Another NCM EXCLUSIVE - Interview with Trust chairman (Part One)

By Paul Smith and Gary Moss
Last updated : 22 January 2008

First of all we gather you are an avid NCM message board reader. Is this true?

Yes I keep my eye on the message boards. It has been going a while and it used to be that and the Rivals network sort of in competition. Sometimes it is worth reading some of the things on there, and sometimes it's not. It should be a way that supporters can air the views, and yes we do keep an eye on it.

And of course the subject of the Trust has cropped up a lot in recent weeks hasn't it?

Yes it has!

For those who don't know what the Trust is and do, could you please explain that, and also your role?

We are the majority shareholders and the Trust has got a membership of

Usherwood... Former Turst chair stepped aside
about 1,200 or 1,300 and those members are part of an Industrial Providence Society which is like a co-op society and it is completely open and democratic so you can see all of our accounts and that sort of thing, so there is no closed accounts. Because it is completely democratic everybody gets one vote. There is no point having 1,300 members doing the day-to-day stuff so it is represented by a Trust board and there is about 12 or 13 of us who are elected on a two-yearly basis and people can put themselves forward for election once they are members. Once you have got that group of people then they have to decide which ones do various jobs. I was voted to be chair this year. Keri Usherwood has been around a long time and it is quite an onerous job trying to do this with your family and your normal job as well it takes up time and Keri has decided sadly that it wasn't his intention. I have been around the club and been a supporter for years and a sufficient number of members decided I was the right person and elected me as the chair.

What happens on a day-to-day basis for the Trust, with regards the running of the football club?

On a day-to-day basis we don't get involved on how much the pies are or whether we are going to buy a left back, the day-to-day stuff and running of the club is done by the Board of directors. They make all of those decisions so John Armstrong-Holmes as chairman and the Board - they make the decisions. What we do I guess is set the strategic elements of it and set the tone for what they do. So we try and give a supporters based input so that whatever decisions they make, they think of the supporters, think about what they will want out of things, and so we give them that direction.

You are supporters first and foremost aren't you?

Armstrong-Holmes... Interacts well with Trust
Absolutely. The thing that does annoy me sometimes is that people think we are people with two heads come to take over the club. It is simply not that. We have been here the same as you, we moan and groan and shout at the referee just exactly the same. No different. All it is was that we decided, when the Trust was set up, that why shouldn't we as supporters have a real voice in our club. As I say that is not on a day-to-day basis that is what the board is for and we set the tone. But what we've got I'd say is unique that when you compare us to other clubs we've got people who can ask us questions, 'what do you think of this?' and I sometimes bounce those back off the Board and find out what they want and what they think is the right thing. You don't always get the same answers off everybody because that is not what life is like. But you are getting a true supporters representation into the club at the highest level on a daily basis. I don't know if you have met John the chairman but he doesn't half rattle! I don't know what he used to do with 24 hours of the day but there is ongoing dialogue all the time trying to feed him the supporters' aspirations, hopes and all those into the club all the time. We've got to set the strategy, set the tone, for what the club does for us. That is effectively how it works. People get confused and say we try and run the club but we don't, we don't get involved in the running of the club, as I say, with regards to a left-back or whatever. We try and influence it and give our views on things, but that's what the Board are for.

As representatives of supporters, what are you trying to do to reflect supporters' opinions to the Board?

It is a difficult process because you are not going to get the same answer every time. For instance if you had a vote about who is going to play left-back you'd get five or six different options. But what we try to do is we try to talk to as many people as possible - Trust members and general supporters as well - communicate with them and make ourselves available. The Trust office is open every match day, we've got a website where people can contact us, and ask us questions. Often if they come on the website and ask us questions I'll just ring them back. That has happened two or three times in the last week or so where I have rang people up. Because message boards and written down questions are all very well and good but if you want a proper discussion they aren't fantastic. We are always available here, we've even got directors here on match days aswell. When you actually think about that in the football world to have directors at the club, face-to-face, no appointment necessary, and you can come and talk to a director, tell him what you want, what you think, and it's a real way for all supporters, just like

Draper... Fomrer YTS starred for club in 90s
us, to come and talk. For instance we have the Fans Forum on Thursday and people can ask questions and from that we build communication and find out what people want. From all that you try and push that agenda into the club.

Any examples of where that has happened?

Fairly recently we had two games in a week and we had the ticket reduction for the two games and that's the kind of thing. We thought it would be popular, and we thought it would pay itself back in terms of more people coming and buying things like burgers.

What about the Centre of Excellence?


Well that is another good example. We were disappointed when it had to stop and we were very keen as supporters to get it back. We were brought up with your Tommy Johnson's and Mark Draper's and Leon Best, those kind of players, and we were really keen that we could get something back. So one of the first things when John Armstrong-Holmes became chairman, we had long discussions to say 'are there any ways you could move things around so that we can actually pay for those?' We know there were good financial reasons why it went in the first place. He went away, looked at it with the rest of the clubs Board and they decided they could and that is why next season the Centre of Excellence is coming back again.

