Please note: These notes were made by Blackburn Rovers fans from shorthand notes taken by someone present at the meeting. They are in no way meant to be injurious to the club that we love; they were produced merely as a response to fellow supporters asking about an ‘invite only’ meeting they either were not aware of or could not attend or they physically are unable to gain access to the recording made by Radio Lancashire via the web. Grammatical errors that occur during natural colloquial spoken English have not been corrected so as to retain authenticity.
I speak on behalf of most individuals who will read this but i would like to personally offer my thanks and gratitude to the wonderful supporter whom not only took the time out to attend but write short hand notes and then prepared these minutes over the last few days showing it is able to be done properly, i for one whilst the person wishes to stay anonymous would like to thank them!
The Bi-annual Meeting with Fans at BRFC, 30th March 2017
Paul Senior: Director of Footballing Operations,
Mike Cheston: Finance Director
Tony Mowbray: Head Coach
and representatives of various fans’ groups (invitation only)
A summarised audio broadcast of the event is available here
Andy Bayes: Due to time constraints this meeting will be edited prior to broadcast tomorrow night. So if you listen to any of it tomorrow and you think, ‘Why was my question edited out?’ we’re really sorry but we have time constraints and we have to make sure that we abide by those. We would insist as well this evening that this evening’s event is being recorded by Blackburn Rovers and by the BBC. If you have no other permission which has been arranged prior to audio record this event from Blackburn Rovers we ask you not to do that this evening, please. Is everyone aware of everything before we crack on?
Fan: The BBC broadcast aside, this is being used as the minutes for the meeting, I understand. So is there an unedited version that’s going to be available on the Blackburn Rovers website?
Mike Cheston: We will probably go with the version from tonight from Radio Lancashire
Fan: The edited version?
Mike Cheston: Yes.
Andy Bayes: Ok. Everybody happy before we start? The one thing I want to make sure we do this evening is - everybody has sent in questions who would like to have various questions addressed tonight - those will be addressed. We will also have an opportunity to get around if you have a question but we are only here till 7.30. So if we cannot get every question asked, again, apologies to you for doing so but we will get through as many as we can tonight from the floor. If you leave this room tonight thinking, ‘I wasn’t given one opportunity,’ then that’s my fault because I want to make sure that as many of you in this room get to ask at least something - if you haven’t already asked it on the agenda notes there in front of you that have already been sent in to Blackburn Rovers.
I’d like to start this evening with Mike Cheston who is going to have a presentation for you.
Agenda Item 1: Welcome & Presentation by Mike Cheston & Paul Senior
Mike Cheston: I do want to start the meeting with a statement from the owners:
(Audible sniggers, sighs and groans at some points as this was read out.)
“Unfortunately we are unable to attend tonight's Supporters Meeting, however we recognize the value of these consultations and we look forward to receiving feedback from the event.
The views of the fan base are very important to us and will be taken on board in the best interest of the club There's no hiding from the fact that results this season haven't been good enough and we are well aware of the alarming position we find ourselves in the table.
However, in manager Tony Mowbray, we believe we have found someone who is the best fit for the club at this time.
Recent performances and the seven-match unbeaten sequence since Tony took charge have been extremely encouraging and we are pleased to hear that he has the full support of the playing squad, staff and supporters.
This togetherness will be crucial as we look to achieve our short-term objective of ensuring we remain in the Championship next season.
Tony is a very focused, driven and experienced individual, who has a track record for success in this division, and we look forward to seeing where he can take the team in the future.
Finally, we hope that you have an enjoyable evening, and take plenty from it, and thank you once again for your continued and loyal support.”
I have prepared a short presentation which I’d like to take you through.
(Mike asserted during this presentation that the slides would be available on the club website on the Monday following this meeting.)
And the first item is this:
(Slide 1: Current League Positions of 1st team, U23, U18 and Ladies)
As you know the first team are currently lying in 22nd position on 40 points. There are 6 teams within 5 points of us and 3 teams within 1 point of us. We have given ourselves a good chance of remaining in the championship.
The under 23s are in 7th. The under 18s are in 4th. The Ladies team are actually unbeaten and actually won the league at the weekend so congratulations to Gemma Bailey and the team.
(Slide 2: Academy Statistics)
I showed something similar at the last presentation. This shows the Academy developed players that have appeared in the first team.
(Mike explained a colour coding to show league starts, league appearances as sub, cup starts, cup appearances as sub.)
There are 8 different players with a total of 126 appearances be they starts as sub or appearances from the start. This compares to 75 the whole last season. There has been much more academy player involvement this year than last year.
(Slide 3: The Community Trust)
We have undertaken over 42 000 engagements with local people, worked for over 27 000 hours in the community and have increased our turnover from approx. £834 000 to £1.1 M in 2016. 10 300 children between 5 and 11 have been involved in our sports activities. We have worked with 62 of the 69 Blackburn with Darwen schools since Sep 2015.
(Slide 4: More on The Community)
‘BRFC gained an award for being ‘Family Club of the Year’ recently. We have links with Blackburn College, Blackburn Council, Blackburn Youthzone.’
(Slide 5: Profit and Loss and Slide 6: Financial Results)
(A slide showing a summary from the accounts year ending 30 June 2016: details of the balance sheet, parent loan and overdraft.)
Turnover has been constant at 22 Million. The overdraft has remained constant. The loss before player trading was £15M as compared to £18M the previous year. Net liabilities hve fallen slightly from £75M to £73M. FFP compliance has been achieved and Category 1 status for the Academy has been achieved. I think we will achieve FFP compliance again at the end of this season.
Thanks you for this I’d now like to introduce you to Paul Senior who would like to say a few words.
