Minutes of meeting held on Thursday, January 15 2004, at 7:00pm in the Raith Suite, Stark’s Park, Kirkcaldy KY1 1SA.
Meeting called by: The Board of Raith Rovers FC
Subject: Liaison with the Fans of RRFC
Attendees: The RRFC Board: Mario Caira; Turnbull Hutton (Chairman); Willie Gray and Eric Drysdale (Secretary)
Representing the Playing Staff: Antonio Calderon and Dave Martin
Representatives of Affiliated Groups: RRFC Supporters Club; 200 Club; Junior Rovers; RRFC Trust; RRFC Ladies Football Team; RRFC Website; Jim McMillan Club and Commercial Projects
Introduction and Welcome: Turnbull Hutton – Chairman, RRFC
The Chairman – Turnbull Hutton (TH) – opened the meeting by thanking the representatives from the various supporters’ groups for attending this meeting. He also introduced the other Board Members (detailed above) along with Player Manager Antonio Calderon and his Director of Football, Dave Martin.
TH stated that he wished to give the background to recent events, issue a challenge on the way forward – for the representative groups to consider – and to answer any questions the representatives wanted answered.
TH started by going back more than two years, at a time when RRFC was looking for a jersey sponsor. During discussions with a certain retail group, (name withheld for legal reasons) it became clear that, whilst sponsorship on its own was not an attraction for them at that time, they had hopes of acquiring a site in Kirkcaldy. Should those aspirations be met, then local sponsorship would be something the said retail group could look into.
Around the same time the Board was actively looking into ways to generate more income from Stark’s Park – albeit that our facilities were not as good as those at other more modern grounds. The possibilities of “opening-up” the ground were looked at – specifically the area behind the South Stand – part of which was essentially derelict. Enquiries were made as to the possibility of purchasing that site which, at that point, had two owners.
A deal was struck and West City Developments became the owners of the site – which, as noted previously, was a near-derelict area behind the South Stand. Enquiries were then made as to whether a retail outlet could be sited there -alongside additional facilities such as all weather training pitches, gymnasiums, etc.
However, it was made clear to West City that retail developments would not be permitted; neither would a mix of housing and leisure/training facilities – the site could only be developed for housing. West City, therefore, began clearing the site with a view to selling it on with appropriate planning approval.
Whilst all this was going on, RRFC had been continuing to address “inherited debt” against a back-drop of banks by and large being unwilling to extend any facilities to football clubs generally. Indeed the parlous state of the Scottish game led to our bankers wishing to reduce the level of overdraft facilities currently being provided. It was therefore impossible to both reduce our overdraft and reduce our creditors.
West City therefore offered to purchase and lease-back the stadium, thereby clearing the bank debt and providing some breathing space for the club. This transaction was widely reported on at the time. The transaction was done at”arms-length” with two directors resigning from the Raith Board and formally submitting an offer to the Raith Board for their consideration. Both sides employed independent legal teams.
By the early part of this season RRFC had no bank borrowings, were continuing to address existing creditors, and compete in a new division with a very small playing budget. Directors helped by providing further “soft loans” although it was recognised that this too could not continue indefinitely.
With crowds tailing off and results difficult to come by, cash was tight by the year-end and a Board Meeting was scheduled between Christmas and the New Year. This followed a difficult couple of months financially where cash flow had been a problem – resulting in RRFC directors having to supplement cash for wages and West City meeting the payment for the stadium rent.
West City, therefore, was asked to attend the RRFC Board Meeting in December and all parties agreed that, in order to turn cashflow deficit around, further cuts would require to be made to outgoings whilst additional commercial revenue was urgently required as well. Some refocusing of roles would be required and cuts had to be made in both playing and support staff. The Manager (Antonio Calderon) was party to, and supportive of, the decisions made – and as far as anyone was aware at that time, so was the previous Chairman, Danny Smith.
It therefore came as something of a surprise when Danny had a change of mind and decided to walk away. As principal shareholder, a buyer was needed for Danny’s shares. These were purchased by Mario Caira and the new Board was formed. Reports in the newspapers of in-fighting and squabbles were not an accurate reflection of events – albeit that they made good copy.
TH pointed out that sale and lease-back arrangements were now not uncommon, and that it was easier to have access to borrowed money through property – as against borrowing money for football related business. Nevertheless the Directors of West City had had to provide significant personal guarantees around the purchase of the stadium – thus allowing the football club to survive and go forward. Equally the RRFC Directors had provided substantial sums with the same aims. It was true to say therefore that both parties had shared ambitions for the future resurgence of the football club. When compared to other well-documented cases Raith, despite all of the trials and tribulations of the previous 4 years, now had significantly less than £100K owing to creditors, with payment plans in place to cover these sums. Soft loans were in the region of £400K, and whilst they too would be addressed in the fullness of time, there was less of an urgency around this – given the individuals concerned.
