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Two thousand words by Milton Keynes Central

08/01/2017

Once a month, for the last year, I’ve boarded a Monday afternoon train from London to Manchester, and then hopped on a tram to Moston, to attend FC United’s monthly board meeting where, for four hours or more, I listen and frantically scribble notes in a notepad before sitting on a tram back into town gazing at pages of barely legible scrawl and crossings out and pondering “how the bloody hell am I going to make sense of this lot”.

And the following morning after porridge and a brew I’m on another of Branson’s rip-off rattlers heading south again tapping away on a laptop desperately trying to assemble my Monday night scribbles into something approaching an informative “summary” of the meeting for the club’s information-hungry members. If the word count’s nudging two thousand by the time the train rolls into Milton Keynes Central I know I’m doing alright. If not, then it’s around this time that I begin to wish I was a thirty a day smoker.

This labour of love began last summer when the new board, elected in the middle of a tumultuous year at the club, committed itself to operating with much greater openness and transparency than in the past, a commitment that included a promise to provide the club’s members with timely information on matters being discussed at board meetings. As a result, instead of having to wait over a month for the official minutes to be published before finding out what their elected representatives have been discussing, members now have access to a report that summarises the key discussions at the meeting within four working days of each meeting (it’s usually available to read by the following Friday lunchtime).

That it is referred to as a “summary” is something of an understatement given that it regularly stretches to four or five thousand words – a reflection of the breadth and depth of the issues under discussion including everything from season ticket sales and ground redevelopment works to events in the function room and the club’s extensive community work. I’d like to think it’s a half-decent read. Wading through a four or five thousand report can be tedious at the best of times so I (often clumsily) try to introduce a little bit of humour to break it up. The April report, around the time of the world snooker championship, was sprinkled with snooker-related puns and there’s even been room for a quote from Donald Rumsfeld and a mention for early nineties acid house pranksters the KLF in past reports. Daft, I know, but it’s a nod to the irreverence of the fanzines that played such an important role in the formation of FC United. Keen eyed readers will also spot the use of the little “c” whenever Manchester city get a mention – old habits die hard.

But I suppose it’s a sign of the times when a tongue in cheek comment about FC United signing a deal with an “official sausage partner” in the latest monthly board report was met with genuine “are you serious?” bamboozlement by some supporters. Time was when almost everyone would have spotted, a mile off, the mimicry of Glazer-era United’s regular announcements of official noodle and kitchen detergent partners and the like. But with our own mini-mountain of debt to service and much talk of the need to boost revenue streams I guess a dose of scepticism is understandable to a degree.

The idea for the report came from AFC Wimbledon whose supporters’ trust publish a summary report of their monthly meeting (I nicked the idea for the introductory paragraph from their report) but they generally take more than a week to get it out and the report isn’t anything near as detailed as the one that FC United now publish. In fact, I’m struggling to think of any organisation, public or private, that shares such a detailed report of board discussions so soon after a board meeting.

All told, each board report generally takes more than twenty hours to produce including attending the meeting to take notes (usually more than four hours), writing the actual report itself (typically about 12 or 13 hours solid; I’m usually chuffed if I’ve completed a first draft by the time the ten ‘o clock news comes on the box) and making any subsequent changes to the report (roughly an hour depending on how many amendments are required). In addition, there’s the time spent preparing for the meeting reading through the various reports and familiarising myself with all the issues that are on the agenda which can easily take another two to three hours.

I’ve only missed a couple of board meetings over the last twelve months – one due to a holiday and the other when I struggled to book a reasonably priced Monday night hotel room in Manchester (it was only afterwards that I realised it was due to the Ariana Grande concert at the Arena) – but I would estimate that it’s taken at least 200 hours to knock out the reports for the ten meetings that I’ve attended. Not to mention days off work and more than a thousand pounds spent on hotels and rail fares. It’s like organising a Euro away each month but instead of getting pissed with your mates you just end up with writer’s cramp and a vague sense that whatever you’ve written could have been written better.

The board summariser remit is part of my wider role as a volunteer for the club’s communications team which also involves writing articles for the website and programme on a range of FC United related topics from the welcome return of Course You Can Malcolm and the club’s ongoing support for refugees to a piece about the shared history of our mid-season friendly opponents SV Austria Salzburg and an overlong end of season review. Basically anything that’s not really about football tends to get slung my way. Someone referred to them as “thought pieces” but that sounds a bit Orwellian to me.

Perhaps the article that I most enjoyed writing last season was the one on Nobby Stiles that we ran towards the end of the season as the club, very fittingly, chose to rename its award for the young player selected as the Academy player of the season after the United legend. I typed it up one afternoon in a coffee shop at Stafford railway station (the glamour eh?) waiting for a delayed train back to London, and managing to annoy several already stroppy fellow travellers by lingering rather too long over a single mug of tea just so I could use the free wifi. I’ve rapidly become the sort of free loading, one drink coffee shop malingerer that no one likes.

On average last season I reckon I was spending around ten hours a week working on FC United related stuff, doing my best to juggle that workload around a full-time job. Yet that pales at the side of the staggering workload of the communication team’s lead who regularly spent more than twenty hours a week volunteering for FC last season. An incredible level of commitment on top of a full-time job. It’s been bloody hard work at times hitting some ambitious deadlines but I’ve enjoyed it immensely. There’s something lovely about still being able to help out the club, doing something you love on a regular basis, despite living more than two hundred miles away. In most cases the articles and the board reports have been well received but inevitably there have been a few grumblings. Ironically the only personal abuse has come from those bemoaning the loss of volunteers in other areas of the club over the last two years.

Whilst it’s true that the number of match day volunteers has dwindled in recent seasons (for various reasons) in other areas of the club the level of commitment displayed by volunteers is arguably at its highest level in the club’s history. A recently formed IT advisory group, a collection of IT literate supporters established to assist the club on techy issues, joins other long established volunteer-run groups advising the club on financial and governance issues. Meanwhile over the summer some supporters have once again been busy assisting with building works and general maintenance around the ground. Work that is done purely out of love for the football club and costs the club nothing. And let’s not forget the board, volunteers themselves, who have collectively put an immense shift in to keep the club afloat over the last year.

In addition, the volunteer-run communications team alone comprises around forty to fifty people performing a vast range of tasks including reporting on matches, updating the website, producing the match programme, commentating on the match for the club’s television or radio stations, writing board reports, updating social media or dealing with press and media enquiries. It’s been a privilege to be a part of that team over the last year and a quarter and, on a personal level, it’s been wonderful at a time when almost everything seems to have a price tag attached to it and people moan about others getting “something for nothing” to turn the world on its head and do something, not because it’ll look good on your cv or earn you a few quid, but simply for the love of it. Anyway, I’m off out for a new notepad, this new football season won’t write itself….

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2 Comments
  1. Sam permalink

    I love the summaries and the style you write them in! Top work Jonathan – keep it up

  2. tim permalink

    The official sausage partner made me laugh at loud when I read it. Brlliant. Please keep reporting our meetings in the same vein.

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