Supporters Council - 28 January 2016
Chairman: John Russell
Secretary: John Simpson
Speakers: Ross McArthur, Jason Barber, Mo Hutton, Margaret Ross, Drew Main
1. Welcome and Introduction
John Russell opened the meeting, introduced himself and welcomed the speakers and all supporters.
2. Ross McArthur: View from the Board Room
Ross McArthur first noted the untimely death at the weekend of Pars fan John Coupland, on his return from the match at Peterhead. All present stood and gave a round of applause in honour of John.
As it had been several months since his last report to the Supporters’ Council, Ross said he was delighted that, with everyone at the club pulling in the same direction, DAFC is in a good position on and off the field – but there can be no suggestion of arrogance or complacency as there is still some way to go.
Ross said that he would make no comment about the current or future contractual position of any individual player – only the Football Manager was responsible for making any such statement. However, he could confirm that it is not the Board’s intention to sell any player currently under contract, and there had been no formal offers or expressions of interest in any player, in either the August or January transfer window.
Ross said the Board is looking at all sorts of longer term scenarios although it was extremely difficult to plan for the future – as well as the uncertainty of promotion there is also a possible league reconstruction which would dramatically change the financial landscape, by altering the teams DAFC might expect to be playing against, even if we were to win promotion this season.
Ross said the Board was delighted with the on-field success so far, and by the attractive style of football played. Allan Johnston had made it clear from the start how he wanted the team to play and his well-deserved award as the Manager of the Month in December had been a long time coming – he puts in many extra hours in match analysis of his own team and of opponents. Credit was also due to the backroom staff, and compliments about DAFC’s performances and fitness had been made by other SPFL Chairmen and by Ross County Manager Jim McIntyre.
On the financial side, Ross confirmed that the club is still on track to break even this year, despite the much higher ongoing costs of stadium maintenance, increased squad size and of running a full time First Team and U20 side, plus the contribution to the youth academy. This was being achieved thanks to increased attendances (3447 against 2500 in budget) and season ticket sales (2500 against 1900 in budget) plus revenue from the cup game against Dundee.
However, Ross noted that the level of concessions who walk up to the matches is considerably higher than anticipated. After VAT this means that the average revenue to the club from an admission is only £8.50. The club will seek to ensure that all those receiving concessions are entitled to them.
On the expenditure side, the squad has had to be increased due to the well-publicised injuries, the Sports Scientist post has now been made full-time, and the years of lack of investment in the stadium continue to cause problems – repairs have been needed to the kitchen, the turnstiles, the undercroft and the boilers (which both broke down one weekend.) And a full electrical survey of the Main Stand is being undertaken, which will probably throw up extra costs. On the positive side, increased investment in the pitch is paying off as it is in excellent condition.
Clearly it is vital that the club does better than break even, so that it can build up capital reserves – this will mean NOT immediately spending all the money it has. Clubs of a similar size in the Premiership have far more in reserve than DAFC, and there is no realistic prospect of a bank loan to cover unforeseen expenditure.
What has been tremendously successful has been the club’s presence on social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat). DAFC is the first SPFL club to have Snapchat, and the Facebook statistics are particularly impressive: 33k likes, and in the last week the DAFC messages reached 101k timelines and were clicked on 39k times! The #SPIRIT campaign also captured the imagination and gained public awareness
A professional-looking social media presence is great for the club’s profile and branding, gets news stories out to the public quickly and directly, and generally creates a good vibe. Enormous credit goes to the voluntary work done by Mikey Mlotkiewicz and Craig Brown.
For matchdays, Ross appealed to fans to assist with self-policing where it is realistic to do so – anything which could bring about increased policing costs and/or questioning by the SFA Compliance Officer must be avoided (entering the trackside or field of play, missiles, flares etc.)
Other than that, Ross thanked the fans on behalf of the Board for their ongoing support, and urged them to continue with this, whichever league the club is in next season. This support is vital – there is no major investor on the horizon, the sponsorship opportunities have nearly all been explored and banks will not lend to football clubs. It is therefore the responsibility of all DAFC supporters to keep attending matches (and encouraging others to do so), to use the hospitality and function suites and to keep paying into the Centenary Club Lifeline.
