Thoughts On The Open Meeting – Kingsmeadow & Fan Ownership of Kingstonian

I attended the open meeting on Saturday after the game. People have been asking for an unofficial summary, so I’ve written one. Some important caveats:

– I took no notes at all;
– I’m writing this on Tuesday, so will have forgotten massive chunks;
– These notes are NOT minutes: they are my recollections and obviously reflect what I felt at the time was important, as unimportant bits I’ll have forgotten;
– I’d had three pints before proceedings started!
– These are MY interpretations, and I make no claim to them being anything more.

The Co-Chairmen’s Statements

Mark Anderson spoke first, at reasonable length, setting out the facts and the current situation on the ground as he sees it. As I recall, there was little in this summary that has not already been covered in the interview and the original statement. Of more interest was Mark’s views on the supporter ownership element of the proposed changes to the club. There will be a vote – of some description, see below – on which route the club takes “in the New Year”, and whether it reconstitutes as a community-owned club. There are “multiple options” being explored here. Without putting words in Mark’s mouth, one of the key drivers for this is apparently the potential increase in commercial income that can be gained as a result and that it will improve the chances of funding for any new ground. It is certainly the case that this push has come from the co-chairmen and not from the supporters – which to me is putting the cart before the horse. This element of the evening left me concerned, as much as all of us in the room appreciated Mark’s honesty.

Malcolm Winwright then spoke, and did add a couple of of nuggets of detail to do with Kingsmeadow. The first of these, supported by (I think) Colin Deadman, is that there is no covenant on the land to speak of – and as such there is no obligation on any of the parties involved to keep K’s playing at Kingsmeadow. This is obviously critical. The second piece of information was background on the (complicated) leasehold situation of the ground, and why we find ourselves in this position. Essentially, the writing has been on the wall ever since Khosla managed to separate the club from the ground in 2002/3. He had built annual increases in rent that the club would pay the owner of the ground into the lease itself, meaning that the football club found itself in an intensely weak negotiating position with AFCW throughout the last 12 years, basically relying on their charity and goodwill. As I understood it, this is one of the reasons that the perimeter lease was signed over for the terms that it was, which we now know did not guarantee us a 25-year lease at Kingsmeadow, as was previously understood. Work is ongoing behind the scenes to clarify some of the detail on this.

John Fenwick added little at this point because he agreed with all that had been said so far, saying that he had been concentrating on the day-to-day running of the football club, leaving a lot of the ground negotiations and work to Mark and Malcolm.

Questions From The Floor

Laurence Cooley made it clear he was dead against the idea of stopping being a limited company – largely because the trend has been in the other direction. The chairmen commented that they were not clear that this is true at our level: viz. Enfield Town, Hendon, Lewes, Tonbridge. These examples were used throughout the evening, because they show that a) there are many models of community ownership, and b) there are various levels of success to be had! Horsham was also brought up on numerous occasions as the “example to avoid”. This was perplexing. Nothing that was said by anybody, at any point, convinced me that we won’t be in *exactly* their scenario: with a big lump sum in our pocket, but without a ground to play in, and therefore that lump sum being eroded away year-on-year paying for groundshare deals. There was no reassurance on this, apart from the fact “we don’t want to end up like Horsham”. Well, obviously – but why will we be different?

I asked about what I felt was a misleading line in the notes handed out – about any payment from AFCW “clearing the club’s debts” – to clarify the situation. I was reassured that the club had no operating debts beyond what any business would have in any given month – PAYE etc – and so this was just clumsy phrasing. I then asked about whether a 51% fans / 49% investors ownership model was one of the options being considered, given that it would seem to apply perfectly to our situation, in that we could become a “community club” without losing the incentive for people to invest larger sums in the club. From the answers it didn’t sound like something that had been thought about at all so far, but I was later reassured that all options were on the table. Personally, I think a club as small as Kingstonian becoming one member, one vote would be disastrous – but that doesn’t mean we can’t become a fan-owned club, because there are middle ways. See Hendon and Tonbridge as two successful examples.

The option of sharing or working out an arrangement at the athletics track was dismissed out of hand, which was heartbreaking – as I can’t see another obviously good solution.

There are two groundsharing options being pursued potentially: one in the borough, and one just outside the borough. The one inside the borough is obviously The Hyphens, but the latter could mean one of several clubs. Understandably no details were given at this point.

We could be groundsharing in the 2017/18 season, meaning next season would be our last at Kingsmeadow. This would not be the case if AFCW’s move was a) delayed by planning process, when we would stay for another season, or b) thrown out entirely. In the case of Plough Lane being rejected completely, the answers were not altogether clear, although Malcolm said we’d stay at Kingsmeadow until we had a new site sorted. One of the themes of the meeting: the board are 100% clear that we need to leave Kingsmeadow soon, i.e. in any circumstances. I’m still not 100% clear on why that is. Even if we were being charged rent to groundshare at Kingsmeadow from 2017, surely it would be a lot better to be paying rent to play at ‘home’, rather than paying rent to play at Cor-Cas or Hampton or Met Police? I assume the three men in charge feel the same way, but this wasn’t made explicit enough in my opinion.

Groundsharing decisions (specifically) will 100% not be taken by the co-chairmen and would be taken “by the fans”. But asked to clarify whether all “major decisions” would be taken by the fans, given that decisions are being taken all the time and the club is nowhere near fan ownership yet, the answers were a bit vaguer. “We’re not going to sell you a pup,” said Mark. Well, I totally accept that – but are you going to hand over a situation that the majority of fans wouldn’t have pursued were we in charge at the moment? That is the question, and I’m not sure that was resolved to my satisfaction.

Then a longer discussion on fan ownership. Major decisions, specifically the vote on ownership structure, will need to be taken in the coming months by Kingstonian supporters. Yet it was rightly pointed out by a few of people, Jon Tolley and Ali Kazemi among them as I recall, that there is no agreement on who or what constitutes “a Kingstonian supporter” at the moment. Membership of the Supporters Club doesn’t cover it, as the Supporters Club membership has dwindled over recent years. There is no longer a K’s Trust, and although the Trust had a membership in the high hundreds at one points does anybody still have those details? Probably not. Malcolm in particular was also worried of the other side of the coin in this matter – that people could effectively “walk in off the street” to vote on Kingstonian’s future on the night of the vote. But personally, I’d be worried about the other side: that many many loyal K’s fans who care about our club might be denied a vote. By far the best idea was to allow people to sign up to some scheme to vote – effectively starting an “electoral roll” of K’s fans, possibly costing a nominal sum such as a pound to join to prove consideration. This is something that needs to be much more seriously thought about over the coming weeks.

There was a lot more discussion, but I can’t remember it. Sorry. There will apparently be minutes.

Conclusion – Worried But Hopeful

Overwhelmingly the meeting was positive. The mood was one of finding solutions, not apportioning blame. But writing this all up, it’s interesting which bits have stuck in my head three days on – the most worrying parts. There’s a lot of work to do to make me less worried, but by the nature of this meeting, at least it seems as if people are up for it.