Fans Director Report
November 23, 2005
I am writing this Director report for the AGM evening where we elect a new Associate Director and I am half way through my term as the Supporters Director on the Football Club board. It is a good time to take stock of what has been achieved in the first year and a half what remains to be done.
I should start by paying tribute to my fellow director Jane Browne who recently announced that she was stepping down from the role. Jane gave me great support and guidance as a newcomer to the supporters club and board. She has been a steadying influence on the Supporters Club for forty years and been there through the good and bad times for Rovers. She should be proud of her achievement in being the first Supporters Club full board member, the first female Board member of either Bristol football club and giving the board 18 months of loyal service.
Her resignation also demonstrates that the directors roles are not an honorary title but involve hard and tough work. The pull from the Football Club is such that any director has to remember why they were elected – it is the Share Scheme that has given the Supporters Club the chance to have the seats on the board and the directors are there to represent the fans to the board.
In my election address I talked about three “C’s” in the role –commercial, community and communication. I include the Share Scheme in the commercial section of this report, mainly because it is an engine that drives a £14,000 subscription to the football club in return for shares. The Share Scheme has reached a pivotal point in its history as many of us approach the third anniversary of our subscription. We have to consider if we want to continue to subscribe – I do because I believe in supporters participation in a football club – not necessarily owning the club because there is much to be said for a mix of private and supporters investment and ownership of the club, but a mixthat gives fans a decisive voice in decision making in the club. I am committed to the scheme and am still doing much of the marketing work (such as the recent letters and newsletters, the Filton College Open evening and the work around three year renewals) to communicate with our supporters under the guidance of the Share Scheme Chairman.
The other major element of commercial activity has been looking at our retail and ticketing operations, so that the Supporters Club can provide a cost efficient and revenue generating service on behalf of the football club. There have been many discussions with the football club around retail outlets, particularly in the light of stadium developments. On a matchday we are operating five (yes five!) retail outlets around the ground and at 199 and Broadmead. The results of our talks with the football club are being discussed at the AGM tonight but in the meantime we are progressing in several other areas. We have been far more effective as a commercial organisation in running promotions – kit launches, scarf days, Robin Schols initiative around wristbands and of course the pink third kit. We have prepared an analysis of the point of sale, stock control and importantly a Customer Relationship Management system with great help from Ian Pugh – discussed in an article on the website entitled Looking after our customers.
Community is another aspect of the Supporters Director role that I believe is crucial, since we have to get the next generation of supporters to the Mem. I have joined the board of Rovers Football in the Community charity. The superb funding achieved through supporters work over the past years has dried up, we are no longer able to afford a Womens Community Development officer after the funding for this ended so there is much to be done in this area. However we are progressing on the education front with the Club’s IT Suite being upgraded to host the latest initiative the Club is involved in – the Government sponsored Playing for Success scheme whereby school children are given lessons in English, Maths and IT in the setting of the stadium. This has been very successful in many other clubs up and down the country and the early signs are that it will be successful here too, getting children from all around North Bristol at the stadium on match days and non match days. I am now starting a Community Action Group to liaise with the board and Rod Wesson and feel pleased this is an area that is also building bridges between Supporters Club and Gas Trust members to help in a key area in attracting kids to the stadium that provide the base of our future support. The other main aspect of work with the community has been my involvement with the board and Supporters Club in meeting with councillors and local residents about the stadium developments, first the North Stand and then the new plans for the stadium regeneration. I am working closely with Roger Cooper who is driving the whole project forward on behalf of the football club to help put our views across to councillors and residents about our need for family friendly facilities and our role in the local community.
The third “C” is communication. I truly believe our communication between supporters, Supporters Club and Board is amongst the best in the country. The Supporters Club communication has been led superbly by Robin Schols and I pay tribute to his drive and enthusiasm in making the Supporters Club website a complimentary information source to the official site. The progress since our first meetings with cut and paste drawings of the home page has been fantastic. I hope you have felt I have been accessible through the Fans Forum, our various Open Evenings, our local open evenings at Weston super Mare (with the commitment of the team there in setting up our branch) and Yate – I believe we should have more of these to get the message to our fans locally. I also hope you have had the chance to chat with me at both home and away games or even have heard me on my occasional visits to the summarisers chair at Radio Bristol. But as usual we always can improve, and I would hope we can drive the linkage of communication with Supporters Club recruitment over the next year.
