RAWK goes to the AGM

Posted by Armin on February 25, 2006, 03:47:21 PM

Thanks to the speed of modern communications events at the AGM are circulating the web a matter of hours after the event. Detailed coverage in the local press means that virtually all of our supporters now know the key events at this years meeting two days after the event. There's little point therefore in me regurgitating the intriguing details of the Aimar saga, the 15 million 'hole' in the accounts or indeed the incident where Parry and Kenwright nearly came to blows over groundsharing. All yesterdays chip papers now...

So this report is more an attempt to give an idea of what it's like to attend the AGM, to mix however briefly with the people in charge of the club as impish maidens poured fine wines into our gaping mouths. Pampering the elite of football as they languidly oiled their lithesome bodies, glistening with the sweet perfume of success, bathing in that peculiar nectar that resides within the European Cup, a chalice gifted with magical powers, doubtless forged by Hephaestus himself upon the slopes of Olympus  and holding the faint promise of distant Elysium within it's silver gleam. Their fair bosoms reflected in a... But I digress.

The Annual General Meeting (AGM) of LFC is held once a year to review the performance of the board of directors and to complete club business. This includes the acceptance of the club accounts and, if required, the election of any board members whose term of office has expired. With 51% of Liverpool's shares in the hands of chairman David Moores the AGM would normally be a trouble free affair but the last couple of years have seen a tense standoff between the Chairman and building magnate Steve Morgan so the prospect of further fireworks couldn't be discounted.

Kick off was at 7pm, practically business as usual given the TV driven schedules which football has adopted. I had a trouble free journey to Anfield, being stopped only twice by marauding hordes of drug crazed scousers who had heard a rumour about a wool invasion from foreign parts. Luckily I once met someone whose Auntie saw the Beatles at the Cavern and so I'm practically royalty in these parts. Pointing out that the people in the car behind had the curious appearance unique to the inhabitants of St Helens I made my way untroubled to Glorious Anfield. Or as one may more conveniently describe it should one find oneself in Salford, the blessed home of the five times Champions of Europe and current holders of the greatest club trophy in world football.

For once parking at Anfield did not involve an  negotiation with the local junior entrepreneurs association. A brisk 'I'm here for the AGM' to the man at the gate saw my chariot invited into the heady security of the ground itself. I parked next to a shabby new Lexus and worried whether my own, more understated vehicle might be at risk in a car park full of tediously dull BMW's, Mercedes and Jaguars. I decided to take the risk out of my sense of commitment to RAWK and proceeded past the now suspicious looking attendant to head for the Albert where my troops were awaiting.

My army of one was already at the bar. The Albert on a non match day is a novel experience. Subtle features which are normally hidden are revealed in all their faded glory. Walls for instance, I'd always laboured under the missapprehension that the Albert was supported by a group of load bearing scousers tucked strategically in the corners of the structure. Not so, although as I had no camera you'll have to take my word for it, the walls exist.

Having collected Tim I made the usual apologies on behalf of Fudge and we proceeded to the meeting. We stopped on the way to take some leaflets from Gerry from the HJC concerning the Blackburn match, essentially John Mac's excellent 12 points which we promised to distribute to shareholders. The RAWK party were attending the meeting as 'proxies' which meant we couldn't ask questions, it also meant the usual confusion on entering as forms were examined and signatures obtained. The stewards weren't sure whether Tim's abacus could be brought into the hall, but I reminded them about my cavern attending acquaintance and the residual glamour got us in.

The AGM is held in the Shankly suite at the top of the Centenary stand. It takes a while for the organisers to ensure that the microphones aren't working and the screens are set to a sufficiently unreadable resolution so there was just time to order a drink in the adjacent Paisley suite before we were called in.

As always at Liverpool it's a struggle to get a good spec. We managed to find some 'obstructed view' seats facing the board, the pillars in the way of Rick Parry had me thinking of the main stand, although the crowd were obviously livelier at the AGM. As it happened we were a mere three rows behind the famous Mr Morgan and spouse, last year they'd sat on the front row but the gleam from the strategically placed trophy may have dissuaded them this year.

The 113th AGM of Liverpool Football Club took place in a far brighter atmosphere that the 112th. Last year the scarring effects of the end of the Houllier regime were still fresh in the memory and there were big questions to be answered concerning the mooted investment and the new stadium. The questions remain, but the after effect of that night in Istanbul was clear to see, both in the trophy, taking pride of place beneath the boards table and also in the shape of Rafa Benitez who took his place alongside the board and immediately attracted dozens of autograph hungry shareholders. Last year Rafa only appeared briefly at the AGM to deliver his speech before leaving Morgan and Moores to get on with the real business. It was good to see him there for the entire meeting on Thursday, a palpable reminder about the football amidst the accounting talk.

