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The Way Forward for North Shields Football Club and INSSA

Let no one say anything other than the founding of INSSA in January, was but a genuine response to the club’s appeal for help, following the announcement that they were in dire financial straits. Their “impossible financial” situation was publicised widely in the local press and the BBC website on December 15th and reaffirmed at the clubhouse meeting on 29th December.

The speed of INSSA’s mobilisation and the response of the public indicates how strongly people see the need to keep an institution that has been going in one form or another for nigh on 130 years. In that time, the club has enjoyed the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune; tasting the glory of Vase wins and suffering the crushing lows of bankruptcy.

The road back up the leagues from that existential threat 30 or so years ago was a long and arduous one and those who took the helm and steered the course to calmer waters, deserve eternal credit.

Sadly it seems, after the immense highs of winning the Vase in 2015, a Senior Cup win and then eventually winning the Northern League title in 21/22 season, another very dark cloud has formed over NE29.

INSSA was not formed to be an adversary of the club. I can categorically say that I and my colleagues on the interim committee not only have no desire to ‘take over’ the club, but we lack the time, knowledge and skill sets to run it.

We are not ‘super fans’ either. We are just workers in different jobs who care enough to have formed an organisation for fellow fans so they can have a hand in helping out and hopefully have a voice in the club. That is why we have affiliated with the Football Supporters’ Association; the recognised national body for football fans around the country.

We seek nothing more than the survival and then the growth of The Robins.

It is undeniable that there is a long standing mistrust, sometimes animosity, between the fanbase and the club committee. It has been festering for as long as the infrastructure has been decaying. I don’t want to rake up old issues nor apportion blame in such a crisis. The past is the past, but we must learn from it.

I hope INSSA over time will be able to bridge some of the differences of opinion, but there is no doubt the club will have to ‘give a little’ to potentially receive a lot.

I think it is a valid question for anyone to ask how the club expects to raise substantial funds from the fanbase when the previous 3½k that was ring-fenced for ground improvements was spent on keeping the club afloat. Most people at the clubhouse meeting on 29th December understood and accepted the explanation of why it was spent, but nevertheless without a credible business plan going forward, people would justifiably be reluctant to put in again on a future fundraiser.

This is where INSSA can play a crucial role. We are committed to full transparency and accountability and can ‘pot build’ to help out. Most people can see the logic in this and that is why we have successfully launched and built up a significant number of members.

It seems a little extraordinary that the club has thus far, been very standoffish. You could say it is looking a gift horse in the mouth but at the risk of mixing animal metaphors, we are not set up to be a cash cow for the club. INSSA members would expect nothing less than for us to put certain stipulations on any monies being given with due process and transparency insisted upon. For that to happen, the ball is very much in the club’s court.

INSSA at the moment can only influence its own destiny and we will continue on our agreed plan to put on events, raise money, engage with the fans and raise the profile of our association and the club in the wider community. Away day buses are planned and fundraising events are in the planning stage. We need your input and volunteers to make themselves known. We will prepare as best we can for any eventuality as season’s end approaches, but remember, the main onus is for the club to find a sustainable way forward into the future. I hope their planning is as meticulous and ambitious as ours.

Even if INSSA remain on the outside looking in, we have already been successful as a pressure group. The club committee’s increased communications and actions have been noticeable and very welcome but a lot more needs to be done. Apparently the club’s new e-newsletter has around 600 subscribers, but those numbers are not reflected in those paying at the turnstile on a match day. Why?

Why are the committee perplexed that the clubhouse is under-used?

Why do they seem to be afraid of opening up after such a public appeal for help?

These are not questions I can answer and wild speculation will only be counterproductive to the aims of securing the club’s future. It is a time for calm heads and for us to exercise restraint while we seek answers to legitimate questions. INSSA will not be part of destroying something it was founded to save. 

I’m not certain how things will pan out. I hope that Big Bri and his boys will stay on and the club can be stabilised and then thrive in the future.

INSSA’s role in that future is yet to be determined. Its strength and its mandate lies in its numbers; and those numbers are already above what the average home attendance is at present. That is not to say that all match goers are INSSA members and I extend an invite for you to join now. We need to continue to grow and evolve and for new faces to emerge.

You may feel reticent, unsure, even suspicious but who else is offering you a voice and a vote that will be listened to and taken forward? INSSA’s future is for its members to shape… It may go down the road of a supporters club or it may, as I personally hope, go down the road of forming as a community benefit society; I think that would really tap into the latent potential of the area.

I’ve only recently returned to the ground on matchdays, but I have spent some time talking with the real stalwarts amongst the fans. If anyone deserves a little return on their loyalty and dedication (and money) it is John and Chris Sayers, Didsa and Gill, Andrew and Mick, Craig McVey, Paul and Shan, Bob, John, Graham and the couple of dozen others who just wish it hadn’t come to this for a club of such rich history and prestige.

Regards,

Graeme Cansdale (INSSA Committee Member)

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