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Fans’ Forum: April 2018 round-up

20 April 2018

Tuesday night saw Scunthorpe United host their latest Fans’ Forum at Glanford Park, and we thank everyone who attended.

Iron Chairman Peter Swann and Chief Executive Officer James Rodwell answered a number of questions from supporters during the two-and-a-half hour event, and here is a round-up of the questions and answers.

Question: Will Nick Daws and Andy Dawson be considered to manage us next season?
Answer: 
PS said of course they would and everyone will be considered for the job. The Chairman added that since they’ve taken on the interim role, he’s seen “a different Nick Daws and a different Andy Dawson”. They’ve used their experience of being at the club, have Scunthorpe United at heart, are doing their best and have just changed things slightly. “We’re still four games away and hope it works. They are doing a great job and the lads are responding to them. Some of the football we’ve played has been excellent,” added the Chairman.  

Question: In hindsight, do you think you left it a bit late to part company with Graham Alexander?
Answer: 
PS said: “I don’t know yet. Every decision I’ve made over the past five years seems to have worked out and seemed to have been at the right time. It was a very difficult decision with Graham as you all know. We love him to bits and he’s been a big part of the club, but we all know the form was difficult. You even look back at the Bury and Fleetwood games, which we won, and we were very fortunate.” The Chairman also spoke about the bad run last year and how he spoke about doing something different with the manager to make sure it didn’t happen again, but unfortunately it did. “It’s the hardest decision to make for me,” the Chairman added. “Because for two years we’ve been in touch with each other every day of every week. He was very much a Scunthorpe United fan as well as a manager and did a great job, but you have to look at the fact that 10 points out of 39 wasn’t good enough, and five points out of the last eight matches at the end too – we were struggling. You never know exactly why that’s happening. You just don’t know? We can all pick the side and put players in different positions but that team he’d played a lot of the time had won a lot of games in November. A lot of things come into it – we had bad luck, some very poor referees but we didn’t help ourselves because we were conceding goals and that was the real problem we had because we didn’t address that. If I feel something needs to be done, I do it. It’s not the greatest thing to do in the world to tell someone they’ve lost their job and I obviously felt for Graham, but we had spoken for three or four weeks. All my managers and the decisions I’ve made to let them go have been respectful. He’s been really good about it."

Question: Was it worrying that it was similar to last season, where we got to January and all of a sudden fell away? 
Answer: 
PS said: “It was very different. The harmony in the club is superb (this time around). Last year, it wasn’t quite right and things weren’t happening. I thought the press at the time were poor and just asking questions about the non-contract players, putting pressure on the lads. We’re fighting to get into the sixth biggest league in the world, the Championship. That’s a massive jump and for the players it’s a massive jump. I think we’ve just turned a corner. It’s not necessarily with Graham going, but it’s with the players’ attitude as well. We’re now playing a formation that’s very attacking but have the right players in the side.” The Chairman went on to praise the impact of Ryan Yates since arriving on loan from Nottingham Forest too.

Question: Why have we had one of the best left-backs in the league on the bench so much this season?
Answer: 
PS said: “You all have your opinion on that but it’s no good me going in saying you should play that player there, etc. I have to step away from that and let the manager decide. Graham knew that whatever team he put out, he would fall by it. He did the best he possibly could do and will learn more as a manager, and definitely improve because his work ethic is fantastic. We made a difficult decision to try and revive the season, and will now move on, supporting Nick and Andy for the rest of this season and try to get that play-off place that I feel we deserve. It’s up to the players now.” He went on to explain how exciting the attacking quartet of Ivan Toney, Duane Holmes, Hakeeb Adelakun and Josh Morris have been and the importance of the fans getting behind United for the home game against Walsall on Saturday. JR added that the club do a benchmarking exercise within all League One football clubs and our budget is sixth in League One. He said: “We’re achieving well, our financial results are good and we have a great squad of players. We’re competing against clubs like Blackburn and Wigan, with budgets three or four times the budget of ours, and we still have a great chance of promotion.”

Question: Considering our attendances, you must realise you’re doing a great job?
Answer: 
PS said: “If I worried about attendances, why would I be here five years? I enjoy being here.” He went on to say he feels he can make a difference here and get Scunthorpe up into the Championship again, saying: “When we’re in there, who knows? Glanford Park is a very difficult place to come to and I think a lot of Scunthorpe fans would enjoy taking on the big clubs here.” He explained how the standard at the top end of League One is tough but he feels we have talented players and a really exciting side.

