General

19/05/2019

MUST BOARD STATEMENT RE: SMEAR CAMPAIGN

 

The Board of MUST, the independent Manchester United Supporters Trust, has been made aware of recent attacks and misrepresentations on social media of the Trust, our Chief Executive and other Trust officers, by Tony O'Neill.

It is disappointing that a United fan appears intent on undermining the main United fans’ organisation but sadly this is not the first time. He has tried this repeatedly over the years with a variety of different accusations, failing on every occasion, as he will this time.

Without stating it explicitly, Mr O'Neill appears to be implying that MUST, or its officers, have committed financial improprieties that include misappropriation and even theft of funds. The Board of Directors categorically reject these smears. MUST (and its predecessor organisation Shareholders United) has always scrupulously documented all flows of money to and from member accounts as well as all of our operating income and expenditure. Members have always had the right to withdraw their funds (Withdrawable Share Capital) at any time. As a registered Co-operative and Community Benefit Society regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, MUST’s finances are thoroughly audited every year by an independent Chartered Accountancy and Business Consulting firm. These audits have always confirmed MUST’s compliance with relevant regulation and law.

Mr O’Neill also continues to misrepresent the aims of MUST and how we represent the interests of fans and engage with the Club to deliver those aims. For the avoidance of doubt, we retain a long-term aim of a meaningful supporter stake in the Club. How and when that can be achieved has to reflect current and future realities and is largely out of our control at this time. We keep that policy under review and will consult with MUST members as and when any such opportunity may arise.

In the meantime we made a deliberate decision several years ago to re-engage with the Club to represent our members and deliver tangible benefits and improvements particularly for our match-going fans but also with a view to future supporter ownership opportunities. These Aims are clearly stated on our website, as are our achievements from that engagement. Also to be clear, we do not only represent and work for ‘our members’. We gather and then represent views from across the fan base and the positive outcomes of the actions we then take apply to all fans. The recently established supporter advice (ISLO) service for match-going fans, provided by Ian Stirling, who Mr O’Neill also maligns, has been hugely appreciated by numerous individuals who have received direct assistance as well as many more who have benefited from advice or information through social media via @ISLO_MUST

Like all Supporters’ Trusts we offer fans the option to pay an annual membership fee to contribute to our operating costs & projects but we also offer a free membership option (the first Trust to do this). Those interested can sign up here www.imust.org.uk This keeps the Trust accessible to all supporters who want to be kept informed of our activities. Like many other Supporters’ Trusts we supplement that membership fee income with income from other sources such as merchandise. It has been a deliberate policy to reduce dependence on membership fees and donations by increasing revenue from commercial sources such as merchandise.
  
Our rules also allow us to employ a small number of staff at modest rates but fundamentally the Trust runs on a not-for profit basis and we are prohibited by our own rules from distributing profits - in contrast to other football supporter businesses which are run as commercial enterprises, including presumably, Mr O’Neill’s. Our pay rates are above minimum wage but below national average wage so it is certainly passion for the cause, rather than financial incentive, that motivates anyone who chooses to work for MUST.

The Board also notes the sustained and wholly malicious personal attacks on our Chief Executive, Duncan Drasdo, as well as other officers of the organisation, primarily by Mr O’Neill, which have continued for many years. Duncan has given up a professional career to dedicate himself to the aims of MUST and United supporters for 20 years at huge financial and emotional cost and deserves nothing but trust, respect and admiration.

Mr O’Neill has been advancing unfounded allegations for many years, not only about MUST but many other targets in United’s fanbase, without offering credible evidence to justify his wild claims. Once again, it appears he has shown an almost comical misunderstanding of financial information notably his previous claim that £2 million of funds had disappeared! An assertion he has now backtracked on. Our members’ Withdrawable Share Capital remains safe and, of course, forms part of our annual audit.

It is hard to understand the motivation of those who seek to divide and weaken supporter groups that work diligently to deliver for their fellow supporters. The majority of our members, and many other supporters, will be bemused that MUST has felt it necessary to make such a statement and astounded by its background. However, we felt we should set the record straight to avoid any United supporters being misled by these repeated mistruths.

However, we do challenge Mr O’Neill to back up his apparent claim that MUST, or its officers, have acted illegally in conducting our business, and to state that clearly and unambiguously rather than the baseless insinuations that we have seen up to now so that any such claims can be judged by due legal process.

Our preference is for all United fans to work together for the good of our club and our fans, so while we remain open to reconciliation with Mr O’Neill, if that is rejected once again, we will certainly not be bullied and will continue to represent our members and our wider support.

Having set the record straight with this statement we will now resume the real work that we are doing for United supporters that is respected and valued by the overwhelming but much less vocal majority. For anyone with further questions about our aims and how the Trust functions please refer to our website www.imust.org.uk

About MUST
MUST is the independent Manchester United Supporters Trust. For more than 20 years the organisation has promoted the interests of Manchester United fans and the cause of supporter ownership through its tireless advocacy with HM Government, Members of Parliament, the financial community, national & international football authorities and regulators, fellow Club supporter groups and Manchester United itself.

 
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