TH then “challenged” the representatives of the various Raith minded groups present. Each had its own history and reasons for being there. However it was quite difficult to properly coordinate and communicate all of what goes on within the Club to the entire satisfaction of all.
Would the separate groups, therefore, not consider the setting up of an umbrella organisation with an elected spokesman to liaise with the Board at regular Board Meetings – in exactly the same way as the Team Manager will be doing. In addition, the combined efforts of this united support group could easily take over various aspects of the running of the Club. At this time, no-one was being prescriptive as to what these opportunities could be. Simply, meet together and come up with proposals for discussion/consideration. Indeed, if this refocusing could be “branded” in some way to kick-start a re-launch of enthusiasm for the Club – so much the better. Re-energising all of our support, more “bums-on-seats”, more cash generation, would ultimately allow our ambitions on the playing side to be realised.
What would not be allowed to happen was spending exceeding income.
The “challenge” is about better, more effective ways of doing things together: harnessing all the talents within the Club for the betterment of the club going forward. Surely this must be the common aim for us all? There have been suspicions, mistrust, factions – perhaps even personal agendas. Can we rise above all of these going forward together?
The Chairman then invited comments/questions from the floor.
James Proctor (RRFC Trust): It is accepted there was a “difference of opinion” between [the previous Chairman] Danny Smith and the rest of the then Board.
Question 1: Who now owns Danny Smith’s shares?
Question 2: Are there any “unallocated” shares?
Eric Drysdale: Re Question 1: Danny Smith’s shareholding (276,003 shares) was transferred, in its entirety, to Mario Caira, who subsequently added them to his existing shareholding. This transaction was completed in early January.
Re Question 2: In essence, Raith Rovers has no unallocated shares at present – however, a proposal around a “share option issue” was mooted at a recent Board meeting. Following that meeting, a commitment was made to evaluate all possibilities in this respect. It is our intention, therefore, to explore fully this area at Board level within the next few months.
George Howie (RRFC Trust) It has been widely reported that West City is Raith Rovers FC’s “bankers”.
Question: Clarify West City’s involvement in the Club’s financial affairs and in what sense is West City RRFC’s “bankers”?
Turnbull Hutton: West City’s intervention has removed direct contact between RRFC and the “high street” banks – certainly as regards any future borrowing. These banks were not prepared to allow RRFC to slip further into deficit – the consequence being the Club may have simply folded. As mentioned in the opening statement, “high street” banks simply will not lend money to a football club – however, they are generally prepared to allow access to money secured against property. West City, therefore, has secured much needed funds to keep the Club viable in the short term and to allow it the requisite time to put the appropriate financial disciplines in place to ensure its long term viability. Longer term, however, when the Club’s financial affairs are in a more stable position, West City’s involvement in any financial respect with the Club will dissipate. It should be noted at this juncture that, along with West City’s money, Mario Caira and Willie Gray made personal donations to ensure the players were paid, on time and in full, in the last few months of 2003.
James Proctor Question: Did Turnbull Hutton feel that, in hindsight, his stepping down from the Board [almost a year ago] was the correct action?
Turnbull Hutton: My resignation from the Board at that time was necessary. Given the then position in respect of West City, I was legally required to make that move. This ensured any confidentially agreements were not compromised. Following Danny Smith’s departure at the end of December, Mario invited me to return to the Board. I was delighted to have been asked and accepted his offer. I would also again stress I had no ambitions or expectations to become Chairman. Once again, it should be stated there was no plan to remove Danny Smith from his position and replace him with someone else. There was no “night of the long knives” to remove him. Furthermore, this current Board harbours no adverse feelings toward Danny – despite what the Glasgow papers say. The rationale behind me becoming Chairman instead of Mario has been made clear and we now must move forward. I have a great deal of respect for the other Board members – after all, they are all committed Raith supporters as well as being astute businessmen. We have an experienced team in Antonio Calderon and Dave Martin who are looking after the playing side. That side of the Club is their responsibility and will continue to be their responsibility – they are the experts, not me. Indeed, Antonio has had a tough time of it lately – he has had to juggle with many variables within an ever-changing budget and it has not been easy for him. I take my hat off to him – I am amazed he was turning out a team at all under those sorts of financial constraints. Antonio is one of the most financially astute Managers in the game and he fully understands the Club’s position. He is fully supportive with the philosophy that we must live within our means – we must spend less than we earn or there is no future for the Club – regardless of how the Team is performing on the park.