Question: What has the club done to try and attract new fans to Glanford Park? 
Answer: 
PS said: “To bring people into the club you need to get as high up the league as you can. We’ve been in the top six of League One for 18 months and there’s not much more you can do. We’ve looked at the prospect of putting hoardings up and the cost is quite a lot. You look at the extra people it would bring in and our catchment area is very minimal and it’s difficult to bring the fans in. It’s about getting into the Championship and that will draw people in. We need to get on TV, get in the play-offs, get to the final and show people how we play football. I think that’s the way to do it. We can’t force people to come. It’s about success and the publicity that will bring. We do take it on board and look at it.” JR added: “We’ve kept the prices pretty much the same for years and years. The accounts (for 2017) show the gate receipts are up 51 per cent on the previous year. Admittedly, 20 per cent of that was down to the play-off game against Millwall, but that was down to playing good football.” The CEO added that the SUFC Trust are working hard along with Study Parks to get young fans on board, and out of the culture of watching Premier League football on TV.

Question: What steps are being taken to improve merchandise for children in the club shop?
Answer: 
JR said the club would consider options, and he feels the decisions on merchandising could be better. He explained that when the club shop was taken back in house, they were finding stock that had been there for 10 years. “You need to get the merchandise levels right, but enough that people will want to buy,” he said. 

Question: Why was Ivan Toney on the bench for his first few games? Couldn’t the chairman have said something to Graham?
Answer: 
PS said he knew how the fans felt but can’t interfere with team selection. “I do believe Ivan, Ryan Yates and Cameron McGeehan should have been playing earlier, but Graham wanted them to prove themselves as they came in. For me, we went for some very good players who I felt would change our season. We’ve had many conversations about the team and in the end he’d make his own decision. We’d talk about it throughout the week and he’d make his decision on a Thursday night and I’d say I support him. I would tell him at times if I didn’t agree with that, but you have to go on the manager’s decision. Hindsight is very difficult.” He went on to say that if he demanded which players were chosen, he’d never be able to attract any managers. He can only manage the managers to a certain point.

Question: Could the season ticket cards have cash value on them to use in the club shop and around the stadium?
Answer: 
JR said: “The biggest dream for anyone who operates a football club is that it’s completely cashless. It wouldn’t suit everybody, but Spurs (who are doing it) will be oversubscribed so they can do anyway. The aggravation of handling cash these days is a pain so that would be a dream for us because it’d make our lives easier.” Head of Ticketing Rob Noble said there would be potential to have that one day but it’s a case of getting the technology in place in the stadium going forward as ground improvements are made to Glanford Park. PS added that it will definitely be looked at in the context of this stadium. JR said trying to retro-fit anything is much more difficult than building from scratch, but the new ticket system installed last year has been such a big improvement and the club will be looking to build on that. “We’re trying to make the experience easier for fans, giving them the chance to print tickets at home or scan from their phone,” he added.

Question: The same fan went on to praise the club’s ticketing, shop, restaurant and administrative staff and said they deserve credit for the hard work behind the scenes.
Answer: 
PS said: “We have a very good group here and a huge amount of work goes on behind the scenes.” JR added: “They are top notch, care about the football club, take pride and want us to improve. The accounts show increases in the income from the commercial and restaurant areas, and it’d be even more if we weren’t restricted by the size of the stadium. A lot of people go above and beyond, and that’s how all good football clubs operate.”

Question: We haven’t got a manager at the moment, so what’s going to happen regarding player contracts for next season?
Answer: 
PS said: “Behind the scenes, everything is in place. We are happy we have everyone under contract who we need to be. Everyone who is under contract has had an offer or an option in our favour. We’re in a good position and we’re happy going forward.” He went on to explain how a new deal for Hakeeb Adelakun has been on the table since October, and he can’t walk out of the club without the Iron benefiting. PS added: “Hopefully the way he’s performing at the minute, he’ll take us up into the Championship, and he’ll either get the greatest move he ever wants or he’ll decide to sign for us.” The Chairman went on to explain how players are scouted, throughout the footballing pyramid, and players are identified to the manager, who decides who he’d like the club to make the effort to sign. JR explained how recruitment is an ongoing process, with the club’s scouting network at games daily and there are very few players available that the club don’t know about. PS continued: “My job is to get the right manager in, who can get the players in he wants. We know every single player out of contract this summer and are ‘on’ everything. For example, the way we signed Funso Ojo.”

Question: What about Clayton Lewis?
Answer: 
PS said: “Clayton is an international and a superb player. He’s an ‘investment player’ for the future. He will develop going forward. You could say the same about Lewis Butroid, who has shown he’s very capable at left-back. We have some very good players coming through.”

Question: Do you think about what impact a big-name player, like Peter Beagrie when we signed him in 2001, could have in terms of attendances?
Answer: 
PS said: “You’d be surprised at the ones I’ve gone out and contacted – top names too – to come to the club. We took a lot right to the edge but they just couldn’t comprehend coming to Scunthorpe to finish their careers off. This is after playing at the highest level in the Premier League. Generally, we’ve certainly improved the standing of Scunthorpe in the EFL and it now looks like a competitive top six League One football club, and we’ve got the chance to go further. It’s not just about the money, because we’ve done some cracking deals to get players here. It’s a gradual build from where we were, where we survived most years because we sold good players in the past.” He added: “In January we went for four major strikers – two went to the Championship, one went to Wigan and the other went to Blackburn. How can you compete? I don’t mind taking the chance on one player but it has to be the right one."