Paul Senior: First and foremost, good evening. Thank you everyone for coming out this evening. It’s so encouraging to see so many fans here to attend such an event. I’ve been privileged to attend these types of occasions at other clubs and to see this one so well attended tonight – it’s really encouraging. There are a lot of people here who I’ve had the fortune to have already met during my time to date at the club. Obviously a few other people I haven’t seen before but , again, everyone is welcome and it’s good to see so many people here. I haven’t got a presentation because the matters that I was going to present are going to be picked up during the evening. I have seen the questions that have come in and rather than duplicate anything, I think we’ll tell the story once and get those key points over. Obviously there are key areas, such as recruitment, plans for the summer and the selection process and many other things. So let’s go into the substance of the session and pick those key points up then. So thank you all for being here tonight. As I say, it’s really good to see so many familiar faces who I’ve had the fortune to meet already. And for those who I haven’t – again some new faces – thanks for being here tonight.
Andy Bayes: Thank you, Paul and can I just add – we have got two microphones which can move and come around to you this evening for you to ask your questions. We have already had questions in. Can I please politely ask if there is no microphone around you, please don’t be shouting out questions when other points are already being made - it doesn’t make for constructive conversation, folks. If you’ve got a point to make, please keep your hand up and we will come to you. You’ve no need to grab the microphone out of my hand. I’ll hold the mic for you, no need to worry about that and we will hear you.
We’re going to start with a question from NY Rovers who say they’d like more transparency at the club and details of who performs which roles.
Mike Cheston: Starting with myself, I am a Director, I am responsible for Finance, HR and IT systems, with the recent appointment of Paul Senior as Director of Footballing Operations - he obviously oversees all the football operations as well as the operations at the stadium, Suhail acts as the and the point of contact between the club and the owners. I think they’re the three main people and Robert is a Non-executive Director, who assists the club from time to time.
Andy Bayes: We would like to know, from the Ewood WMC, the recruitment process. If I could put this to you, Paul Senior, people would like to have a little more information on the role that Suhail Pasha has at the Football Club; the recruitment process and issues surrounding Owen Coyle; the succession planning that the Football Club has.
Paul Senior: That’s a good question. In terms of the role of Suhail - I think Mike has pretty much covered that. In terms of Mike’s role in complementing the management structure that we have – in an advisory role, working with the owners. With regards to the Owen Coyle… Looking back, obviously I wasn’t here at the time Owen was appointed but I do know that a criteria was drawn up with regards to the recruitment process and what was essential for the club in making a decision on a manager and the club went about interviewing various folk and came to the conclusion that Owen was the appropriate fit at the given time. With regards to Tony - I think we’ll all agree – I think it’s been a positive appointment and I’m quite happy, when I look at Tony’s appointment, that it seems to be working out so far. Early days, my work was very much to - once the decision was made that we were going to go in a different direction – to draw up a criteria, based on what we were looking for in terms of: ‘Did we want a Manager, Head Coach whose teams played in a particular way, who can organise the teams in a particular way, who can educate the players: a Coach/Educator as opposed to a Coach/Trainer, a Manager who fitted our profile personality-wise as well as quality?
So once that criteria was drawn up, the owners were quite happy with that, I then went about a process of having conversations with potential parties that could be suitable or a good fit for us. I’ll be quite candid: the first person I met was Tony and the last person I met was Tony and I think the rest is history.
Andy Bayes: Another point that’s been made, Paul, is your role in the recruitment of players and in terms of the relationship between you yourself as the Director of Football Operations and the Head Coach.
Paul Senior: Well the relationship when it comes to the recruitment of players at the Football Club and between Tony and myself is an important one. Fundamentally, Tony is the lead professional at the Football Club for the first team. He will define gaps or priorities for recruitment in terms of positions, not necessarily players – and Tony may have his own views on players - and then we have a recruitment team, a scouting team who will draw up the short-list of players. Our role is to be very clear on criteria. So it might be pace, power, 1 v 1 dominance if it’s say a particular position.
I have to look at it from a financial perspective in terms of to see what market we can operate in, so we set the financial parameters and then we think about personalities. So those are the 3 key areas in terms of cost, quality, personality because it’s important that we only bring the right personalities into the Football Club who can complement what we have; as opposed to there may be a player out there who really could improve the team but if the personality is wrong and they’re a ‘bad fit’ for what we have, they might not be a ‘good fit’ for Blackburn Rovers. I only want to bring players to the Football Club who are actually going to be hungry and have desire to actually play for the shirt, actually, as opposed to potential players coming from the Premier League, career on the way down; as opposed to I want players with ‘upside’ and their careers are on the way up, who are hungry and they want to come here; as opposed to seeing us as a meal ticket, or if you like that last big contract. So upside is important.
But coming back to the question of the relationship between myself and Tony, ultimately any player coming to the Football Club - it’s important that Tony has ownership of this decision because Tony has to be able to motivate these players and get the best out of these players. Those players – any player coming into the club – needs to know that the Manager has had ownership of that decision. Otherwise why are they going to respect the Head Coach or the Manager, if they feel that they’ve been ‘bumped’, they’ve been brought in? I’ve been at Football Clubs where things like that have happened and you’ve all heard the horror stories of players being forced upon the Manager or the Head Coach – it doesn’t work. It doesn’t. Ultimately, if I’m skilful enough at my job, then all decisions on player recruitment will be ‘co-produced’ and co-owned.
Andy Bayes: The Fans’ Forum have sent a question in regarding this area Mike Cheston: they state that: ‘We know that Mike is in charge of financial matters, Paul looks after the football side of things and Suhail, as we’ve heard, acts as an intermediary with the owners. But who is considered the Senior partner and where does the ‘buck stop’ at Ewood Park?’
Mike Cheston: We all work within a budget and parameters that have been set down to us by the owners so within those parameters we have the authority to work according to our respective responsibilities. There are certain decisions that we have to defer to the owners: some of the major expenditure items (things like new manager, the key appointments, things like that. So we make our recommendations and then the owners make the key decisions. And in keeping with a lot of organisations where you have an owner managed company, it’s very typical where even Robert had the same relationship with Jack Walker. From time to time Robert knew that he would have to speak, to get permission from Jack Walker to do this or that.
Andy Bayes: We just have a quick question here. If you are addressing the panel, could you give us your full name before you do, please, then the gentlemen know who they’re speaking to.
