After sleeping on it overnight, and presumably waiting for the cleaners to finally mop the blood from the carpet, the club has finally issued its long awaited statement on this whole episode.
Read it? Good. There may be questions later.
So, what is the statement saying? It’s best to go through the whole thing bit by bit. Warning – it’s a bit long…
Yesterday the club announced that it will have three points deducted from its total for the season for playing an ineligible player, Jake Nicholson, against Cheltenham on 22 March.
The club has also been fined Â£5,000, which is suspended until the end of season 2014-15, and is required to pay the costs of the hearing.
Nothing we didn’t know, except the specific costs of the hearing.
AFC Wimbledonâ€™s Chief Executive Erik Samuelson stated: â€œWe feel that the club had a fair hearing and, while very disappointed with the result, have no intention of appealing against the decision of the Football Disciplinary Committee. The Football Club Board greatly regrets that this situation arose and apologises for the uncertainty and distress that it has caused to supporters in the days since the hearing was announced.â€
Can I have the good feeling from after Plymouth back instead, please? That was really nice to have, and I bitterly resent it taken away from me.
Still, at least they have the good grace to apologise for this, although I suspect it had no other choice. One has to think this really was the straw that broke the back of this season’s camel, and appealing it would have just made us look stupid.
As a fans-owned club, we feel it is right that the events are explained in more detail to our members and the remainder of this statement does so, as well as explaining the actions that we (the Dons Trust Board) should take.
No AFCW press release is allowed to be signed off unless “fans club” is put in there. Anyone would think we’re insecure.
Enough snark, here’s the nuts and bolts of why we’re in this mess…
Jake Nicholson was originally signed by the club on a multiplicity contract from 19 February 2014 to 19 March 2014 and was duly registered with the Football League. A multiplicity contract (â€˜MCâ€™) is the term generally used for â€˜Monthly/Multiplicity registrationsâ€™.
Such registrations allow a club to register a player for a minimum of one month, or longer if the club and player agree, so long as it is for a whole number of months. Such contracts do not therefore need to last until 30 June, unlike almost all other player contracts.
An MC is relatively unusual and this was only the second one that the club had entered into, and the first one which the club had entered into which expired during the season.
OK, it’s not a straightforward contract as such. But as intimated in the last update, they’re not so unusual that everyone else has a problem with them. Just basic common sense about knowing the rules, a bit like keeping an eye on transferring an ISA.
On the date when the contract should have been extended, Thursday 20 March, the clubâ€™s offices had to be closed due to illness, a fact which was published on the clubâ€™s website.
The following day, the office was re-opened but with key staff who should have organised the extension of the MC still unwell. On the Saturday of the game Jake was selected to play, with Neal Ardley unaware that he had not been re-registered.
As a consequence, the club fielded an ineligible player in our game against Cheltenham Town â€“ a game that yielded three points (with one of the goals scored by Jake).
Ah, so that’s why it didn’t get done – because the people who deal with this sort of thing were unwell.
As somebody elsewhere has said this morning, somebody is off sick so the club’s admin went to shit. Look, illnesses happen but to have nobody available? I’m not being funny, but that reminds me of the days I used to phone up clubs in the Ryman League and never got an answer “because he’s sick”.
That is a failure of procedure, basically, because it shows we have no adequate backup. Where are the relief staff? What if it required something even more urgent than even this? Does that not get done too?
I think we can guess the answer to that, now. And it’s quite scary.
It goes further. I would assume – perhaps naively – that a date when a contract ends would be logged into a computer system and pings up when it’s due for renewal.
If somebody – anybody – spots it about about three or four days beforehand, then even everyone falling ill the next day shouldn’t be an issue. AFCW is not a one-man band, but it acts like one.
Oh, and as somebody else somewhere today has said, for some reason the working environment at AFCW seems to make people ill…
This is the only match in which there was any irregularity with Jakeâ€™s registration. There is no question of sanctions in respect of other League games in which Jake played, and no threat to our status in the London Senior Cup.
