Summary of members meeting with club chair

SMISA members recently had the chance to meet with club chair John Needham to put questions to him over issues affecting the club in the past few months.

The following is a summary of the meeting, which was held in the hospitality suite at the SMISA Stadium on Monday 6 September 2021.

George Adam (SMISA chair) opened the meeting, introducing John Needham (SMFC chair and one of SMISA’s representatives on the club board).

In John’s opening remarks, he covered the following:

- an apology for Gordon Scott, Alan Wardrop and Tony Fitzpatrick who were all abroad on business or holiday. He explained David Riley had been due to attend but had to pull out due to a positive Covid-19 test that day.

- he explained he wanted to look forward at how things can be improved at the club. He apologised for the recent problems with season tickets and other operational issues at the club. While he would try to explain the background as best as possible there would be issues that for legal and contractual issues he might not be able to comment on. He would also not talk about individuals as this would not be fair.

- he said he would explain the benefits of the Kibble partnership and dispel some of the things being spread on social media which are untrue. He said everyone’s focus was on making the partnership work and the club has got more out of the relationship with Kibble so far than Kibble has.

- some of the things he reads on social media are damaging to the club’s reputation and the morale of staff. He remains active on Twitter as he wants to hear supporter views but doesn’t want to get drawn into debate online. He is prepared to meet anyone face to face to discuss issues.

JN then opened the meeting for questions from the floor. A summary of the topics covered by the Q&A is below….

On club communications over the summer:

JN agreed this has not been as comprehensive and proactive as it could have been. It’s not reasonable to expect people to respond to everything on social media. But agrees we need a more structured approach to communication.

On the suggestion one company had been given all the contracts for stewarding, catering and building works at Ralston:

JN confirmed these have not been awarded to the same company. Three companies were shortlisted for the stewarding. They were all brought in and interviewed before a decision was made. The board didn’t award the other contracts, these were awarded by club management and reported to the board.

The company doing work at Ralston are Renderworks who are used by Kibble, who are project managing the work for free. The delays on completion are down to a nationwide shortage of timber, as anyone involved in the building trade will know.

JN also confirmed suggestions of a family connection between members of the club board and people behind companies awarded contracts are completely untrue.

On why the club changed the suppliers for the ticketing system and shop:

JN apologised for circumstances where it was said one of the employees in the ticket office had been poorly treated by the club, and that he would look into this.

He explained the old ticket season system was clunky, needed updated, and that St Mirren was the only club using it. The club had been told it would be easy to move data across to a new system but found the data was not compatible, which is why everyone had to re-register their details.

The club didn’t want to change the ticketing system over the summer but there was a risk the previous system – which also includes the stadium entry system – could have failed mid-season, which forced the club to act sooner than they wanted. The new system will allow for extra benefits to be offered to fans.

The club had initially planned to take the shop back in house but after further consideration, the deal eventually negotiated with the new shop suppliers is much better financially for the club than what was in place before.

On why stadium capacity was limited for games earlier in the season:

JN explained the club wanted more fans in but there were issues with the stadium which came to light over the summer that needed fixed before the club could go to the council and request more fans. These issues have now been resolved.

On why there were very few St Johnstone fans at the previous home game:

JN said the club decided it was best not to have the additional strain of away fans in for the first game with the new ticket system and new stewards. St Johnstone don’t bring a huge away support and we could charge for pay-per-view so there wasn’t a big commercial loss.

On the size of the main stand restricted ‘red zone’:

JN apologised for the size of the main stand red zone, which is to do with the access to the stadium for players and officials. The authorities will not allow the club to do away with the red zone but the club have done what they can to reduce the size of it.

On whether there was an option for SMISA to buy out Kibble:

Kenny Docherty of the SMISA board explained SMISA has the first option if Kibble ever wished to sell their shares but that our focus is on maintaining a strong working relationship with Kibble.

George Adam added it can be easy to blame a new partner when things go wrong. The partnership had just been formed when the pandemic started and that has made the last 18 months harder for everyone. He added without Kibble’s help the club would be in a much worse position.

On the suggestion the two Kibble board members have a veto over certain issues:

JN explained Kibble only have two members of the eight on the board, so do not have a veto on any boardroom issues.

KD explained the shareholder agreement between SMISA and Kibble lists the reserved shareholder matters which are major issues which require to be mutually agreed by both parties. This includes things such as a change of playing surface or changes to the colour of our strips. The board are not allowed to make such decisions without shareholder approval.

Kenny explained both shareholders can intervene on new board members chosen by the other if there is a good reason, such as a criminal record. The reason for the veto is to allow the shareholders to protect the interests of the football club.

(Note – a summary of the shareholder agreement was presented to and overwhelmingly approved by SMISA members in February 2020, when they were asked to vote on whether to deliver fan ownership in partnership with Kibble. That can be read here).

On the suggestion Kibble staff have replaced club ones:

JN explained there is only one member of Kibble staff permanently working at the club, which is the acting general manager, Lynsey MacLean, who JN believes is a very talented individual who will make a big difference going forward.

He explained he main thing Kibble want is for their young people to get training and work experience around the club. Having one of their employees here allows them to maintain their duty of care to them. They offered a general manger to help support Tony with the running of the club. The benefit for the club is an additional senior staff member free of charge.

He explained during the period earlier in the summer where the club was working on season ticket renewals, there was a Covid outbreak within the staff. Kibble provided the club with six staff overnight in order to help shore things up, which helped the club considerably.

On the role of the club board:

JN said the board don’t run the day-to-day operations of the club. Like all organisations, the chief executive is in charge day to day, and makes decisions on staff and contracts up to a certain level. The board’s job is to make sure Tony is supported to run the club effectively, to have a wider strategy for the bigger footballing and financial issues and to explore ways to bring in more income. JN is now meeting Tony every week.

On John’s vision for the club going forward:

JN would like the club to be more professional, for everyone to be proud of every aspect of it, and for greater use of the stadium and land around it. He wants the team to compete for fifth or sixth place and to manage some cup runs and hopefully silverware.

He wants to increase the club’s turnover by 10% year on year, and the ongoing contributions from SMISA members will contribute to that. He wants the club to be more influential in Scottish football as currently we don’t punch our weight. He sees Motherwell as further along the fan ownership journey and as a model to follow.

He cares hugely about the club and being chairman has made him feel more so. He is honoured to be in this position and is confident he will meet the challenges raised tonight in time. He will continue to represent the fans views and hopes to widen understanding of how the club is run.