On Thursday evening we had our first meeting of 2021 with club CEO Karl Evans. These are in place to promote more regular fan engagement and to allow fans to be kept in the loop of what is happening behind the scenes at their football club. This has been refreshing from the club and well received given the lack of communication from the previous Managing Director.

Following Karl’s appearance on The Boundary Park Alert System on Monday, we asked fans for any follow up questions ahead of the meeting. Thanks to all that responded and while we couldn’t get through absolutely everything in our 3 hour call, we tried to obtain as much detail on the matters you see as the biggest concerns.

It was an eventful week where, on the pitch, we drew 1-1 away at Walsall after a late equaliser by Davis Keillor-Dunn. Disappointingly, we have seen striker Danny Rowe sign for Bradford for an undisclosed fee after just over 12 months at the club, news which has not been received positively by fans of the club and the strength of feeling is there for all to see.

Danny Rowe

Karl went straight into the recent events surrounding Danny Rowe’s transfer to Bradford. We advised Karl of fans disappointment at the move given there was no one lined up to replace him and our position in the league, we thought this could have been timed better. With funds across football extremely tight, Karl suggested If you get offered money for a player out of contract at the end of the season you have to consider taking it. Danny was getting to the end of his contract and it was unclear whether he would have extended his stay beyond this. Harry Kewell has also sanctioned the move. There was a suggestion that Players can get injured and you may lose out on potential money, which at this current time the club cannot do without. Karl advised that there are lots of names being banded around in terms of a replacement for Danny Rowe. Karl confirmed we made a slight profit in the 12 months he played for us and we received a 5-figure sum from Bradford for his transfer.

We asked if this could mean the departure of other key players if indeed we are looking to cash in during the window? He advised that Bradford also asked about the availability of Conor McAleny but this was knocked back by the club so this isn’t necessarily the case. He also didn’t rule out more movements in/out over the remainder of the transfer window.

There is a rumour about the EFL bailout preventing clubs from accepting or paying money for transfers. Karl advised this was incorrect and under the terms, we are not embargoed in the transfer market. This was due to us paying back the initial bailout of £50,000, when the £250,000 payment came in. Some clubs paid back and some didn’t. There is also the £20m hardship money that is yet to be distributed amongst league clubs, but there has been no final decision on this and how it will be distributed as of yet, as league meetings continue to discuss the different ideas.

David Wheater – #freewheatz

Regarding David Wheater, Karl advised prior to the meeting that he didn’t want to answer questions related to the ongoing saga and while it was obviously disappointing (a large number of your questions were related to this subject) we had to respect that as it’s an on the field matter that doesn’t necessarily fall under his remit. He did advise on the podcast that say that he doesn’t believe David Wheater would play again for the club and he also believes that David shares that view.

We advised that while we are conceding goals and David remains at the club, the speculation is unlikely to go away so we asked if there was any way to end the speculation in terms of his future that would give fans (and the player) a resolution? Karl believed that the next statement and/or move by the club would do this, but the club aren’t quite in a position to deliver this just yet.

We alluded to the fact that at the current time there is a lot of focus from the club and Community Trust around mental health and well-being during a global pandemic and does the clubs actions of sending an experienced professional to train away from his peers/colleagues contradict any message being conveyed by the club and the Community Trust. Karl recognised this and was hoping that the issue would be resolved in the very near future.

Financials

The club had a decent December for ifollow. It should be somewhere between £40-50k (double what came in November). There is also some royalty money from Hummel on the way. Karl was pleased with the deal that was completed in 2019 with Hummel which has been favourable for the club, stating it was one of the better deals put in place. We also received a sell on fee for Courtney Duffus of £6,000, for his recent transfer.

After receiving a question on twitter, we asked if the club had a contingency plan in the event of Latics playing non-league football next season. Karl advised we don’t have a plan for this as they remain positive that we should be looking upwards and not down.