Could you imagine the fallout if we’d been chucked out the LSC as well? I’m not entirely joking with that, by the way.
The problem was identified shortly after the Cheltenham game and the club immediately decided to notify the Football League on the Monday morning â€“ the first practical time it could do so.
Neal Ardley was told of the problem on the Sunday and after careful thought it was agreed with the Football Club Board that it would be best if the players were not told, so as to avoid putting them under any unnecessary pressure at a key time of the season.
This inevitably meant withholding this information from supporters too.
I shudder to think what would have happened if NA had blabbed about it.
Mind you, did it have much more of an effect on the games? Remember after Cheltenham that we had very important games against Northampton, Mansfield and Brizzle Rovers, but we only got two points from those.
And we almost lost to Northampton…
Yes, we beat Southend then Plymouth (after a draw against Newport that was more important than we realised), but it still took three more games between Cheltenham and the Shrimpers to get another win.
FWIW, I think NA did the right thing by not telling them. But he must have gone through utter hell this last month – whatever you think of his tactics, he deserves better than this.
On Monday 24 March, Erik Samuelson, contacted Dons Trust Chair, Matthew Breach, to explain the problem and to request that the Dons Trust Board conduct an independent investigation into the causes of this situation.
That investigation was conducted promptly by David Growns, whose findings were considered in detail at a meeting of the DTB on 3 April.
Given the decision had been taken not to inform the players, the discussion at the DTB meeting was excluded from the meeting summary that was published shortly afterwards.
The most important question here is, did Dave Growns approve the use of firearms or just stick to good old fashioned burning at the stake?
On Tuesday 8 April the club was told that it was to be charged and the relevant paperwork arrived the same day. Jim Sturman QC had kindly agreed to act for the club for no cost and prepared a formal submission based on statements prepared by relevant club staff.
I do wonder why Jimmy S QC (and what a great name for a hip-hop artist that would be) agreed to do this again for us, especially gratis. Not that I’m complaining at all, but I guess he likes the arguing.
Hopefully, the statements by staff didn’t go into detail what they were ill with.
The club has co-operated fully with the Football League throughout the process.
As an aside here – doesn’t this prove how stupid things like the failed “Not In The Wider Interests” renaming of stands was? I know that a few (?) fans would like nothing more than AFCW to be a club that openly tells it to stick it to the authorities, but when you haven’t got a leg to stand on you don’t want them kicking away your crutch.
Remember – the very existence of AFCW is enough of a statement. All else is bollocks.
The submission was sent on Tuesday 22 April in advance of the hearing which was held yesterday and the club accepted the charge but set out a number of matters in mitigation. Those mitigating factors were taken into account by the FDC in its consideration of the points deduction and fine that should apply.
Mitigating factors being somebody not checking the form and everyone having the lurgy/shits/hangover afterwards, presumably.
Again, I do think that’s why our fine got suspended – the FL may have taken on board that we have an urgent need to sort this stuff out, got assurances/guarantees that we’d actually do it, and has given us a last warning to carry it out.
I certainly don’t believe it was done deliberately, just as the original Darlogate was, but I think the FL have done us a bigger favour than I first thought yesterday.
Whilst the points deduction and fine bring to a conclusion the formal disciplinary procedures with the Football League, the Dons Trust Boardâ€™s own investigation into this situation identified a number of issues which need to be addressed in order to prevent such a situation from recurring.
“A number of issues”, eh? This suggests that this wasn’t an isolated incident, but something that has been around (and perhaps endemic?) and finally caught up with us.
This does tie up with the quote in yesterday’s update that it was a case of when, not if this would happen again. Which then begs a second question – why were these issues not picked up to begin with?
One thing that has really fucked people off is the sense that nothing has been learned from the original Darlogate. A failure to check here, an erroneous form completion there.
Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy.
And that’s a workplace culture thing. One thing that came up last night was the amount of people (with admin experience) saying how they’ve offered to help out but have been knocked back by the club.
