The second meeting of the Fans Forum, postponed from Monday 16th December, took place on Monday 6th January 2014 but, due to the ban imposed by the Club, Newcastle United Supporters Trust (NUST) were not there. The minutes of the meeting appeared on the Club website on Tuesday 7th January. It’s ironic that if they had published the minutes of the first meeting as quickly, and as promised on the official club website (the next day, rather than two days later), the excuse being used to exclude NUST would not exist. They have stated in the minutes of the latest meeting that the reason for banning the Trust was “…. not due to its Forum questions or what it had reported, but the timing of its report; breaking protocol that had otherwise been respected by all other Forum members.”
In the weeks before the first Forum meeting 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.
When the question of meeting protocols was considered we were clear that we thought it important that these should cover how the actual meetings would be managed and how everyone should be encouraged to actively participate. It was agreed that if there were confidential issues discussed we would all have to acknowledge the need to respect that confidentiality.
We explained that we carry out regular member surveys and we would be using the views of members to help prepare our questions. We made it clear that we would produce our own report (not minutes) for the NUST website but that we respected there may be times when we would be asked to hold back on reporting confidential issues. There was nothing discussed at the first meeting that was identified as being confidential or embargoed.
There was never an intention on the part of the Trust to issue our report first, it happened because the Club didn’t issue their minutes when they said they would i.e. the next day. Something they have been able to do this time.
Lee Marshall contacted us on the 25th September to say he was unhappy the Trust’s 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. Indeed during this time it was acknowledged that our report was a very fair write-up, but the timing was the problem. Unfortunately the minutes of the second meeting suggest their view now is that the Trust’s report “….had misled the public about what was actually said, and the context.” We have never had the opportunity to discuss with them when their opinion changed from our report being a very fair write-up to being misleading.
At the end of September NUST were invited to meet the two Club Directors to discuss the issues raised by the first Fans Forum but that meeting was cancelled by the Club the day before it was scheduled and our repeated requests for it to be rescheduled have been ignored.
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.
The verbal communication of the ban came fully five weeks after the Fans Forum meeting and less than 24 hours after NUST had released a public statement condemning the misguided and counter-productive ban imposed on NCJ media by Newcastle United. We’ll let you decide whether this was pure coincidence.
Requests to the Club for the opportunity to discuss the reason for the ban and how we can move forward have met with no response and the minutes of the latest meeting is the nearest we have to a written reason for their action. A number of Forum members are reported in the minutes of the meeting as saying that the ban was a harsh reaction by the Club.
Some weeks ago the Football Supporters Federation (FSF) wrote to the Club describing their action as at best disproportionate and at worst entirely counter to the spirit of sustainable, direct communication and requesting that the Trust be reinstated. We understand that the FSF still haven’t had a reply to their letter and now Lee Marshall, Supporter Liaison Officer, has confirmed in the minutes of the second Fans Forum that the Club’s decision on the ban is final.
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.
Since the phone call on 30th October the only direct contact with the Trust has been an e-mail sent by Lee Marshall to Trust Board Member, Peter Fanning on Tuesday 7th January to say that out of courtesy he wanted to draw attention to the minutes of the Forum which he said addressed the removal of NUST.
Whether any fans believe the Trust has done anything wrong or not, the overwhelming view seems to be that the Club’s reaction in banning us, was over the top. Indeed, as previously indicated, we have received the support of the Football Supporters Federation who helped set up the Forum and attended the first meeting. They have written 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.
NUST weren’t represented at the Forum on Monday (6th January) night so we’re not using this report to comment on the detail of what was said but we think it’s important that we make sure Trust members are aware of the efforts we have been making to engage directly with the Club on your behalf. We will be continuing to do that because we believe that engagement between the Club and its fans is important. If they are truly committed to an open process of informing fans about relevant decisions made by the club management and, in the other direction, listening to the points of view of the fans they would recognise the part the Supporters Trust plays in that process. Whilst we recognise that the Fans Forum is one vehicle for doing this it surely should not be the only one and yet since the decision to exclude us we have had no meaningful contact with the Club.
We would encourage you all to check out the minutes of the meeting and form your own opinions about what was discussed.
We will keep members up to date with any future developments.
NEWCASTLE UNITED SUPPORTERS TRUST BOARD
true faith: readers may also wish to consider that the verbal agreement between Michael Martin, Editor, true faith and Supporters Liaison Officer, Lee Marshall at the time of its development to be able to sit in on forum meetings as an independent observer was withdrawn shortly before the first meeting of the Fans Forum.