The Trust held its rescheduled 2015 annual general meeting on December 17 in the distinctive surroundings of Trinity United Reformed Church, right in the heart of Wimbledon.
The meeting had originally been scheduled for the previous week but was put back to allow fans to focus on Merton Council’s planning committee hearing, which was held on December 10. With the facilities at The Cherry Red Records Stadium unavailable for this new date, the venue was switched.
The Dons Trust Board election results had been released on December 10 as originally planned, with David Growns, Colin Dipple, Jane Lonsdale, Tom Adam, Roger Evans and Mark Davis all elected. Cormac van der Hoeven was the unsuccessful candidate on this occasion.
With Elections Steering Group (ESG) chair John Dolan unable to make this rescheduled AGM, Trust secretary David Hall summarised the ESG’s initial report, which will be published in the Bristol Rovers matchday programme. As the successful candidate with fewest votes, Tom Adam will serve for one year, with the other candidates all serving a full two-year term. The meeting gave its thanks to the election’s independent observer, Neil Springate from the Fulham Supporters Trust.
The AGM then approved the Trust’s annual report and financial accounts for 2014/15, before considering the AFCW PLC accounts that were to be voted on at a separate AGM the same night. Club chief executive Erik Samuelson said that this set of PLC accounts are significant as they are the basis upon which the club will apply for a commercial loan to help finance the new stadium, and that the club is ‘healthy as a company’ having made a profit of £232,222.
With time remaining before the PLC AGM’s scheduled start time at 8.30 pm, the Trust AGM went on to a lively Q&A session with the Trust Board. Discussion focused on:
- The prospective Community Shares issue and their cost to fans – Erik responded that the cost will be kept at an affordable level but that there might be issues with any attempt to make them purchasable via a monthly standing order.
- A wide-ranging discussion about engaging with younger fans – Nigel Higgs mentioned that there had already been discussion within the Board about co-opting someone onto the Board to focus on this, while Jane Lonsdale mentioned that initial analysis of statistics provided by the membership secretary suggest a drop-off in members between the ages of 20–40.
Members discussed a wide number of ways of engaging with younger fans beyond the activities already covered by the AFC Wimbledon Foundation and the community coaching activities, including links with the Ladies and Girls section. Matt Breach reported that the open training session earlier in the season had been initiated by Neal Ardley and the club.
It was accepted that the new stadium and the extra facilities it provides would offer greater potential to reach out to local community groups and engage with them. A member commented that the club’s Twitter feed used to be a popular way that youngsters engaged with the club; Erik responded that ways of reinvigorating the Twitter feed are in the pipeline.
There was then a Q&A session with the Football Club Board which covered:
- The possibility of appeals/reviews of the planning permission granted by Merton Council for our new stadium – Erik explained that Merton’s planning committee had had a ‘vote’ and this would not become a formal planning ‘decision’ until the Mayor of London has said the scheme is okay and the legal agreements with Merton have been signed off. Once this has been done, there is a six-week period within which people can launch a judicial review, which could then take six weeks for a judge to consider. Therefore, assuming that a judge decided that there were no grounds for a judicial review, approval would be definite 12 weeks after the ‘decision’.
- Players’ use of social media following comments made on Twitter by Ben Wilson – Erik stated that players already sign up to a code of conduct that includes social media use. Wilson has now returned to Cardiff City and all players had been reminded of their responsibilities.
The Trust AGM then adjourned for the AFCW PLC AGM. During this, PLC shareholders concluded the Back in Two Ticks process by officially rubberstamping authorisation for the PLC board to sell Kingsmeadow to Chelsea FC. They also authorised the board to borrow up to £7m secured against the value of the new stadium to help finance its construction.
After the AFCW PLC AGM finished, the Trust AGM resumed with ‘any other business’:
- Matt Breach officially thanked secretary David Hall, who was standing down after three and a half years in the role, and Jane Lonsdale on behalf of the Board presented him with an engraved tankard.
- The Board was reminded that there had been no reported progress with a members’ resolution passed at the May 2014 SGM regarding two Trust members being selected to act as club representatives on a matchday – Matt Breach promised action on this by the next SGM.
- There was lengthy discussion about Board members’ responsibilities to attend meetings and their accountability to the membership – it was pointed out that the number of meetings that Board members have attended is stated if they stand for re-election, and that the Board meeting minutes include a section allowing its members to state what they’ve been up to between meetings.
There was also discussion about whether it would be beneficial to expand the board back up to 12 members, and about further use of ‘working groups’ or teams of volunteers reporting in to individual board members, as had been the case with Mark Davis during the Back in Two Ticks campaign.
- A member asked where AFC Wimbledon Foundation appear in the accounts – Erik answered that they don’t: they are an independent charity overseen by Trustees.
- And finally there was a question about agents’ fees, as figures released by the Football League suggested we have been paying these – Matt Breach responded that there are times when paying an agent is necessary to sign a certain player, but the club’s approach is not to do this as a matter of course which is why our figure was low compared with other clubs.
Erik added that the figure is a combination of payments made on behalf of players to their agents and payments made direct to agents where they operate on our behalf: there are some cost efficiencies in paying the agent directly for their services. He also pointed out that while agents generally get a bad press, we work with some good, decent agents who help in recruiting the players we need.
The provisional date for the next special general meeting is Thursday, April 7 (subject to confirmation).