That would solve any manpower issues, even if it means the office could get a bit cramped. More worryingly, the fact that the office had to be closed means that there aren’t any people to cover for an organisation with a turnover of Â£1m+
Your editor sometimes works as a relief, and I know there are certain things that need to be done in a certain way. If I’m in doubt, I just ask what to do. AFCW obviously doesn’t do that.
If a temporary relief came in just for those days, and were made aware of the issue, then they could have either:
a) tied up the loose end themselves, if they were given a clear set of instructions on how to do so, and/or
b) simply tell NA or whoever not to play the player as there is an issue that cannot be resolved.
But then, that sounds rather too simple…
The Boardâ€™s conclusions have been delivered to the clubâ€™s Chief Executive and, now that the hearing has been concluded, they will be addressed by the Football Club Board.
They include recommendations to look at means of strengthening existing processes and also to accelerate steps that were already underway to improve the working environment.
“Strengthen existing processes” may be the stand-out issue here, but I think “accelerate steps that were already underway” is just as important.
It may be a highly sleek organisation where everything gets done within 0.01 seconds of it being ordered, but from the outside the DT seems very slow, a bureaucratic monster where nothing really gets done.
That there were steps to be made to improve the working environment to begin with shows there have been concerns. Even if it’s just run-of-the-mill stuff, it highlights what is now obviously a big flaw – too many things are done too slowly.
And this club isn’t developed (or dare I say, well run) enough for people to be left to their own devices. I bet this very statement alone has had to go through getting everyone to approve it, then get signed off.
How much of this “diligence” is just a cover-up for inefficiency? And if it’s high, then there’s obviously something wrong with the culture of the place. Which ultimately means the people involved…
The DTB is committed to working with the AFC Wimbledon Board to address those underlying issues. A review of progress in addressing the DTBâ€™s recommendations for solving these issues will be held immediately following the end of the season, while recognising that some of the issues around the working environment will take longer to address.
SW19 said there needs to be an overhaul that has to be done this summer, and at least the powers-that-be recognise that. Of course, reviewing all this is one thing, actually putting it into practice is another – and I hope the “longer to address” comment doesn’t mean “sweep it under the carpet”.
Still, better late than never…
Dons Trust members who wish to quiz the DTB and the Football Club Board further on the events of recent weeks are encouraged to attend the SGM on 20 May.
Ah, the old “come to the DT meeting” stuff. Surprised they didn’t mention the bar was open – mind you, if they did it might make people forget how dull and full of obsessive/nerdy political types they are…
And before you ask, I will be on a flight to Hong Kong* that evening.
* – nods to a certain HK based reader. You know who you are.
So, that’s that then. This is embarrassing but if done right will do us all a favour. It’s a pisser that once again, we have to fuck it up to get things done, but that’s how this club operates.
Better governance is now a massive priority, as important as rebuilding the squad and moving to the next stage of the stadium. The we’ve-always-done-it-this-way mentality has failed, and the excuses have run out.
We’ll never properly know why the initial mistake was made to begin with. Nor we’ll ever properly know what corners have been cut in the past. We do know we have as much of a plan B as Terry Brown did (ie none), and the tinpot/non-league/amateurish tag remains as deserved as ever.
The club has been shamed, and in the past that’s been the only way things change. Otherwise, change has always been too slow, and it seems at times to be met with genuine resentment.
There are people out there, with proper admin experience, who have offered their services to the club over this sort of thing. Use them – any properly run organisation does.
The supporters can draw a line under it, but the club can’t. We have finally been exposed, and we’re very lucky it’s only three points and a suspended fine.
This club is moving into the next stage of its development, with a vital stadium project that will require every bit of expertise to pull off at the forefront. As said yesterday, you hope that the club gets it act together.
And I’ll go a step further today – I expect it to.
Anyway, we have one game of the season now left, at t’Stanley. That and the LSC as well, although that’s the end-of-season bonus that you enjoy perhaps a bit more than you should.
It may be an apt way to end the campaign, but what’s done is done. Now, can we finally have a bit of joy this campaign…?