OxVox Members’ Meeting
Date: Thursday 4th August 2016
Venue: The Masons Arms in Headington Quarry.
OxVox Committee Members in attendance: Jem Faulkner (JF), Terry Winter (TW), Graham Butler (GB), Maurice Earp (ME), Trevor Lambert (TL), Colin Barson (CB), Kate Longworth (KL), Michael North (MN).
Over 60 OxVox members filled the function room at the Masons Arms to hear updates from the Supporters Trust and take part in a Q&A with OUFC Chairman, Darryl Eales and OUFC Managing Director, Greig Box Turnbull.
The meeting opened with JF welcoming members to the meeting and taking them through the agenda and ‘order of events’ for the evening.
JF brought members up to date with The Trust’s current financial position. Cash at bank as at the AGM in March stood at £10,551 and has now grown to £12,789. This has been as a result of a significant donation of £1,000 from Michael North and an increase in new member subscriptions.
Commitments totalling £1,500 are in the process of going through, but this still leaves The Trust in a healthy financial position with £11,289 in the bank.
A prudent policy on ‘spend’ remains in place and costs continue to be minimised, but it is not The Trust’s aim to simply amass cash, therefore further projects are always being considered. These projects will always be focused on fan based initiatives and supporting the club and the wider community.
JF informed the meeting that 2 new corporate sponsors have come on board. John Boyd Motors and Wa Curry. The Trust are delighted to welcome these latest sponsors.
JF informed the meeting that Trust Membership had now grown to 650. This is an increase of 70 since the AGM in March and an increase of over 200 over the last 2 years. There were also 5 new members who’d joined on the evening!
The Trust’s objective is to see membership at 750 by the end of March, but a membership total of over 1,000 was a realistic medium term objective.
4. Community Projects
The ‘one of our own’ campaign, designed to buy season tickets for children in care, has been a huge success, raising £8,000 in just over 4 weeks! The meeting thanked Liam Walker, from the Residential and Edge of Care Service and Simon Bradbury, OxVox Vice Chair, for their work in creating & organising the campaign and ‘making it happen’!
All the monies were collected via a ’just giving’ online mechanic and have been taken into the OUFC Community Trust, who are a registered charity. Over 60 season tickets will now be purchased for children and the required number of carers.
The Trust has also sponsored the Oxford Blackbirds under 7’s football team, with £500 being donated from Trust Funds to buy kits and training tops. Paul Chapman from Oxford Blackbirds had brought along examples of the kit (with big OxVox logos on!) and these were shown to members. The kit looks fantastic and everyone was delighted to be able to support the local community in this way.
The Blue Plaque project for the Britannia Inn in Headington is still ongoing. This is likely to be completed by October and the total cost is likely to be £800.
5. Trust Updates and Priorities for the Year Ahead
The meeting discussed recent activity & the priorities that had been identified as follows:
Season Ticket Pricing: It was confirmed that OxVox had been fully consulted on season ticket pricing for this season and although prices had risen, it was felt that they represented good value for money following promotion to League 1.
EFL Trophy: Like most fans, the Trust are disappointed with the format that the EFL have implemented for this season as a replacement for the JPT. JF said that the Trust position is that of being totally opposed to any prospect of Premiership B teams being introduced into the league structure and that it was important that vigorous lobbying from Trusts all over the country was required pre the next EFL AGM. JF did state however that the Trust would not advocate or lead any boycotts of EFL Trophy games involving OUFC. It was felt that it was personal/individual choice and that fans would make their own minds up about whether to attend matches or not.
Player Sponsorship: It was communicated that OxVox would look to sponsor 2 players this season. If the sponsorship included benefits such as match tickets and/or hospitality, then any such benefits would be passed to members by way of a competition or similar.
OUFC Community Trust: OxVox will continue to work closely with the OUFC Community Trust for the benefit of the wider community. JF informed that meeting that OxVox Committee Member Kate Longworth has now joined The OUFC Community Trust in a full time role as Head of Community. Kate will however remain on the OxVox Committee as the roles are seen as complementary and not conflicting. Congratulations Kate!
