from lobbying. As I covered last time, the lobbying of Shelter has been one long expensive failure with very few real achievements to its name and even the tiny ones they could claim would be outweighed by providing actual shelter instead.

You could however, make a serious case for defending the guidance and support elements of the charity. As I said before, I have no doubt that some of the work Shelter does is genuinely life changing. However, there is an argument to be had about whether providing houses ourselves would be more beneficial to the greatest number of people.

For example, the benefits of advising one person against their terrible landlord and helping them is commendable but the resources spent on that case are to the benefit of that individual and their family alone. Whereas buying houses in a concentrated location and crashing the cost of rent and raising conditions will force even scummy landlords to improve the conditions for their tenants, even if they (tenants) do not benefit directly from living in Shelter homes. It isn’t enough to just dismiss the cutting of advice lines as just me being a bastard, there is a real argument to be had here about which approach benefits the most people and which has a more positive impact in the long run.

Now that’s said, let’s get into those figures for buying houses. The information I will be using is from the Land Registry House Price Index (here) whose report came out on the 27th Feb 2015. This report is less than two weeks old and the data is as fresh as you are going to get.

The average house price in England and Wales is £179,492. So after we get our calculators out we can say, at the most conservative estimate that Shelter could’ve provided 2284 homes, which minimum of three to a house is over 6800 people in eight years. This is the absolute minimum Shelter could’ve provided and let’s put that in perspective: It would be over 10% of the entire population in the Merthyr Tydfil County Borough, over 50% of the entire town of Ludlow and if combined together would be a thriving community in its own right.

Now why is 2284 houses the minimum amount they could buy? Well for a start this is based on the average cost of housing now. Back in the 2008/09 report, Shelter stated they obtained £51 million and the average house price in England and Wales had fallen off a cliff down to £148,000 in February 2009 (here). So in these circumstances, when a housing bubble collapses this would be the perfect time to expand into the market and as we know that in the long run house prices are only going one way it would’ve been the perfect time for Shelter to move in for the kill.

Secondly and as we all know, there are significant regional variations and variations even within those regions. Returning to the Land Registry HPI report, we can see an average price in the North East is less than six figures today, in 2009 I bet it was even lower.

Here we go then if you are Shelter; you want to do all those constantly talked about platitudes from ‘rebalancing the economy’ to ‘making renting fairer’. Well why weren’t they buying up streets of terraced flats in Darlo and renting them out for an absolute pittance? This would’ve easily grown every year with the investment in the houses increasing their value which can be used to buy more houses, including the small surplus generated from rent.

This is self-sustaining and will always grow, always make a real difference, regardless of whoever is in power. We also haven’t even considered the sheer economies of scale Shelter would have when it comes to negotiating the cost of electricity or gas from firms. Also, consider how the relationship of MP’s and councils changes towards Shelter when they go from lobbyists to serious market players.

There will be in this country several large plots of land or empty areas where a decision has to be made about who takes them on. Is it property developers for student housing or could Shelter step in, spend several million on regeneration and investment for housing then recoup their investment whilst dragging the cost of the housing down in the area and by providing high quality housing, force up standards?

For example, where I am from the old Barracks is being sold off and would require some serious capital but if the money could be found a developer would find a big return on their investment then if they were to buy houses individually. What would there be to stop Shelter making a bid for the land, redesigning the location for a mixture of high quality family homes and flats to give young people independence from their parents whilst making a long term surplus to plough back into more housing projects?

Shelter wouldn’t have to find out about these opportunities because councils and people, knowing Shelter will fund these sorts of projects, will be bombarding Shelter with projects to get involved in across Britain. Bluntly, people will be begging Shelter to provide housing in their area and be in demand, as opposed to Shelter begging politicians.

The money Shelter have at their disposal means that Shelter should’ve started doing this decades ago, they should have done it eight years ago and they should have been doing it yesterday. Still, they have a great opportunity to use their significant financial assets to start to make a long term and positive impact which would also generate another arm of funding so in the long run, we could fund advice and shelter too.

Of course, in reality even I wouldn’t decimate the entire support advice lines and court/ legal representation Shelter provides and nor am I suggesting that it would be smooth sailing, there would be houses that had hidden problems or a bad tenant or the value of the house wouldn’t rise in line with our investment. In the long run though, I’d be confident that a change of strategy would make a massive positive difference and the huge chasm between the successful new strategy and the failed one of lobbying would be as clear as day.

To give up lobbying is not to fail or admit defeat but would be a radical step which would make a powerful difference to people’s lives, whoever is in government. The need to be in close proximity to MP’s to make a difference would disappear and would show to all people who are dispossessed, that actually they do have some power when they act collectively.

None of this will happen of course. Shelter will continue to lobby and tell everyone whose money they take just what a big difference they are making, what an influential voice they have been in the discussion. Still, at least when I finish University and go set up a housing co-op myself I can beg the state and the Big Lottery Fund for cash too with a much stronger case. Why?

Because whilst Shelter talk about the government creating shelter in some comfortable seminar at Westminster, I’ll be in some town actually providing it.

 -

@eddyman00

-

Links

Land Registry 27th Feb 2015- Housing Price Index Report

BBC News- House Price Tracker

Give me shelter- Why doesn’t Shelter provide some?

Tags

We are approaching a General Election in Britain and although this will be the one where I am sitting on the sidelines, watching from afar, I still can’t help noticing the desperate lobbying going on from all kinds of groups including the one we are going to focus on today, Shelter.

My primary purpose for focussing on Shelter is firstly, owing to my rather ‘interesting’ experiences with private landlords and unique housing situation over the past four and a bit years, I take a lot of interest in the issue of housing and what Shelter get up to.

My basic argument in the case of Shelter is that its’ an organisation whose desire to lobby and demand government provides the solution is stopping them from doing something more useful, such as aiding the creation of institutions that could tackle the housing problems of Britain themselves.

Shelter provides a great example of the middle class lobbying tendency which has become the norm in ‘left wing’ organisations and Shelter’s failure shows why the post 1945 tendency of lobbying should be dumped in favour of building groups autonomous from state control.

Shelter was formed in 1966, by the Reverend Bruce Kenrick who was disgusted by the conditions he found tenants enduring in his parish of Notting Hill. The organisation was founded the same year as the BBC drama ‘Cathy Come Home’ which brought to a large audience the horrors of homelessness, which could only help Shelter in their quest to rid Britain of poor housing and homelessness. Interestingly, the founder Bruce Kendrick had actually set up a housing trust (Notting Hill Housing Trust) to provide houses himself, unlike the current Shelter organisation that just uses public money to ask other people to do it instead.

So what does Shelter actually do? Broadly, two thirds of their budget is located on giving advice/ support/ guidance and a significant remainder of the budget is spent on ‘advocacy’, which is how lobbying is now dishonestly described. I myself have direct experience of using Shelter services (ringing their advice hotline) but since Shelter’s main campaign pitch is just how awful it is for people who rent, it was unsurprising there was little advice they could give other than inform of what I already knew: That I was f*cked.

However, I have no doubt though that some of the work Shelter does with people has changed lives for the better, should be praised and is worthy of support. This is not my bone with the organisation; my gripe is how they spend the other third of the cash, on lobbying.

We all know that current housing conditions are awful. From the ‘left’ wing organisations such as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation to the free market advocates at the Institute of Economic Affairs, all sides agree that the housing conditions in Britain are dire. There is no need for me to lay it out for you and the fact that people on both sides agree there is a serious crisis means the real question is “What is to be done?”

 So what does Shelter believe is the right solution to the problem? What is the best way to spend their energy and also what do they think I can do to change my situation? Also, what have Shelter actually done to give us a solution to the housing crisis?

Firstly, Shelter does not to my knowledge provide any actual shelter. Now this may seem like a petty point to make but bluntly, an organisation that gets a substantial amount of cash which professes to care about the housing crisis and yet provides no housing, should be noted and (with fair justification) criticised.

Shelter’s solution to the housing crisis is more state housing, more state intervention and this belief is reflected in their entire approach to supposedly tackling the housing crisis. They lobby councils, government and MP’s to provide more housing.

Let’s look at some examples. Currently, Shelter has a campaign to ‘fix private renting’ and particularly revenge eviction. So would they bravely enter the market, buy a cheap house and pour resources into the house to increase the value and gradually undercut private landlords? No. What they did is try and get a law passed, which when that private members bill brought forward by Sarah Teather (who from personal experience is a thoroughly decent human being who for some reason became an MP) was talked out, it failed (here).

