Six months ago, Imps’ supporter and Trust Board member Peter Doyle became the latest rank and file fan to be elected onto the club board.
Since the Trust’s inception at the turn of the century, there has been two places on the club board for a supporter’s representative, one from the gold members and another from the trust board. Peter was voted on in the summer to serve a two-year stint as the Red Imps Community Trust supporter’s representative.
I caught up with him recently to discuss his first six months with the club and to find out how he feels it has gone. Peter was obviously bound by confidentiality and therefore it wasn’t appropriate to quiz him on decisions the board have made as a whole, such as the recent season ticket issue.
That aside, Peter has been impressed with the board and the level of detail in the meetings.
“It’s been very eye-opening for one, enjoyable for two and most of all, a privilege for three.”
“The eye-opening part has been being a part of the board meetings now and be privy to the level of detail that goes into the planning of the product is extraordinary. The people on the board right now, they’ll bring us forward to where we want to be.”
“They’re with us, not only as investors but as fans as well. I don’t feel out of place in the boardroom, I’ve been made incredibly welcome by everyone there. I’m not a shrinking violet though, I will say my bit and represent the interests of the supporters.”
After two years the RICT will get the opportunity to re-elect a member onto the board and Peter is open that when his time is up, he won’t cling on to his role, instead he’ll be ready to back another fresh face.
“When my time is up as supporter director, I’ll be 100% behind whoever takes up the position after me. It’s important that we have this representation, vitally important. We have to ensure it’s rotated too, that different people with different skills and approaches get a chance to be the director.”
The role of a supporter on the board isn’t new, but even with the newer club restructures, there’s representation at board level.
“You only have to look at Blackpool recently, the new board containing a fan elected member. It’s valuable in our football club and in the wider game. Exeter City, who we played this evening, are fan controlled too. It’s as relevant today as it ever was.”
Peter stressed that despite the troubles of a few years ago, the Red imps Community Trust is as strong as ever and has a key role to play in the progress of the club.
“We are not a minor player here at the club. Both Clive Nates and Roger Bates have said we have an important role to play in the future. We’re not insignificant, but I don’t feel that we’re forced into the equation either as a token gesture. I feel we’ve got a very important role to play, that we’ve been readily accepted and if I felt we were simply there in spirit but without a say and steer, I’d walk away.”
Prior to relegation from the Football League, there was a train of thought that the supporter on the board wasn’t always readily available on a match day, but Peter wants that to be part of his remit. He feels it is vital that he’s in the fan zone whenever possible.
“It’s vital that I’m seen on matchdays in the fan zone. That’s why we’ve met here today, I need to be here and getting the feel of the fans. There are the board members in the boardroom now, that is great because that’s their domain, but as a fan’s representative, my domain is here. I can’t represent the fans and the Trust if I’m not with the fans. I have to listen to their gripes and consider their input. My role is pointless if I can’t do that.”
One criticism the club has had levied at it in recent weeks is a focus on developing the corporate side of the business. Whilst it is important to explore every revenue stream, some fans feel an identity is being lost.
Peter was keen to stress that Lincoln City obviously must explore every avenue, but that it balanced with a focus on the supporters.
“The club is still very much fan focused. We must understand we’re a different animal now to a couple of years ago. The club will always come first, the longevity and stable future is priority for the fans. What I will say is that the investors are fully aware of the club coming first and it will not change. The supporters board is hopefully a demonstration that the board do listen to what the fans feel, the kit for next season was shown to the board and recommendations taken on board.”
“Look, the club has to have a corporate element, of course it has. We’ve got to be aware to opportunity and take in every penny we can to progress and develop. Will that mean losing the focus on the fans? Never in a million years and certainly never on my watch. The club board and investors see that. That’s why they’re here, because of the fans and the unique atmosphere we have at the club.”
“It’s why some of the players are here too, 9,000 people chanting their name is a big draw. That runs through the club and whilst some decisions will not be popular, they’re never made without due regard for the supporters of this football club. Never.”
Finally, Peter explained how the trust is now living up to the ‘community’ part of its name, ensuring that charitable causes and groups are supported by the fund-raising efforts.
“We are the Red imps Community Trust and what we’ve decided this season is to ensure our fund-raising helps the community as well. When the Birchwood Colts changing rooms were subject of an arson attack recently, we donated some money to them for new kits. The rebrand, becoming the community trust, has become part of our culture and our ethics.”
“There’s the link up with Lincoln United as well. It’s so important to develop these ties and I thoroughly enjoyed meeting Rob Bradley at the Exeter game. We support each other’s fundraising and the recent tie in only brings the two closer together. We’ll loan them our younger players and that will hopefully develop over time.”
The stigma of the post-relegation era is fading within the Red Imps Community Trust. Notable fans such as Jon Battersby and Andrew Helgesen have been co-opted onto the board in order to facilitate the inclusion of more supporters’ groups. There’s a feel that the organisation is moving away from the image of an aloof and archaic body, weighed down by protocol and struggling to find a footing in the modern game.
With Peter on the board and a host of good people trying to continue their development, the gift that John Reames gave the club upon leaving is as relevant and useful today as it was almost two decades ago.