Ross then took questions.
Q. What is the situation with the undersoil heating?
A. It is too expensive to put on in League One. We were prepared to do so for the New Year Cowdenbeath game but there are issues with the pumps and a leak in the tanks, so it is not working. The installer is no longer in business and although with the help of the Purvis Group there may be a short-term fix, in the longer term it may simply have to be replaced.
Q. What has happened to the handing over of the Man of the Match award in the Purvis Suite as part of the Kingdom Club, as the atmosphere has gone very flat post-match?
A. We now have in place this season a match sponsor, who prefer the award to take place in public on the pitch. Also, the Manager likes to keep the players in the dressing room for longer post-match.
Q. How much did DAFC save by closing the NW Stand for the Ross County game?
A. Probably less than £1000, but every financial saving is important. Ross County also shut stands for the replay at Dingwall. All Scottish clubs do this for cup-ties.
Q. Why can’t away fans be in the NE Stand, which would create a much better atmosphere?
A. We would like to improve the atmosphere, but with only a handful of away fans it is difficult. It is a police decision to house away fans either in the Main Stand or the East Stand, and in order to get their agreement to police-free games we have to abide by their directions.
Q. What is the Board’s strategic target for the club 5 years from now?
A. We want to be established in the Premiership, but first we need to earn that right on the field of play. To do that we need to build reserves and a financial platform which will give the manager an adequate Premiership budget. Ross stressed that the financial rewards of Premiership football were far in excess of what could be expected in any other division for a club of our size.
3 Jason Barber: Centenary Club Lifeline
Jason Barber made a sales pitch for two events being organised by the CC Lifeline committee:
Sun 6 March (12 noon): “Time of Our Lives” at EEP with video footage and members of the 2011 championship-winning team. Cost £10, including hot filled rolls.
Sat 7 May (7pm for 7.30pm): DAFC Player of the Year event, in the Glen Pavilion. Cost £20, including food and a drink on arrival. Table for Ten tickets are also available.
Jason then explained that a lot of work had been going on behind the scenes with the CC Lifeline scheme. Stephen Taylor and Ross Lindsay had done a phenomenal job of updating the banking / financial arrangements and membership database, to make them fit for purpose.
Over £200,000 has gone to DAFC in this financial year, as budgeted. However, it has been necessary to rein back a little on the major prizes as there is inevitable natural wastage due to changing circumstances, and not everyone who signed up for the scheme has followed through with a standing order. There were about 1100 applications and about 900 are currently paying £20/month. Letters will be sent to those who did not follow through, encouraging them to do so. It is also very important to get new members, in order to keep the money flowing to DAFC and to keep the prizes attractive.
Jason then took questions.
Q. Are there any other clubs who have similar lifeline schemes?
A. Hearts have a scheme, but it is for lower monthly payments and smaller prizes. Ross McArthur pointed out that the Hearts scheme raises money to pay off the loan from Ann Budge, whereas with the governance structure of DAFC all the CC Lifeline proceeds go straight to DAFC.
Q. How does the monthly draw take place?
A. It is done by a random number generator (Excel is used for this) in the presence of a DAFC Director.
4. Mo Hutton: The Role of the Kitman
Mo Hutton described how when he was 18 and playing football for the Railway Club he first met his predecessor and mentor Joe Nelson (through Joe’s wife Barbara, who was the referee!) Mo expressed his thanks to Kenny Mclachlan, Jimmy Dowds and all the fans who had contributed to the new kit van and its dedication to Joe. He also thanked Ian and Sammi for the help they give him every week with the kit.
Mo said that in his opinion DAFC has the best stadium, the best dressing rooms, the best kit and the best fans in the league. It’s a great place to be.
Mo then showed slides explaining his daily routine, which varies depending whether the training is a single session (Mon and Fri), a double session (Tue and Thu), or a matchday. And even on the other two days Mo has work to do, preparing and laundering the kit.
On training days, Mo’s work starts at 8.45am with buying in the day’s food, and ends at 4.30pm once all the training kit has been laundered (and on double session days there are two sets of kit!)
On matchdays he will be at EEP at 11am for home games, and at an away ground by 12.30pm, aiming to be home by 8pm.
