Read in full, Julian Tagg, chairman of Exeter City FC's speech to the Supporter’s Trust AGM on October 27, 2018.
My remit for this speech is to report on last year. I will also comment on the progression to date of all four aspects of our club. In short, the function of both Trust and Club boards, as well as the football and the Academy, with mention also of our charity arm CITY Community Trust.
There have been some changes and additions to the club board, which, I believe, will ultimately mean a stronger, more-focused board. This has been defined and brought to fruition by work done throughout the year by the governance group led by Terry Falcao, with input from both boards.
With no blueprint to guide us, and with two out of the four trust-owned clubs currently up for sale because they cannot see a way forward through their own model, the necessity for our two boards to find a cohesive and dynamic approach to the significant challenges our club and our model faces daily is imperative.
I believe excellence is achieved by chain link systems. One broken link stifles and often kills. The need is to continually evolve so that we can not only hold our own within our industry but also be a realistic competitor. I welcome the survey which has been undertaken by the Supporters’ Trust. We need to take on the challenge and look outwards toward all our fans, of all ages, genders and ethnicities and avoid the temptation to look inwards , that is the challenge. ‘Avoiding failure short term inevitably leads to long term failure’.
Advantage is most often rooted in difference, we at this club are very different and we must find ways to amplify and exploit that.
Entropy is dangerous. It’s defined often as lack of order or predictability which gradually declines into disorder, or sometimes as measurement of the energy in a system or process that is not available to actually do work. It’s something we should understand address and, wherever possible, eradicate.
This is my opportunity to thank all those that make up the club board. Whilst it’s most definitely a privilege to be a part of, it is time consuming, it is difficult, and it is hard to live with the criticism, let alone the responsibility. But I have to say every individual on that board remains dedicated and focussed, debate in that room is rigorous, direct and challenging, believe me there is no easy ride for anybody. Exactly how it should be. It’s still far from perfect and it will always be a work in progress, alongside the need of every corner of our club to adapt and evolve. Suffice to say those individuals are owed a lot, by me specifically, and certainly by all those they represent.
Our financial director Keith Mason remains committed and dedicated to the club and continues to strive to improve all aspects of the club’s financial planning and process. He is trying very hard to retire from his other commitments, something I fully empathise with, and whilst that has proved difficult, made even more so by his own daughter making additions to the family, those factors have made his life and time availability challenging to say the least. I am, however, confident that he will improve our club yet further as his time commitments change and I take this opportunity again to thank him for his efforts.
The staffing behind the scenes at the club continues to evolve. Alan Hay with responsibility for match day ticketing, as well as retail, is an excellent addition and has improved the contact and communication in these areas significantly. The social media team under Scott Palfrey, as can be seen by all, continues to excel. There is no room for complacency and the opportunity to further improve remains constantly under review.
The rest of the backroom team, led by Justin Quick, who must get a mention at this point for his sterling time consuming work on the development on top of his day job, remain pro-active and progressive. Whether it’s the whole team working together to run a recent big event at the university - no matter what your opinion of the ‘headline act’, it was impressive and lucrative - or whether it’s the massively improved cohesiveness and co-operation and daily teamwork between media, commercial, finance, operations hospitality, retail, match day and conferencing, it’s great to see the camaraderie and progress.
Alongside, and a significant part of the aforementioned team, are our Grecian Groups and our army of volunteers. Their numbers are growing, their importance to the club is growing and the value they bring to the club is as enduring as it is immense. It’s what makes us different.
PLAYING ASPECTS AND MANAGER
Last season, lest we should forget, produced a long-awaited run of magnificent home form ending with a tremendous victory over Lincoln City, but a disappointment at our second home in London. It also saw the development and sale of Ethan Ampadu and Ollie Watkins, departure of a young Jordan Storey and a sale of David Wheeler. Those elements alone, by any club’s standard are a pretty impressive season and all involved, from the Academy’s youth production line, to the Board, for sanctioning a spend of £100k to obtain Jayden Stockley, to the manager of the time and his staff, all deserve tremendous credit.
