AGM: Chair’s Report
October 18, 2017
The AGM of Bristol Rovers Supporters Club is to be held on Thursday 19th October 2017.
This report is Item 4 from the Agenda of that meeting.
BRSC CHAIRMAN’S REPORT 2017
To be able to produce this report on time, a year after the 2016 AGM had to be postponed, is a testament to the hard work of a number of my colleagues on the Supporters Club Committee. I wish to place on record my sincere thanks to our Secretary Sue Williams, Director Ken Masters and former Vice-Chairman Chris Walker, the latter having now unfortunately resigned from the Executive. Without their help and support I (and probably any other Chairman) would have struggled to keep going on the back of the major theft of almost all the Club’s funds which we discovered after most of last year’s reports had been published – the exception being the accounts of course!
I will never forget that morning back in November when the Club’s Auditor, Clive Farquhar, reported the anomalies in our accounts to Ken and I in his office in Clifton. We had been on our way to the Club’s solicitors on another unrelated matter when we had to divert, and I never suspected that our morning could possibly have ended up at Bridewell Police Station. It was a terrible shock that someone so trusted by us over so many years had embezzled so much money in so short a time – the perils of on-line gambling combined with on-line banking were brought home to us in just a couple of minutes. To my great relief the swift action taken that morning and in subsequent days by Clive and the rest of the Club’s trustees has recently resulted in the matter being resolved in Bristol Crown Court and the whole sorry affair can be put behind us. All the missing funds have been returned as you will see from the published accounts, and all the expenses incurred have been covered thanks to the actions of Clive, our solicitors Wards and of course the Avon & Somerset Police. I don’t wish to comment any more on this matter except to say that only one person was involved in this fraud and anything else you may hear or read to the contrary is totally false. With regard to the outcome of this unfortunate business, the departure of our Treasurer has resulted in Sue Williams taking on the role alongside her secretarial duties with myself now authorising every single payment on a ‘temporary’ basis and this may continue for some time to come as we have nobody else putting themselves forward to take on this important role. We have spent many hours with the Club’s bankers and we have closed down seven or eight unnecessary accounts. I have to say that both banks involved previously allowed some very debatable transactions without recourse to a second, authorising person but all these practices have been stopped and we now have much tighter control over the Club’s funds. During the eighteen months or so whilst the funds were being embezzled, the Club’s accounts were being effectively neglected although, of course, spurious monthly reports led the Committee to believe otherwise. At the same time all payments due to the Football Club were being maintained although of course the rate of theft would eventually have affected these as well. As soon as the theft was discovered I personally reported it to the Football Club Chairman, President and Finance Director and subsequently kept them fully informed on the developing court case. They were all most supportive and remain so to this day. All of the Supporters Club’s payments due to the Football Club and all our suppliers have been maintained throughout – in fact greatly improved so our relationship with the Board remains excellent. To be able to get the accounts to a reportable state we have had to employ the services of an outside accountant and I trust that all members will be satisfied with the balance sheet that will be presented at the AGM. We are currently looking at ways to take this task back ‘into house’ but meantime Sue will thankfully continue in her dual role until such time as it becomes practical.
I mentioned the departure of Chris Walker and would like to place on record my sincere thanks for all the great work that he carried out during his time on the Committee. He involved himself in just about every aspect of the Club’s business – the website, both shops, Academy sponsorship, 50/50 Draw, etc. We need several people to cover all that Chris did! Also leaving us will be Brian Seymour-Smith who has decided not to put himself up for re-election as a Football Club Director for business reasons and so will be standing-down at the AGM. Brian has proved to be a very popular man with Rovers’ supporters and has carried forward many ideas and the views of the fans to the Board of the Football Club. Many thanks Brian for all the work that you have put in over the last six years. Members will note that we are still short of a couple of positions on the Committee, (no full-time Treasurer and no Vice-Chairman so only two Trustees at the present time), so any members interested should put their names forward to us as we can co-opt onto the Executive when we have spaces to fill.
We are still being asked about the future of the Share Scheme and I can report that it continues with the Board’s blessing for the time being. The plan was for it to cease once Rovers had built their new stadium but of course the UWE scheme has now been cancelled and the Club is now intending to redevelop the Memorial Stadium instead. These changes of plans do not help us to do anything positive for the members of the scheme but the Board is fully aware of the debt owed to the members when a new ground is finally built. The Committee are trying to hold ‘get-togethers’ for scheme members but the lack of facilities available on match-days are a problem and the only hospitality we can get is for the minor cup competitions. We are continually discussing this at Committee meetings and will do what we can, but meantime I sincerely thank all of you who remain in the scheme. It has raised in excess of £1.1 million for the Rovers and at least gives supporters a real voice on the Board of the Football Club.
