Thursday, 1 August 2013

Fans' Forum transcript

Panel: Tony Bloom, Oscar Garcia, Paul Barber, Nathan Jones

Q: Welcome Oscar, welcome back Nathan. My question is for Tony: the club has said that we wish to play at the highest possible level, which presumably means promotion to the Premier League. I was wondering, however, what your view or the board's view would be of the minimum acceptable finish for this coming season in the league?

TB: Thank you very much for that opening question. I've got to be a little bit careful - Oscar's just here on my left so I don't want to put him under too much pressure before the season even starts. It's always a difficult one. We aim to get to the Premiership, it's a very competitive division as we know and every season, at the start of the season, we have to try and have a squad we think is capable of promotion. I certainly think this season we have that. You can get a couple of injuries or a few bad games and be just outside the play-offs; we could get a bit of luck and finish in the top two. But I think if we finish in the top six we've got to be happy. If we're in the play-offs again hopefully we'll get a bit of luck. But it's very difficult to say, I mean outside the play-offs we're not going to be happy but at the end of the day we try and be competitive so that we have a reasonable chance of promotion every season within the Championship.

Q: How does the Amex Stadium rank in the many that you have been to as a player and coach?

OG: It's much better than most of the stadiums, more new, that I have played in in Spain. I have played in bigger stadiums but now it's my house, it's an amazing stadium and hopefully I can stay here for a long time every year in front of you, every game helping the team to win many game. This is my target, my objective now.

Q: Is there any chance of any new faces before Leeds?

TB: We've just re-signed David - we're delighted with that - and we've just signed Kemy Agustien, so we're really happy with the business we've done this week. There won't be anything more before Saturday you won't be surprised to hear, but certainly between now and the end of August we'll be looking for a couple of new faces.

Q: The club's financial year ended on the 30th of June. Do you have any initial views on how the club performed last year? Have we managed to reduce the losses or even turn in a profit and how are we looking to improve the situation this year?

PB: We're working very hard on that. It's been difficult, as you know, to get across some of the messages that we've had. We're losing around £8 or £9 million a year - that's not gonna change in the immediate term. We've got a lot of work to do to bring down our costs, we've been working very hard during the summer to do that. Unfortunately that's meant that we've lost some jobs here at the Amex, which is always a very disappointing thing to have to do for any business. We're also working very hard to become more efficient. With efficiencies, with cost reductions, we'll start to reduce those losses, but just as importantly we've got to grow our revenues, and that means we've got to fill the stadium, we've got to ensure that 1901 is as successful as it possibly can be, we've got to bring in new sponsorship deals, we've actually got to work much harder to bring in the money. You can't do these things in isolation: you need to boost revenues, you need to bring down costs, and the more we can do that the better our Financial Fair Play result, the better our opportunity to invest on the football pitch. Then you can create a virtuous circle because the more successful we are out there, the easier it is to run the business over on this side and the easier it is then to invest in the players. So there's still a lot of work to do, you're not going to see results in the short-term. It's going to be a long-term process and we've got to keep working at it.

Q: Are there any figures you can reveal?

