Barnsley FC News Neerav and Khaled

Published on September 27th, 2022 | by Ben Lockwood


BFCST Fan Engagement Forum with our Board of Directors

On Thursday night, at Shambles Street Bar in Barnsley Town Centre, we welcomed Chairman Neerav Parekh, CEO Khaled El-Ahmad, and Director Julie Anne Quay, for the first Fan Engagement Forum of the season. We were also joined in the audience by Head Coach Michael Duff and Director Jean Cryne.

The first half of the evening was a curated interview with Neerav, Khaled and Julie Anne, before opening questions up from the floor. Headlines below of the topics covered, which ranged from ownership to recruitment, and the long-term strategy and ambitions for the board and the football club.

Ownership and Board of Directors

  • Neerav Parekh explained that they became aware last year that the investors, that Julie Anne Quay represents, were getting their shares back. Meaning Paul Conway would no longer be the nominee, and this allowed them to make a plan to change the structure and make-up of the board
  • Relegation didn’t impact on making this change, as the process started a long time before that
  • The biggest motivation for making the change was that the club ‘wasn’t being run well, either for the community, or on the playing side, and the board of directors you see today just weren’t happy with the way things were going’
  • Frustrations were there with the previous board of directors as Neerav only had one vote, meaning impacting any change was difficult, but that’s why the new board of directors are here today. Neerav’s message was ‘Judge us by what you see, but it will take time’
  • We had confirmation that the Board of Directors includes Neerav, Jean, James and Julie Anne who are all shareholders, with Khaled and Rob Zuk as CEO and CFO respectively
  • Julie Anne Quay added that Barnsley FC was ‘presented to her family as an investment opportunity, and with friends took up the offer as big football fans’.
    • There is no ‘nominee’ anymore, so there is no time limit on Julie Anne’s position on the board or as a representative
    • In response to some suggestions that previous board members still have influence at Oakwell, are still pulling the strings, and that the new board of directors is smoke and mirrors, Neerav confirmed that ‘they’re still in the background because they still own shares and we can’t force them to sell those shares, but in terms of decision making at the club they don’t have any authority’. Also adding, ‘they have absolutely no influence on decision making, they’re off the board, and I can guarantee you that any decisions, good or bad, are the responsibility of the current Board’
    • On the £1m investment in the Summer, Neerav confirmed this was needed to keep the club going and didn’t dilute any shareholding as all shareholders contributed equally
    • When asked to rate the progress the board has made so far, Julie Anne gave it a 6/10. Adding, ‘nobody invests in a football club to stay the same. It’s hard to not only dig yourself out of a financial hole but a morale hole. Supporters weren’t feeling great about the club, and we’re lucky that Michael Duff has joined and is making such a huge difference. He brings a winning mentality to the club and that’s what we want to instil in the club. I don’t want to lose, do you? We want to be successful, and we want players to want to play at Barnsley, want to work at Barnsley, we want you to come to the stadium because it’s great. We haven’t even started yet, but we have ambition, and we don’t need support (the board) but the players on the pitch do, and the supporters are really important from that perspective’
    • Julie Anne was asked what we could have done differently this Summer if we weren’t trying to untangle the crystal maze left behind, to which her response was a simple one. ‘Money is players. Money is facilities. Money is rehab for the players. Money is the Academy. Our number one assets are the players and the people who look after the players’. Neerav added that ‘the club had drifted from the community over the last four years, with talk of leaving Oakwell, and that was something they needed to fix over the coming years’
    • The board confirmed there had been no contact with previous board members since the announcement in May

Club Finances

  • Neerav confirmed the financial position ‘wasn’t good following relegation, with the £1m cash injection needed to keep the club going through the Summer. The board yesterday has just made a capital call for a further injection of £3.2m to get through to January, put in as equity, with the likelihood that more money will be required in January’
  • To add to the above he also said, ‘We’ve inherited a club that needs a lot of money just to sustain it, without factoring in the need to invest in facilities, or players’
  • It was confirmed that for those shareholders who choose to invest in this capital call, their stake remains the same. For those who don’t, their shares will be diluted
  • To close this section Neerav told supporters, ‘The football club is in no danger of folding. The long-term goal for the football club, and any football club, should be to do well on the pitch, so we’ll continue to support the team, invest in players, but be conscious we’re starting off from a challenging financial position and it will take time and won’t happen overnight.