When the last signature had been obtained and the last attendee of the meeting (Fudge) had finally graced us with his presence it was time for the deep scouse tones of acting chairman Keith Clayton to bring the meeting to order. Actually Keith has the kind of clipped vowels and received pronunciation that would have guaranteed a respectable income as a wartime BBC radio announcer, his smooth but business like delivery seemed a bit out of place amidst the cheerful informality of the Rafa mad crowd. Nevertheless, Keith kept his head despite the predictable inadequacies of the PA system. After shouts of 'speak up' and 'we can't hear you' the board finally managed to get an acceptable level of volume and the fun began.

The first rule in showbusiness is unrepeatable but the second is as true now as it ever was. Open with a strong number, hence the cunning deployment of born entertainer and thwarted stand up comedian Les Wheatley to present the accounts. In fairness the presentation of this year's figures was much improved. A series of slides put Liverpool's figures into context by including the results of our main rivals. Whether this was truly an effort to make the accounts more comprehensible to the layman or just a way of laughing at United, the slides did help put our situation into context.

The best moment was when Les presented the final summation on a slide that rightly belonged on a sadistic optician's wall. I couldn't make much of it but Tim was nodding as he played with his balls. I admired his enthusiasm but perhaps a pocket calculator would be a prudent investment for the future.

After Les had warmed up the meeting in his inimitable fashion it was time for Rick Parry to take to the podium. Doubtless the presence of the European Cup was a factor in Rick's sartorial decisions for the meeting. The risk of a reflected Parry special being beamed into the eyes of the great and good of LFC was too great and it was a relatively subdued shirt and tie combo that our Chief Exec was sporting. I removed the protective goggles and settled back to enjoy the speech.

After last year's heated affair this AGM was a doddle for RP. To his credit he didn't dwell on Istanbul, but it was always in the background of any summation of the past year. The figures invested in players compared well with our rivals bar the obvious one, and the brave decision to look to Spain for the new manager was thoroughly vindicated. RP had some interesting news concerning the negotiations for a new Champions League deal, total income was likely to rise by 25% although English clubs would see a likely increase of 12%.

As had been leaked in the local press there was nothing of substance on the Ground or investment questions. If Rafa hadn't brought the big cup back to its spiritual home there may have been a riot at this point. Big questions remain about the future of our club.

After Rick Parry finished, Steve Morgan stood up and came to the microphone. Those of us lucky enough to be present last year bated our breaths for round 2 but this year our third biggest shareholder was more restrained. Indeed Mr Morgan spoke well, expressing his sadness that David Moores couldn't be there to be thanked for his part in the Cup triumph. After congratulating Rafa, settting a trend which every subsequent questioner was keen to follow, Mr Morgan loosed a casual bombshell in his question. What the board had presented as a debt of 17 million was actually closer to 73! Keith Clayton leaped into play like the eager captain of the second eleven finally called up to the big team. The board accepted almost all of Steve's points with exception of the 73million figure. Apparently Steve Morgan had forgotten to count the money that rolls out of peoples pockets on match day or put it in the wrong column. Tim will explain, I'm too busy... 

Mercifully there were no further questions on the accounts. We then had a vote to re-elect Terry Smith and David Moores to the board. Terry spoke on both their behalfs to thank us for our support. I found myself wishing that Mr Moores had been able to attend - he went through the wringer last year and it would've been nice for him to have reaped some praise for his acumen in appointing Rafa and the reward that followed.

All this was merely delaying the moment when Rafa spoke. He mounted the podium to a loud burst of applause which he responded to with the deprecatory wave he's made his own. Frankly Rafa could've read out his weekly shopping list at this point and we'd have been entranced. Instead he gave a typical Rafa speech, stressing his determination, belief and optimism concerning the team's prospects. Benitez is charmingly direct, there's no feeling of an agenda here or any desire to pull the wool over this wool's eyes. Instead he seems driven by principles and these beliefs are reiterated time and again. He's made for our club and once again it was a privilege to hear him speak as he makes you feel as if he's talking to you straight from the heart.

From his speech it was clear that he was delighted with the captures of Agger and Paletta. We haven't heard much about the Argentine but from Benitez's assessment it seems that his signing was quite a coup for Liverpool. Rafa said that he hoped Momo would soon be training with the squad and after some of the speculation of the past days that was good to hear. Rafa praised the magnificent support the team had received en route to the big win and closed with his determination to bring the title back to Anfield. If anyone can do it we have to believe Rafa will be the man. Another good speech and this year he returned to the board table to listen to the rest of the meeting.

