For transparency, Owner Abdallah Lemsagam has sent the below detailed reply back to the Oldham Athletic Supporters Foundation (OASF) after recent dialogue over a number of topics.
I am writing this letter as a formal response to your letter of 25 August 2021 and our meeting on 31 August 2021. Given recent events, I also think it is right that I explain where I have been coming from with my ownership of the Club. I intend to release this letter widely as the relationship between the Club, the ownership and its fans is not in a good place and I really want to change that.
I am aware of the protests at my ownership and the anger and hatred that many fans have for me and my brother. I receive emails and texts, and so do those close to me, on a daily basis calling me all sorts of names and asking me to “go home”; many of them are outright racist. Since I took over in 2018, I accept that mistakes have been made and I will talk about them below. But each mistake has been made honestly, and with an intention to help the club. I have never done anything intentionally to hurt the club, I never would. What I find hard to understand is the strength of reaction against me compared to when the previous ownership stripped a key asset from the club and neither you as a supporters trust, nor any of the fans, did anything at all.
I have made many mistakes since I took over in 2018:
- I accept recruitment of players and management staff has been inconsistent. Football is a highly scrutinised business that everybody involved has an opinion on but employing players and Head Coaches always has a risk element to it. I have tried my best, employing well-known managers that I thought would be successful, but they were not suitable for League Two. I changed the managers because I wanted the best for the club; I think Keith is a good Head Coach for us and has the right experience to help us do well in League Two.
- I accept some staff departures were not handled as they should have been but still stand by the decision on all people involved that it was the right decision for the Club. A lot of what occurred cannot be spoken about given legal proceedings. For example, Paul Scholes claimed I interfered with team selection, but there is a court decision we cannot talk about.
- I accept that over the last three years, poor appointments have been made in the business area of the Club which has cost us lots of money by paying people wages who were under achieving and indeed causing damage to the Club reputationally but myself and the Board are now happy with our off-pitch team that are delivering good results and repairing some of the damage created.
- I accept an element of naivety with regards to trusting people around the Club who claimed to have the best interests of the Club at heart when I took over, thankfully these people are no longer around the Club but having once been happy to share good times with me, they now are working hard to hurt me and my family which I find really upsetting.
- I accept that fan engagement could and should have been better with increased access to senior officials and Board members. I also believe that we should have continued with our official statements and other useful pieces of information to be shared through social media etc... instead of being dictated to by people not wishing to see anything positive. I forgot how many good fans we have in Oldham and beyond so to you, I apologise.
- I accept that we are not where I want us to be from a football perspective.
I accept I made all these mistakes. But I never made any of them deliberately; and I have never done anything with the intention of hurting the club. For three-and-a-half years I have invested my money and time in Oldham; I made my own money, I did not inherit any of it, I worked hard for it. Every pound I invest means something to me and my family.
I have never structured the Club in a way to benefit me personally or even paid myself a wage. The previous owner took £5,000 a month; I have taken no wage for three-and-a-half years. The money I have invested is a large part of my personal wealth – I cannot and will not walk away from my investment and I am determined to reach the goals I have set for the Club.
OASF and the Memorandum of Understanding
We strengthened the relationship between OASF and the Club in March this year when we agreed a memorandum of understanding which is now in process. The key elements for the Club to commit to are as below. I set out below what we have done in relation to each of the commitments.
- Agree to meet with the Trust monthly to discuss a range of topics:
Karl Evans and Paul Hughes met more regularly than monthly and had several phone calls weekly. It should be noted that Paul requested a meeting individually with all administrative staff as a ‘get to know you’ which he carried out during the early time of his tenure. He had access and freedom to talk to everybody.
- Provide a suitable level of financial information split into appropriate categories and with a level of detail that builds trust and understanding of how the Club is being run.
Shahed Alam (Head of Finance) met with OASF representatives and satisfied the queries posed; unfortunately, a post was put out by the OASF which cast doubt on Shahed’s honesty and competence which resulted in a formal apology from OASF to Shahed. We will continue to provide information to you.
