Falkirk FC: Board members apologise for 'insensitive' statement but warn fan ownership must happen now
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Board duo Keith Gourlay and Kenny Jamieson also apologised for causing a “stooshie” after releasing an update to supporters last weekend that appeared to call out those not signed up to the Falkirk Supporters’ Society or the Patrons Group.
The plea which called on the “5000-strong latent fan base” to stand up and be counted and not to sit back was met with outrage, with it being called ‘poverty shaming’ during a cost of living crisis and completely insensitive.
Speaking to the Falkirk Daft podcast, Jamieson apologised to supporters while outlining the process behind why such a strong-worded statement was released.
"We were mortified frankly that we created a bit of a stooshie,” he said. “It is a case of 17-odd words detracting from the 1,200 words in the statement which had a really crucial message that we were trying to put across. I hold my hands up for that because I write all of the board's communication that goes out to our supporters and I read it six times, with the rest of the board reading it twice. How is that possible? We have reflected on that because we saw it as totally innocuous and it was a lesson for us.
"When we got down to that last sentence, what we were trying to say was that our working assumption is that the appetite for fan ownership is big amongst the Falkirk support. Our mandate is to deliver that but it only works if mass participation takes place. To make the money needed to push this through, we need as many involved in it as possible.
"At the minute we are sitting at around ten percent. If you can actually get 2,000/3,000 people involved then you can really hit the targets you want and enable supporters to chip in less money due to have bigger numbers – that is just a fact that the burden would be smaller, at the moment it is much greater. That was what we were trying to say as an obvious truth.“If ninety percent of people want fan ownership and only ten percent of people are actually in it then it is tough. We would love to get up to fifty percent.
"Motherwell for example have 2,300 members in their society. St Mirren have a strong model too and I am not having that they are bigger clubs than Falkirk, they aren't. We can get to those numbers.
"For some fans an extra £2 or £3 a week over and above what they already put into the club would be a struggle and we don’t want that, but we believe there is a big percentage of our support that can say that the amount is affordable. Honestly we do want to apologise for how it came across in our statement as that wasn’t what was meant at all.
"We concluded that we as a board were all so close to it that we knew what we were hoping to say. Our lesson then is that we need to invite someone from the outside to read it for the first time with an outside perspective.”
He further explained that the club wants to be ‘proactive’ in how they communicate with fans and that they want to be as open as possible during one the club’s darkest periods in its 145 year history.
Jamieson said: “In the past I think we have been a bit guilty of being nuanced and passive. We have softened the message quite a lot before and now we don’t want do that. We want to be blunt as supporters need to understand the message.
"We are looking to see the end of October. We are speaking to major shareholders and we have a plan in place, the doors aren’t going to shut anytime soon, however by its very nature if you trade with a £400,000 operating loss then the cash will run out at some point.
"Where we are today is a direct impact of the academy closing down. Our average operating loss across those eight seasons since then was £420,000 but we had an average income of £520,000 from transfer fees that helped us break even due to selling players. It is a precarious model but it was working, the academy was the golden goose that laid the eggs to keep the club afloat. It wasn’t a smooth process but that is the overall view of it all.
"The best way to cover the operating loss this season is via investment and that is what we are trying to get across. We need the numbers to be higher and we aren’t wanting to beat around the bush and wait for a crisis.
"The key is that if the fans believe in the concept then they have kind of got to do what they can to make the concept happen. The majority of fans could be for fan ownership and it could fail because everyone hopes it works but doesn’t proactively help. We don’t want it to be too late because we are in a window of opportunity at the moment. If we don’t take this opportunity now then we might regret it in ten years down the line.
"We can kill two birds with one stone because we can help get the club out of this short-term financial challenge while also getting to take ownership of the club from that small amount every week. We really hope people can take up on it."
Fellow board member Gourlay provided context to the decision making process in the summer, saying that they chose to back manager John McGlynn with an increased budget in what was a calculated risk, banking on supporters signing up to the FFS.
“We needed to strengthen the squad so we could actually mount a challenge in this league and without the operating loss the team would look completely different,” he said. “This season we took a calculated risk on the basis that the Falkirk basis would be more supportive if the team on the park was challenging and playing good football. The dichotomy we were working on was if we stayed with the same budget we would have struggled and we would have found it even harder to gain FFS members.
“That is the context of the situation and why we are asking supporters in such a straight-up way to get involved and join the fan ownership model as we can’t survive another massive operating loss. Plan B would have to be moving toward soft loans and we would seek that process in the coming weeks. If the uptake isn’t there then we may have to abandon the idea of fan ownership. The reality is we would need to look to someone to take on a large share of the club.”