When questions were opened up to the floor the first one from a representative of TLW was on an issue already aired on the message boards. The fanzine sellers have been treated disgracefully in recent weeks, harried and harassed by overzealous police and stewards. Rick Parry said that he'd only just become aware of the issue following an editorial in TTWAR and he promised to sort the matter out promptly.

There was then a proposal for Liverpool to retire the number 12 shirt in honour of the supporters. The proposer spoke well and Keith Clayton thanked him for the suggestion. There followed a thoughtful question about the ground. Rick Parry confirmed that the 160mill figure bandied in the press was accurate and that given the expenditure involved the project would be best served by securing extra inward investment. He said that there were alternatives to a new stadium but the club remained convinced Stanley Park was the best way forward. In keeping with the rest of the night we weren't any better off in terms of knowledge although the board were making the right sounds.

Next up was a question concerning the scheduling of the Blackburn away tie on the anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster. This was from RAWK's own Zoe although I didn't know that at the time. She spoke very well, putting the point politely but with feeling. Keith Clayton acknowledged this and handed over to Rick Parry. The Chief Exec acknowledged that the situation was unsatisfactory. He stressed that the HFSG had been involved throughout the process and that they had accepted that football would inevitably be played on the 15th one day. He said that their wish had been that any game be played away from Anfield. He didn't give Zoe the assurance she'd asked for, saying that the club would endeavor not to play on the anniversary but couldn't commit to never playing on it as many factors were outside their control. Zoe got a loud round of applause after her question reflecting the strong support in the room for her position. The board would be well advised to take this on board in any future fixture negotiations as the feelings on this issue are deeply held.

Two questioners brought up the problems with ticketing policy, in regard to fancards and touting. Inevitably it was difficult to separate individual anecdotal examples from more general problems. Bryce Morrison briefly took to the podium to relate a story about a company advertising Benfica trips in the Echo which the club had reported to UEFA. There was talk about a new ticketing policy for cup matches and improvements in the on-line service. In reality the questions just highlighted the pressing need for greater capacity to satisfy the demand and greater consultation with fans.

There was time for one final moment of light relief. A guy came from the press seats and asked two questions which the board would doubtless rather have remained unspoken. First he asked why Michael Owen left the club and then, with perfect comic timing, he asked whose bright idea was is to sign Cisse for 14 mill. In truth he was out of order to single out one player in this way but his delivery would've graced the comedy store and there was a lot of laughter. Rick Parry played a grim faced straight bat to both cheeky points and with that the meeting was closed.

Rafa was immediately surrounded by those seeking a photograph or autograph and the Cup was similarly swamped until the officials persuaded the crowd to allow it to be taken to the Paisley suite where shareholders could get their picture taken. Whether it was this or the attractions of a free bar that finally persuaded the crowd to let Big Ears go is difficult to say. I took advantage of the moment to briefly show Rick Parry and Rafa a print of the final banner design which Rafa kindly signed. I promised Mr Parry that when the new stadium was built we'd have some new large banners for it.

The atmosphere as the meeting broke up was warm and excited. A large queue formed for the chance to get a picture with the trophy. Of course we studiously declined, until the queue died down that is.. Magic! The urge to run off into the night with the big silver beauty was hard to suppress.Winding down with a pint in the Paisley suite we compared notes. After the emotionally charged fireworks last year the meeting had been a far tamer affair. Of course the team has developed significantly since then and the progress on the pitch has probably made the confused situation concerning finances and the ground less contentious. If we're still at the same point next year the questions will be a lot harder to deflect. This year's meeting was congratulatory rather than combative.

I still felt a shiver down my spine when the acting chairman announced the opening of the 113th AGM, thinking of all the previous meetings and all the people of LFC that have attended them. As last year it was a privilege to be there on behalf of RAWK and so on behalf of myself and the others that attended, as well as the rest of the forum I'd like to thank the shareholder who nominated us as proxies.  Hopefully these reports will give all our members a taste of what its like to go to the AGM. 

© Armin 2006

The accounts have been analysed at length elsewhere on the site but here's some financial figures arising from the meeting.

Steve Morgan claimed that the club is infact £70m+ in debt when you look at the creditors on the balance sheet.  This figure is made up of £45.8m for net current liabilities and £26.1m for creditors - amounts falling due after more than one year.  This gives Morgans impression that the club has debts of £71.9m.

