Push The Boundary – Meeting with Mr Lemsagam
We categorised all the questions under different headings such as financials, staff/board, playing side etc. and then narrowed down the duplicates. We ended up with 61 questions from over 220 to start with, thank you for all the questions submitted and apologies for any delay, as you will see there was a lot to get through. Any follow ups or questions we felt were more pressing, would be emailed through to Natalie and we can arrange a follow up meeting.
Push The Boundary – Meeting with Abdallah 16.01.2020.
Abdallah Lemsagam – OAFC
Natalie Atkinson – OAFC
Richard Bowden – OAFC
Adam Keeley – PTB
Will Gough – PTB
Dan Taylor – PTB
Steve Shipman – PTB
Opening / Introduction to the Meeting
PTB admitted that as fans, we didn’t want to do anything like this (setting up of PTB) because of the time commitment, work and family but with everything that was going on we didn’t feel the Trust were doing the right things, and they would be the first to admit the engagement hasn’t been great. PTB wasn’t set up as a protest group, it was an independent supporters’ group where we could look from the outside without having a blinkered view (citing Darren as an example). We could be out there, speak freely without the red tape the Trust have to deal with. This is why we sent the letter with our concerns and we want to engage. We didn’t get a response to that. We then did the survey and results.
It really hit home with Bury and Bolton and their fans didn’t say or raise their concerns that could have potentially changed things. We don’t want to see the club disappear. We don’t want to sit in a stadium with 2,700-2,800 people. The atmosphere at Latics can be absolutely bouncing. When we were struggling a few years ago, we beat Bolton 1-0 and they were about to win the league. We beat them with 10 men and the place was rocking.
We think we’ve gone about things in a professional manner. We’ve come to the club with our concerns and things haven’t progressed. We would have liked more engagement and if we’d had that, we wouldn’t be here now (the boycott).
RB – took all the points and agreed with us that our approach had been professional and what we do on twitter looks good and the communications have read well. The key question from Richard was what do we want to happen? He has looked at the various options and he feels Abdallah is going about things the right way and wants to do well so we need to reach a common ground there and other scenarios such as “are we buying the right players”, “is our squad size too big”, “are we in the loan market too much” and “is the sporting director in the right role”. When PTB talk about “big change” and “real action”. You’ve said you feel it’s too late to stop the boycott and we understand that. We can discuss whether it’s the right thing to do
NA – asked if fans want to know what’s happening off the pitch at a football club? We said no, but when it gets to a point where the club is at now, then (some) people do. It’s been said the club feel like everything they do on social media gets criticised but we (PTB) feel like they’ve made a rod for their own back. Richard confirmed that at the most recent board meeting he proposed that they “change the club media strategy quite dramatically” as they had got into a bit of tit for tat in terms of communications on social media and while it’s led with best intentions, it’s fuelled a situation. The club believe the fan base is split 3 ways, ‘I don’t care’, ‘I believe one side’ or ‘I believe the other side’ and we need to move on from that. Let’s talk about players, let’s talk about good times, interviews, physio updates etc.
Question & Answer
It has been indicated that there will be a further reduction in ST renewals. 40% of existing season said they wouldn’t renew. What do you think is the reason for this?
NA – On the pitch would be the number 1 reason. I really believe and hope we will finish top half. You want to see exciting football on the pitch. What has happened off the pitch also hasn’t helped with fans wondering “is my club secure?” and “is there investment?” (It was pointed out by PTB that this is the effect rather than the proximate cause and fans have got to this stage for a reason).
RB – It seems like there is a vendetta against Abdallah, there is the whole ‘Abdallah Out’ stuff plastered everywhere and that has to filter through to the fans. There is a feeling that there is a large amount of people who don’t want the owner here (again it was pointed out by PTB that there is a reason why fans are feeling this way). There are number of issues with the shareholding, the stand and who owns what (PTB said that this was only a more recent thing). Ultimately what’s happened is that people feel the ownership isn’t right or progressing well, it has filtered through to the fans and people are voting with their feet.
