Tomorrow night, in the Green Taverners Suite at Higher Home Park, Plymouth Argyle will host a Fans’ Forum event with new chairman and majority owner Simon Hallett as well as chief executive Michael Dunford. Assuming you are able to, we fully recommend you attend.

You may be forgiven for not being aware of the event, many fans who I have spoke to personally are not. They include in their number people who generally follow the off field progress of PAFC very closely indeed.

The reason for this, of course, lies in the less than overwhelming advertisement for this event. It was only mentioned as an aside at the bottom of two article on the official site. It’s first mention was in the penultimate paragraph of a 1700 word post on the website on November 14th.* Indeed, it almost feels as though Argyle are trying to hide this event away. Compare the way this forum was advertised in the second instance – it was mentioned only in the bottom two paragraphs of an article titled “Chairman in Town” – to the way they’ve advertised previous forums. For example, the forum that was cancelled in July was advertised in a more direct way. The difference is subtle, see if you can spot it. The article was titled: Fans Forum – July 9.

Did you catch it?

Additionally, there has not been a single mention of a fans forum by the club’s official twitter account, unlike previous occasions. Again, the last forum was advertised directly to fans, unlike this time around:

Would you know, just by looking at that post, that there was a fans forum scheduled for Thursday 6th of December?

Whilst we recognise the many good achievements made by Argyle over the past few years, one of our main areas of criticism about the Brent administration focused around a lack of transparency during the time he ran the club. Failing to clearly communicate a fans forum in this way hardly points to an improvement on the transparency front. Nonetheless, we encourage a degree of healthy cynicism and the importance of always asking the right questions. With that in mind, we have sent the following set of questions to Mr Hallett and Mr Dunford in the hope that, among other things, the way is paved for greater transparency in the future.

“To ensure all fans have the best opportunity to attend these important events, will you commit to hosting all future fan’s forums on Saturday’s alongside home matches, ensure that all future forums are advertised at least four weeks in advance, and will you commit to hosting at least two such events every year?”

As we have laid out above, we do not feel as though this fan’s forum has been adequately advertised, and would like a commitment from Mr Hallett and Mr Dunford to advertise all future forums by giving at least four weeks notice, a suitable time-frame for individuals to ensure they are able to attend. Similarly, we believe it is important that all forums are attended on Saturday’s alongside home matches to ensure that all interested individuals have the best opportunity to attend. Finally, we wish for a commitment from Mr Hallett and Mr Dunford to host such forums at least twice, yearly.

“Will Mr Hallett and Mr Dunford commit to releasing full club accounts on a yearly basis?”

This is something we’ve long wished for on this site, stretching back to the earlier days of James Brent’s tenure. Half of the clubs in the division release full accounts, which includes their profit and loss accounts and overall spending on wages:

  • Blackpool
  • Bristol Rovers
  • Burton Albion
  • Charlton Athletic
  • Coventry
  • Fleetwood
  • Oxford United (do not release full accounts, but do release their profit and loss account)
  • Portsmouth
  • Scunthorpe United
  • Southend United
  • Sunderland
  • Walsall
  • Wimbledon

Most on this list are legally required to do so, but some are not. The financial crisis that gripped Argyle in 2011 did not fall from a clear, blue sky. It followed years of financial mismanagement and inadequacy in various areas. This is not to say that we think it is at all probable that Argyle are on the same path now, but we as fans are denied the possibility to exercise any form of oversight over the club’s accounts.

Critics of the notion claim that it would not make too much of a difference: after all, full accounts were published all the way up to the the administration period, and that did nothing to prevent it occurring. Whilst there is some truth in this, if it were to be done again, watchful fans would be far warier. The best way for any potential information of this kind to be hidden is to simply not need to publish it. If this culture of shortened accounts remains normalised, any future owners with questionable motives may be able to take advantage of this lack of transparency.

Furthermore, it is becoming more and more obvious that there is a divide growing within the club surrounding the trust of the Chairman. Brent became a polarising figure, and while Hallett is being given a period of grace it won’t be long before the same questions – many of which we as a site believe to be wide of the mark – begin to be asked again. To publish the club’s full accounts is an easy PR win with no obvious negatives: what specific, tangible reason could the club give for avoiding their publication?

“What is the current working deadline for completing the Grandstand redevelopment, how far over-budget is the development and will this have any negative impact upon the Derek Adams’ budget in this or any future transfer window?”

The answer to the first part of this question will become a necessity around March or April time when we will discover whether the club will be selling tickets in the Mayflower for the 2019/20 season. Should Argyle be challenging for promotion at that time, or be fortunate enough to be drawn a home-tie against a big side in a cup match, then these extra seats would obviously boost the club’s income and hopefully begin to convert more part-time fans into season ticket holders.

Admittedly, this hasn’t been an issue this season, for obvious reasons. However, should Argyle thrive next season (especially in games against rivals) being able to sell out the whole stadium could make a difference to the tune of thousands of pounds. This is not to mention the added value of the support for the team from a packed out Home Park.

