18/12/2009

AGM Report

by Russell Gordon

The 113th Annual General Meeting of Greenock Morton Football Club took place in the board room of Cappielow Park this evening, with around 40 shareholders present, along with chairman Douglas Rae, directors Crawford Rae and Stuart Duncan, secretary Mary Davidson taking the minutes and Chief Executive Gillian Donaldson.

Mr. Rae snr. kicked off proceedings by telling us of four apologies before asking Mrs. Davidson to read the minutes from last year's meeting, which were swiftly approved.

The chairman then went on to give us his report from a year that had its fair share of ups and downs, from the euphoria of avoiding relegation at Firhill in April 2008 through the catastrophic start to season 08/09, the "substantial improvement" in the 2nd and 3rd quarters and the disappointments of the final quarter, culminating in defeat in each of our last four games resulting in a more disappointing finish than could've been expected at one stage towards the end of the season.

Mr. Rae outlined his own high and low points from last term, speaking glowingly of our 4-3 Co-op Cup win at Easter Road and of the purchase of the Reid Kerr Stand from Love Street at a cost of £50,000 (installation costs will bring this closer to the £250,000 mark). He was, however, disappointed with declining crowds, having budgeted for average crowds of 3200 on Morton's return to the First Division. My personal thoughts are that this was an ambitious target, given that, whilst a better standard of football is on display in the First Division, enticing fair weather fans to see a team that isn't winning all the time is harder than getting them to watch a team that was winning more often than not as was the case prior to promotion. Added to rising overheads, such as players wages at the higher level, and electricity, water costs etc. the possibility of part time football across the First Division could well be round the corner in 2-3 years time unless a major sponsor can be attracted to the SFL. Let's be honest, that ain't going to happen.

The chairman made it quite clear that the purse-strings are being tightened and was quick to point out that supporters' expectations regarding spending in January may well differ greatly from the reality of the situation; "It is not a question of need, but of what we can afford". Former manager Davie Irons' ears may well have been burning at this juncture, with the blame being laid at his feet for the playing budget being exceeded by £100,000 due to some "ridiculous" pay rises in the chairman's opinion. With last season being Dunfermline's second season in the SFL, and a lot of the higher earners at East End Park coming off the wage bill, there was scope for strengthening in Fife. When Jim McIntyre approached certain Morton players (who weren't named), Irons felt he had to match the Pars' offer to keep a hold of his men. Dundee were also sniffing about a few of the squad at this time.

New manager James Grady seems more keen on bringing in part-time players who have the desire to take the step up. From a financial point of view that may be no bad thing, but whether it pays off on the park remains to be seen. Mr. Rae then pointed out that with 12 players out of contract in the summer, Grady will have room to manoeuvre - this brought me to the conclusion that Grady and McManus will be staying in the dugout beyond the end of the season, something that the board refused to confirm or deny. They did however seem very encouraged, certainly with performances, if not results. Although the club's crippling injury list was used as a form of legislation for that.

It was interesting to note the chairman pointing out that Grady and McManus have revitalised morale to the extent that the dressing room is a much happier place than at any point in the previous 18 months. This prompted Andy Morrison to speculate whether or not the board blame Irons for previous issues. This was quickly refuted, but it's not rocket science to try and work out what the common denominator was in all the bad feeling in the Cappielow dressing room.

Mr. Rae conceded it will be difficult trying to move players on, citing Bobo Balde's refusal to do anything other than pick up a wage at Celtic Park for a few years, as nobody's going to move on for a worse deal. John Edwards then asked whether the club would review their policy on the length of contracts they would issue to players. Mr. Rae pointed out that all contract negotiations depend on certain circumstances such as the player's age, his sell on value etc., but 2 year deals are the ideal scenarios in most cases as a one year deal allows a player to start looking at better offers almost immediately, whilst 3 year deals can leave the club with some dead wood that's hard to shift. He said that of the 12 players that are out of contract [Ed - by my reckoning it's 13 , 14 if you include Allan McManus's playing contract: link), only 2 are likely to receive offers before the end of the season.