Court Case

  • Neerav was asked what supporters could be told about the court case that he could legally disclose, responding with ‘Watch this space’. When pushed on if ‘watch this space’ could be taken as a positive or negative, the closing reply was, ‘there’s nothing positive about going to court’


  • We asked if relationships with the council had improved. Khaled told the room that ‘the relationship with the council is positive, numerous meetings, at Oakwell, at their offices, and discussions are ongoing around extending the lease’
  • Neerav added that ‘financially we can’t buy the ground right now, but the long-term goal is to extend the lease and remain at Oakwell. We did have an option to buy the ground, but that option has now expired, and the other side need to decide to want to sell again, but buying the ground doesn’t come into the picture right now’

21/22 Season Review

  • Back in January’s Q&A with BFCST, we were told that the club would wait until the end of the season before offering a full appraisal. Khaled’s short assessment of last season was that it was ‘rubbish. Ultimately a failure’
  • He added, ‘there was a thorough review of everything from injuries, to GPS, how much the players ran, players’ contracts, all so that the next big decisions, like the new manager, would be the right one, and one that would ensure we build a winning culture around certain values we have as a board. Leading to the appointment of Michael Duff. The review of last season included everything from squad balance to age. We changed the narrative in terms of just signing young players, and looked at the average age, as we still want one of the youngest squads in the EFL. We went back to the high pressing that you now see’.
  • On the appointment of Michael Duff, ‘there were over 30 candidates, but we quickly knew who our number one choice was, which is why it took a little bit of time’
  • In terms of what we got wrong in the season Khaled pinpointed ‘recruitment in the Summer, having a poor pre-season, the wrong appointment of the initial head coach, and injuries. Hiring Poya wasn’t the right decision as he didn’t keep us up, but if you look at the start of the season that’s where most of our mistakes were made’
  • On his own performance as CEO, Khaled said ‘we tried to do everything we could with the cards we were dealt with’. He continued by saying, ‘I question if the appointment after Schopp was the right one. However, if supporters knew who rejected the job, then they might understand how we got to where we did. I still get criticism on the closure of the West Stand, and I stand by that decision today, but maybe communication could have been better. If we didn’t close it, then maybe we wouldn’t have been granted a safety certificate for Oakwell and then no fans at all’
  • Khaled’s final line on this was to call his performance ‘average, because we didn’t stay in the league and that’s what we wanted to do’