However, the second and third parts of this question are of the utmost relevance. The initial grandstand project was loosely categorised at around the £5 million mark. The total increased to £6.5 million in August 2018, and Hallett recently said the following:

“We have got a stadium to build, that has cost more money than everybody envisaged. The money has got to come from somewhere and we have got to work within the constraints that we do.”

Whilst demolition work is practically complete, there has not yet been much progress in the way of work beginning on the new structure. If (and this remains at this stage a big if) work is delayed, the last thing Argyle fans will want is for it to eat into the playing budget over the next eighteen months. Looking past January 2019, would Adams’ playing budget have to be reduced this summer as a result of overspend on the Grandstand?

“After the redevelopment is complete, what turnover are you forecasting the stadium to make and when will the profit from the this begin to impact the playing budget?”

Exeter Chiefs’ accounts revealed the turnover generated by Sandy Park totaled £1.5 million in each of the past two seasons. As a prime motivation for redeveloping the Grandstand, James Brent often compared the Home Park development to Sandy Park. Therefore, can we expect our stadium to begin generating non-match-day income of the same level, and after how many years would this be? Finally, when will the playing budget begin to feel the impact of this increase in turnover? The financial boost could transition Argyle from being a mid-table League One side from a financial perspective into one that consistently challenges for promotion.

“What action, if any, will you take to ensure that younger fans – the future of the Green Army – are able to afford to attend matches on a regular basis?”

The most recent close-season survey from the Argyle Fans’ Trust confirmed that, once again, the demographic of Argyle supporters appears to be heavily skewed towards the age group 46-65. This season, half of all respondents were aged in that group, with a substantially smaller number of respondents among the younger ages. This trend – of an aging fan base – cannot be allowed to continue much longer. One major contributing factor to this is the cost of tickets.

The most recent BBC Price of Football analysis showed that, once again, Argyle have amongst the most expensive tickets in League One. Whilst this survey was self-selecting and as such cannot be relied upon with absolute certainty, there would appear to be a correlation between the two points there. Young people generally tend to be less likely to be in stable employment, less likely to be homeowners and less likely to have large amounts of disposable income. This is not the only reason for the apparent increase in the average age, but it is certainly one of the leading factors.

“Many fans are concerned about the prospects of the club this season and in others to come under this management setup. Can you confirm if the club retains any break clause in its manager’s contract, performance related or otherwise.”

We don’t want to have to think about it- but it remains true that it is December and Derek Adams still hasn’t put together his best team. As you would know if you listen to our weekly podcast, none of us are quite sure that he knows what it is. Improvements have come in recent weeks, it is true. Yet, as we have said in a multitude of other articles on this site, Adams is highly culpable for our poor start to the season and is still making the same mistakes over and over again. Even our October and November form would only see narrow survival if applied to the rest of the season- it doesn’t leave much margin for error.

Whilst we can’t be sure that the majority of fans want Adams out now, a majority would consider it when push comes to shove, even if they do not feel the threshold has yet been met. With Adams on a five year contract as he is, many fans are concerned that the cost of paying off his contract may actually be more expensive than the cost of relegation to League Two. The existence of a break clause would re-assure supporters that the board would not be afraid to make the decision if they feel it necessary.

Attending the forum

Most importantly, we encourage as many fans as possible to attend this forum. It is a rare opportunity to meet with the man in ultimate control of the clubs future and ask him the questions that you want answered. Unfortunately, notice of this event came too late for any Argyle Life writers to attend it, but we implore you to attend. The following information is taken directly from the club’s website:

Doors will open at 6.30pm for a 7.30pm start and the bar will be open. For those who are unable to attend but would like their question to be answered by the Board, please email your question to argyle@pafc.co.uk and type “Forum” into the subject box.

Finally, if you agree with the questions that we have asked, please email them to the club. The more people who ask these questions, the more likely we are to receive an answer to them:

  • “To ensure all fans have the best opportunity to attend these important events, will you commit to hosting all future fan’s forums on Saturday’s alongside home matches, ensure that all future forums are advertised at least four weeks in advance, and will you commit to hosting at least two such events every year?”
  • “Will Mr Hallett and Mr Dunford commit to releasing full club accounts on a yearly basis?”
  • “What is the current working deadline for completing the Grandstand redevelopment, how far over-budget is the development and will this have any negative impact upon the Derek Adams’ budget in this or any future transfer window?”
  • “After the redevelopment is complete, what turnover are you forecasting the stadium to make and when will the profit from the this begin to impact the playing budget?”
  • “What action, if any, will you take to ensure that younger fans – the future of the Green Army – are able to afford to attend matches on a regular basis?”
  • “Many fans are concerned about the prospects of the club this season and in others to come under this management setup. Can you confirm if the club retains any break clause in its manager’s contract, performance related or otherwise.”

This article mistakenly claimed that the only mention of the forum was in an article posted on 23/11, when it had initially been mentioned in one on 14/11.

Author: Sam Down

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