James: Yes, I'm James. A question for Mike and Paul, really, it’s a simple part of responsibility – you must have someone you report to, I’m assuming on behalf of the Venkys? I’m just looking at the accounts that were published, though – the only directors named: Mike Cheston, Finance Director, Gandhi Babu and Rob Coar. So from those three I’d imagine those are the ones who’ve been tasked with responsibility? But what about Suhail – obviously you say you’ve been working with him Paul - yourself as well – acting as a coalition but where does the buck actually stop with these three?
Mike Cheston: As I’ve just explained we have a certain amount of delegated authority to make decisions and obviously we take responsibility for those decisions. And then from time to time we make recommendations to the owners and we follow the recommendations that they come back with. We believe that we’ve got the confidence and delegated authority from the owners to be able to do that and that’s how it works.
Andy Bayes: Another question down here.
Mark Fish: A quick one, Mike, it’s Mark Fish, Chairman of the BRFC Action Group. Just listening there that you just said you take responsibility. You sat in this room six months ago and told us that Owen Coyle was the stand out candidate. You’d put three names forward and none of them were as good as the person who was chosen for you. So you choosing was worse than what we got – and that was awful. Does the buck stop? Are you going to take responsibility and walk away from this football club? Your appointment for this Football Club has been diabolical. We’ve just seen there that we’ve done £30 million and the loans has gone up under your watch as Finance Director. You’ve been worse as Managing Director, there’s no communications for supporters, we don’t get to talk to anybody at the club anymore. All this has happened on your watch. When are you going to walk away because you’re the most unpopular Director at this Football Club and we’ve had some bad ones?
(Audible applause from some fans)
Mike Cheston: Well, you would expect me to obviously respond to that and as I said last time, you’re entitled to your opinion. I have been appointed by the owners to do a job. I’ve demonstrated an improvement under financial results in the time here. Also when I arrived we were not FFP compliant. I’m not going to take full credit for that – there are a whole number of other people that were involved in that. I was appointed by the owners. I believe, as I said last time, that I’ve got the support of the staff who see the issues that we face, which have been very challenging at times. And obviously I’m managing a new relationship with the owners, the supporters and the staff very difficult times. In many ways we’ve made progress. In many ways the club has performed very well and I’ve drawn attention to some of the achievements that have been made. Clearly there are areas of disappointment but we’re working very hard to resolve those.
Andy Bayes: We’ll take one more question. Paul Senior would just like to make a point as well.
Paul Senior: Just following on from Mike’s comments, since I’ve joined the club in January, as Mike has alluded to, he’s responsible for the areas of Finance and IT and I pick up all the other departments, whether that be the footballing department or whether that be all the other operational stuff such as Commercial, Hospitality, Security and all the other elements. So between us, if you like, on a daily basis we are the Directors charged with managing the football club and making best efforts to take the club forward. So we have other folk who work with us. Obviously, Rob as a Non-executive Director, brings great challenge and support to our work. There’s a great deal of experience and expertise that Rob brings to the agenda but fundamentally we can’t look back too much. I appreciate there are some sensitive topics looking back but we can’t control looking back but what we can do is influence going forwards.
Andy Bayes: We have a lot to get through, Ladies and Gents. We’ll take one more question on this area and then we must move on for now.
Savio: A question for Mike: You described Owen Coyle as ‘the outstanding candidate’. The thing is, before you employed him, did you actually look at his win record at Bolton, Wigan or Houston because his win ratio was awful. What makes him the outstanding candidate?
Mike Cheston: Well, we went through the criteria at the time. The criteria were many and various. Yes, we did obviously consider his previous record. As a collective we made recommendations to the owners and Owen was ultimately appointed. A number of managers we might have liked but certain criteria we could not meet. And others did not want to join the club for whatever reason. So we did go through an exhaustive criteria process. A number of people were involved, recommendations were made and the appointment followed.
Andy Bayes: Thank you, Mike. To move on to the next part of the agenda, it’s all about Communication and the New York Rovers are asking for an improvement in communication: Can the club commit to providing regular and honest updates on Blackburn Rovers’ current situation? They say much of what comes out of the club is almost comedic and it ignores the way supporters currently feel. Can I put that to you, Paul Senior?
Paul Senior: Communications is an essential component and we communicate with our fans, our community. I understand that the club have just won the ‘Club family of the year award’ which is fantastic recognition and a fantastic endorsement for a lot of hard work going on not just in the community but with our fans. One of the key essential criteria for that award is communication. I think whilst there may be some disquiet in the way things have been communicated – and I understand that, I’m not going to try and sugar coat things – but there must be some areas that potentially must be working OK. With regards to that we have had a number of Fans Forum events as well. There are folk here today who have attended those meetings which I understand is a representation of the various groups, where these meetings are due to take place on a regular basis every couple of months. It is a really effective communication mechanism and I have had the fortune to attend one of these meetings which is a really good communication forum. And there was another one a couple of weeks ago, I understand, as well. So we’ve those in place and also we’ve these events, these events that are due to take place twice a year, so in terms of communication, consultation, ensuring that the views of our fans and key forums are of this nature inform, shape and design, going forward. So there is some good stuff going on. Obviously we’re not saying it’s perfect and I’m not advocating that. However, and I’ll be very clear, to remove the potential for any doubt, by comparison with other clubs, there’s clearly some good stuff in place on the back of receiving that award for family club of the year but, hey, there is always scope for improvement.
Andy Bayes: We’ve got some finances to talk about in just a moment – just before we do that, there’s a couple of other fans groups who’ve asked questions along similar lines and they involve the owners and communication from the owners. One says that owners’ continue failure to engage or outline plans for the club and also in general the communication from the owners - it might be best to get a comment from you both on that –the communication that comes from the owners to here.
Mike Cheston: The owners delegate the running of the club to the appointed executives and we have that line of communication via Suhail currently. So the communication lines are definitely… in so far as I appreciate communication directly with the fans is relatively low, in keeping with a lot of owners at a lot of other clubs. They are very private individuals. We should respect the fact that they continue to support the club financially and in other ways. The fact that they do not engage directly with the fans very often… obviously they’re 6000 miles away as well. All these factors need to be taken into account but they are committed to the club. They do communicate with the executives via Suhail.
