The second meeting of the Fans Forum will take place on Monday 16th December but Newcastle United Supporters Trust (NUST) will not be there. As previously reported, the Club have excluded the Trust and we think it’s important that we let members know the current situation.
Looking back to the time before the first meeting in September, the Trust had taken a very positive approach and met several times with Lee Marshall, the Club’s Supporter Liaison Officer, to help work through how we could all make the Forum a success. We explained that we carry out regular member surveys and we would be using the views of members to help prepare our questions and we made it clear that we would produce our own report for the Trust website. We also discussed meeting any protocol and confidentiality requirements and confirmed in those discussions that we would be prepared to sign a confidentiality agreement in respect of issues the club did not wish to place in the public domain specifically such things as future plans and initiatives which could be commercially sensitive.
So what about protocols and confidentiality, because a lot has been made of how the Trust have behaved after that first meeting? It was explained by Lee Marshall that the Club would produce minutes of the Forum meetings and they would be posted on the Club’s website. Indeed on the day of the Forum there was a clear statement on the Club’s website saying the minutes of the first meeting would be on the website on Tuesday 24th September (the next day). As it turns out, they didn’t, not appearing until later the next day (Wednesday 25th Sept).
There was nothing discussed that was identified as being confidential or embargoed.
The next day Peter Fanning, the Trust’s representative at the Forum, wrote up his report based upon his notes and how he felt about what he heard at the meeting. The factual points included in his report in no way misrepresent what is recorded in the Club’s minutes of the meeting. It is clear, however, that his report is not unofficial minutes, it is a report of his feelings from the meeting. The report was passed to the Trust’s website administrator and went out on Wednesday 26th. There was no deadline, it just went out when it was ready.
Lee Marshall contacted us to say he was unhappy the report had been published before the Club had issued the official minutes. There followed a series of text messages and a number of phone calls about how we could resolve things. We agreed to a suggested meeting with the two Club Directors at the end of that first week to discuss what they believed to be the problem. That meeting was cancelled by the Club the day before it was scheduled and despite our requests, it has never been re-arranged.
Meetings took place with Lee Marshall in October and we hoped a satisfactory way forward would be found. On Wednesday 30th October Peter Fanning got a phone call from Lee Marshall telling us that we had been excluded from future meetings of the Forum. He was asked for written confirmation of the decisions and the Club’s reasons for, what we believed, was a serious over reaction. To date nothing has been received.
Some fans may perceive the Trust has done something wrong but even if that is the case, the overwhelming view seems to be that the Club’s reaction in banning NUST, was over the top. Indeed we have received the support of the Football Supporters Federation who helped set up the Forum and attended the first meeting. They have written (see FSF Chief Executive Kevin Miles’ letter) to the Club expressing their “concern and disappointment” at what they describe as being “at best disproportionate and at worst entirely counter to the spirit of sustainable, direct communication” and requesting that the Trust be reinstated.
Since the phone call on 30th October there has been no direct contact with the Trust. We have written to the Supporter Liaison Officer asking whether he believes any lines of communication between Club and Trust are currently open to us. We cannot influence their decision to exclude us, it would seem, but that should not exclude a club’s Supporter Liaison Officer from exploring ways to liaise with the only democratically organised fans organisation open to all fans and the biggest formally constituted fans group associated with the Club.
We will not be at the next meeting of the Forum but we are confident that in our absence other Forum members will ask the sometimes awkward questions that need to be asked. We are all fans and the questions we wanted answered at the first meeting about finance, commercial performance, advertising revenue etc. were questions that reflect the genuine concerns fans have about the healthy, long term future of the Club.
The irony in all of this is that on the field we are enjoying a promising run of results. We would want to record our congratulations to Alan Pardew and Tim Krul on their recent awards and the rest of the squad on the great few weeks we’ve just enjoyed. It’s interesting that one throwaway comment made at the first meeting of the Forum was that we can’t expect to compete on or off the field with the likes of Manchester United! It’s a good job the players didn’t understand that.
We will keep members up to date with any future developments.
NEWCASTLE UNITED SUPPORTERS TRUST BOARD
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