Question: Why did you sell Kevin van Veen and Paddy Madden in January?
Answer: 
PS said they were difficult decisions because both players were out of contract and he believed both players would have left at the end of the season when their contracts expire, going to another club on a bigger contract. The Chairman said: “When we received the offers, they didn’t tell me they wanted to stay here and fight for their places. They went because it was the right choice for them and it worked because it was the right choice for us.” He went on to say how van Veen’s strike rate in December and January attracted more interest from other clubs but he was unsure what would have happened once the window closed. “We’ve been scoring goals since, it’s the issues at the other end that have affected us,” added the Chairman.

Question: Are we going to have a reserve team next season?
Answer: 
JR said it’s something the club discusses at the end of every season. He added that clubs are moving away now from traditional reserve team set-ups and have Under-23 teams. “The biggest problem here is infrastructure,” the CEO continued. “Where do we play these games? The pitch out there can’t take another 15 games on it if we want to enter the league, and nor can the training pitch. If we’d have moved to the Lincolnshire Lakes, it’s something we would have done. You need a designated coach and group if you are to play these games.” He said the point is valid and decision is reviewed year-on-year though.

Question: Why do you operate with undisclosed fees?
Answer: 
JR said: “It’s because the minute you announce what you’ve spent on a player, if you’re in for someone else, as soon as you know it the price goes up.” PS added: “As soon as you sell a player, agents come on the phone thinking you have extra money and they’re in there straight away.” They added how it's commonplace throughout football.

Question: What can we do to improve to the atmosphere at Glanford Park?
Answer: 
JR said how it’s common for away fans to be more vocal than home supporters everywhere and put the question out there to the fans on what the club could do. He said: “One of the things we often get asked about is drums?” This was met with a mixed response by the supporters in the room. The Chairman added how a run of poor games at home hasn’t helped and he knows how difficult it is. JR said there is a responsibility from the players to get the fans going too. 

Question: How much would promotion to the Championship be worth in terms of TV rights, and would promotion determine the improvements we make to the ground and when?
Answer: 
JR explained how it would be worth in the region of £6-million to the club, but expenditure goes through the roof too, so the idea is to spend a bit more, bring more in and balance the books more. “Everyone wants to come down here and see the likes of Leeds United and Sheffield Wednesday here. It’s worth a considerable amount more,” he said. PS added how the club has “held back on a few bits and pieces” with regards the stadium improvement plans just to see where the club is, because we have to time what we’re going to build. “If we go into the Championship, we have to change the standing area, so that means our planning has to be geared around that.” He said the club are looking at the end of May, when our season hopefully finishes (if we’ve got to the play-off final). If it concludes earlier, these decisions will be made earlier.

Question: Would we be able to keep the terrace for one season (if we’re in the Championship)?
Answer: 
PS said: “We’re trying to work on different aspects. If we get planning in and own the land, like we do, we might be able to get away with it for one season, but there’s a lot of work to do on that side of things. It’s not as straightforward as them allowing us to do that because it’s a government law now.” JR added: “You can only have three seasons in the Championship with standing terraces, and this club has already enjoyed three seasons there. What we’d look to do is apply for dispensation on the basis that we’re going to redevelop that stand, which would be the season after if we got the dispensation.” The CEO went on to explain how clubs have been given the dispensation previously, such as Cardiff and Brentford. “A second year’s dispensation would be harder to get than the first and you’d have to demonstrate progress of your stadium build.” PS continued: “We’re spinning many plates with everything that we’re doing to make sure we do it correctly and in the right way. We hope we have the ‘problem’ of getting promoted to the Championship!”

Question: What’s the timescale for the development of the ground?
Answer: 
PS said: “Our main aim is to build around our current stadium, and we’d expand out and build over it so we can still operate and still have matches. There would just be sections of it closed off at certain times. It is a year-to-18 months of work depending on how we schedule it and when we start. We’re already working on tenants so everyone we’d have over there (at the Lakes) would be here. The good thing about this is we can go a little bit quicker because it’s our land.” The Chairman went on to talk about how we want to take pillars out and have cantilevers, proper concourses, restaurants, a gym and businesses using it. He said: “We’d just miss out on training pitches, which is such a shame, because we’d have had three or four pitches over there (at the Lakes) and an indoor one, so we’re now looking at another area to put some training pitches on as well.” PS said how it’s been frustrating and heartbreaking that the Lakes Project hasn’t quite worked out, and he added any money spent on it (which is £1.3-million) was his own family’s and not the club’s. “We’ve moved forward and are better on and off the pitch than we were five years ago. The next stage is to get our stadium updated and fresh, and somewhere where people can enjoy a good day out – more than just the 90 minutes on a Saturday.” Stadium redevelopment plans were shown to the supporters present at the Fans’ Forum at the end of the evening. 

