The Argyle Fans’ Trust was pleased to welcome James Brent and Plymouth Argyle FC Board members Peter Jones and Richard Holliday on Saturday 15th September to an open forum meeting where Trust members were given the opportunity to hear updates on the Club’s plans and to ask questions of James and the board.
The meeting, held at Plymouth Citybus Social Club, was well attended by around 60 fans. Tim Chown from the Trust opened the meeting by welcoming James, Peter and Richard and those attending in the room.
James Brent started by giving a current season update. He reiterated the position that the aspirations of the club are to win and be successful. To underpin these aspirations there is a need to satisfy the club’s customers by playing attractive football. The club has, and will always have, an ambition to win. Of course every league club should have this ambition and the majority will clearly be disappointed. While James hopes for success, he does not have a crystal ball from which he can determine where the team will end up.
James confirmed that Carl Fletcher has been tasked to bring youthful talent to the club which, when mixed with more experienced players, will give a stronger, future-proofed team which will be competent to perform well and get promoted. It is not the intention to build a team of journeymen.
James said that everyone has been disappointed by the poor start, but the belief is that the club has a team that can deliver much more. Injuries to a number of first-team players have contributed to the challenge. The aim is to develop a team which is capable of promotion and more. James said that his does not mean that he does or does not expect the team to be promoted this year.
James confirmed that the approach from a financial perspective is to operate a competitive budget and that the club would be developing success rather than buying it outright. He stated that the PAFC Board feels that Carl Fletcher is young, passionate and enthusiastic. They believe that Carl can take Argyle further and achieve promotion. The Board has confidence in the squad and after a shaky start due to injuries, it has improved over the last few games.
James reiterated the Board’s view that there is no reason why the demography of the city of Plymouth cannot support a Premier League team and cited Swansea, Southampton, Norwich and Reading as examples.
James moved on to talk about the new Grandstand and he stated clearly that, to be sustainable, the club needs high quality facilities to attract people and additional income and that was the rationale behind this development. The Board is also proud of the new family stand, which is one of the best in the league. He mentioned that there are of course things that PAFC could do better and that it recognised when it makes mistakes, citing the shirt sizes (snug) and the Torquay away game ticketing priority as examples.
James gave thanks to the Trust for holding the meeting and for supporting the Club and collating feedback from the fan base. He also gave thanks to the staff for bringing the Club back from the perilous position it had been in, to the volunteers for doing so much unpaid work to support the Club and to Chris Webb for his support. His final thanks were for the loyal Green Army and stated that he recognised the stress that supporters had been under.
The meeting then moved on to a Q&A session.
Question to James: Could you please outline the prospective timetable for the new Grandstand?
Answer: The Board intends to consult the community and fans at the end of 2012 in order to put in an application and with a target for work to start in the summer of 2013. The build period for the Grandstand is estimated to be 14 months and will require well planned logistics to ensure that fans are accommodated while this work is underway.
Question to James: Do we struggle to get players due to our geographical location and does Carl have to offer higher salaries to attract the right players?
Answer: There have been occasions when we have lost players due to location. Carl will only take players that are fully motivated and that want to be part of PAFC. There have been occasions when he has taken the decision not to sign players who do not have the right level of motivation and where they are not worth the salary that is demanded.
Question to James: There have been a number of issues reported by people in the local area regarding parking. Is it on the agenda to include an expansion of parking facilities as part of the Grandstand development?
Answer: Supply of parking spaces will go up and these will be in line with the extra demand that the Grandstand will create.
Question to James: What facilities will be available in the new development?
Answer: The consultation will confirm this but it is desired to have a new Club shop, bars and eating facilities in addition to hospitality and banqueting. The aim is to provide facilities that will generate revenue on non-match days in addition to when Argyle are at home. This underpins the goal of having a better sustainable financial position by generating income for the club.
Question to Peter: You’ve left the Club and now re-joined – what’s changed?