This is but one example of why lobbying for change is a god awful strategy. All of Shelters campaigns rely on lobbying the government to make change, instead of Shelter themselves. The fact the government (whichever party is in charge) hasn’t built social housing at any serious level for decades and shows no signs of doing so, should be a clear sign your lobbying won’t work but yet they continue to follow their failed strategy.

 It’s useless for several reasons. One, successful lobbying relies on being pally with whoever is in government and also it gives the idea that change can only ever be achieved at every election. Progress to supplying housing fit for rent or purchase is not a daily struggle with a thriving grassroots movement behind it but a game to be played every four or five years.

Worse is the fact that it’s rests on the belief that the only people who can make change are the tiny affluent clique who work for Shelter with their degrees and London contacts, whilst the vast swathe of those who are actually affected by the awful housing market, like all the people I lived with who had to put up with a crappy landlord, are reduced to a passive poor.

If you don’t believe me, go onto Shelter’s website under ‘get involved’ (here) and the first thing you are asked to do is give money. Virtually all the options are to give money to Shelter or organise events to… Give money to Shelter. If you are someone who actually wants to do something to help actually improve housing and not fund Shelter’s failed lobbying, you are out of luck.

But wait! Under the campaign ‘building more affordable housing’ (here) we have interactive options. It tells me when I put my details how much a house in Shropshire costs on average and that most people can’t afford it, is that the future I want? No, so I’ll click ‘nope’ and this will be it, this will be when they tell me how I can make a real difference, really do something and that something is… Sign a petition.

That’s their attitude summed up. Poor people/ renters are not to have any real influence, power and are not even worth organising so they can change their own lives. No, we are there to sign the petitions, give some spare change if we can and at the best thing we can do for them is give them (for free) our terrible painful stories.

That’s all we’ll ever be to them, our anger and desperation will be an advert on the tube. Soul destroying experiences in our lives will be the window dressing Shelter use to beg for more money to lobby the Government.

The salary of Shelter’s Chief Executive is £128,000. Putting that in perspective and using Shelter’s own figures, that’s more than the average house price in Shropshire. The regional directors are £84,860 (here). It clearly isn’t just private landlords who are doing well out of our housing crisis.

Now I wouldn’t be caring about Shelter much and would say private people and groups are free to waste their money funding Shelter’s useless lobbying however they please but Shelter receive a shed load of public cash (here).

They got £333,000 off the Scottish Government in 2014 on top of the £337,000 they got the year before. They also managed to acquire over £1,500,000 from the Big Lottery Fund in 2014. Now we can have a discussion about whether that money is ring-fenced but how is it possible to ascertain whether if this money was cut Shelter wouldn’t cut back on lobbying the government? It’s hard to make the distinction between which ‘money’ is used for advice and lobbying.

Even if you could though, wouldn’t that money be actually better spent building houses or buying them? Do you know how many houses I could hoover up in Darlington or Wrexham for a housing co-op with a million quid? We could own streets of houses and use the increased asset of the houses to buy other ones, then by only running for a surplus we could over time crash the cost of renting and either drive up standards or drive out private landlords from the market.

The difference between my approach and theirs is I don’t want to wait for the state to ‘save’ me and I don’t think the only people who can change the lives of the poor are well paid, graduate educated, middle class progressives who work for Shelter. The difference is a housing co-op is run by people themselves, with no need for the well paid and comfortable jobs that lobbying presents at Shelter. The difference is, a housing co-op with that money from the government will do more in five years to actually do something to solve the housing crisis then Shelter have done in fifty.

It doesn’t have to be this way, Shelter could transform itself into an organisation more akin to Supporters Direct, which does (sadly) lobby the government for change but more importantly uses it’s expertise and knowledge (which Shelter undoubtedly have) to help fans set up supporters trust and take over their own clubs. Although Supporters Direct was set up by the state, it’s greatest work and lasting legacy will be to create institutions which give power to disenfranchised groups themselves and not need them to beg the government for change.

There would be no harm in Shelter hiring someone to be a housing co-op organiser who’d give legal advice and contacts along with a host of useful things (grants for surveyors for example). Instead they are offering a job as an ‘Art Director’ at £32,000 plus. It’s sickening really, that’s a deposit for a four bed house in Wrexham house right there.  We won’t even get onto the fact that Shelter as an organisation takes a curiously relaxed approach to immigration, which is one of the significant reasons for our growing housing crisis.

In conclusion, Shelter was founded on the principle to raise awareness of the disaster and destruction of lives that bad housing and lack of security in private rental market creates. This is commendable and worthwhile. However, they have been around for several decades and their worthless lobbying has not got houses built, nor has it been able to prevent the collapse in conditions for private tenants.

In fact, the housing situation is Britain is worse than it was when Shelter formed and millions of pounds later, what have they got to show for it? They continue to take money which could otherwise go to useful groups (housing co-ops) who would provide a solution and use the cash to lobby the government to do it instead.

Surely, after so many years, isn’t it time Shelter take their name literally and just bloody provide some themselves?

-

@eddyman00

-

Notes

Spectator November 2014 – Tory backbenchers talk out Bill

Shelter- Get involved

Shelter- Campaigns

Shelter- Accounts 2013-14

How low can you go? The long slow death of Blackpool FC

Tags

,

Heading towards League 1, with no money from the season in the top flight put into infrastructure and stuck with an owner who seems to relish the destruction of the club, just how far will Blackpool sink?

We’ve looked at Blackpool a lot on this site and their decline has gained national coverage on many occasions but inevitably, we all find something else to write about. As attention will turn to the Champions League, Race for the top 4 four and perhaps even the Championship playoffs in football coverage, it seems the plight of Blackpool will be all but forgotten.

Although my attention in the near future will turn to the FA Trophy final for Wrexham and a wave of non-league title chases for our merry band of fan owned clubs, it’s also useful to highlight just why fans taking control is vital. Blackpool is perhaps the most depressing example. There is no need to go over the start of season embarrassment, the ‘Riga revolution’ and the hiring of Lee Clarke who would perhaps be the only person desperate enough to take the job. The easiest way to show how awful the ownership has been this season is just the spell it out.

Blackpool lie bottom of the Championship, with four wins from 34 games giving them the fewest wins this season in the entire Football League.  They are 15 points away from safety and were comprehensively defeated by second from bottom Wigan 3-1. The state of the pitch is largely considered to be putting players in serious risk of injury and have routinely been spanked out of sight including a 7-2 loss to Watford, 6-1 to Bournemouth and a 4-0 loss to Brentford. Relegation is as inevitable as the passing of time, what isn’t clear yet is just how far they will sink.

Blackpool fans may have to watch as Preston North End surpass them, with Preston looking like being in a good position to secure promotion to the Championship and are now averaging similar attendances as Blackpool. Their local rivals next season are going to be Fleetwood Town, who were playing in the North West Counties just ten years ago.

Now you could view this by believing that Blackpool’s natural level is where they are now and perhaps you might have a point. Their fan base isn’t huge compared to other Championship clubs and yo-yoing between League 1 and the Championship might be seen as standard. However, even this under the current ownership looks unlikely and ignores the massive squandering of the Premier League cash windfall where no investment can be seen.

When I say ‘investment’ I do mean actual long term structural investment, I’m not on about splashing huge salaries on players (but having a fixed squad before the start of the season should be a basic requirement) but on training facilities (pictured here) and the horrendous pitch, which the football league had to step in after repeated complaints from other teams (here).

Everything about the club is surrounded by depression and this vicious circle will only continue. How long will Lee Clarke remain when he knows every day he spends at the club is destroying his future managerial career? Who in their right mind would want to replace him? What player, except the permanently untouchable (Nile Ranger) and a man who no one wanted and who Kenny Jacket was happy to let rot on the bench for Wolves in League 1 (Jamie O’Hara), would want to come play for Blackpool?

It is far more likely with the way the club is currently run that Blackpool will be struggling like Coventry at the foot of League 1 then they will be competing for promotion. The real question is what have the fans done and what can they do about it?

The answer to the first question was up till recently, very little and although significant amounts of people are now staying away, the main problem is of course that if it’s not co-ordinated action, if it’s apathy and not a boycott, then getting people back in the future when the tide turns becomes very difficult. Staying away because you’ve lost all hope is a world away from the attitude generated by staying away to starve the owners out (ala Hereford).