Mark Fish: Don’t sit there and expect us to respect the owners. Don’t ask us to respect the owners of this Football Club after what they’ve done to it over the last seven years. Do not ask us to respect the owners. You’ve just done it – don’t.
Andy Bayes: Paul, would you like to comment? Before we get a question in?
Paul Senior: Just following on from Mike’s comments… I mean, I’ve worked at 6 clubs. Some of the owners of the clubs I’ve been at, such as Spurs, where the owner never had a relationship with the fans, to other clubs: Crystal Palace I’ve worked at - the Chairman was a regular with the fans. There’s no easy, there’s no best practise guidelines. And we appreciate what the fans are saying. But we feel we have some forums in place. But there is always scope for improvement, I get that. But there’s no one single model where fans have that regular interface with the owners. There’s no one club that does it perfectly. There are some clubs that don’t do it so well. But there is always a mixed model.
Andy Bayes: There’s a gentleman waiting to ask a question.
Andy (fan): My name’s, Andy, Paul, I think it was your first or your second interview, you said that you spoke to the owners on a daily basis. My question is: Who exactly do you speak to? Do you mean you speak to the owners via Suhail or do you speak to Belaji Rao or another individual? Who exactly do you speak to on a daily basis?
Paul Senior: During January, having just started at the Football Club there was regular communications with several of the aforementioned people that you’ve just alluded to because during January was the January transfer window and there was other things going on at the Football Club and as well maybe a duty of care to ensure that how I felt the club was going, in my early observations. And that has been lessened now in terms of there isn’t that need for a daily, regular communication. Results on the pitch are improving so there is less intensity off the pitch if you like, for all of our departments, not just the first team. So that regular feedback loop is not as intense as it was during January.
Andy (fan): The thing is Mike said at the last meeting and has said at numerous times that he has no direct contact with the owners, it’s always via Suhail. For yourself, so it seems very bizarre that yourself came in as a new employee and suddenly has direct contact with the owners, when the Finance Director has no direct contact. Seems very strange.
Mike Cheston: I wouldn’t say no – it’s very infrequent but, you know.
Andy (fan): We really want to get to the crux of Suhail Pasha and clarify his role because it seems that everything goes through him and is he actually the Shadow Managing Director of this club?
Paul Senior: No, not at all. As Mike has said, Mike manages Finance and most of the other areas of the Football Club I am responsible for. So there are different levels of accountability, not different levels of accountability, different areas of responsibility that may come into focus. And the first team, let’s be clear, the fortunes of the first team drive the fortunes of the Football Club, which is why that comes under intense scrutiny and interest to the owners at any given time. Finance is important because it’s important that we have those parameters in place and infrastructure in place so we’re not compromised. But during January, where results were, there was a sharp intense interest from the owners: What was going on and how were we going to address those shortcomings?
Andy Bayes: Thanks Paul let’s take another question:
Fan: The attendances at Ewood – they show the fans are disenchanted. Without selling, how do Venkys intend to win the fans back over? Is there any possible way they could win the fans back over? Is there any method, any plan to engage the fans, win the fans, to make them want to come back here?
Mike Cheston: Well initially, obviously we’ve got to concentrate on the performance of the team and get us up the table and then in time, hopefully the owners will begin to support the club by providing more finance, etc, etc. That process itself will demonstrate that the club is going in the right direction.
Andy Bayes: Paul if you want to add anything to that?
Paul Senior: Following on from that, I think that we understand that the numbers in terms of the fan base – there’s been a problem in recent years but since results have been picking up, we’ve actually seen an increase in terms of uptake of various promotions that our Commercial team have put on. I think we had the Big 6 season ticket promotion, so the last 6 home games of the season - which we have considerable take up, which was encouraging - I think about 250 approximately. And then for the last 4 games of the season we’ve had, again, a similar promotion where another similar number - 250 - have brought that as well. So, hey, it’s 500 fans who potentially weren’t coming before, who are buying these promotions, who are engaging with the club. It’s not radical, it’s not the great solution. We get that. But results on the pitch will certainly help and other bits. I think that if we get it right on the pitch it can only enable off the pitch and we’ve only seen the positiveness around the stadium at match days on the back of positive results and not just for fans but also for the staff as well and the players. Going into the training ground on a regular basis, the buzz, the feeling amongst the players, the up-beatness and the same with the staff on a daily basis and the various fans groups, seeing them out in the community or at various events – there’s a better buzz, there’s more positiveness. I think we’ve got a better store. If we’d had this discussion 6 weeks ago it would have been a different discussion. So there’s lots of positive stuff. But at the same time I take on your point.
Mark Fish: That’s thanks to one man. That’s thanks to that man sat there next to you. He’s the man who’s lifted the fans’ spirits at the Football Club. He’s the one who deserves the thanks. He’s given belief in the way we play again. It’s Tony Mowbray who’s made everyone positive. Nobody sat on that table apart from him.
Andy Bayes: Just a few points before we have to move on because we are tight for time.
Matt: This is a question to anybody really. All we’ve wanted to do as supporters is speak to the owners, be that Belaji Rao or Venkatesh or whatever. Is there a reason for them not wanting to come and sit on a table like that and speak to us? We’re in the 21st century. I asked it at the last meeting. We’ve got a projector here. Why can’t we get on Skype? It’s an hour and a half out of an evening.
Mike Cheston: One is the distance. I know with technology…
(audible angry voices: Distance? It’s Skype!)
Mike Cheston: Two is the private nature of the owners as individuals. Three: they’ve delegated the authority for people to run the club and I’ve already explained we’ve got good communications with the owners. And yes, I have tried to engage with the owners via Suhail as well not directly, in the sense that, ‘Can we engage with the fans in a more direct way than we have?’ And we’ve managed to get the owners’ statements at the last two meetings. They do follow the fortunes of the club closely. I make them aware of the frustrations.
Andy (fan): So you actually agree with the perception by many ans. By your tone and what you’re saying, you seem to be saying you almost agree personally.