We asked regarding the advertising boards (and the fact they haven’t been working) and the company they are speaking to have advised they can get them operational again but their operational life is unknown. The company can operate these but would charge a match-day fee. They are currently going through the process of negotiating the fee as they believe it’s a little on the high side. Conversations have taken place as recently as Thursday morning so we should see some progress on this shortly and hopefully the boards will be operational once again.

From a financial perspective, everybody got paid in December which was positive and they are now battling with January.

Transfer Window

On the subject of undisclosed deals, we were asked on twitter why deals are (and have been) classed as ‘undisclosed’ and in the interest of being transparent, would it be worth making these public knowledge? Karl advised that this is an agreement between both clubs to not disclose a fee and there is no specific reason why we would do this. From a Bradford perspective it may be that they don’t want to be seen to be throwing money around during a pandemic but he couldn’t say for certain. “There is no hidden agenda” behind this but he admitted that it’s a growing trend across transfers in the game these days.

Karl did advise that it was very unlikely that the club would be paying any fees for players in the window. We asked about Harry Clarke as his loan expired on the 20th January. Karl advised that he would expect Harry to be signing on again for the remainder of the season. PTB asked if he would be available at weekend (ie would the deal be completed in time) and he sincerely hoped so as it’s just a loan extension and not a new deal as such. Since then it has been confirmed he has signed a new deal to stay for the rest of the season which is positive news! 

North Stand / Stadium Purchase

Karl sees that this is broken down into 3 phases. Phase 1 of the North Stand situation is getting bums on seats (regardless of ownership of the stadium), phase 2 would be getting the benefit from the use of the North Stand and phase 3 would be the ownership of the stadium and the surrounding land. Karl has reached out to Simon Brooke this week about a meeting to progress these matters and it looks like this will take place next week. There has also been correspondence with Oldham Council to understand exactly where everything is at in terms of the work that needs to be done. His understanding is that there isn’t a great deal of work required on the North Stand so it’s certainly not insurmountable.

Karl has spoken to the board around him progressing matters and there was no resistance to this meeting taking place between both parties. Karl knows there has been bad blood in the past but Karl made it clear that the North Stand is the only way the club can/will increase revenue and become more self sufficient. Karl said that if he’s not allowed to try and build bridges with the OEC and try to generate revenue from the stand, “it’s not worth him being around” as this was one of the main reasons he was attracted to working for the club. We welcome this engagement and are hopeful for the sake of supporters that the North Stand can be operational once again.

Karl feels like he’s building more of an understanding with Mohammed Lemsagam and that he feels he (Mohammed) understands that he’s “not just here to nod his head” and is helping him understand the perspective of the fans and why appearing on podcasts and engagement with fan groups is the correct thing to do. While feedback may not be good and awkward conversations take place, it has to start somewhere. Karl advised he receives a number of emails from fans and he does try to respond as it’s only fair given people have taken the time to send him a note. We backed this up and said that people do this because they care about the club and want to see it succeed.

First Team Matters

Karl advised it’s tough as we are almost putting so much pressure on our away form purely because of our home form. Under normal circumstances some of the away results recently (Walsall & Grimsby) you’d be happier with. We asked (following comments made on the podcast) if the current league position puts Kewell under any pressure? Karl said to date the squad has probably underperformed but we have also been unlucky in certain games. He said Harry should be around in his opinion as the club needs stability in order to progress. Stability brings success.

We advised the importance of tying up key players (that we want to build a side around) under deals for next season (and doing it early). In recent years we have left contract renewals, retained lists and signings for forthcoming seasons until the very last minute. We can’t keep doing this each year. Signals of intent will get bums on seats, get people to renew season tickets etc.

Fans Forum

Under normal circumstances, clubs are required to hold a minimum number of events for supporters across the season. As this has not been possible this season, it has therefore meant that there has been a lack of engagement between the supporters and Harry Kewell since his appointment in the close season.