PTB – said we were in Lg2 last season and people do come back because they think they will see us win a few games, but to be 1,000-1,200 down and that season tickets will be down further next season is unsustainable.
When asked our thoughts we said that it doesn’t help when fans lose players they have a connection with (who aren’t replaced adequately) and the level of staff who have left the club since the new ownership came in. Also hearing things about interference with playing matters, being told who to play etc.
Abdallah asked if we speak to managers or people about this and we said yes, we have.
We then also handed a sheet of quotes from ex-players, staff, managers (that comment on the situation at the club). Abdallah read through the names (Jack Byrne, Patrick McEleney, Richie Wellens, Paul Scholes, Pete Wild, Billy Thompson, Craig Davies etc.) and comments that he can answer some of the queries. Craig Davies was under contact and receiving a very good wage, we are in league 2 and he wanted to leave. He wanted another contract (elsewhere, hinting that he wanted a payoff/mutual termination). Adam asked Abdallah about what he means by the “treatment of players” that Davies mentions. I feel sorry for Richie Wellens but this is what he was doing internally, shouting to the coach and it’s a bad thing. What goes on in the club needs to stay in the club. McEleney left because he wanted to go and had a better offer with more money. Adam pointed out that Patrick said in his interview that certain players were being selected to be paid and others not being paid on time. Abdallah stated that it’s not true. Abdallah said he still keeps in touch with Jack Byrne but with all due respect to Jack, he has had 6-7 clubs already at 22/23 years old although he can’t speak of the detail as it must stay within the club.
PTB – stated that we aren’t looking for specific responses on each player, more that there is a recurring theme with these comments and there is no smoke without fire. Abdallah said that this happens at every club to which PTB responded that they have supported the club for 20+ years and never known a turnover of comments from players like this before. Abdallah replies that this is because they are very open and they have nothing to hide. Richard Bowden said he had been concerned about coming in as a board member but Abdallah is being straight down the line as an owner and people aren’t used to it. A lot of people have been getting away with a lot of things for a long time, whether it be managers wanting their mates playing for them or their mates coaching the team or taking backhanders for players. Sometimes people are a bit bitter and other times things do go on behind the scenes. With hindsight things could have been dealt with differently for different players. Abdallah has been burnt by these managers that come in and say “I can do this for you, I can do that for you, give me these funds…” and you have to rewind and start again. Nothing has been done on a nasty basis but people fall out because there’s different expectations of people at different times.
NA – when Abdallah came to the club he took on a number of staffing tribunals. Frankie and Billy mentioned a “not nice atmosphere” and I’ve been here 7 months and I’ve not noticed anything. I have a good relationship with Abdallah, Mohammed and the staff. Adam interjected to say that if you’re being paid by Abdallah are you going to come out in public and say things aren’t right? Billy left on really good terms (Natalie agreed) and Will said that despite that he’s still come out said these things so does it not set alarm bells ringing? He’s gone on to a better job and he did very well here. Natalie said “there are two sides to every story”.
What was in place to arrest the fall in attendances?
NA – There is the ‘match day working group’ which people are free to attend. We had a recent season ticket meeting and there are things like % off spend in a shop/restaurant etc. They will continue with tickets for school’s initiative and when they launch season tickets in Feb there will be a strict 8 week early bird and prices will be the same as last year but more added value around this. The club want to do more PR out in the community. At Southport we had a poster in every business within a 5 mile radius and leaflets in schools. They admitted the season ticket database hasn’t been used properly due to a problem whereby you can bypass putting your email address in when buying a season ticket. We need to come together as a fan base rather than have factions (Trust, FLG, PTB) and be on the same page.
In terms of Season Tickets, how many are we budgeting to sell?
NA – We will use the survey that PTB completed and Dan asked if the numbers we projected appear accurate. Natalie said she hopes they aren’t. Steve said there must be a financial plan in place to say we expect to sell so many season tickets? Natalie said at board level, yes, and they would use the survey. A proposal will be put forward (by Natalie) around this before February. From a financial point of view if these kinds of numbers will be expected then it’s a case of saying we need to put x amount of money in. You’ve almost got to look at it another way in that Abdallah is subsidising the football club on a monthly basis so really any extra season tickets sold will be viewed as extra income. It can’t be seen as if the club sell 1,000 less season tickets then it’s going to fold.