Matt: If this club is Venky’s baby, as they said, Why don’t they look after us? Why don’t they want to make us happy? What would make us happy is them speaking to us. We just want an answer as to why they won’t. We know for a fact that Belaji is in London on a regular basis. Why don’t we work this meeting around Belaji? We’re happy to come whenever he’s here.
Mike: Again, I will make them aware, as I have done on previous occasions.
James: What’s the response to that, sorry, Mike, obviously when you’ve made them aware?
Mike: They’ve said no. I think that in the right circumstances they might have a look at it. But at the end of the day, it’s their decision.
Andy Bayes: Gentlemen, we have to move on very quickly. One gentleman’s been waiting a long time who’s not had chance to speak yet and your question is, Sir?
Steve M: Why is Suhail not here tonight? If he’s talking to the owners through you, Mike, surely he should be here giving us the answers instead of you being here. At the last forum you promised to get an interim meeting with him and that’s not happened. Can you tell me why that’s not happened?
Mike Cheston: I said I would do my best. That’s exactly the words I used. And I have tried. He can’t make it tonight. His role at the club is, as is always stated, is to improve relations between the club…
Steve M: So who’s his boss?
Mike Cheston: His boss are the owners.
Steve M: It’s the owners and then it’s Suhail and then it comes down.
Mike Cheston: Hmm.
Steve M: So surely he should have been here tonight. If he’s in direct contact with the owners, he’s the man who we want to see. And he’s not here again tonight. Does he actually work at this club or not?
Mike Cheston: Yes, he does work at this club.
Steve M: Is he based here is he based in London?
Mike Cheston: He works between both India and here. That’s the nature of his role.
Steve M: And who pays his salary?
Mike Cheston: We pay a salary.
Steve M: Blackburn Rovers or Venkys London Ltd?
Mike Cheston: We pay a salary.
Steve M: Well, I think for the next meeting he should be made to come here. It’s imperative that we get to speak to this gentleman.
Andy (fan): One of the points…
Andy Bayes: We really have to make one more quick point and then move on.
Andy (fan): One quick point here. We talked earlier about communication and, OK, that question was asked last time and you said, ‘Oh, I’ll try.’ We accept that’s what you said. But at no point since then have you come out and said, ‘This was the answer…’ which is what I call communication: feedback to the people who are in this room or who attended that meeting and the many people who will listen to it. They want to know: what was the answer? Not just silence and nothing happens. We want to know: What exactly did he say when you asked him? That’s what we want to know.
Mike: I have asked him. And his answer was that his role is to liaise between the club and the owners.
Andy (fan): So effectively his answer was: ‘No.’
Andy Bayes: Ok. We need to move on now to the financial aspects…
Paul Keogh: My question is to Mike. It’s regarding Suhail: you’ve just confirmed that he is employed by the club. Does he have a title for the club at all?
Mike Cheston: Yes he does have a title.
Paul Keogh: Which is…?
Mike Cheston: Errrrrr errrrrrm Something like ‘Management Consultant’. I can’t remember the exact title.
Paul Keogh: And do you not find it a little bit concerning from your point of view, Mike, that Paul has come along tonight and confirmed that he can openly pick up the phone and speak to Belaji or Venkatesh over in India? You’ve been here for how long now?
Mike Cheston: Three years.
Paul Keogh: Three years and you still have to go through Suhail?
Mike Cheston: I don’t have to…
Paul Keogh: Well why is he here, then? If you can open dialogue with the owners freely, why are we wasting money, under the current financial position that we’re in, and paying a Director or ‘Management Consultant’ to jet between India and England? Is that not a drain on our resources?
Mike Cheston: I’ll confirm his exact title. I just can’t remember at the moment. Suhail I’ve found has been extremely useful. And it’s good for Blackburn Rovers that we have somebody representing the owners who works at the club. So it’s much easier to get across the issues back to the owners - in a way that we feel we can get through. So he’s very useful and very supportive of us in that regard.
Paul: Do you not feel capable, Mike, of doing that yourself?
Mike Cheston: I have always have the option and that’s been made clear and I do have direct correspondence. But for me, Suhail achieves it.
Mark Fish: You just said you didn’t?
Mike Cheston: For me, I do have from time to time, if I want. And I have done. But I do it mainly through Suhail. When Paul first arrived at the club…
Mark Fish: So you’re choosing to pay that salary that this club doesn’t need, then. So basically what you’re saying is that you can speak to the owners but you’d rather pay somebody else a couple of hundred grand a year to do it.
Mike Cheston: No, I’ve explained…
Mark Fish: So you can speak to the owners but you don’t want to…
Mike Cheston: Excuse me, I never mentioned any figures and I’ve already explained that it’s good that somebody who is familiar with the owners understands what the issues are here and can relay that back to India. I do have communication with the owners from time to time directly. Paul’s situation when he first arrived at the club was different in the sense that he was brought in as a Director of Football, with a very specific task and a very immediate issue at hand. And they were very interested obviously in what his initial observations were and Paul’s already explained that over time that’s become less frequent. I don’t need to contact the owners every day and I don’t need to in fact communicate with Suhail every day, either. But from time to time it’s been good to have that ability.
James: What’s his real name, Mike? Obviously on Linked in, he’s called Suhail Sheikh. Every news article I read – Lancashire Evening Telegraph, even yourself referred to him as Suhail Pasha. So what’s his name: Suhail Sheikh or Pasha?
Mike Cheston: I only know him as just Suhail.
Andy Bayes: Gentlemen we have to move on to the Financial area of the agenda now, if we may. Mike, there are a number of issues in the Financial area of the agenda here which come under your remit and a lot of them are all concerned with the rising club debt, the recent accounts, the financial situation and most importantly, probably, does the club have a plan in place in the event that Blackburn Rovers are in League one? Paul, would you like to start with that one?