PB: Not at this stage but we've said several times that the losses for the last year are gonna be pretty much in line with - maybe a little bit more than - the previous year. We've had to do some restructuring and take some costs in order to actually bring down our costs in the longer term. That's quite normal for a business that goes through a restructuring process, but this isn't easy you know. This isn't an easy business to run at the best of times and when you move from a stadium like Withdean to the Amex it's a massive transformation, it's enormous. You can't imagine the difference in the football club from the way it was to the way it is. You can't imagine how difficult it is to try and estimate the way we need to run the football club from that kind of transition. And therefore it's not surprising that over the first couple of years here we went to extremes to make sure that everything worked for you, the supporters, and it did, it's been phenomenal. But now we've been settled in for two years we need to start re-engineering, bringing down those costs, becoming more efficient, and the better we can get at doing that the easier it is to run the football club and be successful on the pitch. But it takes time, it's not a quick fix. We have to be patient, we have to work together. There will be times when you think 'crikey, why are you doing that? What's all that about? Why are you punishing us, the fans, by charging us more for this or taking away that?' But all of it has some method to the madness, all of it is part of a plan to get us to a better financial place as quickly as we can, but with the added pressure now of Financial Fair Play. I know all you lot think I'm boring about that but it's here, it's not going away and we are one of the clubs that have embraced it quickly because we wanna get ahead of the game. And there might be others that are still playing with it, that think it's gonna go away, there might be others out there that don't take it too seriously. But we are taking it seriously because we don't think it's gonna go away. We think that will give us a competitive advantage in the long term. So you're gonna have to bear with us and we'll keep communicating, we'll keep explaining, we'll keep answering your questions. We'll keep taking some blows from time to time because you have a right to have your say. But we think we're doing it for the right reasons and we hope you'll see the benefit.

Q: On that front Tony, last year in terms of home attendances Albion were number one. You must be delighted with that?

TB: It was amazing to see with the extra capacity, up to 30,000, to get close to capacity on so many games at the end of the season was just great for Brighton fans across the county, particularly those ones, like me, who remember the old days at the Goldstone when we were getting those sort of crowds. Back to the original question on the losses, it's impossible to be in the Championship and be competitive without any parachute payments and not make a loss, so the sooner we get to the Premiership the much better the position we are in. That's the key - we want to be competitive on the pitch and that, unfortunately, means whatever we do - however good our revenues and costs - we wanna be competitive with our players. And so it's inevitable that we will be making losses in this division. But hopefully if we do get to the Premiership then that's a totally different ball game, and a lot more now even than last season, because the difference is just getting greater and greater between the two divisions from a financial point of view.

Q: Tony, there have been suggestions that there are changes being made in the way that player transfers are being managed with the new management team this year. Can you give us any indication as to whether that's the case and how things are working out? Who does call the shots and make the final decision on who gets bought and sold?

TB: The structure of how we do player negotiations hasn't changed at all since I became Chairman. So it's myself, David Burke - Head of Football Operations - and Oscar, the Head Coach. We work between us. David does the work, he does all the preparation, he's on top of all the scouting. Oscar will look at the players when they get to a shortlist. He will decide at the end of the day who he wants to bring in, and then David will be doing most of the negotiations. I'm there to authorise everything, to make sure everything is as we need it to be within the budget.

Q: Coming in from Worthing this evening on the train, passing by the new academy site - what a fantastic site that looks, just immense - bearing in mind the problems that we've had in the last couple of seasons, and I'm sorry to be putting shivers up Oscar's spine but the state of the training pitches has been a problem - are we likely to see any of the pitches ready during this season so that we can at least train on them?

TB: Oscar would love to have it available but the new training pitches and all the facilities and everything for the academy will be ready for pre-season in 2014. Unfortunately it won't be ready before that.

Q: Just going back to improving the revenues possibilities - this is presumably to Tony and Paul - would Brighton perhaps be interested at all in having the Safe Standing scheme introduced at the Amex? I think it's an increase almost of double the number of people that can go in when it's in place. If you have the lower sections of the ground as a Safe Standing area, obviously that would then be able to improve the numbers. I appreciate that to get the funding for the stadium in the first place we went through the Football Association - I can't remember the name of the scheme, but it said you weren't allowed to have funding. There might be a pilot going on I believe, so in the future would that be something that Brighton would possibly be interested in? It might help the atmosphere as well?