There is one final topic I need to discuss in my report, Ian Atkins being relieved of his duties as Rovers manager and the appointment of Paul Trollope and Lennie Lawrence.
In terms of Ian Atkins, I did relay the thoughts of many messages I had from fans to the board, not just to the results the team was getting but the manner of the performances. We should remember that Ian stopped the rot from the previous years and showed himself to be a good coach, but the working relationship with the board, staff and media was becoming very difficult, so it was probably the right time for a change to be made.
Likewise as your Fans Director I was involved in the selection process for the new team.
Right up front I can say I could empathise with how difficult the job is. In my day job I have spent the past 15 years recruiting salespeople, sales managers and sales executives. From that process I have learnt that track record isn’t the only thing that matters, it is the fit of the person to your criteria for a candidate, the team you already have in place and the progress you want to make. And I also learnt that football managers are pretty good people at selling themselves too!
A lot of people have asked why did it take so long, as Geoff Twentyman regularly told us on his Friday night phone in! One reason was that we did a lot of hard thinking about the way we wanted the club to progress. We also have to admit the other thing that made our job more complex was the great progress and potential showed by Paul Trollope during his caretaker spell training and picking the team. As you saw from the press comments through the process we emphasised Paul’s exceptional ability and that we wanted him to play some role going forward. One interviewee commented that “if you get something good in football you should try and hang on to it and develop it”. A simple statement but maybe not always followed in our game.
With that in mind we had something like 50 plus candidates (who were not Championship manager specialists!) and that was brought down to a long “short list” of some 15 people we met. That list was long and therefore the time taken was long because we were exploring both the DoF/Coach and traditional manager route.
One thing became clear on meeting different candidates, the name “football manager” means many things – some managers are coaches that have support to help them administratively – contracts, transfers, agents etc. You may think Graham Rix as a football manager but at his Hearts press conference saw he said “”I am picking the team. My forte is working with the players, motivating them and hopefully winning matches. Dealing with agents and the press does not really interest me.”
Similar examples emerged during our interview process from candidates we met. As our thinking developed we returned to our vision and values we had as a football club and the seven point plan we had to develop Bristol Rovers. This focusses on the development of all parts of Bristol Rovers as a football club – commercial, community, youth, scouting, medical which plays into a Director of Football role, especially if you also have a potentially excellent coach to take the first team and develop our squad. Otherwise we may appoint a first team manager who is a good coach, but would not have the experience or ability to address all the other footballing elements at Rovers.
So that was the reasoning that drew us to an eventual short “short list”, final interviews, a lot of background research and the eventual selection of Lennie Lawrence and Paul Trollope as the management team. The process took a long time, involved many trips to glamorous places – not many in Bristol, as meeting Sven in the Welly may not have been the best thing to do (!) but I hope we have a management team that can take our club forward, bring success to Bristol Rovers, bring back the crowds and also very importantly put a smile on our faces again.
To close this (very!) long report I would like to thank all the people who have supported Jane and myself over the past year – all our Supporters Club staff at 199 and Pirate Leisure, the many volunteers who brave the weather selling 50:50 tickets (I still haven’t heard a club with a bigger prize than ours on our travels!) and programmes, the matchday volunteers who also man the shops, the programme writers who spend countless hours making our programme the best in the league, the Football Club staff at the stadium who have been so cooperative (especially to the new boy), the executive and working committees who give up much of their free time to drive our matchday, commercial, communications and social groups, the Weston Gas boys for showing how a branch should be set up and run and to the other board members who treat the Supporters Directors as a key part of the team. We have much to be proud of off the pitch, we need to once and for all build the foundations for progress on it.