The Chairman then passed on to Stuart Duncan to discuss the club's youth set-up. With three teams operating at under-19,under-17 and under-15 levels, the club are looking to get into the SFA Pro Youth set-up for the start of next season. There are 5 pages of criteria that they have to meet - and the goal posts are likely to be moved again by the start of next term. All teams are required to use the new 3G parks, but the club are in contact with Inverclyde Council on a regular basis given that they are currently in the process of spending £35 million on Sports facilities in the area. Stuart did say that the SFA employ a tick list to audit facilities - basically the better the facilities, the more money you get. Perhaps that explains why there's not been much coming out of Cappielow for years. In order to enter the new set up a Head of Youth Development has to be appointed, with the club looking to appoint an experienced pro from within. Given the lack of coaching experience such an appointment would likely have, I'm a bit sceptical. There was a bit of confusion as to the new academy being a seperate entity from Morton, given that it is deemed to be self financing yet the club benefit without putting much in in return and hold the players' registrations, but it was made pretty clear that we had no other option. Do we want our promising young boys pulling on St. Mirren shirts? No, thought not.

Right, down to the nitty-gritty - Alistair Donald. Danny Goodwin asked what he contributed to the club, only for the chairman to mutter "Nothing", confirming he resigned from the board on the 8th December 2009. Crawford Rae went on to say that he had been brought into the club as he seemed to share the Raes' dream of SPL football, and the thought of a fresh face with new ideas appealed. However, given the time he spent in New York and Helsinki, due to his other business commitments, he felt he couldn't dedicate the necessary time to his role at Cappielow. A partner in Accenture Consultancy he was seen to have worthy experience and was placed in charge of revenue and grants. Asked if Mr. Donald fulfilled his financial commitment to the club, the chairman replied, "No, he is indebted to the club and is being pursued."

On to Dominic Shimmin and his injuries. The chairman accepted that there has been a great deal of scepticism about Shimmin's commitment from various parties within Cappielow, himself and the manager included, and that Shimmin had received two written warnings from the club, but after knuckling down in an intense 3 week programme he has shown no lack of commitment although his contract probably won't be renewed in the summer.

Having rambled on, I'll clear up some other matters that were discussed. I brought up issues regarding the Smiths website that has been poorly maintained, almost certainly resulting in loss of revenue and the Bukta fiasco of the summer. The club will speak to Smiths regarding the website, but couldn't comment on Bukta for legal reasons! Make of that what you will.

The club's relationship with Riverside Inverclyde was also brought up, given the fortunate position Queen of the South have found themselves in with a local contractor planning to throw up stands at Palmerston. The club have spoken with them, but not agreed on anything.

Regarding ground improvements, £230,000 has been spent on lighting to bring it up to SPL standards and the Wee Dublin End Stand is still scheduled to be open for the start of next term. A Flood Defence System has also been installed after the stand suffered water damage last winter from flooding from the railway line. As ever, Mark Farrell was also commended on his excellent work on the Cappielow pitch.

Some concerns were also raised about the potential for trouble at the Celtic game, but these were dispelled after Crawford told us of his talks with the Match Commander. Celtic fans in colours can expect to be rejected from the home sections of the ground, but don't expect this to be a weekly occurance, as the board made it clear that unlike some fans, they have no qualms with people turning up for ordinary league matches in Old Firm colours.

If we can reach one conclusion from the night, at least we can be sure that Alistair Donald wasn't the knight in shining armour some made him out to be. Here endeth that chapter.

1 comment:

mortonjag said...

If I can reach one conclusion from that report, it's that the future is not looking very encouraging financially.

It's extremely hard for me to accept Greenock Morton as a 'Has Been' of Scottish football, particularly when I believe so much more could have been achieved since Douglas Rae became 'The Club'.

What sticks out like a sore thumb is the fragmentation of the fanbase -there is NO unity, the Cowshed has been struck dumb, the Trust is a toothless bulldog which doesn't accept its financial limitations, and the various supporters clubs all appear to have their own wee agendas.

I have little doubt that the Alistair Donald fiasco will finally fizzle out with a statement that 'it was settled out of court'. That will be latched onto by those with a vested interest and spun to mean 'See - we were right all along'!!!

Statements from 'The Club' in the past have frequently been found later not to have been entirely accurate, and those who are really in the know, as distinct from those protecting their own wee positions of power at Morton, are united in a desire to see 'The Club' come under the direction of someone with common sense and vision.