PB: Again, Martin [Perry] is feeling a bit queasy over there. First of all the current legislation doesn't allow it. At this level we have to provide an all-seater stadium. The second issue is that the stadium we've got here is built to be an all-seater, so all the concourses, all of the exits, all of the ways in and out of the stadium are built for people to be seated and moving through that section from a seated position. So it doesn't necessarily follow that we can automatically convert our stadium for Safe Standing. If we could it doesn't automatically convert that we'd get extra capacity, and if we could it doesn't automatically convert that we would actually make more money. So there's a number of issues there, but the biggest one - nope, it's true - the biggest one at the moment is that the current legislation doesn't allow it. So the only thing that you might have heard recently is the Football League agreed in principle that if a club wishes to develop a new stadium or redevelop an old one then none of the other clubs would be objecting to that club trialling Safe Standing if the legislation allowed it. But that's quite a big step from where we are now. Our view here has always been that this is one of the most beautiful stadiums, I think, in the world. And every seat in this stadium provides a great view. We don't have any areas in the stadium where anyone - whether they're big, small, fat, thin, male, female, able-bodied, disabled - is excluded from that. We want to try and keep it that way if we can. But we also understand that there's great atmosphere developed when some people stand and we know that some people prefer to stand. We've never been totally against it, I've never been totally against it, Tony's never been totally against it, we've got an open mind. But we have to work with the current legislation.

Q: When it comes to the actual ticketing website, people go on there. And I know people who have gone on there and all people have got different preferences, budgets, where they want to sit. They've gone on there to get lower-priced tickets and they're just not available sometimes, they're just higher price. I know the club release to keep the stewarding down, but there should always be a minimum of low-priced tickets on there as well for the real fans that can't afford to come along and that want to sit in them areas. Why are they just not on the website and they're forced to sit somewhere else at more expensive prices?

PB: Well let's just kill that. We don't hold back tickets just because we want to sell the higher-priced first. There are a number of late releases of tickets and very often they are tickets that are released back to us from sponsors, from guests and from a range of other sources and we will release those as we have them. For cup games it is different. We have reduced the capacity of the stadium so we can keep our stewarding costs down - that's sensible and in a Financial Fair Play environment that's necessary, to be honest. But we always try and make sure that we have seats available in every block in every stand for as long as they're available. If they're not showing as available it's because there's a reason for that and they've been pre-allocated or they're being set aside for league sponsors, league guests, a whole bunch of reasons. But there's no strict policy of actually withholding cheap seats in favour of more expensive seats. We will try and sell TV side first, where we can, because if we're on a live TV game that's what the TV companies and the League would prefer us to do. But overall we try and fill as many areas of the ground as we can. From my point of view I'd just simply rather have the whole stadium full every time. And we've got a number of new initiatives, whether it's with the kids, schools, disadvantaged groups, Albion in the Community, where we're trying to get as many new people into the stadium as we can. And if they're from groups that can't afford it or can't pay the higher prices we will try and keep those sections free so that we can fill them with those people. So it's a combination of different things that we have out there. But it is an absolute myth that we hold back cheap tickets in favour of higher priced tickets - that just isn't true.

Q: The club has really been at the forefront of community work with Albion in the Community. I know we won lots of awards in previous years and done some fantastic work. Are we going to continue the level of support for AITC and are we going to grow it in fact to expand the project? I know in this day and age with money tight it can be difficult to support these sort of projects but do we have an assurance that AITC will continue in its present form and be allowed to grow as well?

PB: First of all AITC has done some fantastic work, it has for many years. Unfortunately over the last year or so AITC has lost money so we have had to look at the areas that we work in. We wanna focus more on Brighton, Hove, Sussex as a whole. We don't want to expand the reach of the scheme to do more international work, we don't think that's appropriate for the club and we can't have our charitable arm losing money, that's just ridiculous. So we are focusing more on the activities that are more local to us, the communities that really serve this club and support this club, and we think that we should be supporting those communities. So what you'll see over the next with Michael Edwards as the Chief Executive is much more of a focus on Sussex. That means trimming back some of the more international activities that AITC started to get involved in. But in terms of commitment it's a massive part of what we do, it's a very, very important part of our brand and long may that continue.

