Reports from the July 1999 EGM
What happened on the night Paul Thompson tried to remove Tony Hale from the WBA Board
Eyeless in Gala (baths)
WBA FC scaled new depths and plumbed new heights last night as Captain Courageous Tony Hale took his battered and weakened Board side through a difficult away tie in the Chairmans Cup competition. Kick-off was held up for an unprecedented hour as shareholder spectators queued at the vote-registration turnstiles. The predicted attendance was 800, in the end it was more like the Good Old Days in the top flight as around 1,000 crammed into the steamy atmosphere of the Gala Baths.
Playing in the unusual position of chairman of the meeting, director Joe Brandrick outlined some vague guidelines before inviting Paul Thompson to take the field. In an astonishing tactical move Thompson put the ball in the opposition net straightaway by asking for procedural changes: (1) Hurst and Staplegun to be allowed to address the meeting and (2) his camp to have their own observers at the counting of the proxy votes. Apparently there was some fear that these votes might not be properly recorded by the club. The platform Brandrick, Haywood (solicitor), Wile, Evans and debutant Donno Colstonou first tried to block these proposals but mass chanting from the floor forced them to back down and allow both H&S to second the resolution. The scrutiny issue was resisted and PTs attempts at pressing it saw the first signs of impatience amongst the fans. (1-0 to the Rebels).
When Thompson gave his main speech it was chiefly a repeat of his earlier lines of argument. Listing all the areas of failure - underperforming teams, below-par playing squads, rapid successions of managers - PT associated all of these with the lack of leadership by the chair and quoted approvingly from Glen Willmores recent statement that the relative status of the club had fallen from 4th or 5th nationally to 30th in under 20 years. Hale, said PT was a nice man but he didnt have the skills as the last 5 years of disappointment had shown. Did we want another 5 years like that? With a few side-swipes at inaccuracies and misdeeds from the Hale camp - Brandrick arranged for the infamous Reynolds letter to go to Beddard after agreeing the facts were correct (exhoneration of Alan Reynoldss culpability here), and the old share-blocking allegations - PT went on to finger new signings Colston, Driscoll, and Richard Thompson. It was ironic, said PT, that he was treated as a non-baggie despite attending almost all WBAs games for the last three years, but Hale was recruiting R. Thompson who had been involved with QPR, then Leeds till 1999 and had made lots of money from QPR and Leeds share sales.
The vote was not really about Hale but about WBA and its chances of reaching the Premiership. The new 3-year plan needed inputs from all involved with the club, but would need 10 millions of investment to improve players, marketing, blah, training ground and the Rainbow stand (wide but not prolonged applause, 2-0 to rebels).
Hale then took the field and carried the game well into his opponents half. All PT has done is criticise this and that that Hale had done. He, TH, preferred facts. He listed about 6 achievements in his five years as chair: from ruins and relegation threats when he took over, to the remodelled ground, improved playing squad (laughter), youth policy, new club shop, excellent computerised ticket office (groans), and strong list of sponsors. Just when this attack looked like fading into the usual cliches, Hale broke through the sceptics defences with two key charges to survive by integrity.
1) He had had good relations with all of his managers. Indeed in his last conversation with Ray Harford the latter had said he would come back to WBA, or anywhere else that TH was chair of. Yet PT had not been able to work with Harford when he tried it. If he couldnt control the then manager, how could he control the club?
2) In PTs original 10 million pound plan the Rainbow proposal had proven unworkable. PT had priced it at 5 million - it had turned out to cost 8.5 million. The bank had refused to provide the necessary 3 million loan toward this project.
With the goal opening in front of him, Hale struck with claims that money was already in place to improve playing strengths and more capital would be raised from other sources. The shot was a trifle miscued as he managed to spin it with a reference to the new directors, of whom Richard Thompson was said to be a colossus. (Didnt the original Colossus statue topple over, crushing many of the good citizens of Rhodes?) About half of the room clapped firmly. (2-1 to Rebels).
