Date: 22nd August 2007 at 12:46am
Written by:

On Tuesday night, the Vital Sheffield Wednesday forum was visited by Darryl Keys, chairman of Wednesdayite, the fans group with a 10% holding in SWFC, at the centre of the action during the current takeover talks and subsequent media outcry.

After a general introduction by JoshOwl, Darryl settled down at his keyboard to interact with the forum. Here, in a two part article, are our questions (mostly serious, some not so serious), and his replies.

the owler: What does Wednesdayite hope to achieve by coming onto this forum?

DK: To engage with fans, to inform and to listen.

the owler: Are the views of the chairman held by the other members of Wednesdayite?

DK: All major decisions are put to the members – we do 2 surveys a year and act on the results. We speak to many members and the views we express are what we believe to be the views of our members.

the owler: Previously, Wednesdayite backed Ken Bates to take over as chairman. As such, why should DA have a working relationship with Wednesdayite if they’ve previously tried to force him out?

DK: In life things move on. We have only 2 board members out of 12 from those days and neither were leading figures at that time. The membership has almost tripled and therefore we are a different animal. DA should have a working relationship with the fans as he is the chairman of a football club and therefore has a responsibility to bring everyone together.

northern irelandowl: The need of the club as a whole is surely greater than the wants of individuals.

DK: Totally agree.

northern irelandowl: How do you plan to help in making this club great again, and what do you need to achieve this?

DK: Successful clubs work as a team throughout – led by the club’s board who want success and ensure it happens. When there is no desire to do this, everyone will be pulling in different directions when they should be brought into the plan. We need the club to respond positively to offers of support from the fans, whoever they are – after all, despite the ‘division’, we all want the same thing and that is success for SWFC.

mightyowl: Not many clubs I know have a supporters group on the board, can you name a club that’s had success with the Chairman and a supporter group working in harmony?

DK: I believe that there are 39 clubs with supporter representation on their boards and 61 hold shares. 4 clubs are supporter-owned and many clubs have a good relationship – for example Arsenal, who have a close working relationship!

takeoverneededfast: I read on your site that the aim is for 100% ownership of shares. if you had 100% of shares where would the millions come from to get us, but mainly keep us in the Premiership?

DK: The website is wrong and has not been changed simply because the new site is in progress and soon to be launched. The old site is very difficult to author with some sections cast in stone and others that we can change and that is the reason why it persists. If we want to change a ‘cast in stone’ part of the old site then we request but it is out of our control.

We acknowledge the criticisms of the old site and that is why we are trying to launch a new one. The new site would have been launched by now if it hadn’t been quite so hectic over the last few weeks and attention diverted. Sadly, we only have a certain number of hours in the day and have to fit jobs and family life in too.

But the old site is erroneous and for that I apologise. The new site will be much more user friendly and significantly more flexible.

The point you raise is a complex one and has a range of possibilities most of which involve governing bodies and how football is structured and funded. We can’t rely on finding 92 people with megabucks so in that sense it is not sustainable. I guess Barcelona is one model but I feel football faces some huge challenges ahead to remain competitive and attractive and not just a temporary plaything for the oligarchs who might have got bored about bragging about their yachts and now it is the fashion to own a football club (for now).

It would be useful to have serious debate about the money coming in and how and when it is distributed – what would happen to Chelsea tomorrow if Roman Abramovich decided to quit?

takeoverneededfast: How much of his own money has DA spent on the club? How much through your commendable efforts have you raised through fundraising etc?

DK: Re: DA – not certain – as the Directors loans in the accounts are not broken down per Director – but I think he was quoted in the media as saying he had £3m at stake – plus his shares. I believe he has gifted a small amount too. Commendably, he does not draw a salary from the club. But he is the one to ask as we are only going on anecdotal evidence.