James Proctor Question: What are the plans to improve communications between Raith Rovers FC, the various groups and the wider community?
Turnbull Hutton: We have been issuing press releases regularly and intend to continue in this vein as and when we have something to say. The local press has been very supportive and it makes sound sense to build and strengthen relationships with them. The local press is a key vehicle in reaching the wider community far more efficiently than by any other method. The press releases are also made available to the website for those who perhaps cannot wait for – or possibly cannot source as they are based outwith the community – the local papers. I should emphasise, however, that it is not my job to talk about the football team: that responsibility lies entirely with Antonio.
General Point from Floor: Comments were mooted on RRFC’s apparent slow reaction and poor communication in respect of Danny Smith’s resignation.
Eric Drysdale: The timing of Danny’s resignation – right in the middle of the Festive period – was unfortunate. As said previously, we did not anticipate anything of this ilk to happen and we spent several days trying to get to the bottom of this issue. In essence, we were caught flat-footed. By the time we had the full details, the story had been “leaked” to the Glasgow press… and the rest you know.
Tom Phillips (RRFC Trust) Comment: Communications [from Stark’s Park] have been very poor over recent years.
Eric Drysdale: Accepted, and you are aware we are consciously working to address this. That said, Mike Melville does a great job as website news editor.
Tom Phillips Question: Turnbull Hutton has mentioned on several occasions that Raith Rovers FC is a “community club”. What does this mean – and what is the Board’s vision for the future?
Turnbull Hutton: Our vision for Stark’s Park is to tear down the old stand and replace it with a custom built stand which can be used seven days a week to generate income. (By way of example, the new stand could perhaps include: function suites for businesses and individuals to use; a quality gymnasium; a creche etc). We want the community to rally round the Club in whatever way they can – ideally by turning out for the match on a Saturday afternoon. However, we must provide our community with a facility of which they can be proud and is appropriate to all.
Jim Macnamara (200 Club) Comment / Suggestion: In Turnbull Hutton’s opening statement, he mentioned the need for the various affiliated organisations to get together and speak with one voice to the Board. The 200 Club has been trying for several years to pull the various groups together – however, no success has been gained in that respect to date.
Eric Drysdale offered to liaise with all relevant parties and set up a meeting which will enable the discussion to be progressed. (NOTE: This meeting has been scheduled for Tuesday, January 20).
John Drysdale Comment: On the “community” side it is fair to say that some of the aspirations for the stadium are longer term. It is somewhat disappointing to hear the Public Sector in this area is not overly supportive to the Club. We can still do much to raise the Club’s profile, however, by becoming involved in up and coming local events such as the Kirkcaldy Renaissance and the Kirkcaldy 700. [Note: John is currently working hard on raising the Club’s profile at these events].
The Board: Yes, excellent idea – let us know what support you need.
Charlie Forrester (Junior Rovers) Statement/Question: We need a concerted effort to get our youth involved in the Club – there is a huge untapped market out there. How can we exploit this?
Eric Drysdale: Agree with the sentiments. The Scottish Football League is looking at a “publicity drive” to encourage all youths to become more involved with football – and, of course, their local clubs. When we are given further information it will, of course, be passed on.
George Howie Question: Does Turnbull Hutton envisage himself being involved every day at Stark’s Park?
Turnbull Hutton: Yes, I do. I am in the Club every day at present – however, most of my time at the moment is taken up with understanding the financial situation and bottoming out completely where we currently are. When we have things on an even keel, I still intend to come in every day – although not for the fourteen hour days I’m doing presently!
Antonio Calderon and Turnbull Hutton left the meeting briefly to discuss “football matters”. On their return, Turnbull apprised the attendees of Gordon Wallace’s imminent return to the Rovers – as coach for our strikers – and of the unacceptable offer the Club had just received from Dundee for young striker, John Sutton.
Question From Floor: Has full payment for Nacho (following his transfer to Dundee) been received?
Willie Gray: Yes. All monies were received on schedule.
James Proctor Question: Is Danny Smith’s involvement in the Club finished?
Willie Gray/Board: Yes, Mario has bought Danny’s shares and, apart from him being welcome to come back and watch the odd match, he will have no further involvement with the running of Raith Rovers FC.
Question From Floor: What is the current situation in respect of the Railway Stand?
Mario Caira: That stand is not currently licensed. I have arranged for an electrician and steel fabrication engineer to evaluate the position and to give us an estimate for the remedial work. We have several issues with this stand: e.g. we have problems with the roof and the emergency lights are not working. We will not open up this stand until we can guarantee the safety of our fans.
Mike Melville (RRFC Web Site) Question: Why can’t the Club have a lease which is longer than the current 10 year term?