Q: Oscar, we've enjoyed watching the friendlies and seeing so many of the Development Squad players out on the pitch doing a good job, particularly Solly March of course on Tuesday. From your own experience of working with development people how keen are you to get the DS out onto the pitch in proper, competitive league matches?

OG: I like to work with young players because they have open minds, they want to work hard. But everything has a process. If they have enough quality to play I will be pleased to give them minutes. I don't care which game if I think they can help us to win games. You said Solly March - he's 18 years old, we cannot put much pressure to him, he has to play maybe with the DS after one game with us. But I want as many young players practicing with us. They will improve a lot, I like to work with young players because when I was a young player I improved a lot when I start to practice with the first team.

Q: This is for Tony I guess, and for Oscar. Could you reveal how many season tickets we have sold this season? How is Oscar feeling about managing in front of that many fans?

PB: It's over 23,000 season tickets - the highest ever.

OG: Ok, last season, in Tel Aviv, most of the games we had 20,000 people in the stadium. I like English football, I like English fans. I am very happy and pleased to be here, proud to be the Head Coach of this club, and I hope and I wish that everything will be ok for everybody. I want that you will be happy. I want all the fans to enjoy how we will play. Of course I want to win as many games as possible but always playing for you, playing for the fans, because you are the heart of the club, you are the heart of the football, because football without fans is nothing.

Q: You talk about Maccabi Tel Aviv. How do things compare in Israel to the Championship in the UK? What are they like?

OG: About football?

Q: Yeah.

OG: I think this league, the Championship, has more level than Israeli league. But the Israeli league has many good players and three or four teams that can compete in this league. And also I am very happy to have been a coach there, a big team. They didn't win a league from ten years ago. For them it was very important to win the league and now they are playing the preliminary games of the Champions League. It's very important for the Israeli people and all the fans of Maccabi Tel Aviv.

Q: First of all I'd like to congratulate Tony Bloom for bringing in someone who's a dead ringer for Stuart Storer, who scored a fantastic goal for us against Doncaster which helped to keep us in the league. For Oscar, are you looking to bring in any more Spanish connections, given your background?

OG: We are looking for good players, I don't care their nationality. I want to work with English players because they love this team, they know what this team. But for sure we are looking for good players - I don't care if they are Spanish or English or Welsh. But only good players.

Q: The new fixture list shows a lot more weekend fixtures this year. Does this impact in a positive way on matchday sales and what is the differential when it comes to midweek fixtures?

PB: That's a really good question. Actually, last season our best night for matches was Friday. That was our best night in terms of season ticket holder attendance, which is always a good measure. The second-highest was obviously Saturday. Saturday's still a popular day for football fans and that's fantastic. But obviously midweek games are difficult - we've got a lot of people that work in London, a lot of people that have got kids running backwards and forwards to school across Sussex and other commitments and all other stuff. So Tuesday night games to really help us, Friday night games are fantastic. I'd be delighted if all of them were on Friday night to be honest, looking at the figures. You guys seem to drink a lot more on Friday. I don't know why that would be, maybe the two days to recover helps. But overall the fixture list obviously will change the more games get announced. But Friday night, Saturday, they're the two best days.

Q: I hope we get a couple more new signings before the start of the season. I know we're looking a bit light up front with the injury to Hoskins and I think CMS is going to be out for a period of time still. I just wonder if Oscar could tell me in what areas does he think, if any, we need to strengthen?

OG: I am like all the managers - I want to improve every day the team. Obviously we have not many players in some positions but I don't want to tell you which positions because we have maybe one player there and it's not good for him, I want to respect everybody. For sure I want to improve the team, the squad, like all the managers. The club are trying to find the correct players but we have time until the end of August to join some players.

Q: Bearing in mind the Financial Fair Play rules and the club is looking to maximise their revenues, does it have any plans in the future to sign up with a kit brand more established and more desireable than Errea? He suggests Adidas or Umbro.

