1) Now that The Trust has sold its majority stake in the Club, what are its primary aims and objectives?
The aims of Bees United haven’t changed as a result of the change of ownership – we still exist to safeguard the long term future of Brentford Football Club. The way in which we do it is obviously slightly different, but we still exist to do exactly the same thing we always have. The sale of the shares in the Club to Matthew Benham is obviously a major event, but in terms of how we work on a day-to-day basis it has had no significant impact. The Board of the Football Club is still the same, with the same people attending (including Donald Kerr and myself as BU representatives) and the same discussions as to what is best for the Club. The Board of BU is also the same, and we still focus on the same things – anything that could impact on the long term future of the Club.
2) The Trust has been very quiet since the sale, what do you put that down to?
In some ways it is a huge sign of success. Thanks to the efforts of Bees United and the support of Matthew Benham we no longer face imminent crisis. There is no Ron Noades figure to focus our energy on, no need to walk a coffin down the streets protesting at a move away from Brentford, etc etc. We should all be very happy that there is no crisis which warrants BU being particularly vocal.
That is not the whole picture though. I think it is also fair to highlight that the BU Board members with job commitments – myself included – have found it much more difficult to balance work and Brentford recently. I don’t know if that is just coincidence (it is not as if we work for the same employers), whether it reflects the economy (there seems to be a lot more work issues that need attention), or whether it all comes down to the lack of a Brentford-related crisis. At the end of the day we are all volunteers and as long as we are covering the important issues – attending BU Board meetings, attending Brentford FC and Lionel Road Board meetings, and making sure decisions aren’t being made which put the Club at risk in any way – then if people have work commitments I can understand if that has to take priority.
At our last BU Board meeting we discussed communications and the technical issues we have had with our website, and we do recognise we need to make the news items more current. We are working on that, but I am not in favour of manufacturing issues just to grab the headlines – we are clear what we are trying to achieve and are doing all the right things to make that happen.
3) How do you convince the average Brentford fan to join Bees United and why should they still donate money to The Trust?
For me the aims of Bees United, and our track record of achieving them, speak for themselves. If a supporter cares about whether Brentford will be here in ten or twenty years time, if they care about whether the expenditure today is putting tomorrow at risk, if they listen to the news about Portsmouth and Rangers and want to do their bit to make sure Brentford isn’t in the same boat… that is why Bees United was created. Since our inception, before and since my personal involvement, BU has always acted for the long-term good of Brentford Football Club. That has led us to where we are today – what I would argue is the most financially secure position Brentford FC has been in in living memory, possibly ever!
OK – there is an obvious comeback to that… that is thanks to Matthew Benham, not BU – it is both. The money is Matthews – the way in which he is investing it (as shares, not loans) is something BU negotiated in our original deal with him. It is Matthews money which is enabling Lionel road to progress – it is BU’s Golden Share which will make sure it is a Brentford asset as opposed to us merely borrowing a pitch to play on.
If you are a recent supporter, or a long-standing young supporter now an adult, or even a long-standing fan who didn’t realise the good work BU was doing, and these things chime with you then my message is clear: the membership is cheap, easy to arrange, and thoroughly worthwhile.
If you are an existing BU member, questioning why we still need your money when I am saying there is no crisis, then my message is a bit more mixed. Financial independence will give BU much greater ability to pursue our objectives – we still need membership (without our member we will have very little power behind our voice) and your membership fees. However, given neither BU nor Brentford FC is facing imminent financial crisis I would say you should only contribute what you can afford. I know supporters who really stretched themselves to maximise their monthly standing order, and this was exactly what we needed to keep the Club afloat at the time. Now the pressure is not so strong – please maintain your membership but feel free to reduce your subscription to something you can afford more easily – £15 is the adult minimum per yeasr and can be paid by standing order to make it easier to bear. Thats only just over a pound a month.
4) No one came forward to stand for the recent Trust elections, how much is that a worry to you and what can be done to stop that happening again?
I think it is fair to say that the delays we had to both updating our website and sending out our election mailshot didn’t make it easy for supporters to put their name forward. The delays gave people very little time to consider whether to stand from being first notified to the election deadline that was set. If we’d known about the delays at the time we’d have set a later date, but once these things are set we can’t break the rules of the Society.
We can only hold our hands up for that and apologise – we need to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
However, the reassuring thing is that we have had interest from a number of people about joining the BU Board, and the rules of the Society allow the Board to co-opt members as they see fit. Given there are ‘vacant’ Board positions as a result of these delays I will certainly be supporting these individuals being co-opted onto the Board. It is not appropriate for me to name them right now given the BU Board have not had a chance to vote on them joining the Board, but as soon as it has been confirmed we shall announce it.
5) Was it a blow that The Trust had to sell its stake and put the Club back in private hands?
In a perfect world Bees United would still be owner of Brentford Football Club, and would have enough money coming in through Club revenues or BU income to fund all the expenditure the Club needs to be a sustained competitive force in the Football League. We don’t live in a perfect world and we didn’t have the funds we needed.
The next best thing is having an owner who is himself a fan, who is investing large sums of money as equity in the Club to enable BFC to compete, who invests further sums to buy the land required for a new stadium, and who is prepared to work with Bees United by listening to our representatives on the BFC Board and by allowing BU a formal Golden Share over the sale of Griffin Park (or any future stadium). Thats what we have now.
For me personally it was always about whether Brentford will still exist in ten, twenty or fifty years. I can honestly say that thanks to Bees United we are far nearer making that happen than I thought was possible when I got involved.
6) What are the nominees roles on the BFC board now Matthew has full control of the Club?
Donald Kerr and myself are the BU representatives on the BFC Board. Donald is also on the Board of the Lionel Road company (and also the Community Sports Trust). On the BFC Board we all contribute to whichever discussion is relevant at the time, rather than having specific roles nominated. There were no changes to BFC Board membership as a result of Matthew taking over the Club – Matthew was happy to continue to work with everyone on the Board.
7) Personally, what health do you feel the Club is in having been on the board of directors five years now?
I remember ranting at the TV as Ben Hamer slid out of the penalty box away at Barrow in the FA Cup in 2008. As a fan I might have reacted similarly, but as a Director of BFC and as Chairman of BU I was distraught – we already had a begging bowl out to fund the original budget for the season, and depended on upsides (like a cup run) to balance the books from unforeseen costs. BU simply didn’t have the funds to see the Club through to the end of a season, let alone long term.
The world is very different now – as I said before I think we are now in the most financially secure position Brentford FC has been probably ever been in! That is thanks in part to Matthew Benham, thanks in part to everyone who works for the Club, but it is also thanks to Bees United.
I would ask every Brentford Supporter to support Bees United and help us make sure BFC continues to be ever more secure.