The Rudderless Ship
This is my personal opinion re; the agm. This is in no way an official VFC or Shareholders statement.
I truly hope that yesterdays AGM was the last pro-active action anyone involved with VFC and the Aston Villa Shareholders Association have to take and that the board of AVFC are honestly considering a takeover proposal.
However, it has to be said, that the timing is more than a little convenient. The same happened before last years agm and the same excuses for not answering our questions was given. They suggested virtually no questions could be answered because of the rules of the City. 2 years in a row, 2 years of losses, 2 years of poor on the field performances and 2 years where they couldn't answer questions.
IF there is an offer on the table, the board of Aston Villa proved beyond doubt yesterday, that they MUST give it their full consideration because their inability to even run an AGM with any vigour or skill proved again that they are moribund and are incapable of taking Villa anywhere but backwards.
I asked if the club was up for sale and if they would actively seek investment. They talked about the approach on the table. But that wasn't the question. Mr Ellis has - reportedly - had approaches before, but if the approaches and are ignored or stonewalled, then they aren't being considered professionally. The question was if he would actively seek investment. He replied, and the reply baffled most of us, that in business you are better to wait for an approach. He used the analogy of if we were selling a house. Well, I'm sorry Mr Ellis, but when I sell my houses I - yes you have guessed it - actively seek potential buyers and then consider the best offer. THAT is the way business in done.
Our suggestion is that all interested parties now approach, if their approaches are ignored, then go public, because the board have a duty to their shareholders and at the moment, much like every other aspect of the club, we are in limbo.
The questions were deflected by spin and bluster and the frustration of a good few shareholders grew. The look of bewilderment on the presses faces also didn't go unnoticed.
For the resolution in regards to the remuneration of the executives and directly in relation to the £50 000 bonuses they have again sanctioned for themselves I asked why, when shareholders have had no dividends for 4 years, do they consider they are worthy of such high bonuses? The answer came - if memory serves me right - from Mr Hales, who said it was because they had reduced the £10million debt to just under £2million. I said a couple of times to get an answer, 'but they still made a loss?'. I also asked why, if they got the bonus this year for reducing the loss, did they get one the previous year when they had created such a huge loss? That remained unanswered. So I'll answer it. Greed. Mr Ellis tells us he puts money into the club but no one has ever found any evidence in the accounts. He has however, had over £8million out. His answer to that 'only women and horses work for nothing'.
They lost the resolution to have their remuneration accepted on a show of hands. They will now overturn that by a poll.
When it came on to the re-election of Mr Ellis.
I asked if we had a Chief Executive. They said no. I asked why we didn't have a Chief Executive. Their excuse was the offer on the table. However Mr Langham 'left' before any such approach was made. Doug did however point to the fact we had a new Sales Director. I hadn't asked that. Another shareholder asked why Mr Langham was paid off when he 'left'. The answer was Mr Langham had to give one years notice and they decided it was in the interest of the club to pay his contract up and let him leave immediately. Why? He was the only member of staff doing something! They were also questioned about why he left but they said you would have to ask Mr Langham that yourselves. I may just do that.
I went on to ask if we had a Financial Director. The board pointed at the sales director who started telling the meeting that he looked at the finances. I asked him therefore if he was the Financial Director to which the reply was no. I asked again, do we have a Financial Director? They finally answered the simple question saying 'no'. I then asked why don't we have a Financial Director?! The excuse was the current approach. However Mark Ansell left years ago, and had become Deputy Chief Exec as opposed to Financial Director anyway.
So, we don't have a Chief Executive and we don't have a Financial Director. But they assured us that they follow corporate Governance. I could only conclude that what we in fact have is a rudderless ship.
I genuinely complimented Mr Ellis on the way he is manfully fighting his health issues and many people echoed that. For me and many amongst the 'anti Ellis' brigade, it isn't a personal attack on the man, it is the simple fact that we know - and he has proved - that he is not the man to take this club forward.