- Use the structured dialogue format to consult about significant decisions affecting the Club.
Paul Hughes was kept in the loop both officially and unofficially of key issues. He attended all Board Meetings held during his tenure.
- Not exclude Board Members of Trust Oldham (now OASF) from meetings without good reason:
Paul has been present (by zoom) at all Board meetings in their entirety and was also invited to a meeting by zoom at short notice regarding North Stand that wasn’t a Board Meeting. Paul made it clear that opening the North stand before the season started was a key issue; and we got the stand open.
- Send suitable senior club representatives who have appropriate knowledge of the club and decision-making authority:
Paul has met with Mohamed Lemsagam, Karl Evans and Shahed Alam who are the three most senior officials at the Club.
- Notify Trust Oldham (now OASF) of any significant financial events at the Club that may change the public perception of the Club.
We did go through all significant issues with Paul.
On 7th April 2021, OASF issued their approved Board strategy with the only section involving the Club being as follows:
Club: engage with the Club as a Shareholder
- Representation - Foundation representative on Club Board. This has been achieved.
- Governance - Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) secured. Agreed and in action.
- Financials - Ensure full review of Club Accounts and sound financial management. Accounts are being inspected this week I understand.
Push The Boundary
Push The Boundary have, we believe, conducted two member surveys, the most recent being 13th March 2020.
The major areas of concern to match going fans were as follows:
- North Stand being closed.
- Ownership change
- Manager change
- Cheaper Season Tickets
- Fan engagement in the survey was considered as poor.
In addition, the letter sent to Angela Rayner MP and a similar one sent to local councillors in Oldham highlighted:
- High turnover of staff and subsequent dis-pleasure of how staff were treated and many employment tribunals.
- Season ticket sales numbers.
- Reliance on loan players and short-term contracts.
- Lack of training facilities development promised in May 2019.
- Recruitment of players and Managers
I make the following points:
- The North Stand seating is now open and operational; the hospitality areas are subject to a totally different agreement. At the moment the hospitality areas that may become available to the Club in due course can be used as a fans bar operated by OEC.
- We now have an experienced Head Coach who has had success at League Two level, and he has a two-year deal. He picks the players that he wants to sign and then discusses them with Mohamed. Mohamed does not choose players; he considers them and then negotiates the deals. He is the Sporting Director.
- Season Tickets were offered in the summer at a vastly reduced rate offering it as one of the cheapest in League football. It was a very difficult decision following the financial impacts of Covid-19, but we had to recognise the great support from the supporters of the previous season who had seen no live football.
- Karl Evans who was appointed in September 2020 was determined to meet with both official and unofficial fan groups when he started. He met monthly with PTB until April 2021 when PTB decided to end the meetings, however they have held one more meeting since then on 4th August. We believe this is by far the most meetings any CEO has had with any fan representatives either official or unofficial in league football. It is accepted that access to the Owners and maybe Board Directors was desired but meetings with past Directors haven’t always been productive. Karl was as open and honest as he could be in those meetings as there are always elements of confidentiality in all Clubs and in fairness certain things that were requested in meetings were subject to ongoing or potential legal proceedings.
- The high turnover of staff is in the past as the Club have introduced a PDR process at all levels in all departments which have been set up to set targets and objectives for staff and allow the Club to develop those responsible. It is fair to say that some staff may fall down in this process or leave but that is no different than any other business. There have been no employment tribunals in the last 12 months.
- Season tickets have increased by c70% and are still on sale. The current number is c2,500. Of course, we would like more and accept our final league positions had an impact, but we appreciate the loyal support.
