Chief Executive Officer, Dane Murphy was the invited guest at a Supporters Trust event on Tuesday night, held in the Copier Systems Legends Suite. Below is a round-up of the evening's topics.
Opening statement/welcome from Dane
“Thank you to everyone for coming out tonight, especially considering the current circumstances regards the Coronavirus. So, where we are at right now - we’re taking guidance. That’s from the EFL, from local authorities, from governing authorities. Officials are in constant dialogue with the clubs. And as of now we’re told to carry on, it’s business as usual. But that it can change, and so the EFL and the government are speaking daily as things develop. So in that respect, we’re remaining diligent and on our toes so that if anything changes we are prepared, well-versed and will let everyone know as soon as possible.”
First question from the floor, asking Dane what the owners think of their (just over) two years at the club so far
“I’ve been here myself since July of 2019. The owners arrived at the start of 2018, part way through the 2017/18 Championship season, the club went down but then had a very successful season last year. This time around, it’s not been anything like that, putting it mildly. So for me to put a grade on how it’s gone under the current ownership, it’s tough. There have been ups and downs. And this isn’t complete, it’s a work-in-progress and while it’s difficult due to financial restrictions, the goal is always to compete at a high level.”
Dane is asked about clubs who are not complying with EFL and FFP rules
“Without going into too much detail and getting emotional about things, there have been several clubs who have breached the regulations. Only a few so far have been made public. But you’ve seen today maybe, the news about another club in the Championship? So, from an outsider’s perspective, and perhaps even my own, the rules that are in place, they are there for a reason, and are being broken, but the punishments aren’t being doled out. They’re not being enforced and thus there isn’t a level playing field. So clubs like ourselves and others around the whole EFL who are trying their best to abide by the rules, some bigger clubs also, who are trying to run a club sustainably for the long run, well to be honest we feel hard done by. There are clubs breaking the rules and nothing seems to be happening.
“We have had EFL board meetings around this, and again without being too emotional, it seems like we are trying to put band-aids on top of band-aids, instead of solving the real issue. And as a smaller club that’s something we will continue to try and fight because we believe what we are doing is the right way to run a football club. But until the laws are properly enforced, clubs will continue to break the rules and that leaves Barnsley FC massively up against it.”
Question from the floor, regards the Reds Reserved+ memberships, and what the £15 extra actually got the member, besides a scarf, key-ring and loyalty points towards away tickets
Head of Communications, Andrew Clark took the mic
“The digital members zone which was described at launch, to put it quite frankly, it proved a nightmare. In hindsight, we should have had these sorts of things in place, built and ready at launch. But for a number of reasons, this never worked out. We can only apologise and we should have communicated this at the time. But other concerns regards the upgrades, these have been going ahead every week, with members receiving an upgrade for matches, where they’ve been moved into hospitality and what have you. Again, we apologise if this hasn’t been communicated effectively enough.
"We have had a number of junior events for members also. But there have certainly been issues surrounding the rollout of the memberships and we have learnt some valuable lessons as we look at the packages for next season. Moving forward, everything we plan to do will be communicated better, we will publish things in advance so that everyone knows what they’re getting prior to purchase. I can only apologise for the mistakes we’ve made on this.
“One of the main benefits of paying the extra £15 was the loyalty point system that we introduced. But with the big away allocations this season, the system maybe hasn’t been as worthwhile as expected. Perhaps we should have foreseen that, but it’s something that was suggested in recent years at other fan forums. But then we do have a couple of games coming up, trips to Luton Town and then Brentford with smaller allocations where the benefits will be seen.”
Statement from supporter saying the recruitment (particularly the age of players signed) at the club is flawed
“I can’t argue with what you’ve just said, from the results of this season. We have a team of mainly young players and very little Championship experience. It hasn’t panned out, and I’m being completely honest about that. Our model around recruitment, where we sign and develop mainly players under 25, hoping to compete in the Championship, improving year-on-year, based on this season, it hasn’t worked.
“But we will take the lessons learned, the criticism and look at where and how we can make things better, so that the philosophy can work for us at this level. But the main issue we have with players outside and above that age range, in terms of players of experience and proven quality in the Championship, it’s the wage expectation of those players. It’s outside of what we want to do financially.”