What is the breakeven point on ticket sales?
Not sure and would need to speak to Shahed.
Is the club running at a constant loss?
It was confirmed yes, since Abdallah took over. We asked if the figure mentioned at the recent fans forum was correct at £200k per month and Abdallah said sometimes more, sometimes less.
Why was the season ticket finance option being removed earlier in 2019, Why did we lose this?
Natalie wasn’t 100% and would like to speak to Shahed. Richard said it wasn’t because we weren’t offered the finance. We said regardless of what happened to Zebra we aren’t allowed to offer finance to people? Natalie confirmed but said she would get Shahed to confirm.
Is the money being put in by Abdallah in the form of donations and therefore written off or is this being put on the directors’ loan?
AL – this is on the directors’ loan account. Will asked for clarification as this wouldn’t count towards the salary cost management protocol. Abdallah said it’s his decision and if he wants to donate money then he will because he’s the owner. Richard said they need to check with Shahed around how this is being categorised in the accounts.
There was a £1.2m increase in asset value on the accounts for the 17/18 period. Where has this come from? It was listed under creditors (money owed to the club) but we haven’t sold any players in that accounting period. Also there was the £5.1m removed under ‘creditors due in the next year’, what was this in relation to?
NA – would refer that question to Shahed to get a full response to PTB.
Richard Bowden went on to say that there was a further question in the initial questions (sent before the meeting) relating to £5 million investment and where that money had gone to?
NA – said that the money he has put into the club to date isn’t investment and that money has gone to the daily running of the club, clearing Creditors list etc., Natalie gave an example of the club paying for a former board members car even when Abdallah had taken over. Richard stated that there was no Creditors or Debtors list at the Football Club prior to Abdallah taking over and the Financial Director being appointed. Natalie said that there had not been any bank reconciliations at the Football Club prior to Shaheed’s appointment. Natalie went on to mention that facilities of the Football Club such as the playing surface had received no investment prior to Abdallah taking over. This has now been rectified and are pleased with the pitch to date, they are awaiting the score/rating provided to them from the EFL. Natalie also advised that the Creditors list of pre-Abdallah is now at a level of circa £100,000. Natalie however insisted that it was a lot more than that when he purchased the club. PTB responded in acknowledgement of this comment and stated that we were under no illusions as to the state of the club prior to Abdallah taking control of OAFC. Natalie advised PTB that Shahed has everything under control and is extremely well organised from the financial aspect of the club.
Are full accounts accessible for people who want to see them if they come into the club?
AL – this would be up to Shahed. Richard went on to add that Shahed had mentioned at the Fans Q&A that he will sit with anybody who wants to go through them upon request. He did however insist that confidential information could not and would not be shared such as player’s wages etc. PTB advised that we had been in contact with Kieran Maguire (Head of Football Financing at Liverpool University) who would be happy to do a full review of the accounts for free and who would prepare a report in relation to these. Mr Lemsagam accepted that request if it was okay with Shahed and insisted to PTB that “he has nothing to hide”. Richard Bowden stated that the Trust had been in to view the accounts and spent 5/6 hours with both Darren and Phillipa.
Has Simon Corney ever had 11% or 22% shareholding of the Football Club since Abdallah Lemsagam took over Oldham Athletic Football Club?
RB – with Abdallah Lemsagam’s agreement, Simon Corney retaining 22 shares in the club was part of the original agreement. Richard stated that these shares were absolute and as such Simon Corney’s share percentage was diluted upon the club issuing more shares.
PTB questioned the validity of this comment as the Confirmation Statement that was issued by the Club to Companies House on 09/12/2018, nearly 12 months after Abdallah had taken ownership of the Football Club states that the shareholding total was 200 shares of which 194 were A Shares owned by RLJ Capital (97%) and 6x B shares (3%) which were held by Trust Oldham. Richard admitted that there is a discrepancy in this and Natalie stated that they would provide a timeline to PTB and Trust Oldham in regards to the shareholding at the club. Richard also went onto advise that following the meeting with PTB, he would be drafting an update which clarifies certain questions from the supporters following the Q&A’s and meetings taken place as well as an update on the current vision of the Football Club.