PB: He does, ok, thank you for that. Well first of all Errea have been fantastic supporters of the club over a long period of time. Obviously in our world, the football world, lower level teams sometimes struggle to secure kit manufacturing teams. I think it's really important to respect that Errea did support us when we were at a lower level and they did support us through some difficult times. This is the first time I've worked with them and they've been terrific. We have been tendering the kit manufacturing process, we did need to lift the value of the deal to us so we did go out to the market, we did have a tender process. Errea were part of that tender. They didn't win, I can tell you that much, I can't tell you who did win but we will have a new kit manufacturer for next season.

Q: At the end of last season we were told travel costs would go up to £50. Some of the buses to the outskirts were in poor condition. You've announced new procedures with Seagulls Travel which may have upset a few people. Would it be possible to look at this issue again? It would certainly save on carbon footprint.

PB: First of all, we're sorry for the way the communication about the changes to the Park and Ride buses came about. It wasn't our design - unfortunately the bus company jumped the gun on the discussions that we were having. Also, these things ideally would be in a sequence - you would have these discussions before the season ticket process starts, you'd then sell your season tickets on the back of the decision that you've made. But unfortunately sometimes the world isn't perfect and these discussions sometimes can be complex, sometimes they can take more time than you think. Season ticket sales don't wait so if you get to a point where you haven't concluded discussions on the transport and you have to sell season tickets, you have to sell season tickets because Tony and David need to know what money we've got coming in for the transfer window. So we will never hold up ticket sales, it's a very, very important part of our budget. So that went. We then concluded the discussion with the bus companies. We couldn't reach an agreement with Brighton and Hove Buses on those routes. They weren't good ones - they got more complaints last year than any other routes that we run to the stadium on a matchday so we had to improve them. The only way we could improve them was to take them out of regular service and put in a new service, which unfortunately is more expensive. We're not in a position to subsidise the travel any more than we already are so we've had to ask fans on that route for a contribution. That's something that we wouldn't do unless we felt that the service was going to be better and if we felt that we couldn't have actually helped with ourselves. We are still subsidising it but we can't subsidise it to the full amount. In terms of the overall travel plan, it's constantly under review. We've got people that are looking all the time at what works, what doesn't work, talking to the train companies, talking to the bus companies, seeing if we can actually improve things getting in and out of the car parks, I know that can be an issue. But again, at a football ground anywhere in the country, for anyone that comes in by car or leaves by train or has to get a bus is always going to be subject to some delay. I mean any of you who've been to Old Trafford in the last few years, believe me, if the game finishes at ten to five you'll be lucky to get out of Old Trafford by seven o'clock if you're in a car. It really is very, very difficult to move 20-30,000 people out of a stadium in a very short order regardless of the transport. For me, having worked in football a long time, the transport plan here and the accessibility of this stadium is phenomenal. I've never seen anything work quite as well as this does. And I know there are problems from time to time and I know every so often there are a few issues and queues are longer than they should be and buses break down and trains are overcrowded but believe me, it's good. And I think any of you that have travelled around the country to some of the other grounds will know that 30,000 people, in and out of a stadium like this in the way that we do it, is pretty special. And I think that Martin and Steve and the guys that put that transport plan together deserve a lot of credit for it, but it's never going to be perfect. We'll always listen to your ideas - if you've got ideas, if you've got ways you think we can improve it, please just email us, we'll always listen to those and if we can make them work we will.

Q: Following on from the transport theme, the train station at Falmer is quite a short platform - are there any discussions on the way with Southern Rail or Network Rail about extending the platform and what are the plans, if any?