Dane is then asked if the club misjudged the Championship
“Sincerely, having spoken with the recruitment team, the ownership and staff in place at the time, we had many days and nights of knocked-down, dragged out arguments. I don’t think we underestimated the Championship. Because everyone in the discussions, everyone involved knew that the players we were recruiting would need time. But did we expect it to take so long? No. So I guess we, as a collective underestimated that. Maybe we didn’t pull in enough Championship ‘readiness’, whatever that is, to help as we developed the younger players.”
Dane is then asked if there is an issue with a lack of experience in the boardroom
“That’s a fair question. But there are two or three members of our board who’ve been involved in English football for a number of years now. From my own point of view, I’m young and inexperienced in terms of the English game, whilst our owners have been involved for the last couple of years, in England. But how do you measure capability?
“There have been many foreign groups come into English football over the last few years and they will have had similar experience coming in, but they’ve been willing to spend a lot of money, to lose lots of money. Does that make them successful?
“The team that was so successful last season, they were players found by the same club, the same people, the same recruitment team and pretty much the same board.”
Question from a supporter about the lack of loan players signed
“In our philosophy, our approach, we steer away from using loans. We want to develop our own talent, and in the case of experienced loan players you are talking about a fairly big outlay financially. But using the loan system hasn’t been ruled out and we recently did sign a young player on such a deal.”
Supporter interjects, calls Dane disingenuous, refers to lack of communication
“We were continually looking at the possibility of signing more players on loan, right up until deadline day. We got quite far down the road on a number of them, but the financial implications were huge. On one in particular, we felt like we were getting somewhere but then the player - a defender of experience from the Premier League - said he didn’t want to come. He was happy in the south, it wasn’t about money. So we moved on. We then, one hour later see that he’s joined a fellow Championship club, and it turns out it’s because they offered him a bonus for staying up of half a million pounds. That’s something we just can’t do.”
Supporter states that the recruitment team should be sacked, not the coaching staff. Suggests they pick the players and the team, so what’s the point
“The club had a great year last season right? We got promoted. We had a philosophy and approach heading into last summer that we believed would work, and in the short-term, that hasn’t worked out for us. We have fully admitted that. So in January, we had three players coming in who were all familiar with the Head Coach. So there is a balance.
“As a club, we’ve always been clear that we take the final decision on who we bring in and who we let out. But there is plenty of input, and the coaching staff certainly have theirs. And you can see that in those instances - we brought in Kilian (Ludewig), Michael (Sollbauer) and Marcel (Ritzmaier). All players who had played for Gerhard previously.”
Supporter interjects, suggesting the last three coaches have had no experience of English football, and are ‘out of step’ with it
“I can only confidently speak about my time here, but Daniel Stendel brought the club up last season, did he know the players and the country? OK, it didn’t quite work out this season. Then with Gerhard since he was appointed, I think before the Reading game we were 10th on points from his games. So I think it’s tough to say that has had an impact. But I’m sure that yes, knowing the league and the players within it has its benefits but I think the amount of foreign managers in this country suggest it’s not a big issue.”
Dane is asked whether the club can compete at this level financially, because it can’t attract players due to wages
“I don’t think we are unable to compete. Whilst we admit that this season hasn’t panned out as we’d have all liked, including the fans I’m sure, that doesn’t necessarily mean we’ve failed in the long-term and that we cannot compete in the Championship. You have seen on numerous occasions this season, that even with our team and its lack of experience, with the young talent we have, that we can compete at this level. Whilst we’ve been downright terrible in a few games this season, I think it’s only fair to say that we’ve been very unlucky not to get more points in a whole host of other games. So the proof is there that we can compete. So it’s about finding a better balance. I think if we fail to learn from, if we repeat mistakes we’ve made this season, then fine, then you can say that. You can say it’s a failure and we can’t compete.”
Dane is then asked about a lack of physicality in the team, is that an issue
“We accept that in terms of this division, we possibly do lack in terms of that, and from an athleticism standpoint. There is a physical element to this division specifically that we have perhaps struggled to deal with on occasion. Whether that be winning duels or getting around the pitch. We’ve spoken about this as a group already and it’s something we need to take a closer look at in future when working on recruitment.”
Dane is asked about Daniel Pinillos, Mamadou Thiam and Dimitri Cavaré and Gerhard Struber previously stating publicly that these players aren’t in contention any longer
“Those three players had opportunities. They were given time on the field. We didn’t discard them randomly, only picking the new players. There are others from last season who have been playing regularly. So it’s purely been decisions made by the coaching staff. Under three different coaches, those players have struggled for game-time, and at the end of the day, it’s the Head Coach who decides who plays.”
