Gateshead Soul Fans Open Meeting on 7th March, 2019
Pelaw Social Club

Panel/working committee

Bernard McWilliams, David Gaddess, Tony Carter, David Kenny, Ross Black, Simon Lowery, Tracie Wilson, John Young, Daniel Robertson

Apologies: Karl McIness, Neil Pinkerton

Attendance = approx. 100

  1. Introduction:

BM welcomed and thanked all attending for their support. Recap of last meeting – focus was on improving positivity on social media and focusing on positive results on the pitch. Circumstances then changed including the sale of Fraser Kerr, press interviews with Scott Barrow and Ben Clark, youth players not receiving pay and another winding up order. Change in situation resulted in a change of focus. Working committee have discussed ideas and options ahead of meeting, spoken to organisations, council, MPs etc. for advice and opinion to plan structured agenda for tonight

  1. Previous meeting:

Previously we met 21/2/19 with around 30 fans in attendance. DK mentioned drastic changes we are facing every day and thanked the press in attendance for their coverage of matters. At previous meeting it was stressed that we should not detract from success on the pitch and it was thought that protests were not appropriate at that time. Fund raising ideas were discussed including a talk in with Wembley squad, end of season celebration etc. Also discussed idea of a Supporter’s Trust. The Supporters Club was renamed Gateshead Soul and it was agreed that meeting would take place on a regular basis.

  1. Update from previous meeting:

BM: aim is to work collectively as fans, perhaps forming a trust and work towards part ownership as unlikely we could own outright as a trust at this time. Fundraising initiatives similar to Extra Heed need to be established. Events such as Wembley squad talk in, end of season party to be organised asap

  1. Open to floor:

BM: Apologies from Ronnie Spraggon who has hoped to attend and set the record straight on events concerning him directly. Hopefully Ronnie can join us next time as there is interest in what he has to say.

BM mentioned his discussion with Joe Cala on Tuesday. Following this he submitted a list of questions which have since been answered. Speak to BM is you’d like to read them.

Question 1: Who owns the club house?  Panel unsure as to situation regarding accommodation – in the past players have stayed in a property owned by the club but this no longer seems to be the case. [The questions arose in relation to Joe Cala’s recent comments about not being involved in property]

Question 2: Who finances the academy – if it was independent would it generate more money? BM stated that this was not an issue we could discuss, but it was important that players currently at the academy are paid.

Question 3: What’s the £20,000 bill [subject of the winding up order] for? Panel weren’t able to comment on details but it was stressed that the bill has not yet been dismissed and still will need to paid.  Also, this is in addition to the previous £12000 that was subject to a winding up order.

Question 4: How can we legally expose Cala Corp? DG: the FA are investigating but they don’t move quickly – we need to get organised in the meantime and make feeling known in the right way. BM related what Cala had told him regarding ‘cease and desist’ order issued against him.

Question 5: What attendance do we need to be sustainable. TC: different owners have had different figures. Current attendance is 500 -600, need at least 1000 to maintain current owners plan.

Question 6: Are there any other bills? Panel – yes, stewards bill is outstanding. Lots of different figures have been mentioned by Joe Cala recently and answers are never the same. Winding up order could include other creditors, not just HMRC.

Question 7: Any information on Belper Academy who changed it’s name to Gateshead FC Academy LTD? No more information but stressed its nothing to do with Gateshead FC.

Question 8: Where does Cala live? Panel: we believe at a local hotel.

Question 9: Could we offer volunteers to staff turnstiles rather than Cala doing it himself? Could this help with discrepancies? BM: Adam Kennedy already does this voluntarily and Tracie Wilson looks after season tickets, complimentary tickets and card payments. If Cala is on turnstile on Saturday, please be sensible and don’t react/cause trouble.

Question 10: Ken Richardson commented that Cala requested to meet him regarding his posts on social media.

Question 11: We are talking about raising money for the club but now the Legend’s game is at risk – is that match to raise money for the team? Fans are worried about a boycott of game putting it in jeopardy. Panel : match is advertised as raising money for Gateshead FC Foundation – a charity. Steve Wraith is worried about players receiving payment which has led to uncertainty about the game.

Question 12: Who is Michael de Stefano and what has he to do with our club? BM: Cala said he was an old friend and described him as a character. He has worked on turnstiles and met with directors of other clubs yet he has no official involvement.

Question 13: Is there any truth in £100,000 bid for Armstrong? RB asks if anyone had tried contacting Middlesbrough to find out.

Question 14: Can we demand a full independent audit to find out the truth and give a clear picture moving forward? BM: Cala is willing to show anything to anyone. The governance of the club is wrong. There is no proof of ownership and only 2 full time staff – both doing a good job under difficult circumstances. Cala has offered to meet with fans and we should take this offer up.

Question 15: JY : Don’t boycott games, don’t stop paying – players need support and the money pays their wages. We need to keep turning up until the end of the season.

Question 16: Any suggestions for a famous name to help up out? Steve Wraith suggested – panel remind that he is financially involved the Dunston.

Question 17: Thanks to Mark Carruthers and Scott Gregory who have kept us in the press every day this week – many thanks for the support.