After PT had formally proposed the resolution, Craggy Barry Hurst and Clive-wire Staplegun seconded. Hurst had a couple of good touches, pointing out that in Hales first year as director the club narrowly missed relegation, but five years later the last 20 games of the 99 season also displayed relegation form (applause). PT had provided the biggest-ever capital injection of 2 million, but now three years later we were looking at losses of 2 million. PT had string of achievements: Sandersons, Sheffield Sharks (basketball), Sheffield Wotsits (RL) etc and leadership qualities (strong applause).
Staplegun chose a different tack. Spontaneous dribbling down the opponents flanks brought him several successes. Where were the new players? Hughes still had not signed. Curle had walked away claiming he had been treated like a YTS boy. While Don Colston turned out to be really Dom Colstonou a resident of S Africa and Cyprus and a professed Bluenose to boot (gasps). Hale will sell seats on the board for money and waste it, PT will listen to anyone who wants a say and will raise money without selling seats. TH had complained that the resolution and this meeting were "inconvenient" but it had given a voice to many fans. On previous allegations:
? at the Groves/Crichton tribunals Hale and Wile had been in charge - I only drove the car
? the bank manager had retracted the rejection of the Rainbow loan, when pressed, but had said that as the chairman didn't support it so how could the bank?
? TH didn't attend games that much: would he go to Denmark(?) CS doubted it - he never went to reserve games and was away for the 1-5 humiliation by Crewe
? TH had still not inspected the new training site even though he was prepared to sanction a last-minute 200K price hike by the sellers
? Hale had extended Buckleys contract during that awful run against other directors advice, saying if Buckley had to go he, Hale, would personally fork out for the extra compensation - but he didnt.
? The scandal over players paying for their own food was also Hales idea.
A gutsy attack from a previous under-performer, CS struck many chords and probably raised the score: 3-1 to the Rebels. Hale countered weakly insisting it was all more tripe than in a butchers shop and that the bank had refused the loan.
These started off well for the rebels but gradually the tone changed in favour of the Tone.
a) Please chair: no planted questions as had happened at the Belfry.
Answer: DS had more than 200K. Cost of free transfers was more like 2.5 million.
Questioner: quoted J Wile 2nd December 1998 saying 250K signing of Whitehead had taken the club over budget.
Hale: Ahh so you want to talk about *budgets* thats different to transfer money. (Quite how not explained).
Qn: How are these new directors chosen and why not choose people from the local community?
TH: nothing to stop anyone running for the board.
Qn (to TH and PT): How much confidence do you have in Dennis Smith and how much money will be made available to him between now and the start of the season?
PT: Smith decision made two months ago, so we must all get behind him now. DS is a good manager but must like everyone else perform over the next 12 months. DS probably needs a strong chairman to bring out his best. On transfer money: the point is not how much but how well it is spent. Have said that 3 million at least is needed over next 12 months.
TH: Smith will be manager but we must get the performances. Funds are in place for new transfers. To cries of how much? Hale says 2.6 million. Brandrick confusingly asks the questioner if he was satisfied with these answers?
PT repeats answer. More cries. Questioner returns to say: So PT has offered no money and TH has said 2.6 million. Returns to seat leaving suspicions of trail of compost. (? 3-2 to Rebels)
To an angry question as to what is in PTs 3-year plan, the latter replied a 10 million rights issue and development plan for ground and training premises. He couldnt talk about players because he didnt know who DS had targeted etc.
Further questions followed: on Craggy Barrys and Live-wire Clives contibutions, on current developments over summer, and on the lack of previous opposition to Hale by Thommos Boys.
However, impatience was now rising and two final questions caught the popular mood. (1) The conduct of the meeting was a disgrace - tacked on to a question about THs error in telling the countrys agents how much WBA had to spend. (2) All we have had here is bile. Its time to vote! (Loud applause).
Time it was. But not before stand-in (or should that be stand-up?) Chairman Joe forgot to put a proper resolution so that some were till asking what are we voting on. But Joe was having none of these constitutional niceties and to the vote we went.