I understand it can feel helpless but Blackpool fans that care about the club have to make a serious decision about what role they want to play in this saga. Will they silently trudge through the turnstiles like a funeral march as they then slowly fall away one by one or will they unite for next season and get serious?

Now is the time for the Blackpool Supporters Trust to step up and organise some radical action. It can start with calling for boycotts of games this season where no one gives the owners money or if you already have a season ticket, not giving the Oystons the satisfaction of seeing your pain.

Next season though is where the fun can start by BST organising fans to refuse on mass to buy season tickets, thereby starving the club of more money. Just going to away games instead, no merchandise purchases either and demanding that not one penny more goes to Oyston from the fans. Yes, Oyston may not care and will let the club fall but the fans will be around longer than one owner and you can outlast them.

Of course, it really becomes a question of how long the Oystons’ will stick it out and the nuclear option is of course to set up a phoenix, register the ground with an ACV (if they haven’t done so already) and seek to buy the ground when they finally leave.

Thankfully, it does appear that something is stirring in the hearts of Blackpool fans which is turning their despair into effective anger. The Tangerine Knights Blackpool Supporters Group has announced, supported by the BST, a boycott for March 21st vs Leeds United and to encourage supporters to go and watch AFC Blackpool instead. If a crowd of 1500 shows up for AFC Blackpool, it would be a packed house for the North West Counties outfit, providing funding for their first team and all grassroots activities for two years.

It would be a fantastic statement from the Blackpool fans, with an empty Bloomfield Road generating far more coverage than any protest so far and hopefully be the start of continuing action against the Oyston’s ownership.

As well as this, a local candidate backed by the BST has put himself forward to become MP for Blackpool South. One nugget to come from the video of Andy Higgins is the fact the BST has more members in Blackpool South then any political party. Andy Higgins is probably not expecting to win but the publicity generated by this and the chance for Andy to explain just why a future Blackpool MP needs to understand the importance of the wellbeing of the club to the wider community is a positive step. It’s good that the BST has instead of petitioning candidates, directly supported a candidate themselves and the video for Andy Higgins can be found here.

Overall, Blackpool fans face a daunting task against a seemingly impossible family who has no motivation only then the destruction of the club they run but how they deal with this situation will show whether they believe there is a positive future for Blackpool. I do not envy the fans of Blackpool in their battle but when the alternative is the annihilation of a once proud club, what choice do they have but to fight on?

-

@eddyman00

-

Links

Blackpool Gazette February 2015- Football League steps in over Blackpool pitch

Daily Mail July 2014- Blackpool turned into laughing stock

Campaign Video -Andy Higgins for Blackpool South 2015

Haven’t we been here before? Wrexham & The FA Trophy

Tags

, ,

wrexham-badge

Wrexham are one game away from a third Wembley appearance in three seasons but are further away than ever from a Football League return, so can this season be considered a success?

If you were to look at Wrexham’s league position, you would be forgiven for not considering this season to have been a success. 17th in the table whilst being closer to Non-League minnows Southport then fellow former Football-League team Grimsby, this season is another write off when it comes to challenging to get back into the Football League. Although Wrexham have a significant amount of games in hand over those around them, a top half finish will be all they can realistically hope for.

It could’ve been so different, with the last time Wrexham winning the FA Trophy they would go onto experience a second trip to Wembley in the all Welsh play-off final, before suffering an agonising 2-0 defeat with the game slipping away in the final minutes of normal time. Since then, Manager Andy Morrell left the club last season with the club lying where they are now in the league under new man Kevin Wilkin, who was poached from Nuneaton.

Despite a good start in the League and goals coming in the shape of Louis Moult, Wrexham fans have had to witness another season of defeats to former Football League rivals, going from the start of October till the end of November without a win and embarrassing humbling’s at the hands of part time teams (the lowest moment being a 4-0 defeat at home to AFC Telford United).

Still, the cup competitions have offered respite from the underwhelming performance in the league. A run to the FA Cup 3rd round rewarded the club with a trip to Stoke, losing 3-1 but being just minutes away from a money spinning reply. The FA Cup run should have boosted the clubs coffers and will hopefully not all have been used up so it can be put to good use in the off season.

Yet it is the FA Trophy which represents the best chance of success for Wrexham and if they make the final, will offer a decent financial boost. It’s largely accepted that the FA Trophy is not a huge money spinner up to the final for a club the size of Wrexham but represents a good cash injection if you can reach the final.

The club already know how important the competition has been to them with the previous FA Trophy run and victory, which gave Wrexham a cash injection of £300,000, widely credited with helping the club become debt free (here).

However, fans could be worried of a sense of managed decline. Trying to compete with the moneybags and big teams whilst balancing the books in getting players moved on, the recent seasons have been difficult. This will be the second successive season Wrexham finish outside the playoffs and could be their second lowest finish in the league since falling into the Conference seven seasons ago. Now this may seem a bit dramatic to say this is a major failing but for a club the size of Wrexham it is galling.

Still they only need to look at their opponents to see that in the long term they may have put themselves in the strongest position. Torquay United were owned by lottery winner Paul Bristow who pumped money into getting Torquay into the football league but since his death his widow Thea Bristow has been running the club.

Last year, she called out for others to ‘invest’, a word which in football always seems to mean throw money down a drain and Manager Chris Hargreaves admitted that he had no idea how bad the financial situation was at Torquay United (here). That was before they were relegated into the Conference and has led to fresh calls from the owner for money to come in (here) and also Kelvin Thomas, who is assistant Ms. Bristow is looking for investors, saying he would prefer local investment (here).

Two things can be said about this. Firstly, this is always the danger when you are relying on a benefactor model because it simply can’t last forever and running losses funded out other people’s pocket year on year will not be sustainable. Secondly, Kelvin Thomas in his interview pretty much openly admits that you aren’t going to be making money out of a football club so why he repeated refers to ‘investment’ is beyond me, when what he is really asking for is for someone to throw money at the club for no return.

The reality is that the millionaire winning the lottery and then funding your club happens once in a blue moon. He also prefers ‘local investment’ and should be run by people local people who have a real affinity, well I know some people who have a real affinity for Torquay who might be in a good place to take over…

So if I’m a Wrexham fan, I should at least be confident that there is a strong long term future at the club and whilst notable former football league teams find their finances shaky (Kidderminster, Lincoln and Torquay), I’d rather be in Wrexham’s shoes right now.

Looking ahead, next season may be the weakest Conference we have seen for a while. At least one of Bristol Rovers or Grimsby will be promoted come seasons end (and I would put a bet on both of them), further reducing the teams with higher gates than Wrexham. Luton departed last year with Cambridge United and the clubs coming down (Hartlepool) are not going to be in good financial shape.

With many clubs having to cut back next season it does represent a great opportunity for Wrexham to push next season for promotion and with bigger clubs such as Maidstone and FC United soon to replace the smaller teams in the Conference in coming seasons, it will be vital for Wrexham to take the opportunity presented to them.

For today though, Wrexham fans will only be concerned with turning their 2-1 first leg lead into another FA Trophy final. With lower league opposition in the final, they will be strongly expected to win and further boost their finances in front of a large crowd should the FA’s ticket discount be successful.

 But however much Wrexham fans would enjoy another trip to Wembley, they will be hoping that next season will be the last time they compete in the FA Trophy for a very long time.

-

On Twitter @eddyman00

-

 Links

Daily Post November 2013- Wrexham debt free

BBC Sport April 2014- Torquay United financial problems surprised Chris Hargreaves

Western Morning News 18th January 2015- Talks over takeover

BBC Sport 10th February 2015- Torquay United: Local investors preferred

In the Bunker: The downfall of Hartlepool United

Tags

,

Hartlepool_FC_logo

Bottom of the table by eight points having seen a private takeover bid fail, where do the fans of Hartlepool turn now?

The collapse of Hartlepool United from a mid-table League 1 team in 2007/08 to rock bottom of the Football League just eight seasons later is a story that could happen to so many of the clubs in British football: It’s a story of what happens when the owners turn the money taps off and the years of living beyond your means comes to a shuddering halt.

There have been good times and promotions under the ownership of Increased Oil Recovery (IOR) and the Chairmanship of Ken Hodcroft, that however is a distant memory now and the last few seasons have been a story of a sharp steep decline.