Fan representation on the Board of OUFC: It was confirmed that Darryl Eales and OxVox are working on ways to provide the club with greater fan representation at Board Level in OUFC. Supporters Direct are helping facilitate the initiative and are working out the best ways in which the objective can be achieved for the mutual benefit of the club and fans.
The Chairman’s Quiz!: It was noted that a team from OxVox had won the recent Chairman’s Quiz competition! Well done to CB and TL who were part of the team.
Stadium: JF outlined the work that was being conducted by OxVox in relation to the ongoing issue of ‘stadium’ and the conclusions to date.
A check/tick list approach had been taken to firstly establish the suitability of the current stadium and whether or not it could meet the club’s and the community’s aspirations and also to investigate alternative options if it was found that the stadium was unsuitable/ could not meet the club and community aspirations.
As part of the research, OxVox has conducted meetings and correspondence with numerous stakeholders, including all the local councils, all the local planning departments, and various other stakeholders, including Firoz Kassam and Darryl Eales. JF shared the results of the analysis as follows.
It is now known that the land on the other side of Grenoble Road is earmarked for a significant housing development and that Oxford City Council sees the Kassam Stadium as an extremely important central focal point for what will be a significant area of the City by 2022.
Contrary to popular belief, the land on the other side of Grenoble Road is owned by Oxford City Council, Magdalen College and Thames Water, rather than South Oxfordshire District Council. These 3 parties will be looking to submit planning applications for significant housing and leisure developments on the other side of Grenoble Road by the end of 2016. Given the critical need for additional housing in Oxfordshire, it is believed that the applications will be given the green light and, subject to public consultation, that development will commence by 2019 at the latest.
Given that the developments go ahead, it is believed that 40,000+ people will live within 20 minutes walking distance of the stadium by 2022. This will be a huge catchment area for OUFC that would not require public transport and/or significant additional car parking provision.
Chiltern Railways are planning a branch line to the Science Park and although in the early stages of planning, it could see a rail link from the City Centre and Water Eaton within the next 6 years.
CB took the meeting through work that had been undertaken by OxVox who have engaged with world leading stadium architects Populous, to determine if the current stadium could be developed to meet the longer term aspirations of the club in terms of significantly bigger crowds and improved facilities.
The findings are that the stadium does lend itself very well to a significant capacity increase and a figure of 25,000+ is very achievable without needing to demolish any of the existing stands, but instead remodelling and reconfiguring the existing structures to create a modern and higher capacity stadium.
Alternative Stadium Options: The process considered alternative options in terms of location including analysing other football clubs who have built new stadia and also meeting with the various local authorities and their planning departments to determine if alternative sites might be realistically available.
In terms of looking at the experiences of other clubs, it was found that the likes of Rotherham and Chesterfield typically spent in excess of £20m to develop stadiums with capacities of circa 15,000 maximum, whereas the much admired Amex Stadium in Brighton actually cost over £90m, including surrounding infrastructure!
All of the clubs who have built new stadia over the last 10 years are losing money, with Brighton suffering annual losses of £10m+ and who are clearly ‘gambling’ on promotion to the Premier League to be able to correct the current shareholder deficit of £60m. The BHA Supporters Trust (OxVox equivalent) are very concerned! The analysis of other clubs’ stadium experiences has clearly shown that even with a new stadium and very good access/infrastructure, this alone does not achieve financial security, even with naming rights and other commercial endorsements being applied.
In terms of Oxford, the work to identify a potential new home for OUFC, has focussed on the much talked about Water Eaton site set between North Oxford and Kidlington and next to the new Oxford Parkway Station.
Several meetings with the Chief Planning Officer and his team from Cherwell District Council, revealed that (a) the site has never been considered for a stadium, (b) that the site has always been designated for housing and (c) OxVox have been the only people to actually meet with them to discuss the site.
Given the information gleaned (which has been confirmed in writing), OxVox believe that Water Eaton is not an option for a potential new home for Oxford United.
Stadium Conclusions: JF stated that it is very much the conclusion of OxVox that the most sensible option for a long term, sustainable home for OUFC, is where it is now. The Kassam Stadium on Grenoble Road.
