As is often the case when writing updates for OxVox, events overtake the work we are doing and a rewrite is in order. Last Thursday, 23 February, Ali and I met CEO Tim Williams, Adam Benson (Chief commercial and marketing officer) and we were joined on Zoom by Chairman Grant Ferguson.
Communication, and the manager situation
The most pressing issue was communication. We repeated our position of neutrality on the hiring and firing of managers, and relayed again the concerns of members and supporters, particularly regarding communication over the managerial position. We had confirmation in the meeting that despite the suggestion that the board were taking their eye off the ball, there was actually a detailed analysis being undertaken and daily meetings to discuss the issue. Grant and Tim spoke at length daily and the owners regularly joined these Zoom/Teams meetings.
Of course as with all meetings, we have to sometimes read between the lines a little, but the lack of communication regarding reviewing the position of manager was somewhat understandable. The club cannot publicly cut the legs from under a man they hoped could bring the club the wins we need.
We argued that both fans and manager would understand a properly worded communication on the subject, but we also understood the position the board were taking in trying to ensure the club’s safety in the league. After hearing the five (fifteen) minute fans forum, we hoped that this would convey to understandably anxious fans that the board were prepared to take action when they deemed it was needed.
The crushing defeat on Saturday left us all down and in truth the news of the departure of the manager came as little surprise. The poor results have led to friction between supporters and also between supporters and the club. Change was needed and is being delivered. None of this however excuses some of the language and vitriol that has been noted over the last few weeks on social media. We as supporters and the club in some of their handling of the situation, must do better. The overwhelming majority were measured but firm in their communications. It was a very small minority that stepped into the personal abuse and that is not what this club is about.
Everyone will have an opinion of whether and when a managerial change should have happened but our biggest concern was, and is, that structures are in place to allow decisions to be made following proper review and discussion. Work still goes on to find the best manager and candidates to fill the gaps in the recruitment department but it does seem that the club is intent on bringing the right people into the club to ensure a return to winning ways and that our recruitment model is able to function in the impressive manner we know it can.
We would like at this point to put our thanks on record to Karl Robinson for his efforts both on the pitch and also for his work in keeping the club connected to supporters through some very difficult times. Although the last year has been desperately poor on the field, we have had two ‘near misses’ in terms of promotion, and in time most I think will remember a period of exciting football, some outstanding players, and some memorable cup nights. Longevity in football management at one club is very rare and to have had as many moments of joy in those five years is something to be proud of.
We spoke at length with Adam about various issues surrounding last year’s season ticket problems. Adam is still working hard on getting to know both the club and our supporters and was keen to hear our feedback. We spoke at length about a number of issues including ‘hidden charges’, the loss of loyalty schemes and club shop related rewards, the 1893 Club, the recognition of fans for their covid loyalty and a number of other issues. Adam listened and was positive in his comments. Many of the issues he was hearing for the first time, and we have been in contact since and will arrange to meet again as the season ticket package is finalised. He did mention some of the ideas he hoped to implement and we were encouraged by some of the ideas but until they are ready to announce them it would be unfair of us to repeat them here. We will continue to update members as we meet again with Adam but early signs seem encouraging.
On the wider subject of marketing and sales we did bring up the problem of late shirt release. While it was explained that most clubs had suffered with the same problem over supply chain issues, the club did say they were working hard to ensure they could be released much earlier this time round.
The new stadium
We also took the opportunity to speak briefly to Tim about the stadium.
We have been in regular contact with Niall McWilliams and progress remains steady and generally positive. There is a hope to have heads of terms agreed over the coming months and work to begin on the planning application. We remain focused on this project and hope to have more updates as this progress is secured. Our priority remains helping the club progress the stadium project while securing the stadium to the club for the long term benefit and financial sustainability of Oxford United.
We also spoke to Tim Williams and at the end of a long meeting I put to him the concern of some members that the ‘Triangle’ plot will not prove worthwhile for the owners and they may step away from it. He was immediate with his response and confirmed that the owners were committed to the club for the long term. He said that they were already moving preparations forward on the triangle and that the owners were ready to invest the large sums necessary to get us through the planning stage. We will update members further as heads of terms progress but the signs are positive and show the strides that are being made off the pitch.
We ended the conversation with some ideas about how to improve the communication both with us, but more importantly to supporters. We also spoke about the Five-Minute Fans Forum that was due out later that day. Tim hoped supporters understood the effort that was going into making our club a success.
So the search for a new manager begins and we move into a new era. We will all have an idea of what we want from the new manager but one thing that is clear is that we all need to unite behind the squad and do what we can to help keep us up. After all, we are supporters! Thank you as always for reading this update and as always…… COYY!