OxVox Q&A with Darryl Eales

26th Jul 2017

We have received responses from Darryl Eales on questions from members which we passed to him last month. Below we include the original question/comment from members in italics before Darryl’s response in each case.

FROM DARRYL EALES:

Dear Jem

Thanks for your submission of questions from the OxVox members.

I have tried, and hopefully succeeded, in giving full and frank answers to the questions.

(a) Michael Appleton. News that MApp is to leave the club has created significant interest! It is expected that by the time these minutes are issued, plans/news will have moved on, but it is hoped that the new manager will be able to take the time to meet with the Trust and all fans in the coming weeks/months.

a) Pep Clotet

We are delighted with the appointment of Pep. In keeping with our desire for stability where possible and building sustainable success, we are also delighted that the team beneath Pep remains the same and the early signs are that the team based culture is as good as ever.

I think as demonstrated in Portugal, Pep is very open to meeting fans and we are holding a fans forum together on 9 August. I am sure Pep would be pleased to meet with the Trust in due course.

(b) Juan Sartori’s interest in OUFC. Following the club’s statement that the potential deal with Mr Sartori would not have been in the best interests of OUFC, many members have asked for clarification on what those ‘best interests’ actually were. Members understand that it was very much DE’s prerogative to reject any bid, but many members are keen (if possible) to understand the rationale.

b) Juan Sartori

This is a more delicate question as I feel that too much of Juan’s potential interest in club was publicised, often inaccurately, which created a significant gap between perception and reality.

What I can say is the following :

  • I met Juan only twice
  • At the time that we called a halt to discussions, there was no agreed deal and no formal offer on the table
  • The leakage of information and the lack of progress in discussions led me to believe that a deal would not be consummated and, hence, in the best interests of OUFC, I felt it best to end our very amicable discussions as the speculation was unhelpful and distracting at an important time for the club.

Judging the best interests of the club is a delicate matter and everyone will have different opinions. I would hope that the progress made over the past 3 years is testimony to the fact that I seek to make every decision, whether in time, right or wrong, with the best interests of the club in mind!

(c) Day to day operational management of OUFC. A large number of members would appreciate clarification on ‘who does what’ and individual responsibilities at the club. There appear to have been a number of senior ‘leavers’ over the last year and it would be good to hear how key functions are to be managed going forward. This also includes board member roles and input.

c) Day to Day Operational Management

(i) Board

The board comprises 5 Non Executive Directors :

Peter Lee Commercial and Retail

David Jones Recruitment, Academy and football intelligence

Steve Dolton Finance and Strategy

Simon Kelner Communications

Lionel Tarassenko University, Strategy including international

Additionally, there are myself and Benn Brown on the Board. Benn is executive spending 100% of his time as Finance and Operations Director.

(ii) Operations

Finance and Operations Benn Brown, supported by Kathy Winstanley and Richard Blackmore

Commercial and Retail Peter Lee, plus Claire Theobald (Retail) and Peter Rhodes-Brown (Commercial)

Club Secretary Mick Brown

Trust Kate Longworth

Manager Pep Clotet

Head of Recruitment Mark Thomas

Academy Head of Academy being recruited alongside Les Taylor, Head of Coaching

I am not sure regarding the reference to a number of ‘senior’ leavers but I can confirm, based on conversations with long serving staff, the culture and atmosphere within the club is as good as they have known it.

(d) An understanding of the strategic direction of the club was a question asked by many members and it is suggested by members that an open fans’ forum would be very useful in helping fans gain a better understanding of the club’s plans going forward.

(d) Strategic Direction

Given our progress over the last 3 years, and having just enjoyed our highest finish for 20 years, I am slightly confused by this question.

The strategy of the club is, as it has been since I arrived, to build sustainable success and achieve sustainable Championship status. We are part way through this journey but are very much on track.

Notwithstanding the challenge surrounding the stadium, the club is in a very healthy position.

  • We have a prudent financial strategy which will not risk the financial viability of the club but will allow continued investment in the playing squad.
  • The playing budget was £1.1m the season before I took over. Since then it has been :

2014/2015 £1.8m

2015/2016 £2.2m

2016/2017 £2.8m

In the coming season, we have budgeted a 15% increase in the playing budget but I suspect the actual increase will be in excess of 20%.