After being relegated from League 1 in the 2012/13 season (along with Scunny, Bury and Pompey) the club would finish 19th in League 2 last season and were just three points off relegated Bristol Rovers. Perhaps fans could hope after hitting their lowest level and stabilising, the club could start an upward trajectory once more. The reality would prove to be much worse.

This season for Hartlepool fans has been nothing short of a disaster with two wins from their first ten games setting the alarm bells ringing. On the 4th October Colin Cooper would quit as Manager of Hartlepool with the club bottom of the table. Paul Murray would take the job but was fired less than two months after he was appointed, having not won a single league game as Manager and his final game would be an embarrassing defeat to Blyth Spartans (of the Evo-Stik Prem) in the FA Cup 2nd Round.

There was hope for the fans when on the 16th December 2014, it was announced that IOR had sold the club and written off the clubs eye-watering £14 million debt to enable THM 2014 to take over. New Chairman Peter Harris praised Ken Hodcroft saying Ken had “been very professional and very honest and transparent. Everything we asked for he gave to us immediately.” Peter Harris wasn’t finished with the praise though and commented on his delight in getting the deal done before Christmas (here).

I wanted it done before Christmas to give the new manager time to look at the players. I have to praise Ken for that, I know he doesn’t have a good name at the moment but he has left a club that is very professionally run.

Ronnie Moore was appointed on the same day but less than two months later the deal was off and IOR were back in charge with Ken Hodcroft back as Chairman (here), presumably no longer receiving high praise from Peter Harris and we can also presume the £14 million debt is still on the books. The debt makes a takeover by any businessmen/investor/white knight pretty much impossible but even if the owners offer to wipe the debt again, who would want to come in?

This is the new economic reality for football clubs that fans have to face up to. Most clubs are losing money year after year, they only way to make money out of them in most cases is to sell the assets they own. So what sane person who is trying to make a profit (as ‘investing’ would imply) would buy a football club? Of course, many clubs at the top level are brought as PR vehicles for evil regimes (such as Man City) or for vanity reasons but if you are a well off person now, there are simply more ways to spend your money other than watching a team like Hartlepool play Dagenham & Redbridge on a Tuesday night. So who is left to pick up the pieces and rebuild a club?

Well the correct answer and indeed the only answer are the fans themselves, with moves underway by the fans to create a Supporters Trust (which I was surprised to learn they didn’t already have) as the reality begins to dawn that no one else is coming to save clubs outside the magic Premier League circle.

The Hartlepool fans themselves have arranged a meeting on Saturday to take this forward where they will have good company and solidarity from the fans of their opponents, fan owned AFC Wimbledon, whose own success is well documented and who after Saturday will know if they still have a chance of making the playoffs. Many Hartlepool fans may be hoping that IOR would offer to write the debts hanging over the club so they can take over debt free.

Having looked at it as a militant I thought the best option, even if IOR let the debts go, would be for the fans to just start again but I was perhaps being a bit pessimistic. If the fans could take over next season in the Conference with a fresh slate, this would probably be best. Hartlepool have an average league attendance of roughly 3,500 which would put them only behind Bristol Rovers and Grimsby, both who have a serious chance of going up this season, leaving only fan owned Wrexham on a similar par for attendances.

Despite the money being spent by other clubs and Hartlepool having to run a surplus unlike those clubs funded by money bags, there is no reason why a fan owned Hartlepool couldn’t compete for at least the Conference playoffs this time next season.

However, if they are made to pay off even a fraction of the £14 million debt I would recommend they bite the bullet and start again rather than risk the very real possibility of a slow stagnation. Imagine the scenario: The club is left trying to pay off several million pounds worth of debt, significantly handicapping them as they try to compete against money bag teams and find themselves stuck in mid table anonymity for several seasons. As attendances start to decline a smaller playing budget is put in place, right as ex-football league teams who fell (Maidstone United, Darlington, perhaps Stockport) remerge to compete in the Conference, making escape even tougher.

Despite having to reform in 2012, Darlington may be just two divisions away from meeting Hartlepool in a league fixture by seasons end.

Despite having to reform in 2012, Darlington may be just two divisions away from meeting Hartlepool in a league fixture by seasons end.

If this is the offer I recommend that fans take the most extreme scenario and start as a phoenix club at Step 5, which although this will bring short term pain, it could very well be the best in the long run.

It would enable the fans to start again from a position of strength, with no debts and not having to worry about getting hold of the stadium as it is owned by the council. It would enable the fans to get to grips with running a football club at a level where mistakes will not be as ruthlessly exploited as they would be in the Conference and the club could get back all those who’ve drifted away, not only on the terraces but reconnecting with the business community in the local area.

With an attendance that would dwarf all opponents until at least the Conference North, this would allow them to attract the best players at that level who would have the chance to play in front of 1,000’s and not 100’s. If they also use the early years to build a significant war-chest which they can call upon when they start going up against clubs with similar fan bases, it would be hard to see why Hartlepool couldn’t be at the top of the non-league pyramid within five seasons.

As it stands, the Monkey Hangers league status hangs by a thread with the prospect of trying to compete in the Conference probably giving many fans justified fears of a slow lingering death. The simple fact is the only people who will save Hartlepool or reawaken the club and keep it safe for the next generation are the fans themselves. Yes, you may have to start again at your beginnings but you would finally have control of the destiny of your club for the first time.

Perhaps most importantly, we could all be very confident that a fan owned Hartlepool United would have a far greater legacy then the 17 years of boom and bust that we are witnessing right now.

 -

On Twitter @eddyman00

 

Links

Hartlepool Mail 17th December 2014- New Hartlepool Chairman says club is debt free

BBC Sport 5th February- Hartlepool takeover deal falls through

Fan Ownership- Where do we stand now?

Rangers Supporters Trust have just increased their stake in Rangers and continue to grow.

Rangers Supporters Trust have just increased their stake in Rangers and continue to grow.

Right, it’s been a while since I wrote anything about fan ownership in football and since that time a hell of a lot has happened, with Rangers Supporters Trust today announcing they have grabbed a bunch more shares as they start to wrest control back for the fans at Rangers. Plus Hereford FC (although sadly not fan owned), have been given a five year lease back at Edgar Street and I expect them to be back in the Conference South in no more than four seasons time.

On the pitch, we are heading towards the final third of the season (or less for some) with many of the fan owned clubs looking set to start climbing the non-league pyramid and fulfil their potential. Both fallen giants Darlington (Step 4) and the rebels of FC United (Step 3) will go top of their leagues tonight with a win and look good value to both be promoted along with Merthyr Town, who lie top of their Step 4 league.

In the rarefied atmosphere of the Football League, Wycombe are still lying 3rd in League 2 with a nine point cushion from those outside the top seven and although Exeter City have fallen off the playoff pace, both Wimbledon and Pompey can stay in the hunt for the playoffs with wins tonight.

It’s not just the (touch wood) raft of promotions fan owned clubs will hoover up this season that should have us fan owned advocates smiling come the end of the season but simply just how many private owners are giving us fresh examples, pretty much on a weekly basis, of just how crap they are at running football clubs.

Coventry City who I bet on to go down at the start of the season haven’t let me down in the way their owners (SISU) have dragged what should be a club challenging for promotion to the Premiership into the gutter at the arse end of League 1. Coventry who will now only ever get to be tenants (at best) in a stadium built for them, have had the fans desert them without a serious boycott being arranged and SISU have them hurtling towards League 2. In fact, part of me is impressed at just how shit you have to be as operators to have done this with Coventry City FC and still failed in the attempted asset strip.

 We could go through a ruck of ownership failures but to give you a taste of what I’m going to be covering in the coming weeks, we have a long list of clubs who look like the economic realities will force them to become fan owned, either as a phoenix or by slashing their budgets and the wave of clubs at the bottom of League 2/ Conference who look susceptible to falling into fan ownership grow by the day.

For example, with a planned takeover failing by early February and presumably the £14 million debt that was supposed to be written off by the owners IOR back on the books, Hartlepool look like being in mortal danger if they go through the trapdoor and making up the eight point gap to get out of the drop zone looks unlikely. As a result, I fully expect H’Angus the Monkey to be gracing the Northern League in a couple of seasons and Hartlepool fans having to watch Darlo climb back to the top of the Non-League Pyramid.

FC United look set for promotion and can have serious aspirations of making the Football League

FC United look set for promotion and can have serious aspirations of making the Football League

In the Conference it’s a trio who currently are struggling. Ian King of twohundredpercent has re-emerged to look at the cliff Lincoln now find themselves walking towards (here), Lincoln incidentally are still running a completely unsustainable £3,000 lost a week.