Several of the last questions were from the Hale side of the room. (Which was reminiscent of the Assembly during the French revolution with the aristos sitting on the far right and making lots of noise to make up for their numbers.) and this seemed to mix with the growing frustration to give a psychological desire to put a stop to all of this nonsense. (3-3?)
We dispersed for an hour as the teams left the pitch. Many left for home. The penalty shoot-out took place behind closed doors. The announcement of the result 42,829 for Hale and 37,826 against was greeted with cheers and dancing by the Ancien Regime supporters. But Tony Hale reacted surprisingly stiffly and gloomily. Perhaps he was thinking: we may have won the match but will we win the next leg of the tie?
- Jack OBinn (Bryn Jones)
In the heat of the night...
It was sultry in the Gala Baths. The audience filed in Lowry -like and the performance delayed because too many of us had the wrong surname. Instant access if your name began with M, N or O but for the remainder a tedious wait. At 7:50 the show began with Joe Brandrick as our convivial host. Should this have been allowed? The heat was relentless and soon sweat was running down mine and everyone else's back. It became tense as we waited to see which of the protagonists would play the Sidney Poitier role and shock Rod Steiger with the size of his pay-packet. Sadly neither put in an Oscar winning performance. PT fussed over minor points like RinTin Tin with a bone whilst TH gave the impression of being recognised at a viewing of Deep Throat.
It was squabbles and petty points scoring all night and while I was expecting a version of the Night of the Long Knives, all we got was the night of the Mud Pies. The questions that followed were a joke as so many people missed the point of the whole meeting and the roving mike had already left. After two hours in this Turkish bath one shareholder asked both candidates "What were they going to do for the Albion?" He either had been asleep for the whole proceedings or was deaf. Soon after the host took a vote on whether we should proceed to the casting of votes. Or rather he asked the question quietly and everyone voted aye and then complained as they didn't know what they were voting for. The vote was taken and we filed into the slightly less warm West Bromwich air for a breather whilst the votes were counted. I thought that this club ain't going anywhere if this meeting place was anything to go by - a painted aircraft hangar. Where would Man U have held theirs? The result was announced twice by Dr. John Evans and Tony Hale looked pleased for the only time that night.
As I drove back from the meeting a song by Lenny Kravitz came repeatedly into my head, "It ain't over 'til it's over". This one will run and run.
- Dave Hewitt
Hale gets another chance - just
As with all things Albion, the night was something of a shambles. On entering the hall, shareholders had to queue up in a tiny space to sign in and collect their voting slips from one of about seven desks according to the first letter of their surname. But, thoughtfully, the letters on the desks had been placed at kneecap height, so the shareholder entering the hall was faced with about seven different queues all squashed together, unable to see which one was the correct one to get in and unable to ask advice from those already in the queues - because they didn't know either. The upshot of all this was that the meeting, due to start at 7pm, didn't get going till about ten to eight. OK, there were more than the expected 800 attendees - but not that many more. Anyone who's had to use the ticket office for a high-profile game will probably know how it felt...
The meeting was chaired by Joe Brandrick - and he was joined on the main table by Tony Hale, the companies legal adviser, John Wile and - shock! - Don Colston. Strangely, the table up on the stage had three empty seats - yet Thompson, Hurst and Stapleton were confined to sitting in the front row of the audience.
Thompson was asked if he was happy with the planned proceedings. No he wasn't - first, he asked that both Hurst and Stapleton be allowed to speak in support of the motion. Brandrick refused, but after pressure from the attendees caved in and said that he'd allow them to jointly second the proposal. Thompson also asked that he be allowed a representative at the counting of the votes, as all proxies had been received by the club and he felt it was only fair that someone else should be sure that all the proxies had been correctly accounted for. Brandrick again refused, saying that the club's independant auditors were responsible for counting the proxy votes and there was no need for anyone else to oversee the count. This didn't seem to go down well with the audience, but Brandrick stuck to his guns.
Thompson then introduced the motion, summarising all of the arguments he's put forward to date - but not adding anything new. Hale responded, again summarising all the arguments he's put forward in the past about how much the club has progressed under his Chairmanship.
