When we last held an AGM, CFU had been instrumental in achieving the full audit of the club’s accounts which had been presented to the club’s Shareholders Meeting and which had shown that the financial losses for the previous year, although down on the previous year’s pretty disastrous figure, were still unsustainable and that the club required drastic action to avert the unthinkable.
Whilst taking no pleasure in discovering how things had become, CFU did, at least, feel that it had played its part in getting the situation dealt with and that its role as a critical friend of the club was being fulfilled. Financial security at clubs like Cambridge United is always difficult to achieve, as examples elsewhere have shown us.
The club had followed up interest from several groups in investing significant sums which could have offered a long term way forward for it but, for different reasons, none of the groups was both able and willing to move to the next step. Representatives from CFU’s Trust Board also had a meeting with one of those who had been suggested might be willing to take things forward, but this also proved to be a blind alley.
In the event, the club’s majority shareholder, Paul Barry, submitted a written offer to the club and shareholders to acquire 100% of the shares and to pay shareholders 2p per share. His undertaking was that he would underwrite annual losses at the club over the following five years, to the tune, annually, of up to £500,000, which was estimated to represent the likely financial shortfall.
There followed a period of soul searching by both major shareholders, upon whom the deal would rely for its approval or not and also from small shareholders, whose approval would not actually be required, under the process which was being followed.
Trust Board members spent a lot of time examining the details of the proposal, with support and legal advice from the Football Supporters Association, so as to be able to give members more information to help them make an informed decision. However, because the Trust Board’s members were not unanimous in their view, it was decided that it would not recommend either that members should support or should reject the sale of CFU’s shares.
Many people had misgivings about the prospect of there being a single owner, rather than many shareholders, and the likely implications of that happening. News of other clubs which had resorted to selling to outsiders who had made big claims but then gave little in the way of delivering them, did not encourage a desire to sell. Ultimately, for many, it became a question of whether there was a viable alternative or whether to sell to someone who had been a long term supporter, both as a fan and as an investor.
CFU held a Special General Meeting, for all views to be considered and then resolved, by an overwhelming majority (7-1), that it would sell its shares, provided that satisfactory answers were received to questions on three issues:
- That CFU would retain the right to continue to nominate a Fans Elected Director, throughout the period of the five year agreement.
- That no profits acquired during the period of the agreement should be paid to Paul Barry.
- That the part of the agreement covering specific guaranteed funding in the event of Paul Barry’s death would be in addition to the annual offer of £500,000.
There was concern that this clause could mean that a CFU nominee could simply be vetoed arbitrarily and this was discussed in detail by the CFU Trust Board, before its acceptance was agreed, albeit reluctantly. It does simply replicate a power which has always been available to the Board of Directors, in any event.
Some members of the Trust Board felt that they could not continue to act as its members and stood down. I am sad that they felt the need to do so, but understand that they did what they considered to be right.
Accordingly, the share sale was agreed and CFU has received all of the money which was due, as a result.
The CFU Trust Board intends to ensure that all of the money received from the sale of shares will be separated from the general running accounts and placed in interest earning funds, so as to provide a standby fund for the future, rather than simply being used to fund regular running costs. In that respect, we believe that CFU has learned lessons from the club’s use of the “Man. United money”.
During the year, as part of a process of seeking to have better dialogue between the club and its supporters, which was initiated by CFU, a new group was developed, specifically to take up supporters issues with the Board and CUSP (Cambridge United Supporters Panel) was born, in which its Panel members were elected by all fans, representing the different areas of its support.
CFU continues to run and manage the CUFC Lottery, which offers weekly prizes and accumulator jackpots, the latest of which was £3,650. This produces funds for projects to enhance the supporter experience and various pieces of equipment have been acquired via the lottery, including benches, improvements to the toilets and provision of vital equipment for the ground staff to keep the pitch playable.
A group of CFU volunteers provide daily support for Ian Darler in maintaining the safety and suitability of the Abbey Stadium for staging football. It has been acknowledged that, without some of the work that group has undertaken, at no cost to the club, it is likely that some parts of the stadium would have failed safety tests and been closed.
CFU volunteers run its caravan, to sell programmes and merchandise and for it to be open on matchdays to take on board fans questions and concerns. A fresh set of Abbey Helpers is being recruited and has already begun work, under the guidance of Dave Matthews Jones, the club’s Supporter Liaison Officer.
We have also set up a matchday collection point for donations to the Cambridge FoodBank, which continues throughout the year, not simply for Christmas.
With the long term prospect of a new ground development being included as an important element in plans to redevelop the current Marshalls site, the opportunity could arise for CFU to play a strong part, so we must be ready for that.
Finding new roles to complement the role of CUSP will be part of CFU’s remit during the next 12 months. New faces on the Trust Board will be welcome. It looks as though there will be a couple of spaces available so, if you are interested, please speak to one of us.
Chair, CFU Trust Board