PB: We already have extended it to some degree. You may not have noticed that, I think it's because the capacity of the stadium has expanded. You probably don't notice the number of extra people on the platform but we have done that, and again there's always discussions with the rail companies about how to make that service even better, whether it's longer trains or longer platforms or whatever. As always with these things, train companies don't move that fast. Discussions with's a bit like the Boxing Day issue last year: we didn't have the transport we needed to put on a Boxing Day game. So unfortunately we had to move that game. In order to get that transport up and running on Boxing Day the Football League have been kind to us and effectively we've not got a Boxing Day game this year which gives us time because that fixture's very special to us. Anyone who's a football fan loves football on a Boxing Day - I mean, what else do you do on a Boxing Day? We need that game desperately. I mean, can you imagine the whole day spent with your family? It would be a disaster, wouldn't it? So believe me, we want that Boxing Day game as much as you do and the transport is part of that and therefore the discussions with the transport companies have taken place and we should be ok for next year for sure. But bear with us for transport because it's a lot harder than you think and I'd much rather run a football club every day than deal with the transport companies, that's for sure.

Q: It's a question for Tony, maybe for Oscar as well. This summer we saw Bournemouth get a lot of publicity when they had Real Madrid visit for a friendly. Obviously I know it cost them a lot of money. From a revenue point of view is that something we would consider, maybe Barcelona with Oscar here?

TB: They paid a lot of money to Madrid for that game and they charged the fans, I think it was about £60. And they did sell out, but I don't think our fans would be happy to pay that amount for pre-season against Madrid. Not only that, the club would have lost money for sure because, from what I heard, they had to pay something like a million Euros to Madrid to host that game. For me, I don't think it's worthwhile. We got Chelsea last season which was a big coup, we didn't lose money on that game. Yeah, we did charge more than we normally would do for a pre-season friendly, but for the Champions League winners I think most fans were happy to pay that. So if we can get them where we don't lose money - we get a Barcelona or a Madrid and break even - we would do it all day long, but that's really difficult because they're high demand. Oscar, Barcelona?

OG: Barcelona, if they want, we can go there to play them.

Q: I've got a footballing question for Nathan, actually. Delighted you're at the club mate, I must admit. Just a quick one: how are you gelling with the team at the moment? Is the chemistry good? Do you see a big future for this club in this team at the moment?

NJ: Definitely. The club's unrecognisable from when I was here the first time, it's fantastic. This is what Micky Adams told me was going to happen in 2000. But no, the team's training really well, it's an exciting time. It's a new sort of beginning, they've all gelled. With what Oscar's wanting to do we've put in the new training regime and everything and they've responded really well. Oscar has his own ideas and mine are pretty similar to Oscar's really, that's how we've gelled quite quickly. Training's gone really, really well. We've had pre-season, come to the end of pre-season, we're ready for the challenge at Leeds and we're looking forward to a real challenging season this year.

Q: Question for Oscar: obviously you've got Leeds first game but with Newport coming up, different managers have different opinions on how they value the cups. So firstly how do you see the cup game compared to the Championship game and secondly you said about playing the Development Squad players - do you think that's more of a better opportunity to perhaps rest some first team players and bring them in?

OG: Ok, before Newport, we have only played one game, and most of the players they have not to rest. We will choose our best first 11 to win every game. We'll have to think about all of these things, of course, but I cannot tell you the cup...the players that will play in the league will be different than the players we play in the cup. In each game we'll have to see how many players we will have, how many players are fit to play, which one maybe he needs rest or not. But I'm not thinking to change all the team when we play cup and when we play league. I want that all the players deserve to play every game and then it will be difficult for us but it's our job to find, to choose the best 11.

Q: Just going back to the logistics of the transport, both Paul and Tony - is it possible that Brighton could invest in their own rolling stock? We can have a transport system from Brighton to Lewes continually rolling during the period of the game that isn't reliant on the actual Southern Rail timetable. Cos we haven't got any choice but to go with what the timetable is. We've got commuters etc at the weekends, during the week, then you've got your leisure travellers at the weekend, and it's a mixture of football supporters and people who are not necessarily wanting to get involved with all that. I don't know whether it's a possibility but it's just a thought.