The Trust believe that if an agreement could be reached with Firoz Kassam, that ownership of the stadium should be held within a Trust, made up of local parties, including Oxford City Council. This would protect the stadium long term, provide the opportunity for further development, give OUFC the opportunity to maximise revenues for the benefit of the club and its fans, and create a facility that can be utilised and enjoyed by the wider community for the benefit of all.
Meetings/communications are continuing with Firoz Kassam, Oxford City Council and other stakeholders regarding stadium ownership in the medium to long term and JF confirmed that members will be kept updated on progress.
6. Q&A with Darryl Eales and Greig Box Turnbull
(a) The Q&A session was introduced by JF. DE and GBT sat in front of the members to take questions.
(b) JF re-iterated that the relationship between OxVox and the club remains positive and constructive and that the Trust continues to take the position of a ‘critical friend’, with a ‘fans first’ agenda.
(c) DE answered a question about the Priory Pub. It is his understanding that Firoz Kassam has until February to repair/renovate the Priory, but was unsure if this would result in it being returned to being a pub. DE said that the club are always on the lookout for opportunities to have a supporters’ bar of some description.
(d) DE answered a number of questions about the new EFL Trophy and stated that it was individual fans’ decisions if they wanted to boycott games, but that this would obviously not benefit the club financially. He did understand however how people feel. He said that what had been agreed/signed up to, does appear to have changed and that the club would not vote in favour of the competition being repeated in this format next year and would also always vote against any introduction of Premiership B teams into the league structure. Given that 90% of league clubs would need to vote in favour of Premiership B teams, he believes this would never happen.
(e) DE answered questions about the proposed 4th stand and said that a planning application had been made and that it was now a question of things being agreed with the stadium company/Firoz Kassam. He was hopeful all could be agreed over the coming weeks.
(f) DE responded to a question about corporate packages and the provision of tea and coffee in the lounges. He said that at the moment it had been decided not to open the restaurant until a more equitable solution on costs could be agreed with the stadium company. The same applies to refreshments in the lounges. He said he hoped things could be resolved soon, but couldn’t put a time frame on it.
(g) GBT responded to a question about the challenges he’s faced since joining the club and talked about the need to strengthen his team with a lot of focus on the commercial side of the club. A new head of commercial is due to join soon and he was confident that this would help move things forward as the club continues to strive for improvements both on and off the field.
(h) DE answered questions about players and player recruitment and spoke about the club’s desire to continue to strengthen the team, DE believes that the club can have a very good year and that all the playing staff and management are focused and confident of a successful campaign.
(i) GBT and Kate Longworth responded to a member’s question about ongoing work at a local school. Both confirmed that progress is being made and that the OUFC Community Trust is committed to building better futures for young people through various education initiatives.
(j) DE answered members’ questions about players who’d recently left the club, namely Callum O’Dowda and Kemar Roofe. DE said he wished them well and thought that although he and Michael Appleton would have ideally wanted them to stay, that the club had been paid good fees for both players. It was felt that Callum might have been better served to have stayed at OUFC for another year, but that was not to be.
(k) There was a lively debate between members and DE/GBT about TVP’s sometimes overzealous policing at home games. Some members thought that, particularly behind the North Stand, policing was at times intimidating and very off putting for younger fans. DE committed to look into this issue. OxVox will also speak with TVP.
(l) Following on from the above point, members questioned the wisdom of relocating the family stand to the North Stand. GBT explained that a really good kids’ area was available under the stand and is being refurbished. He also stated that encouraging younger fans to come to games was vitally important to the club and that OUFC, like most clubs, has an ageing fan base.
(m) DE spoke about the club’s debt and reiterated that the debt was his and that he would never put the club in a difficult financial position, or leave it burdened with debt.
(n) DE answered a member’s question about ‘safe standing’. DE said he would be all in favour of safe standing and that should the opportunity to introduce it in the future (from stadium ownership) that it would be given serious consideration.
The Q&A session and the meeting ended at 9.15pm, but DE and GBT stayed until 10pm to chat informally with members. JF thanked DE, GBT, the OxVox Committee and all the members present for coming along and it was agreed that the evening had been a success!
It is planned to hold 2 members’ events each year and other guests will be invited as well as DE/GBT – who thankfully said they would be more than happy to attend again.