Hex Sponsorship

  • The board were asked if someone wanted to take ownership of updating supporters on the Hex sponsorship deal, including questions on who was responsible for getting Hex involved, who brokered the deal, were we thorough enough with our background checks, when did we first realise we’d made a mistake, how did we walk away from the deal, and who’s ultimately responsible.
  • Khaled explained that ‘Hex came to the table through a third-party agency, and we did the due diligence that we thought was good enough, but in retrospect wasn’t as thorough as it should have been. There was a certain assumption of trust, which ultimately wasn’t good enough, because of the partners they had worked with elsewhere. We considered Hex because it was a chance to be innovative, to look at working with crypto, and we could see clubs like Inter Milan getting involved. However, the club never knew of the individual people as Hex was presented to us by a third party as a company. When that came to light that was news to everyone and the club acted straight away’
  • Neerav added ‘it was a mistake the club made, but the people at the club deserve credit for working 24/7 as soon as this was realised and addressing it in three to four days. Mistakes will be made, but it’s the reaction to those mistakes that is important’
  • Julie Anne said ‘It was a really bad mistake, but the fans really helped us. When you start looking in to Hex you realise it isn’t a company and it’s a coin. Then it isn’t a coin, it’s actually a code. It was really easy for us to get out of the deal once we dug into it, and that’s thanks to the fans, so we were really confident in our position as they had 100% misrepresented themselves.’
  • Julie Anne also added, ‘Rolling over to the Together Red concept, which Khaled came up with, has been pretty successful as well. And I just want to say to you all, that one of the challenges of this first part of the season, when the fans were chanting at the visiting physio, it means again we’re in crisis PR. We have to deal with that, and we’re all in this together, and that was really, really unfortunate, and I wanted to bring that up as a woman on the board of a football club as it’s so demeaning and awful.’
  • Julie Anne’s final thoughts on this were to say ‘it’s been a really interesting few months, combining the two issues mentioned with getting through the transfer window, and the board of directors have had to work together a lot. The board don’t meet and then disappear, and it’s really important for supporters to understand the board are putting money in, using all of our resources and network to get ourselves in a better place, and trying not to look backwards anymore. All we’re focused on is working with the incredible set of players and coaches we have here, and fans, and just get out of this mess. And I think we’re baby stepping and getting up there. One thing I want to say is having Jean and James is just so helpful, the legacy of wisdom and knowledge and experience that we just lean in to. We have the same dreams and ambitions as you and we’ll do our best to right the ship, and one of our strengths is we know what we’re not good at. What we’re not good at right now, is we don’t want to talk about the past, we want to talk about the future, and engage you guys on that’
  • Khaled closed by saying, ‘the mistake happened but it was an interesting development of collaboration as you as fans, and us as the club, leading to the Together Red campaign, which should bring us more money than the Hex deal did. From something bad, something good came. Together Red has opened up the possibility for other companies to be on the front of the shirt. I feel our fans engagement on the issue was very good, and in my opinion, a strength of cooperation between club and fans where – together – we put BFC above financial gain’

Commercial Revenue

  • On how to grow our commercial revenue streams, Julie Anne assessed the opportunities available to us by saying, ‘we have a blank slate which is really, really exciting. One of the most important things about Barnsley is Barnsley FC the IP, of the football club. So, the first thing we talked about today in our board meeting is how we bring that back into our club. The vision commercially for our club is to own our IP and control how it’s seen out there in the world. From a retail perspective, with Kid Super, we’re working on a new kit, and it’s interesting when we bring someone new on board to work with the brand, they love the incredible story and how it’s 135 years old. So, we go back into the history and how we celebrate that, and one of my goals is to bring back younger fans and a younger community. There are some really interesting ideas we’re developing, but the main vision is to bring back that IP, and use spaces in the stadium for signage, screens, and so many different pieces of content we develop that we can partner with people on. Buying and selling players shouldn’t be the main financial foundation of the club. The club needs to stand on its own commercially. That’s our aim as a Board’
  • Questions moved to the Match Day experience as an important revenue stream for the club and what steps were being taken improve it, especially through our catering offer. Khaled said, ‘As part of the review of last season we’re now investing in a new EPOS system to improve service times, new equipment to hold food warm or to cook quicker, we’re reorganising the catering in hospitality internally. A lot is going on behind the scenes, but it just takes time, but we are reviewing how we speed up the service and what we offer. But what we haven’t had in the past is data, but we’re looking at how we can use your phone and an app to collect food items. But this takes time.’
  • Pushed on if we’d see any improvements to closed kiosks, out of stock items, and queue times before Christmas, Khaled added ‘Yes. We’re hoping it gets better before Christmas. It takes a bit of time in the turnaround of hiring new people, internal restrictions, changing the catering, but we’re very confident we’re heading in the right direction’
  • On longer term aspirations for the Match Day experience the club are ‘looking at live bands and music, improvements to the FanZone, and looking at everything without wanting to over promise’