Do you think 21 better quality players would have been a better use of resources than a squad of 30+ players?
AL – this was the head coach and managers’ choice of the squad size to carry.
RB – there were a lot of younger players who are on fairly minimal wages to bridge the gap between the youth team and the first team. These players would then hopefully progress 2, 3 or 4 years down the line. PTB then questioned whether that was the best use of the resources for a League Two side who have financial constraints.
AL – suggested that this vision was discussed under each manager and now the current manager didn’t want to use that method so he would discuss with each head coach which way they wanted to progress. Abdallah then stated that there had been mistakes made in regards to recruitment.
What mistakes were made and what had been learned from those mistakes?
AL – they had tried to bring players in from overseas but hinted that they maybe had trouble settling into English Football.
NA – then asked PTB what the issue was with where the players came from, PTB stressed that it was not a concern where the players came from, more so the standard of players that have been signed from abroad and that in squads that traditionally do well in League One/Two, these have players who are used to playing in those leagues for a number of years. Abdallah stated that there would be more recruitment now which is domestic based and emphasised this by the signings made so far in January.
RB – there has been a shift in recruitment policy and a shift from the initial vision outlined and that this needs aligning between the two (signing domestic based players and players from overseas) to reap the benefits.
Is there a Player Liaison in place to help overseas players settle in to both the club and the area?
Natalie advised that there is one in place and insisted that these players were looked after
At the last Q&A, Transfermarkt.com was quoted by Abdallah regarding our squad value being £4.5m, is that what you value the players at?
NA – felt that the comment had been taken out of context. Abdallah stated that this was not what he valued the players at but what Transfermarkt.com valued our squad at.
PTB then asked a follow up question as to whether he has a personal valuation of the players within the squad?
AL – there are currently 2 or 3 players that are worth £500,000 or more, although he did not state which players these were. Abdallah went onto say that Oldham previously rejected £200,000 from an unnamed club back in the summer for George Edmundson before selling him for a lot more as he valued Edmundson at a higher value. PTB pressed even further to ascertain why Transfermark.com was quoted in the first place
NA – the club use Transfermarkt and find it a useful tool as it offers a lot more than just value of players. Richard intervened and said that it was rather unfortunate that this was one thing that everybody picked up on from the Fans Q&A as he felt Abdallah answered a lot more pressing concerns and questions on the night.
There are a number of concerns amongst supporters regarding the Sporting Director and Barry Owen, is there anything you can say or want to say regarding their roles?
AL -mentioned how valuable Barry Owen is to the club and the Board of Directors. He advised PTB that he brings invaluable experience.
RB – Advised that Barry is not involved regarding recruitment and the finances at the club. Richard confirmed that like any team, the Board members and staff don’t always agree about how to approach certain problems, but we come to a consensus and Barry is a valued member of the team and contributes a lot on a day to day basis, in addition to his safety oversight role. He also said that it is important for Abdallah to have Barry Owen there as he has a lot of experience and knowledge of the running of lower league football clubs. Natalie stated that Abdallah 100% trusts Barry Owen. Natalie stated that she couldn’t go into the North Stand debate etc.
NA – advised that Barry is invaluable to both herself and the club. She told PTB that Barry Owen’s key area and responsibility is related to safety and supporting Steve Clarke (safety officer). Natalie went on to say that they are working through a process of improving Ground Safety and without Barry helping Natalie and Steve with the certificates and the safety plan in relation to Ground Safety, they would struggle. Barry Owen is there as a key support mechanism.
PTB further questioned Barry’s role, stating that he was a major part of a previous regime that the current regime and many supporters feel left the club in a precarious position both organisationally and financially. If he was part of that Board of Directors from the previous regime, why is he now deemed as “invaluable”?