Question 18: Where will any money raised by fans go? What assurances are there it won’t go to the club? Panel : Money will be held in trust until we have new owners in place. Money will not go to club at this time. We will be transparent and update regularly. Looking to set up bank account where current balance will be shared via Twitter. The reassurance is our word that we won’t give them any money. We need to be proactive and get organised and show any potential owners the potential we have as fans to support them. Everyone needs to be involved to make this work.

Question 19: What are the clubs intentions? Panel: to be financially viable and then to develop

Question 20: How many people supported the Extra Heed? Panel: 27. Richard Bennet effectively ended it by saying the money raised wasn’t worth it.

Question 21: Cala allegedly offered to sell Graham Wood the club. Has anyone been in touch with him? RB – how can he sell it when it belongs to Ranjan? Panel has spoken to Graham Wood but he is involved elsewhere at the moment.

Question 23: Where is Michael Williams? Panel: he resigned as a director of Gateshead FC as association was having a negative effect on his own business. [Question asked by Josh Yuell – Tyneside TV. BM thanked him for videos etc and crows gave round of applause].

Question 24: Were the new owners unclear as to true situation? Lots of money has been ploughed into club in past and the club had many creditors. Panel: we knew cuts were needed but lack of communication has raised concerns, concerns which till now have been masked by the performance on the pitch. Austerity is one thing, but our reputation is being affected. Cala has blamed the bond for the financial situation and it was speculated that he doesn’t understand what the bond is and considers a ‘savings account’. Debts have led us very close to playing home games behind closed doors.

  1. Future planning:

Michael Brunskill – Football Supporters Federation:

MB was impressed by our unity and positivity and let us know there are many different avenues and opportunities. Football Supporters Federation and Supporters Direct have merged so there is a lot of experience working with fans to save their club that we can draw upon.

MB outlined differences between Supporters Trust and an Independent Supporters Association and said it is up to the group to decide which is best. The trust is subject to financial regulations, the association can still raise funds and it can also be used to generate respect.

Questions from the floor:

Question 1: What’s the difference between a trust and a supporters association?

MB: They can play the role but a trust is a legal and financial entity. Trusts exist at the highest level (Spirit of Shankley at Liverpool) and can be used to represent fans – it isn’t only about owning/part owning the club. Supporters Association has less hurdles. They are more democratic but there is less work involved. They can still be used to raise money. A trust is more of a safety net in case things go wrong.

Question 2: Suggestion that a Supporters Association before a trust would be better– to build towards a future trust. MB said that transition between the two is easy. Supporters need to build a concerted campaign. There is a lot of advice out there. Survey fans to find out what they think – this promotes membership as well as providing data. Help can be given on who to contact in the FA, with ‘structured dialogues’ with the National League. It shows you aren’t a lone voice and can get support from others.

Question 3: What sort of hierarchy is involved with a trust? MB: usual organisational body – chair, treasurer etc. FSF can help with documentations, constitutions etc. Important to be transparent and get people involved.

Question 4: How can we keep the media spotlight on us? How do we maintain this momentum? MB: Maintain good contacts inside the club and positivity. Stress that monies raised aren’t to ‘plug holes’ in the clubs finances. Share news stories and comment positively. Focus on the good stuff. SFS can introduce us to journalists at a national level to spread word.

Question 5: BM: The Supporters Club in the past led to arguments and the same people stepping up. We can’t go down the same route – this need to be a collective. If you can’t give time, give money if you can. We need to show ambition to potential owners. [BM asked for show of hands of who would be willing to contribute financially on a regular basis].

Question 6: Can current shareholders make any difference? Gateshead FC is a PLC but there are historical shareholders/ Panel weren’t clear on the % of other shareholders but it was very, very low and not enough to hold owner to account. New owner did know there were shareholders when club was sold. MB commented on any future shared ownership – fans don’t buy into clubs run by people they don’t trust.

Question 7: Doe the trust/association need to have a relationship with owners to make it work? MB said no - mentioned Blackpool where the trust was at odds with the owners. Sunderland have a trust working very closely with theirs.

Question 8: Trust v association – is there any difference in terms of your voice being heard by the FA? MB- the FA look to the FSF to ascertain credibility of groups but you are not limited by not having trust status.

  1. Protests

Panel unveiled ‘Save our Club’ banner and posters.

Panel: support the team for 90 minutes and ignore any negatives. Planned protest after the game outside the ground. BM has spoken to council officials for advice on how to proceed. Asked for 12 volunteers to ‘self-steward’ the protest and keep any unacceptable behaviour at bay. Posters will be available for fans and we want a good, loud, vibrant presence after the game. Fans are asked not to use bad language and aim for a positive, peaceful (but noisy) protest directed at owners. Further information will be shared asap.

  1. Fighting fund

A collection bucket was available on the evening for donations to cover costs. Banner and posters covered by TC/NP. Any monies raised will be added to the trust. RB will be providing details of merchandise to raise funds. We have car stickers and Extra Heed merchandise which will be available to anyone making a donation (hopefully also available on matchdays). Anyone who can help with venues for events etc to get in touch with one of the panel.

AOB:

Ian Mearns MP is chair of the Football Supporters Federation and can raise issues in parliament.

Harrogate away Bank Holiday Monday - £18 for the bus to be paid in advance. Contact James Robinson. We’d love to see a large presence at the game – fancy dress theme to be confirmed.

Next meeting: 21st March.