Paul Senior: I made it very clear when I started at the club in January that like all good things what we have to do is forward plan. There is, whilst we’re focused on staying in this division and consolidating in this division because it’s important for the future of the club we stay here, it’s incumbent on us to anticipate the potential that we may be relegated. Even though we don’t want to entertain that thought, we do have to potentially plan for that, be it on and off the pitch and those conversations with my Heads of Department and with Mike and his Finance team are ongoing with regards to, well, ‘If we are relegated, what could we afford? What would the world look like?’ And I’m having conversations if we talk about just the football side – with Tony, with agents, about players, about potential targets, based on option A, which is we consolidate and which is looking good at the moment in terms of the form that we’re in and the uplift recently, if we can consolidate and stay in the Championship. Or on the other side it’s potentially, if we are relegated, well, in terms of what does our recruitment plan look like then? So it is incumbent on us to do that. With regards to the other departments I’m responsible for, naturally if we are relegated we’re going to have to look at obviously making the right decisions, how we can make the best use of what resources we have and also look at doing things differently. Again, like anybody, if you have a budget, if you have a home budget or a department budget, you have to live within your means. So a simple answer to a simple question is: yes, we do have a plan in the event of relegation.
Andy Bayes: And in terms of the debt, Mike, would you like to address that?
Mike Cheston: As I explained before, the actual debt position actually in terms of the debt to the club, the main debt clearly is that from the owners and that is a direct function of the investment that they’ve put into the club. There’s no requirement to pay that immediately and it’s interest free. The rest of the debt is managed – all payments are on schedule, we are up to date with all our creditors, comply with all the legislation. So the debt situation is being managed and as you have seen from the last set of accounts the actual debt position hasn’t gone up last year and in fact it dropped slightly. And that’s something that we need to keep on top of, going forward but at this point in time we’re still reliant on the owners’ support.
Andy Bayes: Thanks, Mike. There’s a section here to talk about: future cost cutting. I know, Paul, we’ve already alluded to the fact that everything is being looked at in the event of ‘come what may’ come the end of the season. There are one or two rumours, as is often the case, that there might be some stands closing next season, there might be a sale of assets other than players. Could you address any of those rumours that supporters are concerned with. Will Ewood Park still have four stands open next season, for example?
Paul Senior: Ewood Park will have four stands open next season. There’s no foundation to that rumour, Andy.
Andy Bayes: And in terms of future cost cutting measures for this Football Club, are there any plans in place to sell any assets be it players or not?
Paul Senior: None that I’m aware of. Our focus is on consolidating, staying in this division, with a view to having a really good summer recruitment-wise and pushing on next season. Absolutely.
Paul Fish: During the search for a new manager, Mike went on record saying he intended to slash the wage bill going forward. So how are we going to do that if we’re going out to get some more players?
Paul Senior: It’s a good question, I agree. In terms of if we are relegated, we will obviously have to try and find a way to.. We have - let’s be clear – we have the 9th highest wage bill in the Championship. We invest very favourably in the playing squad. We’re in a situation where we have some players who will be out of contract this summer. Not all of those players, in my opinion and in discussions I’ve head with Tony also, are going to be part of the vision going forwards. So what we have to do is re-utilise that resource that we have to try and bring players who are going to be better than what we have. But they also have to have the right hunger, the right desire to play for the shirt.
Andy Bayes: A quick question from the floor.
James: Just some observations I made from the abbreviated club accounts – a series of short-term loans, which suggests working capital issues. We’ve had loans at 14%, 9% before Libor. What’s the added value in those? I notice that the season ticket sales for this year currently were mortgaged for £1.8 million – works out at about what 6000 tickets? Before people have had the chance to go to work and earn their money, you’ve already sold their season tickets for the year. Are we doing that for next season? What’s the plan? Because I do appreciate you can’t take all the credit, as you said earlier, for the increased finance position.
Mike Cheston: Absolutely, we’ve had to from time to time take short-term loans but we are managing that position in terms of managing the cash flow and we’re repaying them.
James: But it’s 7% of your turnover before decreasing next year (6million). So it’s a football club that runs like a business, 7% of your current turnover is going directly on interest alone. £1.7 million interest in 2016 you’ve paid out.
Mike Cheston: Yes – including the bank overdraft interest.
James: Correct. £1.7 Milliion,
Mike Cheston: Yes.
James: You’ve just mortaged the season tickets for £1.8 milion. It’s like a never-ending cycle; it’s not astute financial management nor sense.
Mike Cheston: That was to address a cash flow issue at the time.
James: So we’ve had cash flow issues?
Mike Cheston: We have to manage the cash flow in order to make our payments as and when they fall due. So, yes, we have had to take short-term loans out.
James: Are you anticipating this problem continuing in the future? Obviously we’ve seen numerous sales, disposals of players – some high salaries like Jordan Rhodes. If we get relegated at the end of the year, where the FFP rules change for League One and where cash flows are actually submitted more frequently, it’s going to come to light, you know, that we’ve got significant funding issues. It doesn’t make sense to me if we’ve got wealthy owners, owners who pledge their support. You’ve just read a statement earlier today. If we’ve got these fantastic billionaire conglomerate chicken farmer owners, why the need for all these short-term loans? Because £1.8 million season ticket mortgage, £430 119 at 14% short term loan, we’ve borrowed £5M off the FA previously about two years ago. I even think there was another short-term loan about £4.5 million. Who’s lending the money, Mike? Obviously we’ve mentioned the FA but…
Mike Cheston: Erm various financial institutions that we’ve done these agreements with.
James: The interest isn’t a commercial rate of interest, though, is it?
Mike Cheston: These are all things that any business has to do to manage its cash flow and the owners don’t, can’t, always provide the funds and we shouldn’t rely on the funds – on owners to provide the funds. We’ve got to find ways of managing the cash flow.
James: The ‘Fit and Proper Owners Test’ does state that they’ve got to show their wealth, they’ve got to show their financial ability to continually fund the club, we’re relying on 14% loans, which isn’t a commercial rate of interest on a loan of £5 million, is it? So it’s not come from your Barclays or your TSB. It suggests more like a nucleus finance, a close brother form of finance, someone a bit ‘off stream’? It’s very worrying to see the club in this picture, Mike. You know, you’ve stated improved position but it looks like it’s just been masses of short-term loans, which are a real danger to any financial running of any business.
Mike Cheston: But the extent of the short-term loan is very temporary and very, relatively small.