  • Alongside this, we spent over £1m on transfer fees in the summer of 2016. Pep has the opportunity to bring more players in who require transfer fees. These fees are on top of the playing budget.
  • The club will be profitable for the year ending 30 June 2017 and is fully funded for the foreseeable future, even after taking account of a 20% increase in the playing budget.

I hope the above provides some clarity and reassurance as to the excellent financial health of the club.

(e) What is the status of the Arbitration process that has been ongoing for some months with Firoz Kassam?

(e) Arbitration and Firoka/Firoz Kassam relationships

The arbitration process is ongoing but is taking longer than anticipated.

It is important to appreciate that the arbitration is a mediation process provided for under the terms of the ‘service charge’ agreement. This allowed for a review of the basis of allocation at a defined date.

There is no question of anyone suing anyone. It is simply a practical way of resolving a dispute where two parties do not agree on the fairness of the service change.

On the broader issue of the Firoka and Firoz Kassam relationship, I believe I have generally enjoyed a good relationship.

I am frustrated that I have not made more progress on finding a long term solution to the stadium ownership/operation and that is why I was fully behind the OxVox discussions with Firoz Kassam as there did seem to be light at the end of the tunnel, especially given Firoz’ expressed desire to help the club, as reported last October. My only issue throughout has been the time it seems to be taking to agree a deal, if there was a good faith interest to find the right solution of the club on behalf of all parties. I am still fully behind any OxVox led discussions.

I remain completely open minded to any solution that secures the long term stadium tenure for the club on a sustainable basis, whether it be at Grenoble Road or an alternative site.

I would be delighted to participate in any discussions with Firoz Kassam, OxVox and the City/County Council to find the best solution for the club – this has, indeed, always been the case.

(f) Many members said they are concerned at what are perceived to be current ‘divisions between fans’ and that a call for unity and getting behind the club is very important. OxVox will work towards helping with this aim and endeavour to develop stronger (two way) relationships with the club’s Board. Meetings, with the objective of healing any rifts and agreeing positive communications and plans will be arranged. It is hoped that DE and his Board will agree to this stance and play their part for the good of OUFC.

(f) Divisions between fans

This is an interesting one for me.

On the basis of the numerous fans I meet, the vast majority are very positive and there is a strong feel good factor around the club, especially given the progress over the last 3 years and the prospects for a real challenge for promotion this season.

Standing back, consider how many other clubs have, over the past 3 seasons, seen a promotion, the highest finish for 20 years, two Wembley appearances, a significant increase in the playing budget and a gate increase by in excess of 75%.

Most fans, I believe, are hugely appreciative of the work the Board has done over the past 3 years, of the significant investment made in the club and the fact that the club is run on a sustainable basis.

I can also add that the togetherness at the club is as good as ever. The positive spirit amongst players, football management, Board and fans was evident in Portugal and both Middlesbrough and Hull fans commented that they wished their clubs had such a positive vibe and openness across all stakeholders.

To the extent there are divisions, I think this is where OxVox has a key role to play. As we have discussed, I think we have a good relationship both personally and in terms of Oxvox and Club and I look forward to this strengthening over the coming months.

Overall, I think there is a strong spirit of unity across the vast majority of fans and the club, and believe we have much to be positive about and to look forward to.

(g) The news that an OUFC retail outlet is to be opened in the City Centre has been welcomed by members. Questions received, asked if there might be discounts available on merchandise for season ticket holders and/or OxVox members?

(g) Covered Market

The shop in the covered market is now open and I think looks fantastic. The work done by the retail team has been incredible and they deserve all our thanks.

I will discuss with Pete Lee the possibility of discounts for season ticket holders and/or Oxvox members but would be interested in any thoughts you have.

(h) Season ticket sales. Any update on season ticket sales and if there might be any offers available that could boost numbers – half season tickets, tickets that could include food and programmes, ETC.

(h) Season Ticket Sales

We have sold 4,502 for this season whereas this time last season we had sold 4,696. Any ideas for generating further sales would be welcomed but, overall, I think we start from a very healthy position.

(i) South Stand Restaurant. Is the restaurant going to be open this season? Some members indicated that they would ‘buy a table’ for the season, but no information has been issued and indeed the official website is still referring to last season’s arrangements.

