If the supporters are united

Cod Almighty | Article

by Paul Savage

8 December 2017

New Mariners Trust chair Paul Savage has had a baptism of fire. Here he explains the background to GTFC Unity Day

It's been an interesting first month as the new Chairman of the Mariners Trust. From dealing with bra-gate at Stevenage to being sat in and amongst the heated scenes at the fans' forum, with the creation of Unity Day sandwiched in the middle, it’s hardly been a quiet start to proceedings. But then whenever has being a Grimsby Town fan been easy?

Let me make it clear from the outset that I was, and remain, entirely uncomfortable with the way in which the forum ended. Whether or not Matt Dean was right, whether or not John Fenty rebutted the issue correctly, the way in which the event spiralled out of control did no one any favours at all. It was embarrassing and it was unnecessary. I truly hope we don't ever see scenes like that again.

Less than an hour prior, the club's board harangued supporters for allegedly bullying other fans not to attend the Checkatrade Trophy games. You can't take the moral high ground when you then act in a similar fashion to a professional journalist you invite to host your event!

It's a shame we left that event discussing the end, because there was so much information provided for fans to digest. Whether or not you liked the way it was communicated, you could argue that was as open and honest as the club's hierarchy have been for some time. That has to be welcomed and is something I hope we can continue with in the future.

In any organisation communication is key and I think in the last 18 months or so the Trust hasn't done that well enough. Perhaps we overachieved with Operation Promotion and the work we did to encourage 3,000 season ticket sales for the first time in a decade. Had we become complacent? Were we simply tired and in need of a break or fresh ideas?

If the Trust hasn't communicated that well, you can certainly say the same thing about the club. Issues have often arisen because of the way in which the club has communicated, not necessarily the message itself. At times the perception of what has been implied, or the perception over a mixed message, has caused further issues.

That said, there's been some great work in the last week. The club has gone out into schools issuing free tickets to local children for Saturday's match and has been posting some great photos on their Twitter account. We all want to see the club working in the community and even though I know this work goes on, this has been a great way of telling people about it too.

The fan-club relationship is by no means at an all time low. We've been in far worse positions on and off the pitch. But there are divisions. There aren't protests in the club car park, but social media amplifies the disquiet and allows all of us a louder voice than we perhaps had a decade ago.

Operation Promotion and the success on the pitch of the class of 2015-16 gave the club and fans something to bond over. Operation Promotion was a one-off, a movement worth far more in the goodwill created than the cheque the fans handed over to the club. And no matter if the club's board seemed to re-write history with the comments about who paid for Omar Bogle, the feeling we all had when Nathan Arnold scored that third goal was priceless.

Operation Promotion united us, but not because the club was in the doldrums. It united us over a common goal.

If getting all of that good feeling back is impossible, Unity Day is the first stab at trying to do something to pull us all back together. The idea came about three weeks or so ago now, borne out of a conversation with senior club staff who recognised that relationship was deteriorating. I've seen some criticism that Unity Day was merely a distraction after the fallout of the forum, but this honestly isn't true. Those who were there would have seen a banner advertising the event. I'd planned to talk about it at the end of the forum before things went haywire.

Unity Day isn't about brushing the issues under the carpet. It's about supporting the guys on the pitch. Whatever you think about the directors we can all agree we want to be entertained on the pitch and win every game

Is it merely talking to the people who go to games anyway? I don't think it is, but if it was and crowds went back from 3,000 as we saw against Swindon to close to the 5,000 that started the season, that would be a success. As it is, the club is engaging with young fans and offering 600 tickets in the Osmond Stand to young people who may not come to games. There are offers for season ticket holders to bring friends and family members at a cheaper rate, as well as kids for free. There's a social media campaign, vouchers in the local press, tickets going into local groups and communities. There's a real effort to engage with the wider community as an alternative to the Christmas shopping!

This isn't about brushing the issues under the carpet. It's about separating out the problems at the top and supporting the guys on the pitch. Whatever you think about the directors, surely we can all agree that we want to be entertained on the pitch and we want to win every game we play?

The Cod Almighty diaries recently have flippantly tried to downplay the idea that we, as supporters, can do our bit. 'We're doing the job of the club' has often been an accusation thrown at us as if, somehow, that's always a bad idea. We moan if the club doesn't do something, we moan if they do. We want to be listened to, we moan when they do. There might not be an abundance of wealthy people willing to chuck money at the club, but there's certainly plenty of people with expertise and experience who have ideas and time to donate to help their club. Why shouldn't we embrace that if it's there? And yes, perhaps the men at the top could listen even more, but if we keep making an impact with the relationships we're working on with the club staff, that adds weight to our argument that working together - unified - benefits all parties.

So what can the fans, under the umbrella of the trust or not, achieve?

The trust remains opposed to the Checkatrade Trophy in its current format. If the format remains the same as it is this year we will again vote against it in the boardroom.

We'll survey all fans, members and non-members, in the new year and find out where they want the trust to go in the future. We require help and ideas and people can do that in a variety of different ways. It doesn't have to just be about attending meetings; there are lots of ways in which fans can get involved. And if there's a specific expertise people think they can bring to the trust tell us!

This Saturday we're hosting our first drop-in surgery in the Lower Findus Trust bar between 1pm and 2pm. There will be four or five trust board members available and we'd love to find out what people are thinking about and the issues they perceive we can help with. We'd like to do this monthly to help people put names to faces. And we want to encourage a dialogue to help us when we talk to the club.

We also appreciate that not everyone is computer savvy or has the ability to get to matches, so we're also going to to take on a mobile phone where people can give us a call and we'll talk to them about whatever it is they want to discuss. As soon as we have the number we'll let people know.

The key message from me and the trust is to talk to us! We can't act and take up the issues from our members if we don't know what they are. If Operation Promotion taught us anything at all it’s that we are stronger together.

You might not think Unity Day is a good name or even an appropriate time, but if supporters unite - as we've shown before - we can achieve anything.

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