Gateshead Soul Fans Open Meeting on 21st March, 2019
Pelaw Social Club
Bernard McWilliams, Ross Black, Karl McIness
Apologies: Tony Carter, David Kenny
Attendance = approx. 60
1.Welcome and an update on current situation;
BM: Protest postponed after Joe Cala made an offer to sell the club on behalf of Ranjan Varghese. BM insisted this was a public statement of intent to sell with the involvement of the supporters association. BM and TC will talk with prospective buyers. There are at least four interested parties but we’re unable to give any details due to the NDA, except to say that two of them would be the preferred option.
JC wanted to call off the protest to avoid a police bill of £10,000. The protest will be back on on April 6th and the 9th if the requested information isn’t forthcoming. BM and TC have signed the NDAs to allow more transparency about the financial position. JC is reluctant to release this information. One potential buyer has been trying to access this information for some time. BM is unable to discuss details but hopefully more information will be available to share in the next couple of weeks. Two parties would certainly pass any league tests. If JC gets what he wants he will go sooner rather than later. BM is under no illusions and is fully aware that JC could be playing a game, but it was quite evident that he was very concerned by the negative press reports in Asia and the SA have made contact with the journalists who shared the story.
We need to prepare for a big and very vocal protest but hopefully JC will receive the offer he wants and depart.
- Questions from the floor:
Question 1: Are you are aware that JC recently contacted the Schooner to discuss catering arrangements for next season?
BM: Yes, as far as JC is concerned it is ‘business as usual’ and he has made plans for the next year.
Question 2: Are any of the prospective buyers local?
BM: We can’t confirm anything.
Question 3: What are the chances of seeing the real accounts?
BM: We are pushing for this and this is the reason we signed the NDAs. BM has seen a note of alleged debts - JC thinks debts and bills aren't the same thing so the accuracy of this note is in question.
The league have released some funds from the £200,000 bond to pay HMRC and the former security company. An earlier HMRC order was paid, it was implied the second had been paid and the order was dismissed but that was not the case.
KM: People were worried about the bond being handed back. HMRC don’t care who pays them as long as they get paid - if not they take action.
BM: The point of the bond is to pay bills that haven't been paid. Gateshead Football Club own that money - not JC or RV. HMRC have procedures in place to obtain money owed to them, ultimately ending up with a court case. The security company issued a county court summons. All unpaid debts can result in a winding up order.
BM: Can't say if money has been paid direct to debtors or given to the club to clear their own debt.
BM: The accounts are a concern. Buyers need transparency and have to be aware of all debts. Certified accounts need to be submitted to the league.
BM: The debt to the council has been reduced and the rent is being paid on time. Apparently there is a significant debt to Sunderland and MIddlesbrough however BM has not seen evidence of this.
Question 4: Could we end up with a points deduction?
Panel : Only if we go into administration - not aware of other events/circumstances that could trigger this.
Question 5: Mike Coulson stated in a newspaper interview that JC was being investigated by the FA, is this the case?
BM: We believe there is an ongoing investigation.
Ronnie Spraggon: Treasurer at GFC for 14 years and let go along with the turnstile operators with little notice or explanation. RS wrote to the FA at Christmas outlining his concerns.
RS: Debts can take years to recover from. Hopefully a new owner can steady the ship. HMRC will investigate very closely if they have any concerns.
Question 6: Have you met any prospective owners yet?
BM: We have made contact with 3 parties but not met in person. We are waiting for evidence about the Clubs financial situation. At least one party has visited the club. People have been in touch but we need more information to avoid culpability if the situation takes a turn for the worse.
Question 7: How did JC not know about the existing debts when they took over the club?
BM: I took Tony Carter to meet him as he would be taking the lead when BM on holiday - everything BM discovers is shared with TC. Both understand how people are taken in by JC .
Question 8: Should you be talking to him at all?
BM: We have to take the opportunities we can and he has to show his cards. If JC is wasting people’s time then we protest. If by next week he has done nothing we have proof for the press. We have even had coverage in the national press (Daily Star/Express). We have to talk to him and give him the opportunity to do the right thing and then we can show he is wasting time.
Question 9: Should we have protested to show him we mean business?
BM: We had to take him at his word but the protest will be back on if he has gone back on it. He has publicly started his course of action and if after next week he isn’t doing things properly then the protest is back on.
Question 10: Is there a deadline to see the finances?
BM: Next Friday (March 29th) or protest is back on.
KM: If we didn’t threaten him with the protest he wouldn’t have put the club up for sale.
Question 11: Graham Wood stated a while ago on the forum that the club was up for sale and had been offered to him.
KM: This wasn’t done publicly. It is a different situation to publicly state intention to sell, you are automatically under public scrutiny.
BM: An opportunity arose and we took it. We have kept the pressure on. Press articles are still ongoing. Buyers have been interested since November but there has been no progress as JC won’t share financial information. If no progress has been made by the end of next week the protest is back on. We have had offers of support from fans of other clubs.
BM: We won’t back down again - if the information is not made available next week, the protest is back on. There is no reason it shouldn’t be available unless he is stalling.
Question 12: Whose job is it to do due diligence and how do we know we aren’t selling to JC #2?
BM: Due diligence is the the responsibility of the buyer.
Question 13: Who investigates the buyer?