We should take a moment to give ourselves a pat on the back, but before the euphoria goes to our heads, a word of caution. My constant fear is the downside of that euphoria and the fact that the recent windfalls from Watkins, Wheeler, Amapadu and Storey, which are in excess of £4 million, are already accounted for in order to keep a competitive playing budget at around 12th to 13th in the league for the next two years.
With the club board moving at lightning speed, not a phrase often applied to ECFC, the transition from a manager of 12 years who, love him or loathe him, did a great job for our club, to another ‘one of our own’, who was promoted from within and has hit the ground running, was smooth, even though I say it myself.
Football is not a linear event and the measure of any club and its fans, and actually I believe all aspects of life, is how we react and behave in adversity. If there is none during Matt’s stewardship he will be the only manager in the history of football to achieve that. Should he continue as successfully as he is now then the danger is that we shall soon face another succession plan conundrum.
If the club moved, for once, at lightning speed appointing Matt Taylor then so did Matt himself. With a somewhat decimated boot room he quickly, quietly and efficiently pulled together a team who have gelled, the current league position is proof if ever needed. Dan Green, yet another home grown Exeter boy, has earned his passage and marched through the ranks from YT, to coach, to under-18s coach, to securing and excelling in his new under-23 coach position.
Overall it is great to be able to report that the integration between the Academy, Football and CCT grass roots programmes, is much improved. Co-operation and communication but most importantly the general atmosphere in the workplace at the Cliff Hill training ground, the Fountain Centre and into the club’s backroom has never been better.
The Academy has undergone some significant change. Arran Pugh and Wayne Carlilse have done a fantastic job and have been supported with much help and guidance from Richard Hodgson, previously of the EFL and the FA. He has worked with the ATB for some years but has recently stepped up involvement to help and guide the huge and complex audit requirements and ongoing academy development.
The recent ISO external independent audit put a massive amount of pressure on the whole department, and whilst the auditor, who we met for a three hour debrief in London, would only say that we were in the top three of 38 Category three clubs, he further relayed that he himself had audited 16 clubs, and was happy to tell us that we were the best he had inspected. That, if you even had half an idea of what it takes to complete that audit, is high praise indeed.
In terms of the production line it is and has passed any possible expectations, but we are not churning out sausages here. There will absolutely and inevitably be periods of fortune and famine. It’s not a conveyor belt, often the success comes, as recently, like buses all at once, then there are periods where you stand in the cold and rain often for some time – 2013 to 2016 as an example. We continue to work ever harder to maintain the standards, many of which are ever increasing and statutory in order, to progress.
DEVELOPMENT: STAGECOACH Adam Stansfield Stand
Whilst I have made brief mention of the terrific work Justin has been doing it would be remiss not to wax lyrical about David Lee who has achieved the impossible, at no risk and at no cost and on time. That in my view is not a plaque or a gong, more like a knighthood!
It’s been a long time coming, there is credit everywhere across the club and Elaine Davis and the Supporters Trust History Group should also get a mention for their excellent contributions.
The directive from the fans that they wanted to complete the away end was a great call. Financially this aspect has cost us quite significantly but it was absolutely the right thing to do. I used to avoid going down Well Street and St James road because I was so embarrassed by the corrugated monstrosity of a so-called fence around our ground.
Now it’s different, I find excuses to walk or drive that way and sometimes I just stop and look. I, and I imagine all, are massively proud of this achievement and will be eternally grateful to those that facilitated it. The naming of the main stand is something we should thank Stagecoach for and for allowing us to add Adam’s name is as remarkable as it is commendable. A word of concern, if it becomes the Stanno and not the Stagecoach it won’t be long before we lose a significant faithful and significant financial sponsor.
Turning to the away end itself, bought from Barnet with very few miles (or fans) on the clock, the naming rights will soon be on the agenda. Speculation as to what that might be have unleashed some great comments from our often comic genius fans. My vote for their suggestions at this point is that we should definitely be considering calling it the Dodgy Barnet Stand.