PB: I've been asked if we're going to take catering in-house but not trains before. The problem is the rail companies in this country, or the rail network in this country, is so complicated now. The track's owned by somebody, the stock's owned by someone else, the platforms are operated by different people. It's not something I think we could realistically look at to be honest, and I think I'd rather work with the rail companies as far as possible to improve what we've got and keep focused on football teams and ticket sales.

Q: Just wanted to ask Paul, in the interests of boosting revenue, I just wonder why catering's outsourced's generally a bit of a farce, people want to spend money and they can't because they're standing in a queue. I think the club must look at that and think 'we're just throwing money in the bin here.' Why is it outsourced and why do you employ such muppets to do it?

PB: Let me tackle the second one first. Football stadium catering is a very, very hard thing to do. Sodexo Prestige, who've just come in, are the second-largest caterers in the world, operate Royal Ascot, operate some of the biggest stadiums in the world. They've been here five minutes - give them a chance. You are operating effectively one of the biggest shops, if you like, 30,000 people coming through your door in three hours. The biggest Sainsbury's in the UK can't cope with that. The biggest restaurant in the UK can't cope with that. And they've got just 25 times a year in which to get that operation right, which means that the labour you employ in a football club for stadium catering is usually casual. It's usually only employed to do that particular job, so you get a lot of university kids. Those kids come in usually towards the back end of August, early September. So during this period you have even more casuals, even more of them are not actually used to working in stadium environments, working different tills, different products. These aren't excuses, they're just facts that every football club has to work with. You then get massive influxes of people at the same time who usually want to be served in really quick order so that they can get another one as quickly as possible. All of these are challenges for football clubs everywhere and I've never worked with a catering firm that's first of all got it right from the word go - at any stadium in any season. At Tottenham, back in 2001 when I was with the FA and we had England-Holland there, Tottenham decided on their first game of that season to have new caterers, new security, new car park attendants - it was an absolute disaster from start to finish. And within a month those caterers got it under control, got it working, got the systems right. I've got no doubt that the same will happen here again. It didn't work last year, we got into a difficult spot with Azure - the standards weren't good enough, the quality wasn't good enough, the pricing wasn't right, the service levels weren't right, the management attitude wasn't right, and we took a big decision and we fired them. We then brought in emergency caterers who did a great job for us. We then had a competitive tender and unfortunately the emergency caterers lost out. Why don't we do it ourselves? Well first of all we're not in the catering business. Secondly, we do get paid quite a large sum of money, guaranteed to us for our catering business. And we need to focus on all of the things within the football club that are more football-related. Catering is not what we do, it's not a core business for us. It's core to supporters and it's core to the match experience. So I'd much rather us focus our time and our energy managing our caterers on behalf of our supporters to give them the best possible service. And I can do that slightly away from doing it myself, because believe me it's a massively complex operation and these guys do it for a living and we don't. And I don't know many football clubs in the world that do it themselves of any size. It really is very, very difficult. And most football clubs would rather have the money guaranteed to them and then work with their caterer to make sure the service is right, and that's what we have to do. And if it's not right we have to get it right. If it's too highly priced we need to make sure that it's at the right level that people can afford.

Q: [Something about the catering staff and idiocy]