They aren’t the only ones though and we can add Torquay, who are Wrexham’s opponents in the semi-finals of the FA Trophy, having owners desperate to hand it over to someone else and will struggle to compete for promotion back into the Football League for the foreseeable future. Finally, Kidderminster have had to make significant cut backs as the fans gain another seat on the board due to a failure to get out of the death trap that the Conference has becoming (and will remain until more clubs are allowed to be promoted).

Now three may not seem like a lot in the Conference but considering Hereford and Salisbury went bust last year plus the amount of clubs in League 2 like Hartlepool and Mansfield who will be financially screwed if they get relegated, it’s not hard to see why the amount of fan owned clubs in Britain is only going to grow.

Some people could say I’m being slightly callous and appear to be welcoming/ advocating the destruction of football clubs by their own fans just to add another club to the collection. However, private owners are doing a good job of gutting their own clubs all by themselves and taking fans for mugs in the process. As the increased success of fan owned clubs will show, it’s better to take the short term pain so the clubs we support can have a brighter long term future.

Blackpool, Coventry, Birmingham and Cardiff to name a few are now in a much worse state as clubs with owners who are crushing them or holding the gun to their heads with debts. The other reality is that even if you have a ‘good’ owner now, there is no guarantee 10 years down the line someone coming in to fund your loss making club or any protection to stop an asset stripper from trying to grab hold of the club you support. Leyton Orient anyone?

Hopefully, by the seasons end we can be toasting the success of several fan owned clubs and show that fan ownership can work at all levels of the pyramid. We still have a long way to go but perhaps when Blackpool are playing Wycombe next season or when Coventry find themselves up against AFC Wimbledon they might just start to ask themselves: If it’s good enough for them, why not for us?

-

@eddyman00

 -

Links

Twohundredpercent- Lincoln City  

Let the Universities rot- Why we should be closing Universities, not opening them.

Now that I am a fully paid up member (well the grant hasn’t come through yet but I’m almost there) of the international jet setting student brigade, it’s time to get something off my chest. I was initially going to write this last year when the whinging middle class students had their yobbish protest against tuition fees (here), or I could’ve done it when George Osborne announced plans for yet more subsidies for the grasping middle class (here) or countless other times which we will go through.

To be honest I could’ve returned to this via countless articles but the latest nonsense to come out suggesting Universities represent the kingdom of heaven for the poor is from the normally sensible (if nauseatingly progressive) Fraser Nelson in the Telegraph today (here).

The consensus seems to be, whether you think people should pay fees or not, that Universities and all who go to them are great, bringing nothing but good to the areas they go and we can never have enough of them. In many ways this is unsurprising, if all the commentators are affluent middle class people who got a degree it’s no surprise to see them wrapping up their selfishness as a virtue.

So it is down to me, your humble working class hero and one of the main beneficiaries of the system to say that this is total and utter bollocks. There are three reasons I will look at and they are:

1) The system of subsidies being extended and in operation is financially unsustainable and bankrupt.

2) The winners of the expansion of Universities have largely been the affluent middle class at the expense of the working class.

3) Universities, no longer being spaces of free speech, have lost their moral right to receive a penny off the state.

Right then, let’s begin by pointing out that the current system is financially unsustainable and financially bankrupt. A Higher Education Commission report widely covered in the media at the back end of last year pointed out that by their estimates ¾’s of students won’t pay off their debt, as it gets wiped in thirty years and that we have created “the worst of both worlds” (here).

As well as this, last year it was reported that the Government is fast reaching the tipping point where the rise in fees costs them more than having fees at the level they previously had (here), seemingly not understanding that just raising the fees in a system subsidised by the state is just a pyramid scheme.

Why aren’t students paying back the loans? Well you have to ask how many of the courses students are doing a course worth the £35,000- 40,000 state subsidy they are receiving. The answer? Not many pal.

One of my beloved sites when I want to piss off my fellow sociology students and say we should gut sociology is courtesy of Higher Education Careers Services Unit (here), where you can download “What do Graduates do?”

It’s a pretty obvious picture when we break it down by subject that some subjects are better than others (HERESY!). Let’s take a real subject like, ooh I don’t know, Engineering. Of those who had a degree in Mechanical Engineering: 69.1% were working full time in the UK and of all of those in a form of work in the UK (77% of all graduates), the highest sector for the type of work graduates went into was the Engineering & Building professions at 64.2%.

Now let’s take my subject, left wing studies (officially called Sociology). Of those who graduated, less than half are working full time (46.9%) roughly 9% were unemployed after but of those in work the highest sector they were to be found in, with 23.7%, was…. ‘Retail, catering, waiting and bar staff’. So virtually a quarter of those who were in work went into jobs which a degree is certainly not necessary and will never earn enough to pay off the debt or even a big chunk of it.

It should also be noted that despite engineering clearly being more profitable and likely to pay their way, we had around twice as many graduates in Sociology (7,900) as in Mechanical Engineering (3,800).

If we look at the top degree subjects by starting salary (which is also a fair way of examining which professions will earn more in the future), we can also see what anyone with a brain already knew (here). At number eight it’s economics (the dismal science) but after that it is wall to wall ‘hard’ sciences and dentistry. Shockingly, there’s not a Media Studies or Sociology graduate in sight.

This is what happens when the state subsidies courses, it creates a false demand which does not really exist. Middle class kids want to go to University but they are not forced to study a course that can pay itself off, so they choose the easy option with no loss to them. The reality is we could gut the amount of kids doing Sociology and we as a country would lose nothing.

This leads us neatly on to part two and who the winners and losers of this whole system are. The winners are undoubtedly, as much as those leeches complain, middle class students. If they get a graduate job, great but if not they never have to pay the debt off anyway, they got to have their three year holiday and they are no worse off than they were before. They are essentially on a free role.

The other big winners, I mean the people who can hardly wipe the grins from their faces, are of course private landlords. They have a guaranteed income courtesy of 1000’s of students, who the government backs in income through loans. It means parasite landlords can let properties for 12 months, knowing the students are only there for nine months max and have successfully leeched off the state to a terrifying amount.

Finally, businesses such as nightclubs and others get to win twice. Once in the fact that they get a lot of their profit subsidised by the state & second in the fact the ‘flexible’ work hours they can push on their staff, due to the increase in labour of students who are more able to work on worse contracts as they have zero responsibilities.

Don’t just take my word for it, here’s Ryan Bourne of the libertarian/free market think tank IEA who on extolling the virtues of zero hour contracts (here). According to Ryan those who benefit from zero hours are “students in particular” with the stats showing “the majority of those on zero hour contracts are students”. Who are the majority of students? The affluent middle class.

The expansion of Universities has just widened the gap between the amount of rich and working class kids going to Uni (here) and the effect of this has been the explosion of unpaid internships (meaning the rich are even more likely to get those jobs then they were decades ago).

It’s also meant that jobs which had no need for a degree now need one, despite little evidence of a degree having increased the productivity of those in jobs where they weren’t previously needed. This has the effect of destroying in work mobility.

“Oh won’t someone think of the middle class students?!” cries Ryan Bourne. Fuck the middle class students Ryan, fuck ‘em.

So who then are the losers? Well unsurprisingly it’s those who aren’t landlords but renters, those who aren’t businessmen but workers. It is, like on most occasions, the working class who have lost out due to the immense selfishness of the middle class.

Take Shrewsbury, where a satellite University is to be built. Houses which would have once been affordable for a couple on a modest income will be sucked up by buy-to-let landlords, who will promptly hike the rent to the level the government will subsidise it.  Even renting will become a no go for non-students due to the fact that the landlord can get a guaranteed 12 month income and yet leave the house empty nearly six months of the year.  I won’t even go into the (much more important) annihilation of family life and community this causes.

To cap it all off, all those people who have been priced out of having a real home with their children now living in a box and having seen their work conditions collapse, will be told what wonderful ‘progress’ this is, how ‘diverse’ it’s made the town and how much of a bigot they are for (perfectly reasonably) being against it.

Of course, in Shrewsbury the two main parties are in favour of it and more sickeningly it’s a ‘Conservative’ council pushing this through and nearly all Cllrs own their own homes. In fact in Shrewsbury the MP has already stated he is going to beg the government for money to subsidise the purchase of the local barracks for students (here).