In terms of our fundraising – it is difficult to maximise the potential without the club’s co-operation and support of volunteers. There is no doubt the number of volunteers is influenced by some of the media we experience. In the last 2 years we generated £28k and last year increased that to £82k – but we feel there is considerable scope to increase this in a harmonious situation.

hellboy: How can the fans make suggestions for ground improvements? It has been my wish for a long time to get rid of the old scoreboard and replace it with a big screen – yes, it would cost the club initially but that money would be made back in investments and the advertising potential is huge but there’s no way of getting this suggestion out there.

DK: Like all fans we wish to see better facilities but I guess it comes down to cash priority and that has to be on the team right now.

The conversation included many questions about the share ownership issue:

the owler: DA has maintains that Wednesdayite won’t sell the shares unconditionally – what re-assurances do Wednesdayite seek and are they realistic?

DK: The same as Mr Allen mentioned in his programme notes v Derby last year – the only additional one is an ongoing dialogue.

fozzyp: What benefit to the club is it with you having the shares? And what harm would DA do by having them back?

DK: This could be a long answer but I will try and cover the overview and then we can debate it on here in the days ahead. Some key benefits:

a) Stops a compulsory purchase of small shareholders against their wishes.

b) Gives the fans a small part of their club to add to their emotional investment.

c) Allows resolutions to be posed at AGMs.

d) Allows EGMs to be called in extraordinary circumstances to make sure that issues are properly debated and covered with greater awareness.

If the shares have no purpose why is DA so focused on them? For DA to have them back it would need a vote of members. To persuade them I feel they would need to see what he was proposing to do with them. For example what benefit is it to the club if he got our shares and nothing changed in terms of the funds he was prepared to put in or seeking an investor?

takeoverneededfast: Would the capability of calling an EGM be a turn on or turn off for any prospective investor?

DK: If the investor wants to take the club forward then we would be voting with them and not against them! Please note Wednesdayite in its present guise has never called an EGM despite the most difficult circumstances over the last couple of years.

We would only call an EGM to offer a solution for consideration by the shareholders as what is the point on things like a vote of no confidence or just to highlight problems we all know about which would result in certain defeat and a waste of everyone’s time (which could be spent more constructively)?

fozzyp: Why would you not just give the shares back for 500k investment for the club? Surely that not only puts immediate investment in it also strengthens the shares of our board, making us more attractable to potential investments?

DK: Only our members can vote to give the shares back or relinquish them and we need to be able to persuade them and we need reasons to do so. DA knows our concerns and refuses to address them – we have offered for him to put his case in writing or to address our members at public meeting to convince them but he has declined the offers.

takeoverneededfast: How useful could the extra squad funds be with your share sale? If you won’t sell for 0.5 million, how much do you actually want!?

DK: We have generated £6m approx of transfer fees and have yet to spend much of this. Last December the board turned down the Jersey consortium’s offer of £1m for the squad. I am not sure why £500k is now the issue? In any case if the alleged price of the Gregg deal is taken into account, £500k is far too low – why not sell directly to an investor who has the desire, resources etc to move the club forward?

Under the DA offer the tax concern has failed to be addressed – advice says we would have a large tax bill but no cash to pay it with.

We are not as such interested in the money – the value of the shares being used for the club’s future is more important and for that to be a material solution and not just for 1 player at one point in time who may turn out to be a bad one!

Auckland Owl: What’s the market value of a 10% holding in shares?

DK: The value appears to depend upon who is holding the 10% 🙂

We bought shares last year at an average price of 11.6p. I understand through the broker that the tranches left are well in excess of this price now if we were to buy a similar stake.

takeoverneededfast: It’s clear DA won’t back down and that this is going to drag on. For the good of the club this situation needs to change and it will take a great man or men to do it. So, why not name your price and be done with it?

DK: We do not see a problem with the fans owning a small % of the club – 10% stops nothing in terms of overall control – so we ideally have no desire to sell as our holding should not be an issue. However if our members can be shown that there is a material benefit to the club by us selling or relinquishing them then we would welcome any proposals. We have not had any proposal which satisfies our concerns re: tax or which demonstrates why it is in the club’s best interests.

Tomorrow, Part 2 of the Q&A.. stay tuned.