Appointing Michael Duff

  • Khaled broke down the process for supporters in the room, stating that ‘Early discussions internally focused on what type of person we wanted and how that person would fit in to the current situation, and then grow over time as well. We looked at data in terms of how we wanted to play, and very quickly Michael Duff’s name came up’
  • On the length of the process, Khaled added, ‘a combination of the club being patient, sticking to the process, and being consistent with what we wanted, all aligned with Michael Duff putting his trust in us and us trusting Michael’
  • When asked if there was any panic once the Blackpool rumours started, Khaled’s response was ‘Ultimately the person that comes to the club comes because they want to. If they made that decision, we were ready with option number two or number three. We weren’t in as much of a rush like last time, and as we wanted him, we waited’.
  • Julie Anne added that ‘my role on the board is to panic about everything. And I was panicking about this. And transfers’

Summer Recruitment

  • Julie Anne opened this section with, ‘I think it’s really important to remember that players are people and sometimes they want to go. Sometimes we’re working with the player because that player wants to go’.
  • Khaled’s view of the Summer was to say, ‘I look at the recruitment as not just new players, but a new Head Coach, a new Assistant Coach, a promoted First Team Coach, a new club secretary, a new analyst, and that is an entire team that supports the players and Head Coach. From that point of view, very good because we got our number one target, we’re very happy with Paterson, Davvers continuing up from U23s, we’ve promoted internally with Tom Harban, and that is as important as focusing on the players. I think we held firm as there were offers, we said no to, and some were a combination of what was left on the contract or that they didn’t want to be here. Overall, a very good window’
  • Neerav jumped in to add, ‘I’m maybe more optimistic than some, but given the financial constraints we were in I give it a seven or eight out of ten. We managed to get some very good players in, a good squad balance, and back up players in most positions. We didn’t get every player we wanted but we got a number of our original targets, and if we didn’t get them, it was a combination of the club not wanting to let them go. For multiple reasons some deals went late, but I’m very happy with the squad we’ve put together in difficult financial circumstances’
  • When asked about the lack of a striker being brought in before the end of the transfer window, given that supporters, the board, and the head coach had all highlighted the need, Khaled opened with, ‘First. I want to say we have strikers. So, number one as long as players are under contract at Barnsley we support, internally and externally, the ones we have. Because if I was a player and all I hear is ‘new, new, new’, then it wouldn’t exactly breed confidence. We did look at adding offensive players and some firepower, and we bid for players, tried to buy players, but ultimately they went to higher leagues, abroad, or for more money elsewhere. Factors out of our control’.
  • Neerav added ‘Something we found in the data was we weren’t actually creating chances for the strikers that we had. We brought in players that could add that offensive threat from midfield, and you see it now in Devante Cole, so this was an area we addressed, and it wasn’t just about signing strikers’
  • On the CEO being blamed for any lack of recruitment, Khaled answered with, ‘It’s a collaborative effort. We look at certain metrics, like age, squad balance, and building the relationship with new staff. You then get a target list, and you go for it from top to bottom. Sometimes you get the ones you want, sometimes you can’t. When players choose to go somewhere for an extra £1,000 a week, we were disciplined in our wage structure, essentially there’s so many moving parts with other interested parties, agents, the selling club. The amount of work that goes in behind the scenes to sign a player is massive’.
  • Speaking about the players that left, if we got true market value, and if we lost out on the Helik deal by waiting until the end of the window, Neerav said, ’On Helik, we moved him on for the highest offer we got. We know in the end waiting until the end of the window definitely didn’t cost us. We know he’s a fantastic Championship centre back, but other factors are in play, for example the Polish National Coach said he wouldn’t be considered for the World Cup if he played in League One, so obviously you want to do right by the players as well. We had an offer that met our valuation, and the rest is history. Whether we got true value or not is always subjective’
  • Khaled added, ‘We talked about an extension, but the player was adamant he wanted to move on, so you do what is right for the player and the club’
  • On the signings of Oulare and Iseka last Summer and their Barnsley careers to date, Neerav was keen to point out, ‘I’m not going to go into individual players and how much they cost the club, how much to move them on, or anything like that. Both players came into the club when they were signed last Summer when we had a different CEO’
  • Khaled commented, ‘Every player who doesn’t play puts a strain on the budget, essentially’

