Continuing with our series of meeting key personnel involved or with an interest in Oldham Athletic, the Trust Oldham board met with club Managing Director Natalie Atkinson. We put to her a series of questions regarding the operation of the club within her remit, and also posed some questions sent in to us from Trust members and fans.
Questions from the Trust
Q) Tell us your experiences of working in the EFL leagues and challenges of a lower division club.
I have worked in sport related environments for over 20years. Worked with Sport England and local authorities as an FA development/facility manager. I have worked on projects like the build of Salford FC. I joined Curzon Ashton as a manager then progressed onto Southport FC and now OAFC and I am 6 months in. Personally, I have an affinity with Oldham as I my hobby as a triathlete meant I ran for Oldham and Royton Harriers.
Q) How many staff are employed here at the club?
192 staff employed.
One of the things I have done is undertake a full workforce review. This was undertaken in under 3 months to ensure we were managing within a league 2 clubs needs. In addition not everyone had a job description, contracts or appraisals, there was no staff manual, little policies/processes/procedures. Now we do. We have weekly team meetings.
It is important the staff are valued as football clubs aren’t 9-5 businesses.
Q) It has been reported recently that you and Shahed have met with the FLG and viewed the SLA offered to the club for the 2019/20 season. What are your thoughts on the SLA now, why do you think there was a mis-understanding and what is the likelihood of it being resolved for next season?
The meeting clarified some points but we are still not happy, such as the right to fully oversee our own commercial activities. We do not have the authority to agree to the SLA so the feedback has been given back to the club board.
Q) Would the club consider a Creation of a joint Code of conduct? FSA good practice is that supporter groups and clubs sit down and set/agree boundaries. These boundaries should then give more clarity of each others roles, timescales of information, respect for the Trust Rep to the board as a Director and transparency of information in the public domain for fans. Fans should hear independently from the Trust that the club is being run in a fit and proper manner. Would you be willing to sit down and contribute to this?
Yes, I agree in principle as I have worked with Southport Supporters Trust who owned 8% and it would be good to have a fresh start and transparency.
Q) Re Code of conduct, Trust requests copies of club’s policies/procedures on: Bullying in the workplace, discrimination, equality & diversity and whistle blowing.
Yes as mentioned above there is now a staff handbook. Natalie will forward this to the Trust in advance of a possible further meeting.
Q) Fan engagement. EFL requires two meetings per season. Can you tell us when the next one is planned, or if there are any other styles of engagement you are considering?
The next forum will be held next year, and we will now have regular informal meetings as we did last week. We are also going to establish a match-day supporters focus group and members from the Trust are more than welcome.
Q) At Christmas time the club support the Christmas present donation for children who are in hospital, are you arranging anything this year?
Yes this is now being advertised. Additionally, there is also a homeless friendly and a plan to collect scarves, hats and toiletries.
Q) Pat Cluskey gave us an insight of celebrating 125 years of Latics history for next season. Can you give fans an update of what is planned?
There are a number of ideas including a Gala Dinner and events with former players. We’ll be getting some more information out soon as plans are progressed.
Q) Trust board request a meeting with the Club board to discuss a review of the owners 3/5 year plan and other concerns. This meeting was promised at the May meeting and has been previously promised by the owner when he took over the club.
Natalie agreed that she will work with Darren to get this sorted – potentially around the date of the December board meeting.
Natalie explained that the club staff’s seemed confused over what the Trust stood for as there was a perception it had a foot in several camps. Trust clarified that as per the Trust Articles of Association, that we do “acquire an interest in any company owning or controlling the club”. Hence:
- Our club – A legal entitlement with shareholder rights. We are here to oversee the club is being run in a fit and proper manner.
- The landlord – Obligations and dialogue because of the joint ACV registered with OMBC.
- The FLG – A dialogue because of their plans to purchase our home Boundary park from our landlords.
Questions from members and fans.
Club info & finances
Q) Richard Metcalfe – What is your working relationship like with Mohammed Lemsagam?
I have a really good relationship, we sit nearby each other together and he is really supportive.
Q) Jim Booth – Can you go into more detail about the money owed to the club by Brass Bank.
Not at the moment. There are legal enquiries happening and only the club solicitor should comment due to the complexities of it.
Note: Darren pointed out that Shahed would be the best-placed person to discuss the current debenture, maybe at a future meeting with the Trust board.
Q) Jim Booth – How does Abdallah plan to bring the North stand back to the club? Without any detail this sounds like a pipe dream and seems to be drawing the club’s focus away from current issues.
There is an ongoing investigation being conducted by the club which involves various outside parties and it would be wrong to comment any further at the moment, but when the time is right, we will.
Q) BradOAFC – Are you pushing to get the North Stand back into the clubs name so it has assets for the future? I hear that that’s what Abdallah is focussed on? Do you agree with that?
Q) Oliver Clarke – Can the club please outline its plan for sustainability over the next 2 to 3yrs.
Note: We’re going to work with Shahed to get a full answer to this question. Trust has requested a 6 month review of the 3/5 year plan published in May
Q) Tom Widdall – why is St John’s ambulance – a national charity – say we owe them money. If the relationship didn’t end because of debts….so why would we need to switch ambulance provider then?
We do not owe any money to St John’s Ambulance and didn’t at the time of reports. We have no idea why the rumours came about in the first place. The main reason for the change to a new provider is down to a lack of volunteers.
Q) Andy Bickerdike – Why have the Board of the club and owners failed to show any empathy towards fans and the frustrations they feel and why does the Board seemingly hold the fans of this club in such contempt?
Yes I get that fan engagement hasn’t been as good as it should have been. I am working on new ways to improve this by quarterly fans forums, match-day focus groups and regular Q&As.
Q) Philip Jones – The club has a lot of bridges to build with the fans, and promised better engagement between the club and its supporters, yet they (the club) fail to respond to emails sent to the supporter services account why is this, you (the club) see fans concerns to be trivial?
I was unaware of any issues with regards to responses. Can the fan please contact me and I will investigate.
Q) Ian McAlister – What is the situation regarding offering finance to fans purchasing Season Tickets in the Summer? We had this withdrawn from the club last Summer. Have the club made any progress to enable us to offer finance again?
This has been discussed with regards to payment plans like direct debit instead. Details TBA.
Q) Chris Aspin – Have any efforts been made to engage with fans who didn’t renew season tickets? I notice the owners vision and plan for the future said the fanbase hasn’t grown for some time. Surely those who actually had a season ticket recently should be contacted.
Yes recently all lapsed season ticket holders were contacted with regards to the half price season ticket offer. Also looking at encouraging new fans via with offers to secondary schools and via the Community Trust.
Questions not asked
Nick Platt, Steve Nicholls and Michelle H all asked questions regarding player recruitment – these questions weren’t asked Natalie at the time given they fall outside of her remit. We will however save the questions to be potentially asked at future meetings.
For transparency, Natalie did not decline to answer any questions and the answers were as given on the evening.
We would like to thank everyone who posted their questions on the evening and also Natalie for taking the time to meet with us, we look forwards to keeping in touch and monitoring the progress she makes.