Turnbull Hutton: The 10 year term is linked to the West City debt. In reality, however, the Scottish Football League requires a rolling 5 year arrangement to be put in place. In essence, this means that – after 6 years – the lease will have to go on this rolling arrangement to comply with League rules. As you are all aware, Heart of Midlothian is currently looking at perhaps undertaking a similar “buy-and-lease-back-arrangement” with Tynecastle. Yet again, Rovers is at the leading edge!
Jim Macnamara Question: Will the Board be financially supportive of the Club’s Youth Development initiative and will it continue to support the Youth Team?
Mario Caira: Yes, absolutely. We must nurture and improve on the Youth Development programme Turnbull Hutton added I am aware there are some people who have questioned why I have stopped the Youth Team from collecting money at home matches. Personally, I think it does not portray the Club in a good light to have our Youths “begging” for money on a Saturday. At times, the regular supporter who tries to get into Stark’s Park has to walk past, in order, the Youth Team, official charity collectors (monthly) plus our own 50/50 draw – and I haven’t even mentioned the programme sellers either. The fans who come along to Stark’s Park are already helping the Club in a financial sense – and I just think the Youth’s buckets were a bridge too far. Insofar as the Youth Team is concerned, there have to be better ways to ensure this area is properly and regularly funded. (The Board has recognised this and a sum of money was handed over earlier this week. The Board has committed to look at ways of ensuring the Youth Programme is properly funded). Meantime, the youths who were hitherto collecting at the matches could be focused into more productive areas – like taking any spare match programmes and selling them to people already inside Stark’s Park. (This was in reference to complaints from fans whom have been unable to find match programmes and had assumed them to be sold out – which was subsequently found not to be the case).
Comment from Gordon Adamson Information: Raith Rovers Supporters Club organises the selling of match programmes.
Comment from Turnbull Hutton: More coordination is required!
Gordon Adamson Question: Who is responsible for the maintenance of Stark’s Park – is it Raith Rovers FC or West City?
(General discussion followed with specific references being made to the current condition of the North and South Stands).
Turnbull Hutton: Maintenance of the normal infrastructure is down to Raith Rovers. West City did promise to undertake some remedial work on the North and South stands – but the money set aside for the work was re-channeled elsewhere!
Gordon Adamson Question: Can we claim money from Barr for the substandard work which it carried out on the Stands?
Turnbull Hutton: An impasse has been reached. Several years ago – and recognising the work was substandard – Raith Rovers withheld the final instalment to Barr until the all-to-apparent problems were resolved. Barr refused to accept that it was at fault – and this “back and forward” argument prevailed for some time. In essence, however, it should be accepted it is highly unlikely that Barr will rectify any problems in the stands.
Gordon Adamson (RR Supporters Club) Question: What will the playing structure be for next season – will Antonio have a full time team or will RR become part time?
Turnbull Hutton: We have not yet had that debate at Board level – however, we would have to take full cognisance of several aspects before any firm decision is made. For example, should Raith Rovers be relegated this season then undoubtedly full time football could not be sustained. The scenario of part time may also be applicable should Rovers remain in the First Division… then again, it may not. In addition, Antonio’s personal aspirations would also be taken into account and no decisions will be made without the full knowledge, approval and understanding of the Manager.
Kenny Grainger (RRFC Supporters Club) Question: It is accepted that money is “tight” and all we appear to see is a procession of players leaving the Club. Will we bring in any players or do we have to rely on youngsters coming through? Do you have a budget?
Antonio Calderon: Firstly, yes I have a budget and I can bring in one or two players if I want. We had a few “loan” players at the start of the season and we must abide by the rules that only five loan players can be used in any one season. I must be prudent, therefore, about anyone else we bring in by that method. But, it is great to bring the youngsters through.
Dave Martin: Following on from what Antonio said, we started the season with 10 “YTS” lads. After six months, this number has been almost halved and the remaining lads are currently training alongside the First team. This way, we can establish which of the lads, if any, is ready to join the Club on a longer term basis.
James Proctor Question: Re The Courier article on Rovers’ repayment of [17 outstanding local] debts. How did Rovers achieve this – via more loans?
Turnbull Hutton: We were able to clear the 17 (now 19) outstanding debts through savings made (Danny Smith’s salary and package) allied to personal donations from Mario Caira and Willie Gray.
James Proctor Question: Has the Board a planned date for the next AGM?
Turnbull Hutton: We hope to have the management accounts finalised by end January, with a view to holding an AGM within the statutory period. Thereafter, it is our intention to get back into what used to be a fairly routine timescale around this event.
The Chairman asked if there were any other questions/comments. There being none, the representatives were thanked for attending and the meeting was subsequently closed.