Answer: When I was last on the last Board there was talk about development which didn’t happen. I have confidence that James will deliver and that sustainability will be achieved. This is incredibly important and that the Board is not just talk and that it takes action.
Question to James: Regarding sustainability, what gate numbers are needed to break-even?
Answer: We have looked at the attendance numbers across the whole season, allowing for larger and smaller gates. We are confident that are projections are correct and that the revenue from the gate will be on target. We will make a significant loss this year – against a substantial loss last year but this shortfall is funded.
Question to James: When you took over the club there was talk of giving supporters something back by giving them a share in the club. Is this still the case?
Answer: The offer is sell AFT a 20% stake, which is on the table and would mean the issue of convertible loan notes, which can be converted at any time. The shares issued would be ranked the same as ordinary shares. The principle reason for offering 20% in the club is to allow fans to show their support. Any money invested goes into the club and although it does not need this investment it would be useful.
Some people believe we bought the club for next to nothing. That’s not true. The price that we paid for the Club and land was not cheap – we may make money on the development but we overpaid on the land and club.
Question to James: If a player were sold for a lot of money, would the money go to Carl for him to spend on new talent?
Answer: The reason for our strategy in having a youth academy is to strengthen and resource our own team; however we will not stop players from leaving. Half of the proceeds from player sales would go into non-budgeted revenue and the other half would be used for club resources and to strengthen our team.
Question to James and Peter: What plans are there for marketing the club to a wider base?
Answer: The Board is encouraged at the start we have made – the Club Membership sales are up about 30%, which is partly due to the different offerings now available. Things like the family stand and better facilities at the Devonport end are a start. One of the principle challenges is to improve the quality of the football and further enhance the facilities.
The Board has a strategy to build better relationships with city partners – e.g. the University to attract new fans and enhance attendance. We now have 70 Argyle Ambassadors signed up and who will promote the club in their communities.
Question to James: Are there plans to hold the previous Board to account for the issues that the Club faced and would there be any legal action taken?
Answer: We are very much focused on the club now and looking forward. The Administrators should report to the Secretary of State within 6 months of the Club exiting administration. It is not known whether anything will happen and the suspicion is that no action will be taken. Peter Jones expressed the view that the problems that the Club faced were as a result of poor management and that it is not a good use of the Board’s time now to look back.
Question to James: Would you be happy with an ex-director sponsoring a match?
Answer: Ex-directors are welcome as fans, however it is the view of the Board that to sponsor a match there must be contrition shown to the staff. The club board has discussed this issue with respect to Tony Wrathall. While Tony can pay £20 and attend as any other supporter, I would not be keen on him sponsoring a match until contrition has been evidenced.
Question to James and Peter: What is the intention behind having both the PASB and the Argyle Fans’ Trust?
Answer: The PASB has been created as the Board wants every Club Member to have a vote and it gives a voice to those fans that don’t want to pay £10 to join the Trust. Therefore we believe that the PASB enables better representation of fans. The Trust is admired and the view is that the Board would be happy for the Trust and PASB to potentially become one body at some stage.
Question to James: What did you do on Saturdays before Argyle? You’ve said before that football was not your favourite sport.
Answer: I went to a school where football was the key sport, but I thought it was for cissies and decided to play Rugby. When I changed schools I was doing a lot of running and I was fit and then persuaded to play football. When I was asked what position I’d like to play, I thought that standing between the two posts would be best. I asked what I was allowed to do and was told that as long as I got the ball that was OK. When I played my first game in the first five minutes I went for the ball but hit the other guy quite hard and got a red card!
I enjoy when Argyle win and I’m sad when we lose.
Meeting Close: Tim Chown closed the meeting by thanking James Brent, the PAFC Board and the fans for attending.
After the meeting James confirmed that there is budget to bring in loan players, the number of which would be determined by the wages paid and the length of the loans.
Finally, the Trust thanks its Secretary Linda for taking the notes and Gill from GreensOnScreen for taking the photos.
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