PB: It's not idiotic because you've got young people as casual staff. You can do as much training as you want during the summer but there is absolutely for no substitute for getting in front of 30,000 people. And again going back to my past life, I can remember when the FA had McDonald's as a sponsor and I was given the chance to go out and work at Piccadilly Circus McDonald's. I was given two days' training at McDonald's head office in East Finchley and I thought I'd cracked it. There was never a better milkshake pourer than me, believe me. I get into Piccadilly Circus, 300-400 people an hour coming through the door, and everything you've learned suddenly goes to jelly. You start thinking of completely different things and your service levels slow down. Within a few days, however, you start to get into it. We don't have that luxury - for us, a few days is four or five games, which is a quarter of the way into the season. So it's a very, very different process and we can't afford - no football club can afford - to go out and hire professional catering casuals. They just don't exist. So most of the people are people of university age, my son's age, very many people in this room's son's and daughter's ages, and all over the country you'll find that football stadiums are employing those people. As the season goes on it'll get better, it'll get quicker, we'll take more money, as it did last year. We got virtually zero complaints by the end of last season about concourse catering in terms of service levels. Of course there are queues, but when you've got a 15-minute half-time period and 20,000 people want a beer it's gonna be busy. So we've just gotta be patient, we've got to give these guys a chance, work with them and get their training levels up. Based on the stadium figures for last year we weren't muppets - we were selling 20,000 pints per game, Old Trafford doesn't sell 20,000 pints per game, Wembley doesn't sell 20,000 pints per game. So there's nothing wrong with the process, nothing wrong with the staff. And most of the staff back here by September are the same staff that you had here at the back end of last season. But they're kids that are operating over here and over there, and they're not back here yet.

Q: What plans do you have for the East Brasserie? We enjoy using the facilities, are you looking to open it pre-match?

PB: Yep, we're looking at that as well.

Q: Question for Oscar: under the previous manager we very rarely saw two wingers on the pitch at the same time. We very rarely saw two strikers. Is that something we're going to see this year, in Oscar's teams?

OG: What we try to do is to win the games and sometimes we will need two strikers, but initially I prefer to play with one striker and two wingers. But I don't think it's the only way to play. It's the way I like to play but sometimes maybe you need something more, for example if the other team has a player, then maybe you will have to add another striker to push the other team. It depends on the game.

Q: Another one for Oscar: what do you think your biggest challenge will be over the next month?

OG: Like every month - to win as many games as possible.

Q: This is a question for Tony: I think there's been an elephant in the room, and whilst I want to look forward and everybody has, I don't think I can leave this meeting without at least touching on this. Losing to Crystal Palace in the play-offs was obviously very upsetting for everybody and I'm sure the board, but to find your manager - with all due respect to Oscar here - has been suspended for breach of contract is a double blow and I just wondered whether Tony is in a position to explain something to us all here about what happened?

TB: I had a great relationship with Gus for three years. So it's just very, very disappointing the way things finished. It got triggered by a phone call that he made to me four days before the first league game against Crystal Palace at home in March, when he phoned me up and he made it clear to me that he wanted to leave at the end of the season. And he didn't want to discuss it at all, and he said that if he could leave, if it would be allowable for him to leave the next day that would be fine. So this was hugely shocking to me and it was something I had to manage between then and the end of the season. Obviously the key was the players and the team and our promotion push, I didn't want anything to get in the way of that. And then lots of things happened between then and the end of the season which I don't want to discuss, but I just want to look forward now because we've got Oscar here, we've got a great coaching team with Nathan and others and I'm looking forward to the season ahead.

Q: To all the panel: is there a particular game that you're looking forward to this season, and if so, why?

PB: I think this season's just going to be so open again. So for me, the last game of the season that sees us into the play-offs will be great.

TB: Not one particular game, but if we do get promoted that will be the game for me.

OG: He took my answer. For me, all the games that we play here, they are the most important, the most special. Every game that we play in front of you is my special game.

Q: How much have you been able to look at other Championship teams? Has it been difficult because you've been here for such a short space of time?

OG: Yes, I am very busy. I have to go now to watch more games about Leeds. But I have a big staff, they are helping me a lot. I will try to do as best as we can. I have no doubts that every month, every week we'll know more things about the league, about the teams. But first of all I want to improve my players, to improve my teams, and after we will see. First of all I want the players to know me better, I want to know them much better. They have an idea now how we want to play and this is the way. It is difficult to build something in one day but we will have enough time to build a good team.

Q: What does Oscar Garcia do to relax when he eventually gets away from football?

OG: I never relax. When I arrive home I want to see our games, I want to watch games on television and there is a special room for me and another room for my wife and my daughter.

Q: Have you had a chance to look around Brighton and Sussex?

OG: Not at all.