However, included in the net current liabilities is an amount of £19.5m that is referred to as deferred income (this was mentioned by Les Wheatley), which is monies received in advance of providing goods/services.  This deferred income relates to season ticket revenue received in July and sponsorship revenue received at the start of the season.  The goods/services the club provides for this deferred income is the staging of 19 home league matches (for the season ticket revenue) and using, advertising and stocking, sponsors products.  This is a paper debt on the balance sheet and as such is not regarded, in general atleast for football clubs, as an actual debt since it is highly unlikely that the staging of matches etc will not occur.  It is just a requirement to post the income as a liability.

Also not included in the accounts for this year are the sales of Baros and Diouf, these would bring in around £9m thus covering half of the trade creditors due within 1 year (note they didn't actually mention the £9m it is something I picked up from the accounts in general)

Net Debt increased by £1.757m in the year.  This is due to the non-payment by reebok for sponsorship revenue.  Had the club received this money then net debt would have been significantly reduced.  Reports state that Reebok owe in the region of £7.5m.  If this is true then the overdraft would have been cleared and net debt would have been reduced to under £10m.

Also had the transfers of Diouf and Baros been before the year end the net debt would theoretically have been cleared.  The club would still have had loans but they would also have had cash in the bank.

The club still believe that the remaining estimated life of Anfield to be 4 years, from the last balance sheet date I believe, and have depreciated the stadium accordingly.

The club have provided £2.5m in the accounts in case of costs due to delay in shirt sponsorship for this season.  The club currently have forensic accountants working through the paperwork on this issue to determine potential liability.

The new Champions League deal is likely to see a rise of 25% across Europe with the rise for English clubs likely to be around 12.5% (the English participants currently receive the most from the TV pool but since that was set other TV markets have increased in value). We received £9m more for winning the European Cup than we received by to the quarter finals in 2002. The European Cup format is to stay the same until at least 2009. Cashflow is £9m lower than expected due in main to the Reebok dispute.

The cost of the new stadium is heading towards £160m at present.  There is a very important link between finding investment and the new stadium.  The ideal situation is an equity investment into the club, ie the remaining set of shares to be issued are issued for the investment into the club.  Doing this will reduce the need for loans for the new stadium thus reducing the risk on the stadium.

© ttnbd 2006

"In 2006 a cack accountancy commando unit was sent to Anfield  for a crime they didn't commit. Armin ‘Face’,  ttnbd ‘Hannibal’, DaveW ‘Murdoch’ (unfortunately he was banged up in a high security institution and we didn’t have time to spring him) and then B.A. Fudge (bollocks at accountancy). If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them (check the free bar), maybe you can hire the rAwk-Team."

Whilst Armin was networking his way through the great and the good, ttnbd was using his analytical brilliance to cut to the chase of the accounts , I had been given the following remit from Armin.

“Dave White and TTNBD will also be going from RAWK, they can cover the finances, I'll add journalistic flourish leaving you with carte blanche to cover the farting gags.”

First and foremost before anyone thinks I’m going to try and emulate ‘Dick and Dom in Da Bungalow’ I can rule that out. If anyone had let loose in our rather aging Shankly suite with the lack of air conditioning there would have been mayhem even amongst the corduroy brigade that were the majority attending. On one very pertinent issue regarding the new ground the standard of the facilities in the Centenary whilst clean were clearly not geared up for a club of our stature and if we didn’t move we would need massive investment to bring these up to an acceptable standard.

Anyway I digress, first and foremost as it kicked off ( in terms of the meeting rather than the usual exit from Old Trafford) an announcement was made that David Moores and Noel White were ill and would be unable to attend. Now a lot of people are aware of my less than 100% endorsement of the powers that be at Anfield. A factor that might seem quite ridiculous to some, considering the fact that everyone was looking at Old Big Ears and the Super Cup that some clever fucker from the board thought would be a good idea to have on a desk at the front.

What to make of it, well on the one hand most applauded the idea that they get well soon but me being the cynical twat I am just thought it was a case of the dog eating Moores' Hawkpoint homework. If I was being more suspicious I would also say that in a weird way it shows that there must be something on the horizon as this is a ‘trick’ you can pull only once and if we were in the same position next year it would be a impossible position, because barring another miracle we wouldn’t have the huge joker in the pack that the European Cup and the massive rewards it brought with it to divert attention from the larger structural challenges that Liverpool faces.

And really that whole investment question was again neatly sidestepped by the board when they announced right at the beginning that the issue was still ongoing and progress was being made and that everyone accepted the need for investment. By doing this very simple statement it was basically a classic Tony Blair ploy, along the lines of “Lets not second guess the conclusions of the enquiry until it's published”. It basically leaves everyone with nowhere to go in terms of questions because they can refer back to the first point.