Question: Can you promise that The Iron Bar won’t be lost amongst the redevelopment?
Answer: 
JR said: “We’re going to have a bigger bar.” PS added: “We’re going to develop a two-storey area on that side, which will have a new restaurant underneath and the Iron Bar above it. The Iron Bar would cater for 650 people, and it’ll be sectioned so part of it enables fans to eat as a family while the other will be a bar. Hopefully the back of the bar will overlook the pitch as well.”

Question: Are you looking at the size of the pitch in the redevelopment?
Answer: 
PS said: “The pitch isn’t as small as you think, and we have looked at extending the size of it going forward. You just have to bear in mind the impact on the whole stadium if you take out a few metres from either side.” He added that sometimes people think too hard about the size of the pitch and reminded supporters of the long unbeaten run at Glanford Park from December 2015 to February 2017. JR added: “We would like the option of a bigger pitch so we could get UEFA games here, because you need pitches of a certain size with run-off coming off it. It is something that’s crucial to the design process.”

Question: What are your views on VAR?
Answer: 
PS explained how he thought VAR was used as an excuse for the standard of refereeing, while JR explained from his FA Director’s perspective that it depends on what people want from football - whether that’s an exact science or if you believe it evens itself out over the season. The CEO did say though he felt it would become common place like TMO in rugby, but a long time before it works its way down to League One. The Chairman added that he felt a screen was needed so the fans could see what the referee is seeing when the decisions are made. He didn’t want VAR to take over from the quality of the referees coming through, and wanted to see more invested in the training of officials. 

As an aside to this, JR explained how if we got to the play-off semi-finals, Hawk-Eye would be used in the stadium for the first ever time (which would determine whether the ball has crossed the line or not and is used in the Premier League and Championship). All the clubs who could possibly get in the play-off semi-finals have been tested for this.

Question: Will the stands be more elevated as part of the redevelopment?
Answer: 
PS said it would be elevated more than present, and compared it to Rotherham’s but not as sharp as theirs. He said the viewing will be better because the pillars will be gone too. “We will change it and make it a better place to be. Access will be easier everywhere too,” the Chairman added.

Question: Has paperwork gone in to the council already regarding the redevelopment?
Answer: 
PS explained how everything is in place but the club wants to make sure everything is covered. He said there will be a consultation with fans between now and the end of May, where fans can see where everything is and provide feedback. There will be a couple of weeks where the club can change aspects if they need. 

Question: Will you be renaming the ground?
Answer: 
PS said it depends on what sponsor we get but he has some in mind.

Question: Will we still be aiming for Category 2 Academy status?
Answer: 
PS explained how the difference between Category 3 and Category 2 at the moment would mean employing a lot more people, which the club doesn’t have the space to do. The Chairman said the aim at this moment in time is to be a really good Category 3 club. JR explained how facilities and infrastructure is the big difference between those two particular categories, but the club still has good players coming through the academy. “We need to be the best Category 3 we possibly can be, and then see where that takes us,” said the CEO.

Question: When will the new shirts be in the club shop?
Answer: 
JR said the club were looking at the first home pre-season game in July. He explained it would be FBT manufacturing the kits, with the club in the second year of a three-year deal, and also said how the division the club is in has a bearing in terms of why the kits aren’t in earlier. The CEO said there’s a massive difference in the value of shirt sponsorship between League One and the Championship, and the uncertainty of what division we’ll be in delays the production of the shirts. 

Question: When are you going to announce a new manager?
Answer: 
PS said supporters need to concentrate on supporting Nick Daws and Andy Dawson until the end of the season. The Chairman added: “If I showed you the list of 70 people who have applied already, you’d see the difficulty in choosing the right one.” He said the club has done okay with previous appointments and they’ve all been different personalities. JR added that fans would be astonished by some of the names on the list, but it has to be the right fit. 

Question: Why is the advance cut-off point for season tickets this week?
Answer: 
JR explained how it helps the club’s cash flow through the summer months when there are no matches and said: “What we’re giving the people the advantage of doing is buying a season ticket at a League One price regardless of where we end up. They will be more expensive after the deadline. We have Zebra Finance spread payments available as well, so we do everything we can to make it easier.” PS continued: “It gives you the opportunity to buy the ticket at the same price as it was last season. If we happen to go up, those people have saved a lot of money. Even if we stay in League One, by buying early, you save some money. We’re one of the best value clubs in League One.”


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