Gathering my thoughts, my notes and my open mind, I ordered a pint of Deuchars last night and settled myself against the bar of The Strawberry at approximately 7.25pm, ready to listen to what the committee representatives of the Newcastle United Supporter’s Trust (NUST), had to say for themselves.
Heroes or villains?
I was under no illusions that with a number of pressing questions sitting snugly in my pocket, that despite my ambivalence (bordering on enthusiasm), I would be seen to be playing Devil’s Advocate nonetheless. However, clearly they had been asked the same questions on a few occasions and have consider the same issues themselves. They answered my questions fairly candidly, although they could not digress on certain key aspects which will no doubt frustrate some people. Unfortunately, these same details are the ones which have led people to distrust the motives of the individuals within the Trust.
Having stood and listened to the commitee members, namely Colin Whittle of True Faith and a solicitor by profession, Mark Jensen of The Mag, Bill (unfortunately not sure of his full name or background) acting as compere. And I spoke at length to Tony Stephenson, who does a lot of the online stuff for NUST (I missed out on Ando doing his ex-player turn, and hope I didn’t put him off with my incessant chat to Ton).
This is what I gathered from the roadshow:
Passionate, responsible and forthright people are at the heart of this Trust. It (or NUSC to be precise) was probably spawned by emotions and outrage but now has the safety net of common sense and experience and appears to have matured as an organisation. Though they appear keenly aware that mud sticks and they still need to convince people this is workable and being done for the right reasons.
They’ve had some initial business/financial/legal nous but have pushed for expertise both locally and from experts in The City, to determine what is behind the Iron Curtain with regard operating costs, existing debts etc and what might be needed to make this work.
They are seeking more local investment/support from the council and are now pushing for more financial and non-financial support from local businesses.
There is, as yet, no business plan because of the delicate nature of their proposal (regulation, legislation) but they intend to get one out as soon as possible without making a pig’s ear of it. Their sentiments were, it took Ashley a couple of year’s to bring this club to it’s knees and it’s undoubtedly going to take a while for that to be put right, with or without the Trusts involvement, but they intend to work progressively and as professionally as possible to get a voice on the board.
There are pledges in place but everyone is waiting for something tangible (i.e. a plan) to go with but this is still going to take time. And even with a plan, we may still have a case of everybody waiting for somebody else to push that green button.
In terms of the 100% ownership going ahead, the planned investment of pensions are going to be protected by a non-elected corporate financial member, should the proposed board structure/model go through. However, they will ensure that the best advice is received by those in a position to contribute in this manner.
They desperately want to give more detailed answers to fence-sitters, sceptics and supporters alike but are bound by the present constraints.
They will be happy for more ‘experts’ to come along and invest and to guide them in their pursuit. They have set the ball rolling and just want like-minded people to get behind them, either with a couple of mil in their back pockets to help, or just some blood, sweat and tears.
There was other stuff which I guess was off the record and doesn’t need mentioning here with regard rumours etc because we aleady know them or have a similar opinion.
Their intention is to buy the club outright as they stated on their website and press releases, though they concede that they may have to accept a percentage of ownership and probably not in partnership with the current incumbent, though that is not ruled out. They would intend to invest a decent portion of money to have a decent portion of the say, even if it just means the current or future board do not have carte blanche. They don’t intend that we get involved in the running of the club. Ultimately, they see the German clubs and their 50+1 rule as perhaps being the most probable and sufficient outcome in the short term if they can get this off the ground.
They explained quite candidly that they saw Llambias’ invite as PR and having seen the previous takeover proposal by fans be ridiculed (they were witness to it), and they intend to keep their cards quite firmly against their chest for now.
I was quite honest about my stance. I’m still ambivalent as many are. However, even with the encouraging information, I may not be in a position to contribute much. I asked them whether they thought that might ostracise people and cause divides. They are aware that’s a precarious point and are seeking to do what they can. I suggested they may need some way of facilitating ‘groups’, so that even 150 of you could put in £10 and still make up a collective vote. Albeit, you might not get your way but then your £1500 (still a ballpark figure anyway) might not get you your result either. That’s where they need to be careful and thoughtful about the semantics of it.
I think to sum it up, where they are at the moment is finding out what the appetite is. If there is no appetite, then what is the point? These are supporters and experts giving up their free time to progress things – let’s be frank though, the supporters for the desire to fix the club and the experts with a view to getting something out of it should it go ahead (fees etc). Without finding out what the appetite is, the time and money these guys have already invested and continue to invest in terms of roashows and behind-the-scenes stuff is all for nothing. They may appear to have trodden dangerously close to the boundaries of regulation and legilsation when canvassing for investment simply because of the enthusiam, but seem to be taking the right advice and seeking more expertise to do things in the right manner.
Sceptics may have seen it as tub-thumping (though I think the sceptics and cynics didn’t bother to turn up, and instead are happy to take 2nd/3rd/4th hand knowledge and pillory their efforts from their online comfort). If it hadn’t been emotive and passionate, I’d have been disappointed and probably a little less trusting. After all, these are supporters, not impartial businessmen.
The most I hoped for was to come away thinking it wasn’t a load of cock and while there is clearly still a lot of work to do and a long road ahead, it’s not a load of cock in my opinion. This campaign may never get off the ground, it may get part way off the ground and still fall back to earth with a bump, some bruised pride and a lot of disappointment. In the meantime, I hope they keep up the good work. They have my respect and support for what they’re trying to achieve. And I plan to help them as much as I can to make something happen.
The information above is a mix of answers to questions I posed, the information they provided and some of my thoughts. In terms of the questions you guys have posted on the previous article, I plan to give these to the NUST formally and in turn get some formal and official answers. For those who are interested, the Trust is looking for volunteers to help spread the word and you can contact them if you’re available tomorrow and/or going forward. More information and contacts can be found on their site www.nust.org.uk.
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