(i) South Stand Restaurant

The restaurant will be open this season.

Any thoughts or suggested improvements you have would be welcome.

(j) In previous years, new sponsorship deals have been communicated to fans and this has been seen as motivational. Are there new sponsors this year and will they be made public? It is also noted – by members who are already sponsors – that they feel their businesses are not being recognised as they feel they should be.

(j) Sponsorship Deals

We have been fortunate over the past couple of years that the major areas of sponsorship have been secured on 2/3 year deals. Our grateful thanks should go to :

Liontrust Front of shirt and fence

Polythene Back of shirt

Alycidon Shorts

James Dunn Roofing Scoreboard

Clifford Thames Training Wear, Tunnel and Boardroom

My biggest concern is that most of the large sponsors are contacts of myself or fellow board members and it would be good to get more local businesses actively involved in the club. Again, any thoughts that Oxvox have to help would be appreciated – this applies to sponsors of all sizes!

(k) Oxford City. Lots of questions seeking clarification on what arrangements have been agreed between Oxford City and Oxford United. Has there been a totally separate company set up and how will any new link benefit OUFC?

(k) Oxford City

We have been delighted to play a positive role in ensuring the survival and stabilisation of Oxford City.

I personally made a sizeable donation to help bridge the financial position at OCFC which has been sorted out so admirably by Paul Lyon and Justin Merritt.

Alongside this, and with the support of Oxford City Council, we have formed a partnership between OCFC and OUFC which is operated under a newly formed company, Oxford Football Partnership Limited which is owned 50% by Oxford City Football Club (trading) Ltd and 50% by Ensco 1070 Ltd, which is the holding company of Oxford United.

Ensco has contributed the lion’s share of the funding of the new 3G pitch at Court Farm Place which is owned by the Oxford Football Partnership Limited.
Oxford United Women’s Football team will play at Court Place Farm and our men’s first team will have privileged access to the 3G pitch.

As many fans will have seen, we have refurbished the clubhouse at Court Place Farm, and grateful thanks should go to Frank Thompson and the team of volunteers who have done an outstanding job of brightening up and improving the facilities.

The plan will be to hold events at Court Place Farm whenever we can, such as the upcoming forum, as both Oxford City (via Oxford City Football Club (trading) Ltd and Oxford United (via Ensco 1070 Ltd) benefit equally from the stadium revenues generated both on match days and non match days.

(l) Training Ground. It has been noted that the deal at BMW has been extended, but only for the short term. What longer terms plans does the club have for a permanent training facility?

(l) Training Ground

With the support of Oxford City Council, we have been able to secure an extension of the current training ground to the end of the 2017/2018 season.

We are in advanced discussions with Oxford Brookes University, with whom we have an increasingly close relationship, about developing a long term home for our First Team at their Harcourt Hill Campus, which itself is receiving £60m of development over the next 2/3 years.

In terms of the Academy, we are seeking to appoint a new Head of Academy alongside Les Taylor as Head of Coaching. We are working with the City Council to relocate the Academy on a permanent basis at the new Horspath Sports facility.

With a following wind, both the first team and the Academy will have long term homes by the summer of 2018.

(m) Some members have asked if would be possible to set up a membership scheme that could see ‘discounts’, priority ticket arrangements and offers for fans who travel to away games.

(m) Membership Scheme

I am open minded about a membership scheme – I would be interested in any outline structure or thoughts you have.

(n) Open Day. Is the game at Oxford City the annual open day, or will there be something else organised as well?

(n) Open Day

Due to time constraints and the change in the season for the Women’s football team, we have been unable so far to organise a ‘family day’ along the lines held at Abingdon over the past couple of years.

The game at OCFC did include some element of this and the attendance at over 2200 was fantastic.

We will have a family day at OCFC once the WSL fixtures list is confirmed.

(o) Are there any club initiatives for fans on the upcoming pre-season trip to Portugal?

(o) Portugal

A great tour in my view. The camaraderie was wonderful and I would just wish to say a huge thank you to all fans for both attending and for their brilliant support.

(p) Is there any news on plans for The Priory Pub (OxVox will take this up with Firoz Kassam and the City Council)

(p) Priory

I have no information on this.

I hope the above responses are regarded as comprehensive and demonstrate in overall terms that the club is in good shape.

Best wishes

Darryl