Dane is then asked if the core group will be held onto even if the club go down
“I think it’s very important that we remember that there are nine matches left to play, and certainly when speaking with the players and the coaching staff, they fully believe that what they’re doing will see us stay up. They’ve not given up.
“But, if we do go down, there are contingencies in place so that we can keep a hold of the core group of players. I’ve said this recently, but we’ve all but one player on long term contracts. And we have offered that player an extension. And we believe that if we can keep the majority of this group together, that even if we do go back down, we can come right back up.”
Supporter interjects, suggests there will be big offers for Cauley Woodrow
“The Cauley one is the obvious one, it sticks out. But the club have always been honest about this. We have him on a contract for another two years. But if an offer comes in that we cannot refuse, and it allows the club to go get the next player, or two players, then we have to be mindful and look at that. But again, Cauley starts every game, he scores lots of goals, he's the centrepiece, and he’s our highest paid player. So of course we would like him to remain at the club no matter what happens.
“But we have to prepare for different eventualities. So, there are no contract breaks upon relegation, but all clauses in the event of relegation are related to wages. There will be a decrease in salary for certain players.”
Question asking Dane what is currently happening with Bambo Diaby
“This is another one I’m not going to get emotional on, but he is still working with the FA, it’s in that same stage with the relevant bodies in trying to get to the bottom of what he’s been charged with. We are told that we’re at the tipping point now, where he’s going to be at a final interview and then we go from there. But I can’t really comment much further as it’s an ongoing investigation.
“Bambo is still training every day, but he’s in limbo right now. We all feel for him and as a club we remain behind him. As soon as the charge was levied, that meant that he could no longer play.”
Dane is asked about the lack of communication this season, and whether the club are aware of the disillusionment amongst some of the fanbase
“I know that there a number of upset supporters out there, and as I said the other day, they have the right to be, with me. Because my lack of communication has been poor. There have been a lot of mis-steps and things left unsaid. There have been certain circumstances that have left me unable to speak about, but that’s not an excuse for my complete lack of communication at times, and again, I apologise for that.
“I have a hard time sitting up here like this, and trying to be this ‘PC’ CEO, where everything’s great and hunky-dory, because, I love to be honest and open. But at times, if I’m too open, if I’m too honest, it’s to the detriment of everybody.
“I will say to the fans who feel that way, those who are wondering whether to return next season, that my door is always open at the club. If they would like to speak to me, air any grievances, or they think I have an ability to help change their mind, then I’d like that chance.
“If I can’t and they just want to come and yell at me, I’m open to that too.”
Various questions relating to the fanzone were then asked
“This is something we’ve spoken about a bunch in the front office, with the guys who have been involved in all this since the fanzone’s inception. We think the fanzone has been a great idea, it’s been successful but then, the bad weather has caused us issues on occasion.
“So we have been looking at ways to make sure we have something in place during all weather, for every game of the season. It’s another work-in-progress and something we only launched last summer. We’ve had great feedback and we will be improving what we have on offer.
“A lot of the thinking about what we do with Oakwell going forward, is having a bar on-site. A place to sit, to watch football on the big screens, to interact with supporters on game-day. But that’s when the land issues are resolved. Negotiations continue with the board members, and that ball is rolling forward all the time, and once that gets done, then the plans will hopefully get done.
“When the land is purchased, then naturally the West Stand is the focal point. And there are all kinds of ideas, plans and potential in that area that have been talked about, but of course the integration of a fanzone, or a bar area is key to all that.
“There isn’t really a timescale on it, it could be sorted in the next week, or next month, it’s hard to be exact. But I do get the feeling that it’s gained momentum recently.”
A question from the floor regards the racial abuse announcements vs Cardiff City
Dane: “We have a reporting system in place now, and on Saturday we received two separate texts, and Andrew Clark can correct me if I’m wrong here, but there was one incident in the South Stand and one from the away end.”
Andrew Clark: “Of the first incident, we received two texts about this. This was at the back of the South Stand. And it wasn’t relating to chanting, it was racist abuse, in a specific area. And so we followed the protocol, stewards were sent to the area in question and they stayed there through the half time break, with nothing further reported. And so we are checking CCTV and dealing with that issue now.
“The second discrepancy related to chanting in the North Stand, from visiting supporters. Again, it was reported, acted upon and we made Cardiff City, the club and in particular their safety team aware of the incident and will work with them on the matter.”