Mo distributed handouts listing the kit needed for every 1st Team or U20 match, ranging from the obvious (shirts) to the less obvious (music). This all needs to be checked out and checked back in again.
But Mo’s work involves much more than just looking after the kit, as he buys and prepares the players’ lunches every day. They have to eat within 20 minutes of the same time every day, and the food is designed to maximise performance, eg lentil/minestrone soup, pasta, chicken & leek, stir fry, cooked meat, cold meat, salads, fruit juice, porridge, cereal, honey, brown bread, cheese etc. On matchdays the players have a choice of fish or chicken.
Mo then took questions.
Q. Who is responsible for the music blasting from the dressing rooms?
A. One of the guys brings in his own music, they don’t like my taste!
Q. Are there any fussy eaters?
A. No, they mostly eat what I make them, although Ben and Faissal don’t eat meat.
Q. Who are the best and worst players you have encountered for attitude?
A. Youssef Rossi was maybe the most difficult.
Q. Who is the joker in the dressing room?
A. David Hutton is probably the main one now, although Ben, Geggs, Paton, even Faissal all think they’re funny. They are a great bunch of lads, everyone mixes in and they stick up for each other. In the past Austin McCann and Kevin Rutkiewicz were funny, and Martin Hardie was excellent – he brought in a boogie box and the day we won the league at Cappielow the Morton directors complained about the noise from the dressing room!
5. Margaret Ross: Fan Representation on the Board
Margaret Ross first gave the history of fan representation at DAFC – there had been two fans nominated by the previous owner to be on the Board at Pitreavie, but they had resigned because they did not agree with what was being done.
After DAFC went through the administration process and was bought by Pars United it was clear that everyone had to pull together, so the Articles of Association of Pars United specified that there would be 2 representatives of the Pars Supporters Trust on the board of PU(CIC), with 1 on the board of DAFC and 1 on the board of PU(EEP). The pathway is that the potential Board Member must be a PST member and must have served on the PST Board.
As a Company Director, each Board Member has responsibilities to all the shareholders (in DAFC’s case this includes the fans), and so must have the necessary skill-set and time to carry out all the statutory obligations and to play a full role in the governance of the company, including attending all meetings and being party to all decisions. Failure to carry out the role properly can bring about civil and criminal penalties.
When the company came out of administration it was necessary to rebuild relationships with other clubs and local businesses, and to show a willingness to play a constructive part in SFA/SPFL affairs. It was also necessary to keep fans up to date, and to manage the teams of volunteers with appropriate rules and procedures.
Things are much more settled now, with each director having a role which fits his/her aptitudes and interests. As well as reporting back (at a high level) to the PST and other supporter groups, Margaret is responsible for the welfare and accommodation aspects of the players, for the volunteer programmes and for general enquiries from the fanbase - ways to improve the club’s accessibility are being considered. She was also the DAFC representative on an SPFL Working Group which drafted a 69-page response to the Government’s “Right to Buy” proposals.
Margaret concluded by saying that fans now have a direct route to the Board and a say in the running of the club if they desire it, and they should approach her if they want anything to be considered at Board level.
Margaret then took questions.
Q. How difficult is it to balance the role as a fan’s representative with the duties of being a company director?
A. There can be some conflict, because not everyone recognises that being the PST Chair and being a Board member are different roles - not everything that is discussed at Board level can be disclosed to individual fans or even to the PST Board.
[At this point, it was announced that, on behalf of the Supporters’ Council, Donald Adamson had donated to wheelchair user Ali Carstairs a DAFC clock engraved with “Lest We Forget”, in recognition of Ali’s determination to attend meetings.]
6. Drew Main: Disabled Access Group – Providing Access For All
Drew Main said that the Disabled Access Group is (justifiably) pleased that a huge number of improvements benefiting disabled fans have been made at EEP over the last 18 months, such that DAFC is now comfortably at the top of the “accessibility league table” as measured by the Scottish Disabled Supporters’ Association.
He explained that his talk would be about two projects that the Disabled Access Group would like to see implemented, to benefit fans with disabilities.