First Hurst, then Stapleton had their say. Hurst praised Thompson for his business skills, talked about his achievements with the Sheffield Eagles and the Sheffield basketball club, both of which had achieved success under Thompson's leadership. Stapleton answered some of the points Hale had made about him - with regard to him being present at the tribunals mentioned where fees for Groves and Murphy were decided, he said "I drove the car". Hale looked decidedly uncomfortable, his head sinking into his hands at times as Stapleton gave examples of how the description of the Board making all the major decisions was untrue - like Hale extending Buckley's contract during the infamous run of defeats without asking the Board first. And of course, the letter from Hale that insulted any shareholders who listened to what Thomspon had to say was referred to frequently. Stapleton went on to point out that Hale had said he wanted to keep the Club in the hands of "Albion people" - then went through some if the Board members appointed and proposed by Hale - Colston, a self confessed Birmingham City fan, R Thomspon who hops from one club to another.
Hale was then given the opportunity to answer their comments, and laughed them off as the biggest pack of lies he'd ever heard - but really failed to address any of the issues, although he did insist that the Board had always been involved in "every major decision".
Finally, the floor was opened to questions and the "roving microphones" turned out to be one microphone that was carried up and down the length of the hall to reach the questioners. And what saddened me was the fact that the questions seemed obsessed with one thing alone - how much? how much? HOW MUCH???
Hale and Thomspon, then Hurst and Stapleton were all asked exactly how much they would, personally, put in. Ironically, the only one that won applause was Stapleton - who pointed out that he'd personally put 200,000 into the Club and that although it wasn't a great deal, it was all he had - and he'd so the same again.
How much money had been given to Smith last season? One questioner quoted the Club web site as saying that the signing of Phil Whitehead for 250,000 had "broken the budget", and given that he was the only player we had paid a fee for, how could we expect to achieve anything with such a low budget? Hale's answer was shifty at best: Ah well - if you're asking about budgets, that's not the same as how much money is available. Hmmm...
How much money would be there tomorrow to spend on players? Thompson said he didn't believe there was any money waiting to be spent tomorrow. Hale pointed out that he had 2.6 million available for players - IF he stayed in place.
How much money would be available this season? Thompson said that the plan would be to raise at least 3 million to spend on the team, ideally more - but that it wasn't simply a case of how much, it was how well it was used. Hale said again he'd got 2.6 million available.
But with the late start and the stifling atmosphere of a packed room, the audience had had enough. Several called that they move to the vote, and in a somewhat chaotic shouting match Brandrick asked all those in favour to raise their hands. Most did - then realised that he hadn't explained what "in favour" meant. The question was rephrased - "all those in favour that the meeting moves to the vote" and the hands were raised again. The votes were cast, and after ten minutes of waiting the announcement came that the results would take about 45 minutes to count - so most people took the opportunity of a bit of fresh air and a beer at the nearest pub - which gave some of the Board the opportunity to look well out of place in a bar with loud music and a couple of dancers up on podiums at the end!
Finally, we filtered back and the result was announced - to loud cheers and a gleeful acceptance speech from Hale.
At the end, it looked like the promise of a bit of jam today won over the promise of lots of jam tomorrow. Issues such as the poor management, the questionable past of one R Thompson (who Hale again said we're not here to talk about), the lack of progress over the last five years, the state of the Club's image and PR and everything else took second place to the size of the cheque book in the hand. Thompson could probably have lied and told the audience he had five million waiting to be spent - and won the motion as a result.
Modern football's all about money? You bet it is.
Facts and figures:
Going into the meeting the votes that had already been submitted on proxies were as follows:- (according to Clement Keys, the Club Auditors on Wednesday after the proxy deadline had passed the previous evening):
The final count in the vote was:
Therefore, rather interestingly, on the evening Shareholders voted as follows:
Apart from reinforcing what was obvious to those at the meeting about there being a clear majority of those present supporting PT, the percentages suggest that PT needed to get the support of 51% of all shareholders to win the day, not just 51% of those voting. A tall order, especially when you consider that the holders of 6792 shares didn't bother to vote!
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