- Loans and short-term player contracts are normal at this level; players want the freedom of movement if they have a good season and Clubs want flexibility if the player doesn’t work out. The Club is trying to be self-sustainable so is spending sensibly on player wages. Bigger budgets do not necessarily bring greater success; Salford are spending more than double what we are spending and results show that high wages do not guarantee success. Morecambe achieved promotion last year with a budget lower than ours. Earlier this year we took advantage of the FAPL/EFL monitored loan which, in the case of many EFL Clubs, helped us financially during a very difficult time. As a Board, we are happy with the financial terms of the loan as the repayments are made from source from FAPL solidarity monies due to us. The main terms of the loan from a playing perspective restricted transfer and loan fees plus set a maximum on how much a new player can be paid per week, plus any additional connected payments which is totally understandable. Unfortunately, we didn’t satisfy that condition however this has since been rectified with EFL agreement. In addition, we have to work on a maximum of 22 established players in the first team squad, we were told that Junior Luamba was registered as an established player by virtue of his one appearance as a scholar in December 2020 which we contested but were unsuccessful on. Keith has worked hard to build a squad to compete in League Two despite these issues. On Saturday we were without seven players through injury and one player on international duty, all of which would have featured hence five of our squad were Academy products of 18 years-old and below with very limited first team experience which makes the task a great deal harder.
- Keith is happy with the training facilities. We would love better facilities and we did put a bid in for land attached to Chapel Road which would have allowed expansion, but the bid was rejected and the land with an attached building was awarded to a local college.
- My views on recruitment are set out above.
We have spent c£25k this summer on Boundary Park and Chapel Road, the largest renovations for seven years. The relationship between the Club and the Community Trust has never been stronger and we believe we have had the most amount of player engagements in league football through lockdown.
Commercially we have tripled commercial revenue from last year and still going strong, over 30 local businesses are now spending with us which is a massive step forward.
Right now, the Club is in its most stable position since I took over. In the past three years I have been faced with millions of pounds worth of claims from third parties that were not disclosed by the previous ownership, and some that which the previous ownership had assured me were paid. The litigation against us is almost completely over; our relationship with HMRC is on a stable footing and the staff are paid on time.
The biggest issue the Club now faces is getting back the asset that rightfully belongs to it, the North Stand. Until 2016, the Club had a lease on the North Stand and was entitled to use it and keep all the money from its use. After millions of pounds were given to the Club by the Council to improve the Club’s asset, the Club gave up its rights to the North Stand (other than the seats) to Brass Bank and received nothing of value in return. That was not challenged by the OASF and your then director who now works for the company that profits from that stand. I will continue to push the Club’s case to recover what is rightfully belonging to the Club. With the North Stand back in our ownership we can create significantly more value and become much more sustainable as a Club.
I do not want to sell my ownership of the Club. I am more determined than ever to make the Club successful. The actions of certain fans at the moment, the ones that want me to sell, are hurting the club. Encouraging non-attendance at matches, invading the pitch during matches, throwing objects at the players; those things all hurt the team and the Club. If those fans want me to sell the club, why are they trying to reduce its value?
I have not received one single serious offer to buy the Club in the past three years. If this section of the fanbase continue to hurt the Club and achieve their aim of depriving it of income so much so that I cannot support it, there could be terrible consequences. We are very close to having to ensure games are played behind-closed-doors given the pitch invasions, no doubt that is part of the plan of the fans opposed to my ownership and that will further hurt the club.
Without fans, there is no club. I understand that fans will be frustrated with where we are in the league and they have the right to voice that frustration; but I cannot understand the abuse that is given to myself, those close to me and the staff. I ask all of the fans that are protesting, please don’t abuse the staff – they are trying their best. I acknowledge I am in the firing line, but they have done nothing wrong.
I am not leaving. I am not selling. I want to work with the fans and with OASF and continue forward. I want to work with the fans and not fight with them.
I commit to:
- Meeting the OASF every month with a Board member present. The meetings should have an agenda and have minutes circulated.
- Appointing a new Fan Director, to improve communication between the Club and fans.
- Continue to progress with more financial information being made available.
- Attend a fans forum with all the Board present twice a year.
- Commit to a new three-year plan to be produced before the end of October.
I want to work with the fans, and not against you. I am sorry things are where they are, but we cannot go back in time – only forward.
I ask that you work with me to get the Club that you want. For those that want me to sell and will never change their mind, making the Club more valuable and more successful takes you closer to your goal, making it less valuable takes you further away.
Keep the faith.