BCFC: A Forerunner of Positive Change?

While Birmingham City won a good point away at Stoke City despite not having a single centre-back available, the club has also been busy off the field. On Sunday February 20, the club released a new update for fans, with news about the stadium and the appointment of Ian Dutton as MD amongst other things.

St Andrew's taken 26 December 2018

If you’re not had a chance to read the update, it can be found at the official club website here.

I’m going to preface this all by saying that it’s good that the club are providing communication and much of which they talk about are positive steps. There are various people within the club who deserve much credit for pushing for more openness with fans and I’m really happy that we’re seeing more of this.

That being said, I wanted to look at some of the individual things spoken about offer my opinion about them.

I’m going to say it’s very good news that Ian Dutton has been promoted to Managing Director. Dutton has been with the club for more than 15 years and is the most experienced of the senior management team. I’m not surprised that his appointment has been met with much acclaim from fans and I hope that positivity has been carried forward.

However, the timing seems odd to me.

I suggested Dutton as a replacement for former CEO Ren Xuandong when writing a column for the Birmingham Mail about the resignation of Ren – here we are nine months later and only now it’s confirmed after sustained protests from fans.

As I would expect, Dutton has been immediately engaging with fans on Twitter, listening to gripes and confirming that he will look into them.

One does not be Chief Commercial Officer for such a long time without a proven record of building rapport with sponsors and club partners, and for me it was obvious Dutton would bring those skills to his new role.

For Dutton to succeed, the board need to give him more than just a new job title and responsibility.

It’s imperative that they trust Dutton to get on with the job. Autonomy is absolutely essential, because without it the job is an empty role.

Under Ren, even senior management of the club had to come to the board to approve any spending above £1,000. I’m not sure if that rule is still in place, but I hope that it isn’t.

One of the chief problems that happened at the club in the past is that things didn’t get done because things were left festering on Ren’s desk awaiting spending approval – and if he didn’t care about it, he wouldn’t do anything about it.

I hope the club give Dutton a budget as well as a remit and let him get on with it as he sees fit. Dutton will know the day to day issues the club has from his long experience with the club and I’m sure can make headway in fixing a lot of the smaller gripes.

Equally, it’s important that the club board take on advice from Dutton – even if it’s not what they want to hear.

The biggest problem that the club had with Ren was that Ren didn’t like to be told he was wrong, to the point of him forcing people out who disagreed with him strongly enough.

The club needs people who are prepared to stand up for things to improve it, rather than meekly acquiesce to allow them to remain in position.

No amount of words from the club will prove things to me one way or the other. It’s all about actions now – it’s time to get on with taking things forward.

There’s been a lot of talk about the stadium part of the update on social media – and like everything of late, it’s pretty polarised.

On the one side you have people who are happy that we’ve got news and happier that safe standing could be a part of the completed repair job.

On the other side you have people who are unhappy that there are no timeframes and who are frustrated because they think things haven’t been moved forwards at all.

I can see both points of view.

In January we were told:

The Club is currently awaiting proposals from external contractors regarding the options above, with a decision as to how the Club will proceed expected in the next month.

Yet now, a month later we’re being told that the club still need access to figure out what work needs to be done – and that this could include seats and the pre-cast concrete underneath being removed to look at it.

Having seen the scale of problems due to the lack of access (which set off my claustrophobia, I can tell you) I’m not surprised that the contractors need to properly check things before going forwards. What I don’t get is why this wasn’t said in the January update.

However, the appointment of a structural engineer means that the club does understand what needs to be done to get plans approved for the stand by the relevant authorities, and does give me the impression that things are progressing in the manner that they should be.

As nice as the idea of safe standing is, I can’t help but feel that’s a thought thrown in to appease fans and to give them something to concentrate on that could be taken as a positive. As much as I want to see it, I think safe standing would be more than just putting it in and I’m not convinced it would happen any time soon.

It’s good to see that the club are maintaining comms with supporter groups after the original meeting on January 20. One of the chief gripes I’ve seen from fans has been the lack of communication coming from the club and it’s a positive step that the club are doing something about that.

What concerns me is that while groups are meeting with the club, what they’re talking about isn’t filtering out. I’m a member of the Blues Trust and I cannot say I’ve seen any news on their website nor via newsletter about them talking to the club. I don’t know if this is the case for other supporter groups; but if it is then it’s slightly worrying.

Of course, I can accept that groups might be reluctant to say anything, especially considering the abuse Lynda Courts of Redditch Blues took the day after the January meeting when posting something supportive of the club on Facebook.

However, if that is the case then the whole communication strategy becomes pointless because there is still a blockage in the chain albeit a bit further down.

It also gives fans online the opportunity to criticise once again, making jokes about the same old faces having tea and biscuits with the club while everyone else gets ignored.

I’m not sure of how to resolve that problem if I’m honest. While I do think that the club have deliberately maintained connections with fans groups which are seen as more amenable to their ideas, they’ve also maintained connections with the biggest fan groups who can feed things out to lots of people.

Likewise, it could be said that the club are deliberately targeting people who have skin in the game, who have something to lose if they piss the club off – but that is almost certainly going to be the case whoever they talk to.

I will be transparent here and confirm that the club have not reached out to me. Furthermore, I don’t expect the club to after I was told by email they wouldn’t answer my questions because I was “not a reputable media source”.

It’s not something that bothers me; I would only want to talk to them if they accept I’m going to ask them some difficult questions and I’m going to report the answers – and right now I can’t see them accepting that.

I’m very aware that this is all my own opinion and I’m going to restate once again that I do not and would not presume to speak for other fans.

While Twitter polls aren’t the most scientific, I ran one on Sunday to gauge some reaction from fans.

As you can see from the results, more than half of the people who responded are at least going to give the club a chance with what they’ve said. This is a huge positive for the club and shows that the things they have done are being well received.

However, there is a sizeable minority which feels that nothing has changed – a group of people which unfortunately includes me.

As pleased as I am to see that things on the day-to-day front are improving and that positive changes are being implemented, the root causes of the problems at Blues are very much still there.

What makes it worse for me is that those root causes are being glossed over.

We still have no idea who the majority owner of the stadium Kang Ming-ming is, let alone have heard from her about why she has invested in a rundown stadium in B9.

We have heard nothing from Vong Pech, despite him having the largest financial interest in the club, a stake in the stadium and a huge debt outstanding. Vong Pech is also responsible for any losses the club makes rather than BSHL, so it would be good to know that he’s okay with investment in the stadium and players.

And this isn’t even getting into the issue surrounding the control exerted by Wang Yaohui, aka the elusive Mr King – a man whose wife is apparently still bragging to friends about him owning the club.

I hate being the voice of doom; I really want the club to succeed and I want to see an end to me writing long posts about the state of the club.

For that to change, we need to see REAL change. Let’s hope the current announcement is the forerunner of a positive transformation of the club.