A. Lift to First Floor
The Disabled Access Group was initially set up by the Supporters’ Council to find a way of providing access to the First Floor Suites at EEP for wheelchair users, who are missing out on this element of the matchday experience. Providing access would also allow greater use of the suites for external functions, which are sometimes unable to be booked because no wheelchair access is possible.
The Group has examined a number of different options, but most had been rejected for one reason or another. (EG extending the existing lift system upwards would have had it emerging in the middle of Legends.) Drew used slides and drawings to explain the plans.
Option 1: Internal Lift
This would be located in the corner of the Club Shop, and would go up to the Rennie Suite (which would lose some seating) and down to the Shop level. Modifications would be made to the stadium entrance. For out-of-hours functions it would be accessible from the street and would only go “up”.
Option 2: External Lift
This would be built as a tower from street level outside the Boardroom, emerging into Legends where the DJ booth is. Although an external lift would require planning permission it would be technically simpler as there are so many uncertainties about drilling through floors to provide an internal lift (eg asbestos, beams, utilities etc.)
Either option would allow access to both the Rennie Suite and Legends, as it would be relatively easy to provide ramp access between them, although for out-of-hours functions, extra bar security would be needed for whichever lounge was not in use. It would also be necessary to provide an accessible toilet area, which could be achieved at the east end of Legends (with some loss of seating.)
However, neither Option 1 nor Option 2 would provide access to Charlie D’s, because the stairs between that lounge and Legends cannot be ramped within the regulations. A third option had therefore been considered.
Option 3: External Lift and Skybridge
To provide access to all three lounges, the solution is to provide an external lift tower at the current street level entrance to Legends, with an externally supported skybridge/corridor linking Legends and Charlie D’s, and also accommodating an accessible toilet. This ticks all the boxes, as it would provide wheelchair access to all three lounges, would not affect the seating capacity of any lounge and would be accessible for out-of-hours functions.
Detailed quotes and costings have been prepared for Options 1 and 2 (including contingencies they are each about £45-£50k plus VAT) and the expectation is that Option 3 would need a similar amount to Option 2.
B. Accessible Toilet on Purvis Suite Level
The second proposal developed by the Disabled Access Group is the provision of an accessible toilet on the level of the Purvis Suite. At present, a wheelchair user of the Suite has to plan well ahead for any use of the toilet on the level above, due to the need to get assistance to operate the stairlift.
The plan would be to extend to the east the corridor at the hospitality boxes, modifying the emergency exit and removing some of the concrete terracing. This would allow an accessible toilet to be built without any loss of amenity to any other stadium users. An estimate of £22.5k has been provided by FES Ltd for the whole work.
Therefore, to provide access to the first floor AND an accessible toilet for the Purvis Suite, something in the order of £67k - £70k might be needed. This is beyond what the club can afford at present, and as a lot of the recent improvements to the stadium have been done through the goodwill of tradesmen and building companies it would be unreasonable to ask them to help significantly on projects of this scale. Grant assistance is unlikely as the work is to benefit a commercial company (DAFC) and sponsorship opportunities have largely been exhausted by other projects at EEP. Therefore the only realistic way of getting funds for these projects would be by fundraising activities within the fanbase.
There was a comment from the floor that if the fans want this work done then we just need to get on and raise the money.
Drew then took questions.
Q. Option 3 has not been specifically costed, although it seems to be the preferred one. Is that correct?
A. Yes, it satisfies all the requirements. Technically it is not much different to Option 2 so the costs should be similar.
Q. How are the current arrangements for access to the Purvis Suite from outside?
A. They seem to be working ok. Obviously we are dependent on two pieces of equipment (the lift and the stairlift) which are both aging, so they need to be treated with kid gloves. However, maintenance arrangements are in place for both.
[At this point, and unrelated to the Disability Access Group, Drew took the opportunity to advertise the availability of tickets for the PST’s “Talking Balls” event at 7.30pm on 22 March with Tam Cowan and Stuart Cosgrove. Over 100 tickets had already been sold.]
7. Close of Meeting
After inviting any fan to come forward and get involved with the work of the Supporters’ Council, John Russell closed the meeting.
8. Next Meeting
This will be around May 2016, at a date to be announced.