The AGM kicked off with Les Wheatley handling the accounts and obviously at this point I glazed over, numbers like these are as relevant to me as a pogo stick is to Alan Smith or a passport to an Evertonian. One thing I would say is that it did appear to me that we were being subjected to some Derren Brown style mindmelding by Mr Wheatley as he got into the more sensitive information he began to show the information on ever decreasing slides. By the end you’d have needed the Hubble telescope to analyse the debt figures. Maybe its just me again but I’d have thought that a club with a turnover over 120 million pounds and pretensions of being a quality corporate entertainer could have afforded some better audio visual equipment than the normal stuff you’d see in a Travel Inn meeting room. But after looking at his eyes, not around the eyes, I started to think that world domination was only a matter of time.

He showed us the wage bill against the comparative costs of Arsenal , Chelsea and the Mancs. Obviously the Chelsea were way ahead with two hundred zillion billion roubles being paid out every year - as I say I’m not good with figures. But what cracked me up was that the Mancs published annual figures were 77 million but when analysed this only included 11 months rather than the more normal Earth time of 12 months. I mean I know Fergie has his own version of Old Trafford time when 2 minutes injuries adds up to 11 but never in my wildest fears did I think that he had the power to change the calendar.

Throughout the whole accounts section Rick Parry looked like Commandant Lassard out of the Police Academy films, in the blow job under the desk scene. Either looking very uncomfortable or deliriously happy.

Oh and Les also pointed out that the Russian Mafia pimp supports his ho’s by contributing £150m each year in special shares, so finally we know exactly what the cost is to be screwed each year.

Quite astoundingly to me they also announced that 46m had been spent on players in the financial year, although they did point out that this actually really included 2 seasons worth of purchases. But still a riposte to the people who say we don’t back the manager.

They then went on to talk about the 10 million paid to get rid of Monsieur Houllier, I didn’t take my eyes away from Rafa (well how could you I was captivated) and I did see a noticeable twitch at the mention of the figures.

Then it was onto the coiffured one. Mr Parry stood up looking about as relaxed as a Danish cartoon writer in Mecca. He delivered the killer line “There is no need to dwell on the spellbinding night in Istanbul in May” with as monotone a voice as Barry from Auf Wiedersein Pet could ever have mustered.

Morgan stood to state the debts were really around 73m citing that when you look at your overall debt you also have to take into account credit card debts. Now ttnbd is going to be far better at contesting this but it seemed logical enough to me, although he did say that Morgan was using some accountancy trick in not including season ticket sales. He again implored the board to get Rafa the 1 or 2 more exceptional players he needed and Rafa nodded his head in agreement at this but not over the top for fear of antagonising his current employers.

Then it was onto any other questions and whilst I don’t want to denigrate the seriousness of the issue, the first query was querying why the fanzine sellers were being moved on in front of the Kop. The police were claiming they were an obstruction apparently. This was the one time that Parry looked really comfortable and reminded me of the setup questions that Alan Partridge used to get because it enabled him to say that this was no longer an issue and would look into the matter.

The second and more important issue was the Blackburn game and I’m sorry but my personal view is that the club had wanted to get this played so that it was no longer an issue because otherwise this could easily have been avoided at the start of the season. Rick said that they had told the families that this might happen and that they had said “well we knew the day would come” but it was all a bit meely-mouthed and when he announced “everything in life is a compromise” it made my blood boil because this issue shouldn’t be. Pure and simple. If we can do it for things as ridiculous as the National then this shouldn’t have been an issue.  Just a minor observation on body language, as the lady eloquently made her point on this subject only Rafa amongst all the board looked directly at her, the rest stared at their feet or the ceiling. Make of that what you will.

And another question came in “everyone remembers when their children was born or when they got married but how can anyone forget that night in Istanbul.” Well I’m not sure about anyone else but Taksim Square took care of that, I couldn’t remember arse all.

How to conclude? Considering we’d won the biggest cup there is Rick Parry spent the night looking as happy as a soldier chosen for “Operation Pawn Sacrifice” which bears comparison to me because I think that’s exactly what David Moores' absence had done to him. There is clearly a difficulty because everyone genuinely wants the best for the club but this year it was difficult to look at the true picture because of the extraordinary effects of the cup win in May.

Other random stats:

•   There are apparently 70,000 fancard holders. Must be a tidy revenue stream for the club and they indicated that they want to tie ever closer to this fanbase.

These views are those of a 16 stone, strawberry daquiri’s drinking, vindaloo addicted fuckwitt who lives in a fantasy world where oompa loompa’s really exist and do not in any way represent the thoughts of the vast majority of sensible right thinking people.

© Fudge 2006

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