The CFU Trust Board met recently to review its achievements, aims, roles and accountabilities and to determine its priorities in the coming year. While no definitive conclusions were arrived at, a number of outcomes were realised.
CFU has existed for 17 years, having been initiated to be a voice for fans in the running of Cambridge United; to work in the interests of the club and its supporters, with a view to promoting both.
During that time, CFU has, among other achievements:
- Provided finance to fund improvements within the stadium
- Provided funds to pay wages when the club was unable to do so
- Run the Bridge the Gap campaign, and helped to keep the club alive when facing potential winding-up
- Tackled those responsible for placing the club at risk of extinction
- Become a significant shareholder in CUFC
- Supported the Academy, particularly in its early years, when it was in short supply
Having accumulated sufficient shares, CFU is able to elect a Fans Director to the club’s Board. Whilst he is required to adhere to rules on directors’ legal responsibilities, the Fans Director seeks to represent the interests and views of fans and is not deterred from expressing opinions that might not accord with those of other directors.
Every member of the Trust Board is involved in aiding the smooth running of the club’s operations, whether it is through tasks such as clearing, cleaning or decorating; work in the ticket office and club shop; running the club’s lottery; helping in activities for the community and senior social meetings; or managing the teams of programme and 50/50 draw sellers, including physical operation of the busiest outlet – the CFU ’van. There are many other examples.
Recent issues of concern to supporters have resulted in criticism of CFU’s actions and suggestions that it may not represent fans’ views accurately. This prompted the Trust Board to think about ways in which members’ and other fans’ views are sought and gathered. In the past, this has principally been through taking every opportunity to talk to fans, by being available in and around the ground on matchdays, particularly at the ’van, and by the Fans Director visiting all areas including the Supporters’ Club, hospitality suites and circulation areas. Fans can also contact CFU by email, by phone, through the website and via social media.
CFU’s AGM is a time to hold it to account, to ask questions and to appoint members of the Trust Board. Weekly news updates are emailed to members, who are invited to respond on issues of concern; but CFU seeks to represent all supporters, and the invitation to get in touch is extended to everyone.
There is not, currently, a mechanism for consulting members on specific issues, though a survey of fans is conducted every year and is currently open to all.
In the coming season, CFU will hold a number of open meetings following home matches, some with specific topics and some more general, to seek fans’ views and report back on actions being taken. CFU Trust Board members, identified by name badges, will be in all parts of the ground on matchdays, to listen to fans’ views. Trust Board members are listed on CFU’s website.
Supporters’ views cover a very wide spectrum. Message boards and social media pages can give a useful insight into fans’ thinking, and CFU does look at such sites from time to time. But it welcomes more direct approaches from fans; that way we can engage with them more effectively and ask questions that will help us to understand things better.
A particular case in point has been the strength of feeling generated by two recent proposals from the EFL. First there was its consultation on the ‘Whole Game Solution’: a range of proposals for the future setup and running of the Football League. These included the addition of an extra league; reducing the number of league matches played by member clubs; introducing “B” teams and, potentially, Scottish teams into the EFL.
Second, it was proposed to revamp the poorly attended and lacklustre EFL Trophy, which provided little benefit or income for clubs other than those making it into the later stages. The proposals for the restructuring of the competition were ill-considered, confusing and weighted against clubs from League 1 and 2, in terms of the eligibility of their players and opening the competition to Premiership and Championship Under-21 teams.
Given the timing of both consultations, it was widely believed that the EFL was seeking to promote the insertion of “B” teams into its competitions on a wholesale basis. This resulted, unsurprisingly, in many fans across the country opposing the plans and boycotting the Trophy.
Clubs and supporters’ groups, including CFU, made clear their reservations at meetings with EFL, and via the Football Supporters’ Federation and Supporters Direct. Some elements of the structuring of the competition were ludicrous in their impracticability, including a “regionalisation” scheme which had clubs including CUFC travelling long distances for midweek matches while bypassing more local opponents, with consequential knock-on (or do I mean off?) effects on attendances, expenses and income.
Added to that, the rules restricting League 1 & 2 clubs from giving outings to significant numbers of younger, non-main squad players went against the stated objective of providing development opportunities for such players – except for those from Premier League clubs.
As a result of feedback to the EFL from fans’ groups and its member clubs, two things have occurred:
First, the Whole Game Solution proposals, including the inclusion of “B” teams and Scottish clubs, against which EFL clubs voted unanimously, have been withdrawn. The threat of “B” teams in the Football League is dead in the water.
Secondly, the EFL agreed to make changes to the format of the EFL Trophy (sponsored by Checkatrade), despite claiming that it had been successful in its first, trial, season. (This, I think, is due to there having been more matches and a well-attended Wembley final, rather than agreement that the competition had been a well-organised affair.)
Proposed changes include relaxing restrictions on the eligibility of players from League 1 & 2 clubs, reviewing the system of regionalisation, with a view to restricting travel time to away matches in the group stages and increasing prize money.
Clubs were asked for their views on the changes and CUFC asked CFU for its view, before supporting the changes for the 2017/18 season. CFU representatives were aware of fans’ concerns, particularly about the potential introduction of “B” teams into the League structure. Given that this was no longer a concern, and that some improvements had been made to the Trophy, CFU felt the trial was worth another year, and the club also felt that, with all its faults, there had been some benefit to younger players, which should expand under the revised plans.
Some fans, I know, do not agree with those views and have sought to question whether CFU had a mandate to respond as it did. CFU feels that it was clear about the range of views held by fans and that it was right to support a further two years trial, so that the competition can be evaluated properly.
The development of regular open meetings, coupled with making channels of communication readily available, will enable CFU to keep more closely in touch with members’ and fans’ views.