James: £2.5 million to repay over this season. You’ve got £1.8 million to repay. You’ve got the other one little short of £500 000.
Mike Cheston: The loans were temporary and short-term and sometimes that’s what you need to do.
James: You’ve just sold a list of players and about £40 million worth over 18 months. That’s not an improved position from where I’m standing, Mike
(Various fans expressed shock and dismay.
Two comments overheard: “It’s like Rangers!”; “It’s terrifying!”)
Andy Bayes: Ok very quick point before we sadly, folks, have to move on because as I keep saying we don’t have masses of time this evening.
Fan: Mike, can you promise for the next two years that we won’t go into administration – yes or no?
Mike Cheston: I can’t guarantee things like that. It’s not fair.
(Comments from the audience such as, ‘It’s all coming out now, isn’t it?’)
Mike Cheston: No, it’s not fair. You can never say never. The likelihood is absolutely not but I cannot guarantee anything.
Fan: You should be able to.
Andy (fan): I thought Paul Senior did, in your first interview you said, ‘There’s no chance we’ll go into administration.’
Paul Senior: in terms of the backing of the owners at this moment in time. The owners – are they going to walk away? The owners are not going to walk away. The owners are committed to the future of the club. If the owners were to walk away, which they have no intention to do so, which was made very clear, then unless we could find a suitable owner, we may be in a compromised position. But at this moment in time, there is no chance of administration. We haven’t got that crystal ball to know what will happen in two, three, four years in time but at this moment in time, this club is doing OK. Yes, there is scope for improvement on and off the pitch - we get that. So let’s not just be obsessed with the finance figures - but I understand the concerns around that – but at this moment in time for where we are and the short-term future, the club is on the right track in terms of managing our bills and designing out those inefficiencies.
Andy Bayes: Ladies and gents we’re going to move on to the players agents and development of the academy players. A couple of the supporters groups are asking about the role of agents and concerns they have, mentioning the Doyen agency, the board links with those and clarification, too, on SEM and Kentaro involvement. Are they involved with the club, even in an advisory position? Paul, could you clarify all of those points that I’ve just made, please?
Paul Senior: Absolutely. In terms of we have no agency advising us. My role is to deal with football and operations and in terms of on an advisory level, I take no counsel from any agency or agent.
Fan: What about your wife?
Paul Senior: (laughs) well I take advice from her on non-football matters. But that’s a good question – my partner does many things and we have none of her players at the football club. Let’s not get into that.
James: Your wife runs her own consultancy, isn’t it? Paul, Onside Sports Management. Your wife’s?
Paul Senior: That’s correct, yes.
James: Does she also work freelance for other agencies, sort of like a management consulting sort of type role?
Paul Senior: She manages her own company.
James: Is that her only involvement in sports agencies, is it?
Paul Senior: That’s correct, yes.
James: Thanks, Paul.
Paul Senior: Sorry, what was the other point about Kentaro, or…?
Andy Bayes: Yes. SEM and Kentaro - is there any involvement from them, even in an advisory position?
Paul Senior: No. We have no reliance on agents, we have a relationship with agents based on agents who can bring in players to the club and it’s incumbent on me to have a good network. My network determines my net worth, as it were. But fundamentally we’re player-drive, not agent-driven. If there’s a player that... I can’t look back and I understand the tensions of the past, I understand that. But in terms of looking forwards if a player is good enough and they meet our criteria then we will obviously have to deal with all forms of agents. Most players have agents.
Andy Bayes: Quick question form the floor.
Paul Keogh: I think most people in this room or most supporters at home will be pleased to hear that we’re no longer linked to SEM and Kentaro. Does that also mean that Suhail Pasha no longer works for Kentaro? Because he did previously.
Paul Senior: Well I can’t comment on what he previously did but I do know that at this moment in time he’s not employed by those organisations; he’s employed by the owners. He looks after a number of the, or has a relationship with a number of the owners’ portfolios, including this Football Club - working in other countries as well. I have not been aware of any link or relationships between a professional at that level. He’s employed by the owners, by the club.
Paul Keogh: Thank you.
Andy Bayes: One final point before we have to move on again. I am really sorry, folks but we are running slightly over already and we do want to give you an opportunity to speak to Tony Mowbray, which is why he’s here.
Andy (fan): We’re not in a rush.
Fan: It’s for Mike and Paul. Can you tell me if there’s going to be more than £250 000 spent in this summer transfer window coming up? Because that’s ridiculous. You can tell me, Mike, the exact figure we made off players sales last season, this season, sorry and how much we’ve spent. Is it acceptable?
Mike Cheston: We have to work within the parameters that we need to. In terms of your question, which Paul is perhaps better equipped to answer, given the going forward.
Fan: He’s avoiding everything. This is about last season’s summer transfer window and the one coming up now.
Mike Cheston: We have to work within the…
Fan: You can tell me…
(lots of fan comments in the background)
Mike Cheston: I am telling you, the financial constraints that we work with. We in fact also made bids for other players that weren’t accepted. The fact that we only spent £250 000 is what happened. We also got a number of loan players and we worked within the means. And a lot of those…
Fan: Those that have left - two or three and I couldn’t even tell you if Steven Hendrie is still here. So two or three of them had left by January. So the summer recruitment – good or bad, you tell me, Mike?
Mike Cheston: Well it was mixed results, wasn’t it? Some of the players coming in have done very well for us.
Fan: No because the league position tells me otherwise.
Mike Cheston: The league position is what it is, absolutely. But I can’t… At the time where you bring in a manager, you support the manager – that’s what you do.
Andy Bayes: Paul Senior…
Paul Senior: Look, I’d like, for me, looking back, history – is it going to help us out? I’d rather focus on looking forwards. I think in January, when there was pressure to bring in lots of new players, I was very clear from the outset that I spent January assessing the squad. I felt that we had a squad that had the 9th highest wage bill in the Championship, as I was very clear on, we had a squad that we had good players. Was it the systems, was it the players? We had some good players that potentially... an example being if we were to manage to… we’ve lost 17 points from 85 minutes onwards in games. So is that about players or is that about systems? So, again, the talent was there.