The questions put to Mr Ellis by myself and a few other excellent shareholders, were mostly deflected or answered in incomprehensible ways.
I asked Mr Ellis, as he had a vested interest in any approaches, if he would leave the negotiations to others. He said no. One of the only times he did give a straight answer.
I also asked him if he would stand down and take up an honouree role immediately. Again, he said no. You would expect nothing more of a man clinging to power for his benefit and not the benefit of the club that has slowly dragged away from its once fine standing.
I also asked him how long, at his age and in such ill health, he actually intended to go on. He tried not to answer, Hales made some comment that made no sense, so I asked again. How long did he intend to continue. Again, he would not give a straight answer. I didn't consider it a complicated question in all fairness. But like a great many things that happen at Villa, Mr Ellis appears to have no forward thinking projections or plans. That frightens me greatly.
We were also told about the league attendance averages etc. This information was nothing to do with the business at hand. I asked Mr Ellis not to compare us to Leeds during the meeting, to maybe look at Arsenal as a model instead. That fell on deaf ears and Mr Ellis did indeed use Leeds as an example, and many groans from the audience was the result. We were told by Mr Stride that we couldn't just compete with the likes of Arsenal because of our losses, what they didn't seem aware of is it was that very board that created the losses and are responsible for the financial inadequacies we have. We may have no debt, but we also have no profits or cashflow, we do in fact sail very close to the wind finance wise, no matter what they tell us, this is not a well run business.
Another shareholder asked how much of a sell on fee we got when Southampton sold Crouch to Liverpool. He said we sold an England International for £2million, so you will obviously have put a sell on clause in. The answer came back as a no. The shareholder said that on that very point they should resign and that their incompetence had cost the business millions of pounds. Steve Stride said something about 'in hindsight'. You have to ask how long these people have been involved in the business of football? And yet they still don't know what they are doing? This too should frighten you. It is little wonder we have no dividends, no profits and very little cashflow.
On the re-election of Mr Doug Ellis, by a show of hands, he was defeated. Mr Peter Ellis was also defeated in his attempt to be re-elected. Both matters will be reversed by a poll vote.
By the end, I believe there were just two resolutions left, I decided I had had enough of the spin and bluster. I stood and said that I had been sitting there listening and it dawned on me how appropriate that the backdrop was shrouded in black, because the current board of Aston Villa are killing this club. I said I had had enough of the spin and bluster, that there was no point in staying, and that I was walking out. A few others followed.
In conclusion? If people don't come forward and genuinely bid - please note at the moment there is no official bid in, just an approach and enquiry - then the club both on the field and on the accountants sheets, will continue to stagnate or fall behind our competitors. I did question Mr Ellis whether he had confused the Champions League with the Championship. He didn't answer, but if we continue down the road we are on, that quip could just become reality.
It is also amazing to think, that whilst they leave the club in limbo once more in not bringing in a Chief Exec or Financial Director - as they said a staff revue isn't appropriate whilst we are potentially under offer - that they can still announce the long delayed £8million re-development of Bodymoor Heath. This development was asked for during John Gregory's reign and Graham Taylor did a huge amount of work towards it. So why delay this long? Any how can you sanction that sort of spending if you are expecting an offer? It works both ways. Maybe this means the offer is actually acceptable and that those who are putting the proposal forward have sanctioned it. OR maybe it means the offer will disappear within a month. Lets hope it is the former.
Or was it another way to try to show us that the club is developing, the way the board spoke you would think they were a new group in. They spoke as if they hadn't allowed Bodymoor to fall into such disrepair in the first place (we are years behind the facilities of even small clubs like Charlton). Worrying times indeed. Mr Ellis said the changes were needed for the training facilities because Bodymoor had become 'a little tired'. That isn't the only thing at Villa that is past its sell by date and is 'a little tired' Mr Ellis. We can but hope the offer is a) acceptable for the future of Aston Villa b) accepted. Many fans and shareholders have their doubts. Prove us wrong.