Pitch in

Saturday, 6 February 2010

We have a game today, not that you'd know it from the hot topic of the last week: a new pitch is the most concerning issue.

This isn't because Exeter fans get excited about the idea of a bit of grass, but more the manner in which is was presented to fans.

A bit of context to start: Exeter have needed a new pitch for a long time. A few months into his first season, I had a long chat with Paul Tisdale about the pitch. He cited the case of Yeovil Town, where manager Gary Johnson had relayed their pitch the season before they got promoted from the Conference. It could, Tisdale said, be as good for the club as a new signing.

There's also a practical element to a new pitch as well. City's away end and the Old Granstand badly need redevelopment, and the intention has been, for a long time, to shift the pitch a few metres towards the Big Bank, freeing up room for development. Plus, it would be an opportunity to sort out the drainage underneath the pitch.

Fair enough, and you wouldn't find many City fans who'd disagree with this. And nobody would dispute that this work would cost a lot of money. Money that the club needs to find from somewhere. Yet, when it was announced in the Express and Echo that the Trust was launching a fundraising drive to help pay for the £150,000 pitch-laying bill, Exeweb exploded.

Nothing new there. Sometimes you sense that if the collective of Exeweb found a fiver, they'd complain that it wasn't twenty. But the longer the complaints went on and the more people who joined in, the greater the sense that the Trust had scored some kind of PR own goal.

It wasn't that people objected to having to fund raise the pitch per se, or the cost, which seemed reasonable, but more the manner in which it was announced.

Like most other Trust members, the first I found out about it was through the Echo's website, which unfortunately only carries up to the first four paragraphs in an effort to encourage online readers to buy the paper (ignoring the likes of us who're in London, or outside the Echo's distribution area). This had the unfortunate impression that the Trust was going cap in hand to the fans and expecting them to foot the bill.

Trust members were, understandably, not happy. This was the first we'd heard about footing the pitch replacement bill. It also raised questions about why the money needed to be raised in this way.

Were we really so skint that we had to launch another fundraising drive? Why couldn't the club fund it? Where had the transfer fee cash gone? Others asked why the Trust needed to raise money for this when we were paying our interim chief executive thousands of pounds a month.

The latter isn't a view I necessarily subscribe to and, in the case of Norrie, we probably won't know whether or not he's been value fr money until after he's left. Such is the way of the world, yes.

Over the last few days, we've slowly, almost reluctantly, got out of those Trustees who've braved the bear pit that this fundraising initiative had been planned for a while and it was one of the Trustees who'd originally suggested that the Trust got involvd and launched a special fundraising drive. And that there are other forms of capital that can go into the project.

And therein comes the bit that doesn't sit easy with some Trust members, myself included. Over the years we've been happy to dip into our pockets, especially in those dark days when it looked like Exeter City might die.

But we're now in a different situation, we're not firefighting, so any new fundraising drive has to be explained to us, especially in tough economic times. Chances are the majority of us wouldn't mind chipping into help - after all, it strengthens the bond between fan and club to say "We paid for that pitch, it's ours," which is probably what the Trust had in mind when they first launched it.

The Trust probably thought they'd got a PR winner on their hands when they got the Echo to agree to a large amount of coverage. But it came as a bit of a shock to members. Again, many of us probably wouldn't have minded a bit of a heads up, even if it was a quick sketched outline and telling us the information would appear in the Echo. Just to be told there was a major initiative coming up would have been nice.

And then there's a response from the Trustees. I have every respect to them for braving Exeweb, but often the response seemed to be that as it was for the best of the club, there was no need to ask questions. Trust us, they said.

Well, we do. Mostly. But we've also been burned so badly by people asking us to trust them in the past, that you'll forgive us for being a bit cautious.

You may think, does this all matter? It's just people getting the hump for not being in the loop. Well yes. And also no.

One of the key parts of the Trust is communication between membership and Trustees, and that respect has to be there. We are the majority shareholder of the club, we elect the Trustee, some of whom sit on the club board. And while the playing aspect is something we leave to the club, matters like this are very much of interest to the Trust membership.

It's so vitally important that the Trust doesn't disconnect itself from the membership; that communication between the two is good. There will always be people who complain or feel they have the right to know more than can realistically be given out. But equally, when something as large and as significant as this comes up, we have the right to know what's going on.

Openness and transparency should be the watch-word for any good Supporters' Trust. Let's hope this is just a blip. If we'd been informed that we might be needed to pay for the new pitch when the idea was first mooted, all this need never have happened.

In other news, Exeter have a game against Southampton. And Joe Burnell has started. A-blimmin-mazing. Normal services will be resumed next week.

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Happy As Larry

This is an Exeter City fan blog by Gary Andrews, covering news, views and action from the real St. James' Park.

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