Fan: I think it’s a bit of both to be honest.
Paul Senior: It could be. It could be ‘game management’ but obviously players make decisions – I get that. But for me it’s about game management and I think we’ve got some good players in the squad and I make it very clear, in terms of recruitment. Tony’s here – good recruitment decision in January, or February, would we agree? I think Lucas João, would we agree? Good recruitment. I would say the management team that I put together, that Tony’s agreed to work with – I think: good decision. I think Marvin Emnes - would we agree? Good recruitment. Marvin was recalled by Swansea to go back to Swansea by Paul Clement, the new coach, so it wasn’t straightforward, getting Marvin back. And then getting Marvin a deal that was right for this Football Club. So in terms of January onwards, our recruitment, I feel in response to where our gaps are, where our priorities are and where our needs are, have been positive. Looking back too much isn’t really going to help us. Looking forwards, I think we’ve got some good players and, as I’ve said, we’ve got the right management structure to help take the club forwards.
Andy Bayes: One more quick point. We are going to be hearing about season tickets very shortly.
Savio: Was any due diligence undertaken before the recruitment of Anthony Stokes and did no-one investigate his IRA links before bringing him?
Mike Cheston: We did do, as we do as a club, the necessary investigations. I can’t comment on that specific issue. But where we think a player may have a previous history, we have to look at the player as he is and obviously rely on and support what the manager feels. So that’s what the case was with Anthony Stokes.
Andy Bayes: Just before we hear about season tickets. Just to some up Pre-season. Paul, will there be games abroad and are there any incentives for supporters to come to Ewood Park for the pre-season play next season?
Paul Senior: Well I’m under discussions with the Management team. At this moment in time there are no plans to go abroad, although there have been invitations. This will be organised in discussion with Tony and the management structure. This depends on what division we are in and Tony Mowbray will have the final say.
(Greg Coar gave a short presentation on the sales plans that will be out next week, a club cash reward scheme, a new official membership scheme and more online accessibility.
He showed a short promotional film, beginning with scenes from the past, with shots of Garner, Shearer, Jansen, Cole and Tugay. Tony Mowbray encourages the supporters: “Stick with us and we’ll do everything we can to support you. Together, we can achieve.”
David Dunn claims, “My dreams have come true here. You, the fans, make this place special. This is your Rovers. This is my Rovers.”)
(The slide show began:)
Slide 1: Background
Contained the header: “We all want to compete at the top end of the league.”
But also mentioned BRFC is in the bottom 4 of ticket revenue in the league and we have the 22nd lowest prices out of 24 clubs.
On a match day such as v. Cardiff, match day revenue is approx. £16k
Slide 2: My Rovers Season Tickets
There will be an increase in price for some sales. The aim is to be reasonable and fair rather than being the cheapest.
During phase 1 (April & May) there will be an early bird price freeze – including the fans who pay by direct debit
During phase 2 there will be an increase, e.g. Blackburn End will increase to £329
During phase 3 there will be a further increase.
Slide 3: Renewal
This will be slicker, more cost effective and more personalised. It will be announced on the website tomorrow and go live next week. Details will be sent out online initially and in the post in a few weeks’ time.
Traditional methods of payment will still be available.
My Rovers involves a scheme along the lines of ‘the more you spend, the more you save’.
Slide 4: Loyalty and Rewards
There is the opportunity to gain 5% cash back and 15% back on your season ticket.
The 1875 club will give you discounts on a match day ticket price, access to exclusive events and a chance to play on Ewood amongst other benefits.
Season tickets will be available in all four stands.
Pauline: Paul, you said that there is no best practice model for fan engagement. Why not develop one?
Paul Senior: the Fans Forum as a good form of fan engagement and if recommendations were to come from events like that then it is something I would be willing to action. The club has just won the club family of the year award.
Fan: Can you let us know about the possibility of disabled fans buying tickets online?
Greg Coar: They might still need to call into the ticket office if they needed tickets for carers.
Fan: Swansea have managed to organise this online
Greg: I will look into it.
Andy Bayes: Can we just take a question over here. Someone’s been waiting, sorry.
Roy: The question’s for Mike or Paul. Sorry, I’m Roy. I’m not from around this area but I am a massive supporter of the club. I actually come from the Fleetwood/Blackpool area. Now I live between the two. Both clubs do a lot for the community, they do a lot of free tickets being given out. I’m quite surprised because I work in a school myself to look at all the empty stands. I’m quite surprised that you’ve not targeted the children as a new income and a way of getting the support base up. You’ve got so many schools in the catchment area – the catchment area’s massive. So I’m quite surprised that you don’t go around the schools giving free tickets out because they are your future.
Mike Cheston: We do engage with the schools. We do provide free tickets to the community for every match. Our Community Trust is extremely engaged with the local community and you saw the number of participants, etc, etc. And we’re very proud of what the community does and we do support, obviously we recognise that to get into some schools and the local community is one of the ways forward in terms of bringing future fans towards the club.
Paul Senior: We have one of the most successful community trust programs nationally and we have to be very measured about the amount complimentary tickets we can give out. On average it’s a certain allocation because we have paying customers: people who pay, so there is something about the product holding its value because if we do give out an inordinate amount of complimentary tickets, what does that say about the folk who have actually paid? So it is, I get what we’re saying about future fans and future opportunities and things of that nature but we are targeted, the Community Trust in our work with schools, so there are opportunities out there. But at the same time these tickets, people pay for them and they have to hold their value.
Roy: What about the policy of ‘open sales’ to away games (such as Liverpool). Why was there no priority given to fans who had attended away games frequently? That would have shown courtesy and loyalty to the away supporters.
Greg Coar: Priority was given to season ticket holders.
Mark Fish: There was ample time and opportunity for people to buy these tickets.
The meeting then turned to Manager Questions and Answers.
Tony’s words are all over the internet by now because what he said was good to hear at the time of the meeting. Suffice it to mention, he came across as a beguiling, passionate, honest football man. David M. summed many fans’ views up at that point in the season with, “Thank God you’re here!”