Four years ago, give or take a few months, I was approached by CEO Liam Scully about being a part of the new Supporter’s Board.
There was no firm plan, nothing set in stone. The club wanted a body of supporters who they could consult over key decisions for a steer, not a decision-making body, but a group of people from different backgrounds who could serve as a sounding board. In the years since we’ve had a few things thrown at us, made a few big decisions as a group that have impacted how the club handles certain situations, and dare I say, had a lot of fun doing it.
As I said on Twitter earlier, I’ve decided to step down and let someone else have a go. It’s not a decision I take lightly, but one that seems only fair. The SB offer great insight into the club, and those on it are privileged. That’s not in a material sense; we volunteer our time and there are no physical benefits, but it has been a fascinating experience. However, having been on the panel that helps shape the new kit for two years, I realised that I was slowly becoming everything I didn’t like; comfortable in a position that others should have the chance to experience. Nick Proctor, a friend and SB colleague, stepped down for the same reason a week or so ago and that convinced me it was also the right thing to do. There’s no conspiracy, we’ve not gone for any underlying reason, it is just time for someone new to have a voice.
I thought it prudent for me to explain a little about the board, and hopefully, someone out there might think it is for them. These are a few thoughts that I have collected over the last four years that I think are massively important.
You Have To Put a Shift In
This group hasn’t been put together for show, nor is it simply a case of turning up and finding out stuff others don’t know. If your first thought is getting to be ‘in the know’, then it really isn’t for you. The SB get to know sensitive information but only so we (they) can make informed decisions to advise the club. If you’re not up for putting in some effort, then seriously, it’s not your thing. There are groups set up for different tasks, for instance, designing the next season’s kit, or putting ideas together for other side projects. If you’re going to sit silently and observe, it’s of no benefit to the group, nor the board.
You Have to Understand the Board’s Purpose
There is a distinction to make between the board’s perceived purpose and the actual purpose. I personally don’t think the board is there to listen to why there should be more drinks selection in the bar, or where the stewards stand during a game. There’s a conduit for that, and you don’t have to sit on the SB to voice your concerns. Stuff like that can be directed at the club (I forget the email now), or you can raise it at a Fan’s Forum. I think the board is there for more in-depth discussions about club policy. Should there be a season ticket price hike, yes or no? If no, why not? If yes, why and how much? Just saying ‘yes’, or ‘no’ doesn’t help the board make their ultimate decision. For me, the SB is like an advisory group, a cross-section of people with different experiences; me a season ticket holder, Nick with the 617, older fans, younger fans, male and female… we all have different experiences and points of view. The club needs those from you on the SB, they don’t need to listen to anyone go on for ten minutes about the awful soft drink selection (Diet Coke or Coke Zero is not a choice, by the way).
You Have to be a Critical Friend
There is a difference between moaning about everything, and being a critical friend. I feel, over my time on the board, if something hasn’t sat right, I will explain why. I can’t speak about everything we discuss, but as an example, I recall a conversation about comms around an incident a couple of years ago. I might be giving you a bit too much information here, but the club acknowledged an incident had occurred, but consulted us on how to communicate it. There’s a balance you see; jump in all guns blazing and you might give the overall world the impression we have a deep problem. Say nothing, and it’s the opposite, the club might be seen to be burying their head in the sand. I felt at the time that communication needed to happen, but the club were not of the same opinion. We don’t make the ultimate decision, but on the board, there are respected voices who must be willing to speak up when the time arises. However, it is also important to know when to do so; disagreeing with everything just because you’re a belligerent bastard who likes an argument is not helpful either. Meetings last for an hour or two and there are often big headline topics to discuss, so nobody wants a deliberate agitator.
You don’t have to go into the role with a grasp of how the club is run, but you have to be willing to learn, and at times shift viewpoints. I’m not being elitist when I say a basic level of intelligence is required; some of the stuff discussed revolves around year-end accounts, finances, and other sensitive stuff. We were once tasked with putting together a forward plan for an upcoming EFL meeting, and it required us to understand parachute payments, Project Big Picture, how academies are funded and clubs compensated for young talent being taken away – this was deep stuff. At the time, people on the board spoke up if something was over their head, but in the main, it meant reading outside the meetings, forming opinions but also be willing to discuss, debate and when required, change a viewpoint. I’ve always said the best opinions, the ones I respect the most, are the ones that people are willing to change if a convincing argument is put to them. To do that, you have to be willing to learn and not just be stubborn and firmly believe only you are right.
That’s pretty much it. If that sounds like you, then when the chance arises in the near future, you should apply. Being on the board has been a great experience, and whilst meetings have sometimes got heated, and people have disagreed about things, it has always been beneficial to the club. Without sounding arrogant, I believe both Nick Proctor and I brought plenty to the table and it is imperative for those left on the board that the new faces do the same.
I’d like to thank Liam, Jake, Jay Wright, Clive and Roger Bates for their input during my time on the board. The club is very candid and open in these meetings and I’ve felt I got a great insight into the pressure of running a football club. Genuinely, there’s so much more that goes into their decisions than you’d ever realise, they never leave a stone unturned and it’s been a pleasure helping, in some small way, to shape the direction of the football club I love. I shall miss being on the board, a hell of a lot if I’m honest. From a selfish point of view, I’ll miss knowing what is happening, but I also know leaving is the right thing to do. Thank you to my fellow board members too, who have often given me alternative viewpoints that I wouldn’t have previously considered. Good luck in the future.
Up the Imps