NA – answered this by saying that Barry was left in the dark over what went on in the previous regime. Adam went on to ask how that has been proven. Natalie said that Barry had told them that this was the case and that they trusted him. Steve stated that he was still complicit as a Director of the previous regime for decisions made by them. Abdallah informed PTB that the club solicitor sent letters to the Directors of the previous regime and Barry was the first to respond and insisted that he wouldn’t do this if Barry had anything to hide. Will reiterated the issue and the question of that he was still on a Board of Directors of a poorly run club.
AL – reiterated that he needs somebody that he can trust and he trusts Barry Owen. Richard went on to say that he would not be involved in any writing of club statements or at Fans Forums from now on. Following Steve mentioning that this was a query and a concern amongst a large number of supporters, Natalie responded by saying that the support Barry Owen gives the team as a whole and the Board of Directors is fantastic and Natalie believes he is open, hardworking and honest.
What credentials does Mo Lemsagam have for the role he is in? And does he have a KPI set? If so, how are these measured?
AL – stated that Mo holds a UEFA license coaching badge and also stated that he played football in the 3rd/4th tier of French football. Abdallah also advised PTB that when he is not present, he needs people he can trust to run the football club and he trusts his brother.
The KPI question has been sent to the club to be answered.
Did Abdallah or Mo Lemsagam influence Pete Wild’s team selection for the Doncaster Rovers FA Cup game?
AL – joked, “why didn’t they ask about a game that we won like Fulham?” Abdallah then went on to answer the question seriously in which he stated that he or Mo had no say/part in the team selection for either game.
At the Q&A last week, you specifically told fans that the signings were done between himself (Abdallah), the Sporting Director and also the Head Coach, with the Head Coach having the final say, has this always been the case?
AL – stated that this has always been the case and insisted that the Head Coach always had the final say. Danny went onto follow up on this question by stating that Laurent Banide in his press conference when he took the role of Head Coach, Banide stated “his role would not involve the recruitment of transfer targets”. Abdallah answered this by saying that he believed Banide meant that he wouldn’t be involved in negotiating with players rather than recruitment of players by having a choice of which players were signed.
When Pete Wild took over in January 2019, we signed Urko Vera, Mo Sylla and Sohny Sefil, were these Pete Wild’s choices?
AL – said that these players were not Pete Wild’s choice of signings. One of those players were in training and subsequently signed. Abdallah stated that these players were brought in in-between Frankie Bunn being sacked and Pete Wild taking the reins.
NA – went back to the point of “3 heads are better than 1 when recruiting” and stated that she felt that this made sense. Adam stated that he personally hasn’t seen a Head Coach role be successful in the lower leagues of English Football however not saying it has never happened.
AL – said that it works at Premier League/Championship clubs.
RB – went back to mention the vision within this discussion and alluded to the club trying the Head Coach role with the recruitment strategy. Richard stated that the club tried that strategy and has realised it needs players such as Carl Piergianni who knows what it takes in the lower leagues etc. and hinted at a shift in strategy going forward.
AL – said that we have tried that way and admitted it hadn’t worked so would sit down and work out a new strategy that would work for Oldham Athletic. Will stated that he appreciated the point that they had made but advised the club officials that there is no continuity. Abdallah said that before he took over that there was no goalkeeper a week before the season. Abdallah states what he wants also is to give the fans respect, believe in them as they want the best for the club. We are not trying to say everything is perfect at the club. There have been a lot of mistakes – we recognise that, but we’re working hard to change it.
Abdallah, do you think that the club provided adequate support to Tony Philliskirk after his suspension? And once he was cleared of wrong-doing, why did the club not fight to keep him after his very successful period at the club over the last few years?
AL – states they cannot make any comments about that. It’s very complicated.
PTB – The fans feel disengaged, so many fans have lost the love for this club. That’s the most worrying thing, because building that back up again is so difficult.
NA – Asked how PTB would address it?
PTB – Be honest. Go in with an honest approach and say, “listen, this has not worked”. We stated nothing has ever gone on the website for everyone to see, to say “as a club, as a board, things haven’t worked, we hold our hands up, we need to change”.