CITY Community Trust
Last year Football In The Community changed its name to CITY Community Trust in order to gather not only those that know it as the charity arm connected to the club, but to involve, enthuse, educate and galvanise the city as a whole to support our charity and the work it does to directly address the problems of Greater Exeter.
The initiative is, without any doubt, working positively and recognition of what is being achieved, bearing very visually the name of the club is beginning to resonate not only in the corridors of the city and county council but very much so into local business who are becoming ever more pro-active with us. We are also seeing the ‘fan and the man in the street’ signing up to run, ride, swim and cycle in our name to help us address the massive health and wellbeing problems, re-offending issues, disability inequalities and a mountain more that our CITY and the country faces.
I should make special mention of the NCS (National Citizens Service) programme. It is run, start to finish, top to bottom, by your CITY Community Trust. Jamie, Scott and, in this case Danny, being the lead are as dynamic as ever and a recent initiative borne out of that programme saw the students, only this summer, tripling donations to the foodbank via a simple donation idea at Sainsburys. A proud moment for us all.
There are some aspects that need clarification about the position regarding the building known as OTR, or the Centre Spot to some, St James Building to others.
Everyone should be very clear. The rent paid to OTR by the club goes directly to pay off the loan taken out to build and fit out the building at the outset. It should be made equally clear that the directors by the rule of the mem and arts cannot, do not, and have not taken, nor been allowed at any point to take one penny over the past 20 years from OTR Ltd.
The loans, which were placed 20 years ago are completely interest free. Recently on retirement Steve Perryman asked if his interest free £30k loan could be repaid. The club decided to buy, at par, Steve’s share. It also magnanimously asked if I would like my £15k bought out at the same time. I gratefully accepted and my £15k was returned. When I put it in to help the club in 1999 it would have paid for a deposit on a house last year when I got it back its barely enough for a deposit on a new Range Rover!
Finally it should be clear that the M&A’s also say that the club can demand its ownership by payment at par (ie only loans outstanding no interest nor dividend) whenever it wants. It’s something that is currently being looked at in the round by club and Trust. I hope that clears it up once and for all but, somehow, I doubt it…
WHAT NEXT CURRENT POSITION AND REVIEW
I won’t repeat the list I outlined last year, but whilst we are currently in rude health, an immense challenge, if we are to compete at any level, remains.
The information I am relaying now is no different from that delivered last year. It is human nature to associate current success with recent actions and although it should be evident that the current plenty that props us up now is harvest from planting done many seasons ago some might believe otherwise. The question is what happens if, well actually when, that windfall does not repeat. Inertia is a dangerous place and is often defined as “an organisation’s unwillingness to adapt to changing circumstances”.
Examples of aggressive progression are all around us, underlined perhaps most recently by Salford, but also by so many others in our league, the league above us and of ever more concern, the league below us. The club was here long before any of us arrived, but now it is our responsibility and we must find a solution or, although it may sound melodramatic, if we don’t we fade and die.
Finally on a personal note I won’t last for ever and, as I am always keen to make clear, I will not stand in the way, of any change that is the will of the ownership especially as I am well aware that at some point, it remains a Trust objective to hold the Chairmanship of the club.
That day, and it will come, will be a sad day for me, but at this point my focus is to continue to develop the Academy, strengthen the club and build on our fantastic external partnerships with business and local authorities and their trust in us, as well as extend and improve the work and reach of the CCT, and of course to develop the club as a whole.
There is much left to do and to achieve. Overwhelming statistics illustrate that we are light years from where we started and remain progressive on all fronts but complacency is the enemy. I love a quote and Disney’s quote is one of my favourites “we’ve seen the enemy and he is us".
So in case it’s someone else delivering this speech next year thanks to each and every one of you for your magnificent efforts and dedicated support of the club, and me as a part of it for the past 15 years in the boardroom, well for now anyway!
Up next at St James Park:
City take on Oldham Athletic on Saturday, April 27 in a 3pm kick-off. Ticket prices are cheaper in advance. Click here to buy online.