We asked about the possibility of a Q&A with Harry Kewell whether this is via a PTB zoom call to ask him questions put forward by fans, to get him on the Boundary Park Alert System podcast or via an event directly linked with supporters. We are conscious that Karl gets a lot of questions about first team matters and this would remove the requirement and allow Harry to build a rapport with supporters, something that we don’t believe has consistently happened as yet. Karl will look into this possibility and come back to us. Before we were able to ask the question, Karl advised that it is unlikely that we would get Mohammed Lemsagam for a video chat under the same circumstances.

Academy Matters

Karl wanted to address rumours about youth team coach Selim Benachour and that he was no longer at the club. Karl advised he is still at the club as he was chatting to him today (Thursday) so he is unsure where these rumours have surfaced from.

We asked (in terms of the academy) if there were chances to build links with local teams to send academy players out on loan (we referenced Sefil/Gonzales going to Ashton and how this had failed as an experiment previously)? Karl advised that this could be an option once football in non-league starts again as it’s an opportunity for players to play in a competitive open-age format that will give them experience of what is required playing for the first team.

Karl said the challenge is getting them ready for the first team. Karl has promised Paul (Murray) his support in terms of the academy. There was also hypothetical talk of an how to implement an “Oldham DNA” where (for example) we have a minimum of 2 academy players on the bench each week in order to try and get them exposure to first team football and this is what any current or future manager/head coach would have to adhere to. We said we believed that a potential revision of the long term plan would be advised and we believe that having a core of academy players in the squad would be well received by fans as we have always looked out for our own and had good reason to be proud of our academy.

Ownership & The Board

We asked about the make up of the board and the frequency of meetings. Karl advised that there have been 3 board meetings in the last 4 months. We also asked in terms of the more peripheral members of the board (specifically Adam Morallee & fan representative Richard Bowden) and if they all have a vested interest in the club, the decisions it makes and do they all bring something valuable to the table. Karl advised that Adam can bring a different viewpoint as he isn’t a supporter and acts in a capacity outside of the club. We advised with all due respect, that fans currently don’t feel as though they have a true voice on the board and Karl did admit was a little confused when he joined around the fact there was a club representative and also a trust representative on the board. He advised that Richard contributes well, adds value and is a good guy and said that that the role needs to be defined more clearly.

There were numerous questions received around the breakdown in relationship between fans and the current regime, what can be done to bridge and/or repair this relationship and if the owners actually care whether this relationship is fractured.

We said that if we owned a football club and were aware that fans weren’t happy with us specifically, what would the motivation be to continue if we weren’t openly looking to improve things? Karl liked to think that was why he had been brought in and that they will leave him to it in order to try and build those bridges with supporters who are unhappy and have walked away. He knows it will take time but if they can sort certain issues out (North Stand etc) then it starts to bring fans back onside and it gets easier. In a separate part of the chat, relating to social media (as discussed on the podcast), Karl did admit that he perhaps underestimated the strength of feeling amongst fans as a result of legacy issues at the club.

We also referenced the timing of Mohammed Lemsagam being back in the country, the emergence of more stories of disruption within the club and also a dip in form on the pitch as we believe that this fact isn’t lost on supporters.

Season Tickets

We asked about the Season Ticket situation in light of the additional lockdown and the fact it is unlikely that fans will be allowed back in the stadium again this season. Karl advised that it was disappointing to not have fans back for the Harrogate game originally as this is why the club had been working to, but he did say he would make a statement on this in January. He said money is tight, there is no question and it is very unlikely they can commit to offering full refunds to supporters. However, there are discussions around what can be done going forward and Karl is finalising this. We asked when this would be released to fans and Karl advised he would like to have something out by the end of January and we (PTB) will do our best to ensure that this deadline is met in the interest of supporter concerns.

We appreciate a wide-range of subjects have been covered here and we hope it is of some use. As always, it was a very honest and forthright exchanging of views but conducted in the right manner and we thank Karl for taking the time to engage with us. If you have any feedback, please get in touch.

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