BCFC: Waiting. And Watching
Although Monday’s home defeat to Sheffield United brought the curtain down on another disappointing season overall, expectation is in the air at St. Andrew’s. Whether it’s talk of ownership change, player transfers or ground repairs, there is a lot to occupy the thoughts of Blues fans as we enter the summer months.
Matters on the field on Monday were overshadowed by the early morning announcement that deals to sell part of the club and the whole of the ground had been agreed. Subject to approval by the regulatory authorities and the shareholders of Birmingham Sports Holdings Limited, two sale and purchase agreements will see Shelby Companies Limited own 45.64% of Birmingham City PLC and all of St. Andrew’s Stadium.
Shelby Companies Limited is a subsidiary of Knighthead Annuity & Life Assurance Company, and managed by American financier, Tom Wagner. Knighthead will assume responsibility for the day to day running of the Club, alongside other stakeholders, if and when the agreements are approved.
What made this development different was that the announcement was made to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, which confirmed it was “official”. A club statement soon followed and then, shortly after that, an open letter to Blues supporters from Tom Wagner himself.
The letter from Mr Wagner can be read here.
The letter was interesting and, in the Trust’s view, potentially very significant because unlike similar offerings from others in the past…including from the club’s own Chairman…it was detailed, substantive and grounded. It did not include any rash or excitable nonsense about instant and guaranteed success on the field but, rather, set out a list of priorities designed to secure the club’s future, ensure engagement with supporters, improve standards and develop the club within the community.
It was a clear statement of intent. A vision. The beginnings of a plan. All things that supporters have been demanding for such a long time.
Of course, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. It always is. But if, this time, the change of ownership does indeed happen and Mr Wagner and his fellow investors assume control, the Trust’s view is that there is much in the letter to offer encouragement and hope. And even a measure of excitement.
The first priority identified by Mr Wagner was a commitment to properly and openly engage with supporters, and in a manner consistent with the principles set out in the recent Fan Led Review and subsequent government White Paper. This was particularly welcome from the Trust’s perspective and very encouraging given the indifference shown by the club’s ownership and senior officials so far. Other clubs are streets ahead of where our club is on this matter, and that reflects poorly on those in control. Hopefully, that situation is about to change.
Mr Wagner’s identification of the need for additional leaders to support the transition to a successful football club is also noted and acknowledged. The Trust has long been concerned about the performance of those managing the club, even though the challenges they have faced should not be underestimated. Compliance and passivity have been far too common of late, when presence and visibility were needed to provide assurance for concerned supporters.
The commitment to improve infrastructure and grow commercial partnerships, together with the delivery of a better fan experience, is very positive. Making St. Andrew’s fit for purpose as a first step is also to be applauded. We’ll see what the details are when they emerge of course, but as a statement of intent it should give us all some confidence that the importance of the stadium is fully acknowledged by those seeking to take control.
The Trust is particularly pleased to note the determination to invest in both the men’s and women’s teams, and to do so fully within the letter and the spirit of the rules set by the EFL. This represents a refreshing change of attitude and approach.
The same has to be said about the expressed intent to help young local talent flourish and realise their ambitions. Blues supporters have always valued the emergence of players through the clubs academy programmes, and the Trust absolutely wants to see that continue. It also makes sound economic sense given the current state of professional football.
Finally, it is heartening to see recognition of the importance of the club’s role within the local community and as a force within the City too. And with strong words which identify a clear commitment to continue and indeed develop that role. In the Trust’s view this will be a crucial factor going forward.
To cap things off, Mr Wagner made himself very accessible to supporters at and around the stadium on Monday. He was friendly and engaging. Again, both welcome and refreshing given what has gone on before and the difficulties Blues supporters have had in making any form of connection with the current ownership.
So, all in all, encouraging developments this week with the likely involvement of new investors. After years of neglect and under achievement, things might just be about to change. And for the better. Let us hope so. After the false dawn of 12 months ago, when expectations were raised by interest from other potential investors, it does feel different this time.
But as supporters we need to remain patient whilst the outstanding details are resolved and the deals are actually completed. If and when that happens, the Trust looks forward to welcoming all of the new parties to the club and also working with them, alongside all Blues supporters, to deliver a much brighter future. In the meantime, we should all continue to observe proceedings very closely.
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