Supporters were then advised to use the number to report any abusive instances, with it pointed out that a number of club employees would be alerted to any incoming texts who will then act upon it.
Question about the accounts, which prompted Dane to read out a brief summary prepared by Finance & Operations Director, Robert Zuk.
Dane followed this up with clarification on increased director pay.
“When publishing our financial records, our accounts for last season, we had only one board member who was an employee working for the club and that was the CEO at the time.
“The losses were actually about £6.3m and through financial prudence, and the club through the owners having a back-fall to use in such cases made the transition easier to manage.”
A supporter asked about contactless payments and the viability of this
Andrew Clark confirmed the introduction of contactless will be rolled out in the not too distant future. Beth Sefton explained to the supporter that it’s only a very small number of clubs who have facilities that help fans gain entry to matches via a contactless method. Also advised that those without cash can buy a ticket from Box Office on matchday.
Question to Dane from the floor about season ticket pricing for the 2020/21 campaign
“This is something we are discussing right now, and we will be rolling out pricing towards the end of March. But the price, it’s something we’re carefully considering.”
Dane is asked about player sales and why Barnsley are still a selling club
“We sold three players in the summer window. Two of whom were in the last year of their contracts. We offered all three of them extensions. Kieffer Moore made it very clear that despite having more than a year left, he didn’t want to stay. On the back of that, we did sign 12 players ourselves. We signed three more in January, one of them on loan. We also had to pay to bring in Gerhard and his staff. So the money we received to date from those player sales was used in all of the above.
“And the incoming cash it arrives in instalments, you don’t get it in a lump sum, it’s just not how football does things. And what supporters may have heard about the fees we get for those players, we don’t receive them all in one go. They come in two, three parts, four parts. And so with that money coming in, that then went back out to add the players we signed.”
Further question about transfer fees and why they are undisclosed
“Sometimes I would like to shout all the figures from a mountain top. But within the contracts and within the transfer agreements there are always clauses that state that the numbers are not to be disclosed.
“It’s about diligence between the clubs, and it’s standard now. Even FIFA guides that it’s like that.”
Supporter asks Dane what he feels he has learnt so far in the role
“I’ve learnt more than I thought I could in a lifetime! I came into it knowing that being inexperienced and from overseas that I would have a lot to learn, but we have had a lot of ups and downs this season, to put it mildly.
“But again, the group of people I have around me, my staff have helped me enormously, through every trough, every wave, and I think my biggest success would be keeping the atmosphere around the club positive.
“I think the mood around the offices, around the training ground, it’s really positive and forward thinking, everyone working together. We have a good working core, I think people enjoy coming to work and giving everything they’ve got for the club. We like each other and together we are striving to improve wherever possible for a better future.
“When dealing with a lot of other CEO’s at various clubs, I can tell you right now, this is not the norm. I’m grateful for the team I have around me, and so that’s something I feel is positive. In terms of failures, there’s a long list.
“It’s my first season here and I’m learning all the time. But my lack of communication has been unacceptable. I’ve tried to be contrite and honest over the last couple of weeks as I want to change how I communicate with you all. There’s no excuse and I hope this develops over time, a relationship with supporters.
“Fans need a modicum of knowledge about the things going on at their football club, and that their club cares about them.”
Ray Brammer mentions the club having a very small number of staff compared to most clubs
“I’d like to point out, as that’s a good caveat, because there have been rumours flying around that people lost their jobs after relegation in 2018. That’s just not true. There were no redundancies, nobody lost their job owing to relegation. I just needed to dispel that myth.”
Question to Dane about Melissa Terry and her involvement at the club
“When I came over last summer, my partner, Melissa joined me in the UK and she’s been working on the operational side of the Academy. She’s worked in football her whole life, mainly in women’s football but also with the US national team, men's and women's. And when Shaun Selby (Safeguarding Officer) and Bobby Hassell (Academy Manager) along with the board, became aware of her expertise in many areas, they saw gaps that needed filling, and so she was brought on board to help the Academy from an operational standpoint.
“Bobby is still running the Academy, but Melissa helps Shaun operationally. So from a sporting side, Bobby is in charge. Nothing has changed there and I have a great relationship with him. I wouldn't say anyone reports to anyone, as I don't like that wording."
Final reminder from Andrew Clark that communication will be much more regular in future and thanks is given to everyone for attending and their continued support.