Not for local families, not for a community land trust, not for people whose rent is already sky high because to do that he would have to actually care about people born and bred in Shrewsbury. Nope, yet again it’s for grasping middle class students.

Now I expect this from Daniel Kawczynski as he is openly a progressive liberal who somehow has a Conservative nomination but when I heard that Jesse Norman was in favour of Government plans for a University in Hereford, I despaired. As a proper decent Conservative, he should know better.

Is it a good example of why both Labour and the Conservatives are dying: The Conservatives don’t care about conserving anything and Labour don’t give a rats arse about the working class.

The last reason is not financial but as it’s normally used in defence and one of the most persuasive if you believe that Universities have some higher goal than merely financial. The idea that Universities are places of free debate and thought may be a nice one but in reality that is as dead as a dodo. As a result, they have lost their right to exist.

There are countless examples so I will list just a few. In November last year, a rabble forced a debate on abortion to be cancelled because, well because they wouldn’t accept anyone suggesting someone might not hold their view on the subject and (horror) the bloke arguing against it was a bloke. This was at Oxford University folks (here).

Then the University of East Anglia banned a debate which would have featured UKIP because UKIP is, well it’s EVIL and I suspect the students know lots of working class people vote UKIP so that’s a massive no (here).

Don’t worry though, those top blokes at ISIS are alright by the NUS, who couldn’t bring themselves to condemn them but at least they know who the true enemies are: Those evil non murdering bastards who want to poison the minds of all students by debating things, the scum (here). I could go on forever as I’m on a role and they give me so much material it’s hard to stop, so we will just do one more.

Finally then, we had Julie Bindel who found herself banned (this is a regular experience for her) by a group of people who have gone so far up their own arse it’s difficult to ascertain if they are human beings anymore (here).

It’s pretty obvious that Universities long ago surrendered their role as a place of free thinking but have instead become finishing schools for the liberal progressive crap that the middle class seem to be inoculated at birth with. As a result, instead of looking down their nose and screaming at everyone who pays for them to be at University, they should be made to pay for their prejudices themselves.

Overall, these screeching students who demand other people pay for their worthless degrees, far from being hard done by, have it easier than ever. They never have to pay back the loans of their useless degrees, force people who do work (whom they pretend to care about) into miserable lives and ruthlessly silence views they don’t like, unless the psychopathic extremists are brown and not white.

For all these reasons, it would be best if we burnt the majority of Universities in the UK to the ground and I can only hope that some of the safe space, progressive liberal Sociology students get trapped inside.

-

@eddyman00

-

Links

Guardian 19th November 2014- Student Protest of Fees

Time Higher Education 3rd December 2014- Postgrad loans of £10,000 announced by Osborne

Telegraph 13th February – Raising tuition fees is paying off for everyone- except Nick Clegg

Independent 18th Nov 2014- ¾ won’t pay off loan

HECSU- What do graduates do?

Which? University November 2012 – Top degree by starting salary

IEA – Ryan Bourne on Zero Hour Contracts

Economic and Social Research Council 28th Feb 2012 – University expansion

Shropshire Star 17th January – Daniel Kawczynski to lobby Government for Cash

-

The censorship mob links

Oxford Uni mob prevent debate on abortion.

Mob prevent debate including UKIP at University of East Anglia.

Independent- ISIS alright by NUS

Spiked- Julie Bindel

Let the self-satisfied moralising begin: On the EPL’s new TV deal

Tags

Money

So the numbers are in and the story is the same as it was last time: A record amount of money will go to the EPL clubs from the latest TV deal. £5.136 billion, yes you read that right, will be paid by Sky Sports and BT Sport for rights to broadcast the Premier League from 2016/17 for three seasons. It would also appear that the peak has not been reached yet and several years down the line we will be talking about another rise in money for the ‘Greatest League in the World’.

Just as predictable as the rise in money has been the nature of the reaction online and across the airwaves. People are outraged I tell you, outraged. The BBC radio shows have been covering the story with presenters asking a variety of worthies if the Premier League should do x or y with the money. The most pathetic thing about this is we’ve heard it all before, people tweet their outrage and say the Premier League should do this or that with the money, whilst they know full well they won’t.

On the other side, Richard Scudamore is wheeled out to say how fantastic this is for the game (it’s not) and how this shows the Premier League is the best League in the world (it isn’t) but the saddest thing about most of this is that Richard Scudamore is one of the most honest people in this debate. This is because many of those who are on the other side are doing nothing more than monopolising the microphone when they have nothing interesting to say.

What do I mean by this? Richard Scudamore says that the EPL isn’t a charity and he’s right. It’s a money making exercise and that’s the purpose for its existence. When he is asked about tickets prices he was blunt on the radio: Market forces. More people will pay the current price and also continue to pay the price the clubs charge so they will keep charging them. Probably because he believes the position of the EPL is so secure Richard Scudamore does us all a favour by being honest. Now we know that the only way to hurt them is by withdrawing money, what do we hear from commentators?

Well if the comments of Fiona McGee of the Football Supporters Federation on the radio are anything to go by (2hr 20 mins in here), not much. She called for a cap on away ticket prices in the EPL at £20, thereby completely ignoring the very obvious point that Richard Scudamore had made. When the presenter informed her that this is highly unlikely to happen, Fiona giggled and responded by saying that the FSF will continue lobbying them.

This is what I mean by a masterclass in missing the point or being dishonest. Fiona along with everyone else knows this is not going to happen, Scudamore has made it very clear for us, and her solution along with others is to carry on with the failed lobbying which has got us absolutely nowhere. Writing strongly worded letters is not enough and nor is praying that the government will do it either.

What else have we been offered? Well, as if you wouldn’t have guessed, an online petition is up and running where you can ‘make a difference’ by signing up. David Lammy, the MP who did write a decent book once upon a time but morphed into a metropolitan liberal who I’d never recommend any working class person vote for, was plugging the latest petition of non-action. I urge you all not to sign it. This is worth than worthless, because it prevents us from having people on or the formulation action plans which actually offer real solutions.

The Prem is not going to reduce ticket prices, it won’t make transport more affordable, it won’t invest in grassroots. So the question is what are you going to do about it?

Thankfully, there are some people who have alongside others did do something about it, such as FC United General Manager Andy Walsh who was also on the same radio show. Now although I disagree with where he laid the blame, he’s still a voice that should be respected. Why? Because he has actually made a real stand and with others, FC United stands as a real example of what actually can be achieved when people get serious.

Sadly, his main point was to say it’s the fault of the regulators but again, he knows just as well as I do that the ‘regulators’ will never act and governments only join on bandwagons when the real work has been done. So calling for the regulators to act is just as hollow as calling for the Premier League to reduce ticket prices.

There is a group of people who haven’t really been talked about in this discussion, unless they are seen as helpless souls who need defending by others and they are, of course, the fans themselves. I cannot emphasise enough to fans who watch EPL teams that you are the product being sold. So if you would just stop going this would collapse very quickly.

You are not weak or helpless individuals and if you act collectively you could force the Premier League (or at least your own clubs) to the negotiating table. However, the attendance last night at Liverpool vs Spurs was over 44,000 and was practically at capacity. So if you keep buying the tickets, how do you expect it to change?

There are people who are going about changing football, one fan owned club at a time. The people at Rangers aren’t signing petitions; they are organising to buy shares in their club. A host of other clubs fans from Coventry to Hereford have shown boycotts work so why not in the Premier League? What reason is there for Villa fans continuing to pay the prices they do or QPR fans or any fans who know that the game is already rigged against their club ever trying to win anything?

Overall, we all know the problem with the crazy money in TV deals going to those who will grow fat off the cash and not helping fans but we’ve known this for a long time. We also know straight from the horses’ mouth what will force them to change is boycotts but the real question is: Are fans prepared to do anything about it?

 -

@eddyman00

-

Photo used under creative commons license, link here 

Links

BBC Sport- New EPL TV Deal

BBC Radio 4- FSF & FC United General Manager

Getting an inch, taking a mile – Cardiff City make me eat my words

Tags

,

This is what winning looks like.

This is what winning looks like.

Not for the first time, I have been proven wrong. I was quite sure that Vincent Tan wouldn’t be backing down from his red shirts just because of a strongly worded letter from the Trust and the unofficial boycott/ apathy of a Friday night game against Colchester in the FA Cup.

