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Future Proof

by Old Isthmian

So as we all expected it was Jermaine Darlington and we’ve been thrown out of the FA Trophy. Next comes the Ryman League and the Surrey Senior Cup and maybe the Suburban League South. At least it looks like the Ryman League have charged us with the lesser of two offences they could have picked but I’m not pinning hopes on that.

What should we do apart from rant and rave at the FA and all the other football administrators? Firstly we should avoid the extremes. We shouldn’t pick on individuals and we shouldn’t sweep the whole thing under the carpet as a sad error and a chance to move forward. It isn’t one person’s fault, if the way we do things means that such things aren’t checked by a second person then we do things wrongly and more than one person is responsible for that.

I’d suggest there are two courses we should take, one altruistic and the other to make our lives far better in the future.

We did not attempt to gain any unfair advantage through picking Darlington. There was no reason he couldn’t play, he wasn’t cup tied, he wasn’t suspended, he wasn’t on loan. The bit of paper just wasn’t in the right place, it was available immediately it was asked for. Could anyone actually tell the difference between Darlington playing Gravesend and Darlington playing Worthing, when hopefully he was legal?

The penalty seems to be the same as playing somebody who is suspended or where a loaning club have refused permission, both acts attempting to gain an advantage by cheating. It’s rather like getting the same penalty for overstaying at a parking meter as for dangerous or careless driving. Actually it’s worse than that, because Darlington in general tackles fairly and doesn’t moan excessively at the ref, so it took him two months to get booked. The suggestion is that it was the booking that triggered the realisation that he didn’t have clearance, although fingers have been pointed at Liam Daish who had experience of this problem when managing Havant and Waterlooville before taking over at Gravesend. If it was the booking, then the fairer the player, the bigger the penalty – make sure any new player gets booked in his first game in future.

We should start a campaign to the Ryman League, the FA and if necessary FIFA to ensure that cheating is punished far more severely than administrative errors. In fact if you don’t gain a competitive advantage, and we didn’t, the result should be a fine. It won’t do us much good but it may help other clubs in a similar situation and might become known as the “AFC Wimbledon” rule, that would help our arrogance no end. It seems the sort of case that might interest some of the more thoughtful national journalists such as Martin Samuel and David Conn, perhaps anyone with contacts can use them.

But what about us. As I said, we shouldn’t pick on individuals, but it is likely to have cost us the best part of £20,000 by the time lost prize money, no next round attendance, no bar takings and other revenues are taken into account. We need to do something to make sure we’re better in future. I think we need a proper review of how the club is run.

We need the DT Board to instigate it but we need them not to undertake it, because they may be part of the problem as well as part of the solution. They should get together a team of about 5 people, one from the DT Board (does David Cox have some spare time?) and one complete outsider, ideally with experience of football administration at senior non-league levels; could Mr. Batsford or our ex-keeper Mr. Ledger at Woking put us in touch with somebody I wonder?

The others should come from our fan base and have experience of managing similar sized companies (10 plus people and £1 million plus turnover). The fan base has them. Xavier Wiggins put forward ideas about governance in his manifesto, the Finance Working Group had asked many relevant questions about job descriptions, training and so on and ChrisB99 (apologies for not remembering his full name) has made salient points and offered help on the WUP guestbook – no doubt there are others.

It needs to look wider than just this incident. A thought has been creeping up on me over the past two months. Mr. Macanthony appeared during July and made a proposal that he expected an answer to within six weeks. Personally, I think it was an indecent proposal and we were correct to tell him to go away. However, we also expressed horror at the six week timescale and for us we were right. For Mr. Macanthony, we were wrong, he would expect any normal company he approached to produce an answer within six weeks, an inability to do so would fly a big warning flag to him. Yes, we’re different but we’re in a competitive market for fans, players, managers, sponsors and so on and slowness to react is a competitive disadvantage.

It’s much worse than that though. It is now nearly 7 months since that approach and our decision to review our aims and objectives. There has been almost no information coming to the fans since on this review. Certainly no timescale, not a single meeting, nor any consultation on how it should be run. Mr. Macanthony might be surprised by a company that couldn’t come up with an answer in six weeks, he’d fall around laughing at one that hadn’t started putting an answer together after six months.

Kris resigned five and a half months ago, Erik stepped into his shoes and seems to be doing a great job, current circumstances put to one side. However he is Acting Chief Executive and Acting Chairman and after this time there hasn’t even been a real discussion about whether it’s one job or two (apart from a question in the WISA DT candidates questionnaire) let alone job descriptions and a timetable for appointing one or two people permanently.

As noted above, the Finance Working Group, in August, put together some questions and proposed actions firstly to the non-executive directors of the plc and then at their request to the DT Board. These addressed some of the issues about how the club was run, how jobs were assessed, whether there were targets, training plans etc. Everyone thought it was useful but as far as I know, it is still sitting waiting for consideration by the DT Board around six months later, although it is hard to tell as the last posted DTB minutes are for October 9th. It probably wouldn’t have stopped the administration error but it was asking relevant questions and making appropriate suggestions.

I think our problem is that instead of treating democracy as a big advantage we have over others, we have started to treat it as an excuse for delaying activity. I suspect that very few decisions get made between the middle of September when elections are on the horizon and the middle of January when the new guys are settled in and up to speed. It becomes a case of “we should let the new board look at this”. Wrong, people are elected for two years and can make decisions for two years right up to the evening of the AGM. Thus for a third of the year I think we coast along, whilst rivals are at full speed.

That is why the DT Board shouldn’t run the review because it should look at such issues and make proposals to improve the way the group works from top to bottom. Furthermore the aim should be to make the complete report and recommendations available to all DT members and plc shareholders; after all, every one of them is affected by problems like this. The default should be publish everything, the review team itself should need to be persuaded to hold back any particular sections for legal, commercial or personnel reasons. Once published the plc and the DT Board would have to explain publicly if there were any recommendations they disagreed with or didn’t intend to implement and then come back after three and six months to report on progress.

If we do all this then we’ll move towards being a fully professionally run business. We won’t have had a witch hunt of individuals, in fact we should have been assured that employees and volunteers were being given every opportunity to give of their best.

Finally the other thing we should do is get behind the team and team management for the rest of the season, it must be gutting for them if everything they’ve worked for gets snatched away through no fault of their own. Give them support, so that every one of them wants to be here next season whatever league we’re in, even if we end up disappointing a few of them as even better players jostle to join us.