I’m not in any position of being ‘in the know’ but decided to share this post as I thoroughly enjoyed working with this Club, FC United of Manchester. I brought some funding its way – and when on the Stockport County Co-operative Board, collaborated on joint fundraising. I have to say in my time (including taking Robin Pye to Turkey as a Speaker at our FC Sports Marketing Conference) I found, the Club, Robin and the out-going General Manager, Andy Walsh, to be sound examples that many a club, could, and in my view, should, look to replicate in several ways.
Recent descriptions of alleged turmoil have surrounded this article. Robin has recently written an authoritative response, and I felt on balance, this blog could air it to add to the debate.
“Daniel Taylor’s article about FC United of Manchester (How the togetherness turned into disharmony) gives a comprehensive overview of the internal disputes and debates the club has been having since the move into our new ground at Broadhurst Park.
His article includes an accurate presentation of various criticisms about decisions the club has made in recent months and I agree with some of those criticisms.
However, his article is fundamentally flawed because it does not get to grips at all with the fact that our club is a democratically-run fans-owned club and does not ask the obvious questions about how the democratic processes in the club are being used to make decisions about how the club is run.
Taylor describes FC United as ‘a club built on togetherness and shared principles’ which has ‘been undermined by the kind of infighting that could never have seemed imaginable’. Actually, it is a club built on democracy and as Taylor will understand when he looks at other democratic organisations and societies, that means that disagreements (infighting, he calls it) will occur.
Taylor describes John-Paul O’Neill, as ‘the man credited with setting up the club in 2005’. Again, this suggests that he hasn’t fully understood what FC United is. O’Neill, was of course, an early proponent of a fans-owned club for Manchester United fans, he may even be the earliest proponent of it, but our club is a fans-owned club. It can’t be set up by one person. It can only be set up by lots of people.
Because he does not ask any questions about actual votes that have been taken in actual meetings, Taylor resorts to reporting that ‘an internet poll shows 84% of supporters … have no confidence in the board appointing the right person as Walsh’s successor’. I am presuming this is an internet poll hosted by a website where many people post abusive messages about other people who cannot find the time or the motivation to respond. It indicates nothing.
Not asking any questions about democratic decisions that the club’s owner-members have taken does not stop Taylor from quoting ‘club founder’ O’Neill who says, “There is a fundamental deficit in democracy, transparency and accountability between the club and its members.” What exactly this deficit is, Taylor cannot explain. Neither is there any indication throughout the article about the outcome of the votes we have taken on many of the issues he discusses. So if there is a deficit in democracy and transparency, Taylor’s journalism does not address it.
For example, in his discussion about our ill-fated ‘Code of Conduct’, Taylor writes ‘questions were asked about the reaction if the Glazers had done the same at Old Trafford’. What a shame he did not actually tell his readers that when the Code of Conduct came in for heavy criticism on our members’ forum (quite rightly, in my opinion, it was a stupid document), our democratically-elected Board members promptly withdrew it. The question I would ask is what would happen if the fans of a privately owned football ‘club’ were to oppose a proposed code of conduct on an internet forum. Unfortunately, the answer is of course, very likely, nothing.
Keen to include all the issues that have spilled out into our members’ forum over the last few months, Taylor tells us that ‘the people running the club have recommended Peter Thwaites, the voluntary HR official who puts contracts in place, inserts a confidentiality agreement for the new programme editor’. The ‘people running the club’? This can only mean our democratically-elected Board members or the club employees they hold to account. These are club employees who are in the main also members and, therefore, owners of the club.
And right there is the real dilemma that Peter was asked to help the club to address. What rules do we need so that people who are employed by the club don’t abuse the additional power and knowledge that gives them when they participate in democratic debates within the club? One approach to this could be the approach taken by trade unions, local authorities and the civil service in this country – if you are paid by the club you keep quiet in democratic discussions about the club.
And there is the clue as to why Andy Walsh has resigned. Is he about to get involved in our debates? What does he want to say? That is the story that was sitting under Taylor’s nose the whole time.”
A well written piece – which you can make your own judgments on. I have to admit to a wry smile at the appointment of David Boyle in the article and irony. Would be a shame if the turmoil isn’t resolved swiftly and I say that even though FCUM is a rival of my “County”.