Yet just as I expected the latest wall of silence to come from the club, a statement on Friday 9th January was released by Vincent Tan (here). In the statement, he talked about his Mum and quoted JFK but really all that mattered to Cardiff fans was that as of his announcement, Cardiff would be playing their home games in blue. The club badge will bring back the Bluebird to prominence and for a brief moment, all was well in the world of a Cardiff fan, as Cardiff ran out in blue to beat Fulham and maybe resurrect their season.

Before we carry on, it’s worth looking at why Vincent Tan has changed the kit back to blue, after investing a lot of his reputation in the change to red and the relegation of the bluebird. He mentions his family being the reason and perhaps this is true. I’m more inclined to believe an alternative explanation, which is about money.

Rattled by the threat of the ‘NoBlueNoRenew’ campaign, a reduced income in merchandise as fans choose not to buy the red kit and combined that with the warning of a massively low crowd vs Colchester (even after accounting for it being the FA Cup), Tan blinked. I don’t have a device that allows me to read his mind but we’ve seen enough of this sort of thing (SISU surrendering down to money, Shrewsbury Town seeing the Supporters Trust ‘loggerheads’ shirt was taking money from the club) to be pretty sure that it’s a pure business decision.

Part of me is surprised (and I will assume it was about the money for this point) Tan gave up so easily. He hadn’t really seen a downturn in crowds, bar that FA Cup game, so he could be confident getting a big side in the next round would see this ‘protest’ fade and the ‘NoBlueNoRenew’ campaign was set for next season. As we say in poker, he could have ‘put them to the test’ and seen if this was a bluff.

The reality is that he didn’t and the Cardiff fans can claim their first off field victory. I’d suggest the lions’ share of the credit needs to go to the ‘NoBlueNoRenew’ campaign for instigating the sort of serious action, starving the owners of cash, which has been shown time and again to have the only real effect.  The NBNR summed it up best after the Colchester game “A lot of talk of poor attendance tonight. No coverage of protests in the ground whatsoever.”

So a battle is won but from the recent statement of the Cardiff City Supporters Trust (here), it suggests they can feel an opportunity is there to be taken and have asked for an elected fan to go on the board. This statement has already been noted by BBC Sport and other news outlets, so it has gained coverage and keeps the momentum built up rolling on.

Cardiff City Supporters Trust has called for elected fan representation on the board.

Cardiff City Supporters Trust has called for elected fan representation on the board.

If nothing else, you have to admire the brass neck of the CCST. They are asking for an elected fan on the board despite owning a tiny fraction of the club itself and are keeping the heat on Tan by reminding him of his pledge to convert debt to equity. Someone once asked me why aren’t football owners more reasonable and I said it was simple: Because if they showed the fans could force change, if they gave us an inch, we’ll take a bloody mile.

It looks like the Trust is determined to play their rush by being the aggressor and forcing Tan to react to their announcements. This is all great stuff and is to be commended but what is worrying is the constant reminder in open letters and statements that political parties are “proposing greater supporter involvement before the General Election”, as if this was an ace up their sleeve or a good thing.

I’ve already made my reservations about these band waggon jumping, movement killing proposals here and Cardiff just proved my point. Did the state force Tan to change the kit? No, the fans did. How did they do that? By threatening to withhold money from the club and crashing the attendance of the cup game, whilst the Trust put out their own shirt for sale. How quickly did Tan fold without the state forcing him to?  In the blink of an eye.

The ‘NoBlueNoRenew’ campaign did not need a panel of policy experts but started from the bottom up through your average fan and it grew because ordinary people could see when they ganged up, they could force change themselves.

No one joins Trade Unions anymore because they have been shorn of the functions needed for them to have a purpose, the mutual societies died because the state took away their reason for existence and yet a Supporters Trust thinks the best way for the fan led movement to grow is by chopping its legs off.  Still, Cardiff City fans are making progress and hopefully this is yet more evidence of the unarguable truth that when people close their wallets and starve the clubs, they will surrender.

Overall, it’s another victory for fan power which along with the situation developing at Rangers very quickly and positively shows we have momentum. However as we are seeing at Blackpool (where the owners have declared war on the fans), there is a long way to go yet and we are going to have to fight together to ensure the club we support is not next in line for a ‘rebrand’ or gutted from top to bottom.

-

@eddyman00

-

Links

Cardiff City FC- Vincent Tan Statement

Cardiff City Supporters- Trust Statement

Salisbury FC & Hereford FC – Lessons learned or more of the same?

Tags

,

hereford-united1

At the end of last season, two clubs were booted out of the Conference. I take an extensive look at both, their fortunes since and what the future holds…

Salisbury were booted out of the Conference on 4 July 2014 having failed to pay football creditors and the give the Conference a required bond (here). They had already been demoted to the Conference South for missing a previous deadline. Seemingly, Salisbury are just a club who refuse to learn their lessons and fans who seem to have been apathetic in organising a culture change at the club.

The club had previously come close to winding up in the early 2000’s but were bailed out and funded up the leagues until they returned to the Conference Prem for three seasons. Then in 2009-10, they were put into administration and placed in the Southern Prem (Step 3).

2009-10 was the same year Chester City were to fold and would be reformed by the fans as Chester FC, whereas Salisbury would yet again go with the private benefactor model and recent events would prove which one is more superior.

Salisbury would gain two promotions in three seasons but last season it was a case of Groundhog Day and just four seasons since the club went into administration, they were back at it again. I first heard that the owners were begging fans to put more money down a black hole when I was heading back down south from FC United vs Chorley, FC United of course who have always been committed to doing things the right way and as a result find themselves higher in the pyramid then Salisbury FC.

Still lessons weren’t learned and Salisbury City ended up being owned by Otail Touzar, a Moroccan ‘businessmen’ who somehow ended up getting hold of 98% of the club and doing fellow investor Mark Winter, who did put money in, out of £75,000. He said he felt ashamed and I’d have to agree with him (here).

Yet again the club were taken in by promises of riches when a rich Sugar Daddy walked in, I still find it unbelievable that anyone would fall for it. More amazing is that people did not step forward and say ‘No more. This time we want to have a club we can safely pass down to our children.’ If the people in Salisbury aren’t conservative anymore then God help us.

Salisbury fans yet again are paying for the club spending what it doesn't have.

Salisbury fans yet again are paying for the club spending money it doesn’t have.

Eventually Touzar was ejected and the club is now run by… Another set of businessmen, probably because it’s worked out wonderfully well every other time. I’m being a bit harsh now but it just amazes me there was no supporter movement or stake in the new club and nothing to stop the same thing happening again.

In this piece by Mark Sanderson on the always excellent When Saturday Comes website (here), Salisbury are painted as a club that would command the sympathy of us all and it’s the mean FA who did them over.

They certainly didn’t have my sympathy and all the clubs who have lost out to Salisbury by running their clubs sustainably, whilst Salisbury have been engaged in financial doping, meant sympathy is very thin on the ground.

However, in the same way I may be inclined to forgive Cardiff fans who gave those of us asking them to boycott over their identity when they were in the Prem nothing but abuse (yet now they are awful again have ‘woken’ up), we can forgive those at Salisbury.

The new owners have appointed Steve Claridge as Manager and chillingly he did an interview for BBC radio which was simultaneously engaging and sensible. He was talking about how the club needs to be run sustainably, how the previous owner (Touzar) had done nothing for the club,  that Salisbury are in reality a top Conference South team with forays into the Conference Prem.

I can’t find existence of this interview online now the BBC has pulled it so maybe this was all a dream, I only wish the Steve Claridge on The Football League show sounded more the one on Wiltshire Radio when Coventry City were marooned in Northampton or the countless clubs living beyond their means who he will heap praise on throughout the show.

Still, I do hope that there is a culture change at Salisbury and would love to see the fans organise to gain a stake in the club.

The other club to have been booted out from the Conference would have much more symptathy from outsiders and also a fanbase whose bloody single mindedness has been rewarded by the removal of the leeches who sought to destroy the club.

After surviving in the Conference Prem on the last day, the HUST offered to buy the club off Keyte who promptly sold it to convicted criminal Tommy Agombar, whose very first move was to try and move the leases from the councils control to his own private company.

When former workers weren’t being paid and Agombar, Lonsdale et al were merely a more horrific version of owners then what had gone before the Hereford fans did something which must become standard practise for all fans. They boycotted.