BM: BM and TC can investigate.
How will you know it isn’t JC #2?
BM: There are trustworthy people we seek advice from.
Do you have the skill set to vet potential owner?
BM: Financially, yes. Less experienced in football credentials but can get independent advice and have already asked for help.
Should we bring people in for support?
BM: There are people we can call on.
KM: We need to be in the position to sell before we bring anyone in to advise.
BM: There are things I cannot discuss, please have patience and trust on this. We have asked a lot of questions already.
KM: People underestimate how much BM and TC have done. They wouldn’t do anything to hurt the club. We need to trust them to do their best by the club.
Question 17: The issue isn’t about their passion for the club it’s about their skill set in negotiations.
BM: I am a managing director of my own company with a high turnover. I have contacts to support me. We don’t want to be involved in ‘JC#2’, we want to see the club is sold to the right people. Left alone, JC will sell to the first person who offers him the money.
KM: BM and TC have expertise and people they can trust - people who do have the skill set.
Where were these people last time the club was sold?
KM: The previous owners wanted to offload the club quickly and did not care who the buyer was.
BM: We can’t comment on the past. We are in a similar situation but BM and TC and keep an eye in things and provide oversight and can raise the alarm if things are not going smoothly.
- Update on working committee.
BM: Working committee met last Wednesday in preparation for open meeting. Items discussed were social events, merchandise and website.
KM on behalf of DK: We have purchased the domain www.GFCSoul.co.uk and DK is in the process of building the site, looking at content and technical issues. It is hoped the website will be ready to launch before our first event on April 6th. Any comments, suggestions or feedback welcome. The website will in time have a merchandise section so orders can be placed online and applications for membership can be submitted.
BM: Dave Allen has done a great job getting t-shirts etc. We hope to acquire a card reader for future events.
BM: Race Night takes place at Saltwell Club on April 6th and an end of season awards night is planned for April 27th at Pelaw Club, hosted by Mark Carruthers. Please use social media to share the events and invite others. A talk in with the Wembley squad is in the pipeline - James Curtis and Phil Turnbull have been approached.
Old Supporters Club:
BM: Ronnie Spraggon informed us that the old Supporters Club bank account is £1800 in credit. This, along with money raised last summer, puts us in a good position from the outset. We have spent some money on merchandise, website etc.
Two versions of the constitution were circulated - very similar in content and approved by the Football Supporters Federation. BM read through constitution and outlined committee roles and responsibilities (document available via website). Comments invited. BM requested a Code of Conduct be added to document (this has been completed). Show of hands requested to approve constitution - unanimous meaning we are now an official organisation.
As the Supporters Club no longer exists we need to change name officially with bank. All in favour of changing the name.
BM explained that positions had been filled by those on the working committee, however if there was any opposition a vote would be conducted
Chair: Bernard McWilliams
Vice chair: Tony Carter
Secretary: Tracie Wilson
Membership officer: Karl McIness
Treasurer: Ronnie Spraggon
Webmaster/media officer: David Kenny
Fundraising officer: Ross Black
Merchandise officer: Dave Allen
Ex pat officer: Neil Pinkerton
Youth officer: Josh Youll
Request for volunteers to join non-executive committee to oversee matters and maintain transparency:
KM added that anyone can join in and we’d welcome any ideas and help. You don’t need to be part of the committee to get involved.
BM: There will be regular meetings that anyone can attend - this isn’t a clique or a closed shop.
A document was circulated with membership information. KM outlined membership (document available on website).
BM: Membership subs allow us to show potential to any new owners and let them know we are serious about supporting the club. Let potential buyers know we want a stake in the club. We need people to donate if they can. Full membership requires a monthly donation - associate membership a one off donation. We are asking for a minimum of £10 per month - if you can give more please do so. If you know any businesses who might like to be involved let us know. We will regularly update balance on website and social media. We are aiming to own a percentage of the club as fans.
KM: Currently we hold no shares collectively as fans. Ideally we need to be the 2nd biggest shareholder to put us in a better position.
BM: We could obtain shares, if existing shareholders would donate their shares to us to help us create a bigger group.
KM: Membership gives individuals more of a say in our club.
Membership forms were available during the meeting and can be obtained from any member of the committee or via the website.
Question - will you be present at the stadium with merchandise, forms etc? Panel: this is something we need to look at but in principle yes.
Question (John Bourn): Can we help team with an overnight stay for upcoming fixture?
BM: This maybe too short notice. However, there was story in the Daily Star (21/3/19) stating that the players weren’t given a pre- match meal but £10 to spend at service station. BM will contact Ben Clarke to ask how much it would cost to feed the players before next away game and we will see what we can do.
RB: This shows how important membership and raising funds are.
BM: Good publicity in the press ‘fans have whip round to feed players’ etc.
Josh Youll encouraged everyone to tweet support to players - the young squad really appreciate it. Also stay behind to thank players.
RB: reminder to visit Mick Thornton Suite after the game as Ben Clarke encourages players to come to see fans before going to corporate so we need show support.
Question: Roy Best asked if there will be concessions for pensioners, unwaged etc?
[Panel] We’d encourage people to talk to us and are open to suggestions. Some people can’t afford a lot and we’d rather have regular income (or a one of payment) and people’s involvement.
Next open meeting: 4 April 2019