NA – states I think Abdallah has said that a couple of times. Natalie acknowledges the honest approach and believes that what they can take from the meeting. Natalie owned up to a mistake about the Swindon travel and believes it shows character to hold your hands up to actually admit a mistake.
PTB – Believe the club would probably get more credit for it than going down another route.
AL – has also learnt. Abdallah states this is a new job for him. He hasn’t owned a club before and he can see it, Abdallah believes we are going in the right direction. It’ll take a little bit of time, but we are in the right direction.
NA – Acknowledges PTB have got the ear of a section of fans, because it’s not all the fans. It’s a section, and it’s a big section, PTB gathered a lot of momentum which is good and shows that fans are so passionate about the football club.
PTB – Stated If we can take anything away from today, it’s that we’re not the enemy. We want to work with you.
AL & NA – Both state they do not want to be enemies either and they never thought that.
PTB – stated the decline has been going on for years (aware of previous regime). It’s only because PTB have come together now because we’re in the bottom tier of professional football….it’s getting serious
PTB – Raise a point that the pie/programme boycott that we did wasn’t going to happen, but we felt the way that the club conducted themselves following conversations (over a possible meeting with AL) was unprofessional, so that forced our hand in the way, PTB extended the deadline, which the club didn’t meet, and then you organised the Q&A, without the decency to come back to us at all. PTB ask “can you see how that is divisive?”
NA – Acknowledges this as Learning.
PTB – So that forced our hand. We weren’t going to do that. It’s fine when you come and say you’re disappointed we did that, but we did that because of actions that took place. We don’t want to be organising boycotts, we don’t want to be organising protest, not for a single second.
RB – States that because of everything that’s gone on, and all the issues what he is seeing is there’s a natural fight reaction to everybody around. So, you know, people aren’t just going to sit and take it all. Richard has been trained to play this mediator role of saying, “Well we need to be softer with our approach, we need to be better with our Communication.
PTB – Suggest a monthly update from a board member/ AL etc.
RB – States we need to come together
PTB – Yes we do, and we’re here now. And we’re having an open and frank discussion, and from our perspective, it’s just a shame it’s taken this long to get to this point. It didn’t need to happen the way that it’s happened.
AL – We are open and we don’t have nothing to hide. We want to be engaging with the fans and just say “Here we are guys. We try to do our best”. And we can organise a twice meetings a year, to all the directors you have questions and the same also with the head coach, to sit with him to give him also questions. We are open. We are trying to change…
PTB – From a personal point of view, we’ve been speaking to a number of clubs that have had various issues – Leyton Orient, Charlton, Blackpool (not so much with Blackpool really, but the other two)..
AL – But we are different than the rest
PTB – And that’s why we believed it so important for tonight to take place with Abdallah first off, before we meet with whoever, because they said their main struggle was getting their owner to come to the fore and go “right, I’m here, ask me some questions”, and Leyton Orient never got to that point. They had a Managing Director who basically just fobbed them off.
NA – I want to work with the Trust the way I believe a Trust should be working, from previous experiences, and then in terms of you guys, it’s about that fan engagement and, whatever that having the voice of the fan, if you like.
While a few of these questions were raised by Push The Boundary, the vast majority were your questions and we’ve tried to get through as many as possible in the time we had. The remaining questions that we felt were most pressing, have been sent to the club and we will follow up on these in due course. Once we have these responses in full we will report back. We have also agreed to another meeting with the club (date to be confirmed) to follow up progress on some of the action points to come from the meeting. This includes a full independent review of the accounts to be undertaken by Kieran Maguire, subject to approval by Shahed.
We’d love to hear your feedback on this meeting and there is obviously a chance that some of these responses will raise other queries. We want to represent you as best we can do please feel free to send any follow up questions or queries through to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or send us a note on Twitter/Facebook or OWTB. If you feel as though your question was not answered or you require more from an answer provided please let us know.
As a final note from us, it is positive that the channels of communication have been opened between the club and PTB as well as an acknowledgement that we represent a good number of the fanbase and that any concerns can be raised by fans in the knowledge that they will be heard by the club and responded to in a timely fashion.
Reclaim The Faith