Led by the Hereford United Supporters Trust (HUST), the vast majority of fans refused to give a penny to those running the club and the aim was clear: Starve the bastards out.  Long story short; the fans won the victory but in looking to form a phoenix club, have they won the war?

The same year Salisbury and Chester went bust, Chester fans took a different path.

The same year Salisbury and Chester went bust, Chester fans took a different path.

The only option that has emerged after the winding up was the offer of Jon Hale which has the backing of the HUST leadership but by the looks of things, not all the members. To my surprise, the HUST had not developed an independent plan for 51% fan ownership from the time of the boycott to the winding up of Hereford United in court.

I am starting to feel this blog is recently a place of friendly fire, where I spend more time having a pop at Supporters Trusts such as Cardiff and to a lesser degree Newcastle, for not having the same level of radicalism/conviction as the HUST boycott. Still, issues and serious questions remain over the offer that is about to be laid before rank and file HUST members.

The Hale/HUST partnership is trying to put together what they feel is in the best interests of the club and although I will spend the majority of this post looking at problems, it is right and proper to give both the credit they deserve. Let’s not forget that the very first video to appear of the HUST account was of Jon Hale asking fans to come to a meeting, to see whether they would like to set up a supporters trust.

I do not doubt that Jon Hale wants to see a successful, financially viable Hereford FC and he is not in it for financial gain. Might there be a slight desire to be more well-known and have his own form of legacy? Perhaps, though even if this is the case that does not make him the devil and some of the hostility towards his offer is slightly overstated.

He has been on the radio just last Saturday for over an hour in an interview that the H&W radio has frustrating failed to put up in one go but bullsnews has covered for those of us who couldn’t listen (here & here). He has at most stages tried to be a visible presence, Jon has urged people to join the HUST and also the Hereford FC website has stated that it is closely monitoring the concerns of fans.

This is a complete contrast to the ownership of recent years and is to his credit. Lastly, the contents of said meeting and the model proposed is online for all to see and discuss (here). This is where the several concerns that have surfaced start.

First and most importantly, the HUST appears to be banned from ever owning more than 50%. Sadly, as soon as I heard that “HUST to be biggest shareholder in Hereford FC plan” I knew it meant less than 51% and was pretty dismayed. The HUST is the fans, certainly the vast majority of them. As Jon Hale has said himself, without the HUST support there is no plan.

Also, the HUST will be “given the opportunity to own up to 50% by buying shares” with the amount doing the rounds being that HUST have to raise £150,000. Do they not start with 50% from the beginning of the club? If not, this means they don’t even start with half of the club and in effect have 0% to the businessmen’s 100%. Any argument that they have to make a contribution is nonsense. The fans make a contribution every time they step through those turnstiles, 1000 fans over 15 games at £10 is £150,000 so in my eyes, there’s your contribution.

I would’ve thought that the fans had already shown what happens when people assume the money they pay is not a contribution to the running of the club, mainly through the massive boycott they successfully pulled off.

Of course, what incentive is there to raise the money anyway now the club has been secured by someone else? All urgency and momentum is completely sucked out of this by the fact that the final goal is a miserable compromise of never being allowed to own your own club. Combine this with the fact that the directorships will be a 4/3 split with the businessmen having four and the trust having three.

As a result, they will always be in a position to be outvoted if it ever came to a group gaining shares against the trust. Now the plan proposes that someone can only own 24% but you can easily find (as we have seen at Rangers in a positive way) people can gang up to gain a majority stake. What is to stop people doing this and gaining a majority stake whilst the HUST is paying for theirs and just changing the rules so they can buy the shares allocated for the HUST? They couldn’t be blocked in the boardroom.

Also, how come if the HUST get 50% and thereby making them the majority shareholder they can still be outvoted in the boardroom? We have already seen at Exeter City how despite being fan owned a board, which does not have the majority of fans on, tried to seize control and make the supporters trust no more than a fundraising group.

     The reality is that although the people who are in charge now may be great people this isn’t about them, this is about making sure what has happened can never happen again. Under the current plans, this is not secure.

Still, there is a meeting where these proposals will be presented to fans and I am sure fan Tommy Agombar will be joining me and others there (because he loves his football, he’s a football man) but as there is no other offer and as the HUST did not develop one, it has the feeling of being a fait accompli.

A valid criticism that noone else at Hereford has come up with anything for a fan owned football club has been met with the fair response that HUST members, on voting for the leadership, were under the assumption that they were liasing with fellow clubs and perhaps Supporters Direct to be given the advice and expertise to put forward a plan before the club inevitably went pop.

Hereford United

I must admit to part of my criticism is just how big a missed opportunity this all is. I mean think about it, all the free publicity due to the Ronnie Radford goal etc, the boycott gaining national coverage and widespread support. It could’ve been the HUST came out in September after the boycott and asked all football supporters to put money into a holding account to use to reform the side when United goes bust.

Putting forward a vision of a club that would never again return to the dark days and this fan owned club would be different. I could easily see a lot of money come in from many ordinary fans and the call to arms go viral with the help of FC United, David Conn and others. Also, how many sponsors or national brands would’ve wanted to jump on this bandwagon and gain some easy PR by helping the club? I guess quite a few. I am confident they would have raised enough cash through fans and sponsors.

Fan owned and reforming in Step 5, having a massive attendance for the first game with big coverage, perhaps the ground redevelopment being funded by using a community share scheme as pioneered by FC United. Hereford could’ve been the new poster boy after AFC Wimbledon for fan owned clubs and media coverage but instead the story will be ‘businessmen reforms Hereford’ and they will be just another club.

Maybe the HUST has spoken to people at AFC Telford, Chester, FC United and for whatever reason decided it wasn’t suitable for a future Hereford to be fan owned but it is a great shame that the feel good factor on removing the leeches seems to be ebbing away, if only slightly.

The likely reality is the Club will reform at Step 5 and get promoted under the consortium (which they would have done under fan ownership anyway). In fact, Hereford FC will be unlikely to meet many teams who can compete in terms of crowds or ways to generate money, thereby attracting players who want to score a winner in front of 1000’s rather than a few spectators, until at least the Conference South. By the time HUST get 50%, the glorious rise up the divisions will be over and the long hard slog of trying to escape the Conference Prem with a dozen other teams will be their inheritance.  Sadly, it just feels that all the sacrifices were made by the bulk of the fans and yet the success is to be owned by someone else.

 Again, I am being too much of a depressive. Would this be the end of the world for Hereford fans? God no. They still have wonderful moments to come, regular promotions with a team to support and a board who are fully committed to the club. Re-entering the FA Cup in a couple of seasons time, running a surplus every year and going back to the Conference in a far stronger shape then when they left it.

Of course, let no one say I offer only criticism and have no solution. If Hereford fans feel due to time running out they have to vote for the Hale option but still want to take Hereford into fan ownership there is a way. You can copy the example of Rangers First, which (ignoring the internal politics) is separate from Rangers Supporters Trust but still a fan led group. In simple terms, Rangers First (here) is getting subscriptions from people and then using that money solely to buy a stake in the club. You could set up a Hereford First scheme and save enough money to hold until you have enough cash to buy a sizeable % in the club shares that is not reserved for the HUST, thereby putting you into being 51% fan owned.

There can be no serious criticism of you doing this because under the current plan becoming fan owned through the HUST has been blocked, so you are merely using two avenues to get the result I feel the majority of fans wanted in the first place.

Still (and this is where we can leave it for now), Jon Hale and the HUST leadership have shown themselves to be far more competent in the way they have handled criticism and questions whilst, it must be noted, having full time jobs to hold down. They should be commended despite understandably valid concerns after all that has happened at Hereford.

Finally, cheap attacks on them which have come from certain people who were far too close to the leeches running the club beforehand should be dismissed as a desperate attempt to deflect attention from their shameful actions in this sad, sorry saga.

There we have it then, two clubs who for the same reason fell into similar problems and found themselves in the clutches of scummy owners, from which they are now free. Both will probably start at Step 5 and be promoted in one season. It won’t be long until they cross paths as they re-climb the pyramid, we can only hope that at both Salisbury FC and Hereford FC, lessons have finally been learned.

-

@eddyman00 @hufctrust

-

Links

BBC Sport- Salisbury kicked out of Conference

Southern Daily Echo- Winter ‘ashamed’

WSC (Mark Sanderson) – Salisbury attack FA

Bullsnews- Jon Hale BBC Interview Part 1 / Part 2

HUST- New Club Proposal

Rangers First

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 423 other followers