So that idea started with the Trust then?

Yes it did. When it was taken away in the first place, we said at the time we were disappointed and we wanted it to come back soon, and when we had the opportunity with John as the chairman we were able to do that. People have talked to us and said 'getting rid of the Centre of Excellence was terrible,' and you build up a feeling from the supporters and you try and push that forward to the Board. Sometimes it can't be done and there are reasons why. It's not just things like the Centre of Excellence though. We had a disabled guy ring in about the disabled toilets under the stands and we put them back in order. I know it is a fairly small thing but I'm trying to show it is not just big strategic things - to that guy it was important.

McParland... Arrival saw the 'Charlie ticket'
On the NCM message board soon after Ian McParland arrived as manager, somebody mentioned the 'Charlie ticket' - and then it was introduced. How did that happen?

We thought 'what a great idea!' So we asked that to the club and that happened. I don't know how many they sold but it was a really good idea, going along the good theme with Charlie and Dave (Kevan) coming back, and so that is another example about how the aspirations of the fans get fed into the club. In a normal situation there is no real room for that to happen, whereas here there is.

As the majority shareholders is it your job to raise the finances because obviously for lower league clubs money is tight and a cash injection could help towards success; so is it your job to get the money to buy the players?

On a day-to-day basis the club Board they run the business, so that is money coming in, it is gate receipts, selling burgers or whatever, money going out for the players and staff. They run that business. What we have done is said to them, as a Trust, we want you to go and do two things. One, make the absolute best of what we have already got because the facilities are already here with the conferencing and banqueting suites - all that kind of stuff - make the absolute best out of them that you can. So the first thing is get as much money as you can from what we've got. Two, look to invest and get people to put money into the club. We aren't shy of getting money coming into the club whether it be somebody sponsoring a match ball or anything. We're open to listening to people investing and actually telling the club 'you go out and get investment, you find investment, you get money into the club.' Because obviously that is ultimately what people want. More money, it doesn't guarantee success of course it doesn't, but it helps doesn't it? Every little helps. In terms of putting pressure on, we've told the club Board sweat the assets that we have got, make the best of them, and go out and find people, ways, companies, whatever it is that can attract people and money into the club.

Do you contact people as a Trust?

Meadow Lane... Awaits investment

We've started to set up like a letter data base sort of arrangement where we can contact people as a Trust and say 'this is how we organise, we are one of the few people that are majority owners in a football club and we think that is a bit different, a bit unusual, and if you'd like to come along to Meadow Lane as our guests then please do we'd live you to come.' Once they are here that is up to John and all the rest of them to try and get as much out of them as they can. Try and exploit the investment opportunities that we put on the table.

Are you looking for investment?

Well, money. One of the things about investment sometimes is it sounds a bit tripe. I know where you are going with the question. There is this myth that

Pavis... Put club up for sale
there is this whole queue of people wanting to throw millions of pounds at Notts County. There isn't, there really isn't. You only have to look back about ten years ago when Derek Pavis left the club and put the club up for sale. Since then the club has been available and in a situation where it looked a real possibility of going out of business. And in that time we've had Albert Scardino as chairman who didn't have enough money, by any stretch, then we had Bhatia and Strang who didn't have any, and since then nobody is knocking on the door saying 'I want to do this.'

What about Haydn Green?

He is incredible.

Legend.

Absolutely, he was a true benefactor. He wasn't coming in with his £3 million saying 'I want to do this, I'll be chairman,' he just wanted the club and supporters to have that. From Haydn and Trust members there is £4 million of extra money gone into the club in the last three or four years. Unfortunately normally if you'd had that and started from a good base you can spend that on a left-back or whatever. Unfortunately we were in such a

Bastians... One of six arrivals under McParland
mess that the money has gone to get us out of the mess. Fortunately now, financially we are in reasonable shape. We haven't got loads of it, by any means, but we don't owe very much either.

Enough to buy a player?

If you actually look since they've come in I think there are six players now that have come in since Charlie came to the club. Lindfield, Pearce, Strachan, Gibb, Bastians and Branston. There are six. I know everyone wants a centre-forward, trust me that hasn't gone away. Charlie and Dave aren't daft, they can see exactly what we can see. They are trying to get a centre-forward and the money is available for them to get that. The trouble is they need to get the right one because we can't have three or four goes at this and can't get it wrong three or four times. We've got to get the right one.

There will be lots more in part two of NCM's exclusive interview with the Trust. In the second instalment Rolley discusses in depth the recent "bids" from Adam Pearson and Colin Hancock. Stay tuned…