Ipswich Town First Update

It has been a quiet year for the Trust this year, as we have faced unforeseen challenges and problems within our setup. The greatest one of these has been – where exactly do we go now? Over the last few years our relationship with the club, and its custodians has slowly diminished. We originally had a great working relationship when David Sheepshanks was the chairman of the club, but this relationship took a hit when the Trust proposed creating a mechanism to include a supporter-elected representative on the board of the club at the club’s 2004 AGM, and challenged the club over the bonuses paid out that year, at the club’s 2006 AGM. The club did not like that we asked this question, but it was a question that needed to be asked – we could have taken an easier way out and waited for another fan to ask the question, but that would have been cowardly on the Trust’s part. After all, while our – and every other Trust’s – main aim is to have elected and accountable representation on the board of the club, it is also one of our aims that we are also to be the conscience of the club. Our relationship was still better than some Trusts enjoy than their club, and we still had regular contact with Derek Bowden, and maintained a good relationship with him. However, since Marcus Evans replaced Bowden with Simon Clegg, we are essentially on the outside looking in. Despite our best endeavours, Clegg has made it clear that he only wishes to deal with the Official Supporters Club.

As a result, our position has changed, although our aims have not – and as long as we are affiliated to, and a member of Supporters Direct our aims will always reflect those of our members within the auspices of Supporters Direct. And this has been a period of reflection. We have spent the last twelve months reviewing our position, and seeing what we can do. At present, we feel our biggest role is to be there to comment on events that happen off the pitch – however, this season just gone has been a proper season, in that most of our action has happened on the pitch. We do not believe that the Trust should comment on matters of team management, or the form and selection of players. However, there are still off the pitch matter that linger.

At the AGM of Ipswich Town FC plc, (which owns 12.5% of the club, and is owned by those who bought shares in the club in the share offers of 2003 and 2006), the clubs’ interest bearing debt as at June 2009 was stated as being £38million, of which £2million relates to the amount owed loan note holders from those that bought loan notes in the period between exiting administration and Marcus Evans acquiring the club and £36million was the debt that Marcus Evans bought from Aviva (and cannot be paid off until the club has achieved five successive seasons in the Premier League). How much Evans paid for this debt is unclear, but it is believed it is not too far from the 20p in the pound that Trust Secretary Colin Kreidewolf had previously suggested to the club that Aviva would accept as a settlement. However, no mention was made of the non-interest bearing debt that the club holds. Deloitte claimed that our full debt at the end of the 2008-2009 financial year was £47.75m, and subsequently, ITFC plc has reported a further pre-tax loss of £14.2million. Because of the way the clubs’ finances are reported, it is unknown how much of this is swallowed up by the rest of the Marcus Evans’ group, and how much is part of Ipswich’s non-interest bearing debt. All we know about the non-interest bearing debt is that no the club is not in debt to any financial institution. There is also the issue of where the club are officially located for tax purposes. A Christian Aid report reporting on where football clubs were located for tax purposes was inconclusive. The report noted that when trying to locate Marcus Evans Investments Limited (the arm of the group that owns 87.5% of our club): “Despite our best efforts, we could not prove by documentation where that company is located. Press reports suggest it is based in Bermuda”.

Over the last two financial years, the club has lost just under £27m, while still being a mid-table Championship club. Coupled with the lack of communication from Evans himself, this is a concern, as we have no idea what Evans’ intentions are. While the club is unlikely to had into administration under Evans’ stewardship (as the clubs biggest creditor, he would be the one with the most to lose), should Evans decide to sell the club, unlike at the EGM where Evans acquired control, the fans would have no say in the future owner of the club. While we own our stand, but not the ground the stand are built on, Portman Road is safe, however while Evans had to give assurances that he would have to sell the the unpaid money owed from the Aviva debt, along with the club, but there was no suggestion that he would be obliged to pass this condition onto any future buyer. Historically, the sort of clubs that were at the biggest threat from asset strippers were ones that owned their own land – however, as we have seen from clubs lower down the leagues, such as Chester City, that is no longer the case.

It is because of this long term uncertainty that the Trust needs to stay organised. When the club entered administration in 2003, the club had already reached agreement on the CVA, the Trust was still being formed, and any chance of organized action giving the fans to buy the club – or part of it – was gone, until the future share issues that diluted the ownership of the club.

I have recently returned from the Supporters Direct Conference at Chester. I went for three reasons. One, I have a huge interest in the Supporters Direct movement as a whole. Two, there appeared to be a session that looked like it was geared towards Trusts like ours, and thirdly, I write for a weblog, and wanted to provide some of the details of the conference for the site that I write for (I did not use nor request Trust funds to act as expenses). I hoped to make contact with Trusts in a position similar to ours, to see how they handled positions like ours, but the majority of Trusts represented on the day, were either those that already run their own club, hold a significant shareholding in their club, have a board representative, or are a club in severe crisis. However, my trip was not in vain, as the conference still provided information useful for a Trust like our own.

Moving on, what exactly do we need? We need YOU. We need to know what you want, we need to know what you think, we want to know if you want to get involved, and most importantly we need to hear from you. As Trust is only as good as its membership, and if we hear little to nothing from our membership, we have no idea which direction we should take. We also aim to hold a committee election at our AGM later in the year, and if you are interested in putting yourself up for election, please get in touch. Society Boards like ours always need new blood, and if you are interested that you have something to offer, but concerned that you may not be able to offer as much as you would like, please get in touch with us, and we hope to allay those concerns. If you’re interested in joining the Trust as a member, without wishing to join the board, get in touch, As long as you believe in the Trust’s objectives, you can join. The Trust’s objectives are, and always will be: empowering supporters by providing a voice and acquiring shares and voting rights in the club with the ultimate aim of owning the club; strengthening bonds between the club, the supporters and the community; being the conscience of the club; supporting and encouraging youth and community initiatives; encouraging the club to compete at the highest level. These objectives are handed down to us by Supporters Direct, and without these objectives, we cannot be considered a Supporters Trust.

A few weeks ago I saw comments on Twitter from a Town fan asking what about the Trust, and earlier this week there was a short thread on Those Were The Days about it. Ideally, it would have been great to have jumped in, and explained the situation publically, but with the holiday season, and an important committee meeting coming up (which took place earlier this week), it was impossible to comment publicly without any statements being seen as mere procrastination, and any answers onto our future direction would have been a shot in the dark before that meeting, and may have not reflected the view of the Trust board as a whole. At this point, I’d like to take the opportunity to apologise on behalf of the board for the lack of communication over the last season, and give my personal assurance that it will not happen again while I am on the board.

In the meantime, if you have any queries, feel free to get in touch with us at ipswichtownfirst@gmail.com

Rob Freeman

On behalf of Ipswich Town First Committee


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