The redecoration of the Club Shop in Kingswood has finally been completed with all the flooring from the shop through to the back office and store-room now finished. I’m sure all members will notice the improvements and appreciate the work done which has been essential for the staff who have had to work in unsatisfactory conditions for a few years now. Having achieved that we now have a release clause due next February, after our first three years (can you believe it already) in our rental agreement. We have to make a decision on this within the next few weeks and we are currently reviewing the costs involved along with holding discussions with the Football Club. Purely on retail sales there is no way that we can justify the retention of the shop as we receive no commission on ticket sales – by far the main financial activity. Having said that we still need to sell memberships and travel somewhere and we need people to do so. Also a large proportion of our members use Kingswood in preference to Pirate Leisure at the stadium for their match ticket purchases so this is a major way of us providing a service to our supporters whilst at the same time assisting the Football Club. This lease renewal is undoubtedly the major task facing the Committee over the coming weeks and a decision has not been helped by the on/off nature of the Rovers’ future stadium plans. We will of course keep everyone advised as to what we eventually decide to do via the usual channels.
Members may not have noticed that we finally replaced our old match-day office cabin at the stadium with a new steel one that is proving to be a great benefit to our volunteers. The cabin, which is not normally accessed by people outside of our match-day operations, is now almost completely hidden out of sightbehind wooden fencing in the north-east corner of the Clubhouse end, but I can tell you that it is an essential base for all our various match-duties such as 50/50 and programme sales, so it has been money well spent! The 50/50 Draw remains a major success with the team on the pitch performing so well to keep attendances at a high level, thus making our half-time draw a very well supported venture. So much so in fact that we have recently decided to support the Rovers’ Development squad as well as the Youth Academy and we have given some funds to help the Community Department also. We have promised to provide facilities for supporters at Rovers new training ground on Hortham Lane and we would like the main pitch there to be finished up to Western League standard but we understand that the Football Club is still in preliminary talks with South Glos. planners before work commences. A proper training centre of our own is long overdue and I for one cannot wait for work to start. Thanks to everyone who buys a ticket and to our trusty band of volunteers who work so hard on the ticket sales.
The Football Club tried a new initiative last season in holding an ‘open day’ at the stadium during the school holidays just before the final home match. I must say that I was initially opposed to having to present the Supporters Club’s awards on a week-day but must also confess at the same time that trying to present trophies on a match-day has become a bit of an organisational nightmare, so I soon became won-over to the idea and hope that it will be repeated next April. Hopefully Rovers may be pushing for a play-off place again but the uncertainty over just when our season is going to end makes the school holiday option a bit of a winner with all the playing staff in attendance and no other distractions taking place. Last season’s awards went as follows; Player of the Year was Ollie Clarke with ‘Young Player’ again being current Club Captain Tom Lockyer (he surely must be too old to win it again this season?!). The Youth Team winner for the Alan Lacock shield was chosen by Head of Youth, Johnny Henderson, and it went to Luke Russe who has gone on to prove his worth in our Development Squad this term. The Jane Browne Trophy for ‘Goal of the Season’ was won by Chris Lines for his brilliant winner in the League Cup tie against Paul Trollope’s Cardiff City. That award meant every ‘playing’ trophy went to lads that have come up through various Rovers’ youth teams – all of them sponsored of course by the Supporters Club! The Steve Larkins Trophy for ‘Clubman of the Year’ was awarded by the Committee to Tim Rose for all the work he undertook over several months in fitting-out our new match-day shop and on the programme trollies. It was a great effort and much appreciated
My thanks must go to all of the Committee and our two elected Directors for keeping me sane during a truly horrific period that threatened the very future of the Supporters Club. I have already mentioned those who stood by me whilst we tried to put things right and hopefully it is all behind us now. Likewise my thanks go to our shop staff, the army of match-day sellers and helpers for all their hard work during what was another manic first season back in League One that almost produced yet another promotion for Darrell Clarke and the ‘blue army’. All we need now is some good, firm news on redevelopment of the stadium and a prompt start to work on the training centre that together will prove to everyone that Rovers really are a club on the move!