Looking Forward

  • Neerav was asked how well the club could be judged against the Spectemur Agendo rallying call they gave in May. ‘When I first came in, I said Spectemur Agendo, and I still live by that and will potentially die by that, but I think the club have done a decent job. I said when we first came in it would take time, so judge us in a year or two years, judge us at the end of that. I hope as a collective the decisions will be in the right direction and the club will be in a better position than when the board took over in May’
  • On the club’s long-term strategy, Neerav added, ‘It comes down to money. On the financial side it’s to break even. So that any money coming in from player transfers we can reinvest and have better players coming in the entire time. Short to medium term is to get back in the Championship and then stabilise, and like under Valerian try and make a run for the Premier League. But I don’t want to target any of that as right now it’s stabilising the club in League One and seeing where it takes us’
  • The same question was then put to Julie Anne, with the focus around what the motivation was for the investors, and what their intentions were long term. ‘Anyone will tell you that football clubs are a terrible investment. We’re fans, literally fans of the game and fans of the club. So, our goal, and it’s an honour to be on the journey, to be with these players, and to carry the mantle from Jean and Patrick, it’s literally an honour, so our short-term goal isn’t to build the club to break even, flip it, take x dividend out. There’s no dividends coming out for a long time. So, what is our goal? It’s fun. It’s really, really fun. It’s a fantastic opportunity. I can’t speak for Neerav or Khaled, but I never thought in my life I’d be able to sit here and talk about a football club. For me, what an opportunity, how can we make a difference, how can we make more money, to put back into the club, to buy more players. What if we do get to the Premier League? That’s an actual goal. We all have it, and we need to get back to the Championship first, but that’s a real goal and that’s why we’re here
  • From a CEO perspective, the question focused on aspirations and targets for this season. Khaled said, ‘Short term goal is not just on the pitch, it’s off the pitch. A better experience on a match day for supporters, we need to make more money commercially and match day revenue, me and all my staff need to continue to do better and learn from mistakes. Be competitive in every game we step on the pitch, and we’ll see where that takes us. The one things Michael and I talk about is winning culture. Winning culture, winning culture. When we get that in the DNA of everyone at the club and in training, we’ll see results.
  • Julie Anne interjected with, ‘A friend of mine is involved in the Phoenix Suns. One of his most fantastic stories he tells, is that there were four players who wanted to play at that club so badly, under that coaching team, together at that time. They approached the club, they knew the club could afford their salaries, we want to play for you. And to me, and as I’m learning on this journey, he tells me if you can create a place where players want to play for you and want to wear your shirt, then you know that you’re doing something good. And for us that’s a really big goal. It means Michael Duff, the playing team, Khaled, the guys on the ground at Oakwell, that’s a really, really important message for us.
  • Attention turned to the January Transfer Window, with Khaled being asked if Michael Duff would be supported should promotion be a possibility. ‘Already this Summer the board and owners, outside of the cash injection, have been open and willing to invest in players. It’s important to remember that when it’s easy to be critical of the situation’
  • Neerav added, ‘We made a £300k bid for a striker this Summer, and we knew it was money coming out of our pockets as the club doesn’t have any at this point, so when it comes to January, we will support Michael and make sure we drive for promotion. That being said, there are some serious financial constraints at the club at the minute, so I’m not going to say we’ll spend crazy money, but we will put the club in a position where it can challenge’
  • Khaled closed by pointing out, ‘We might not need to as the players you see continue to keep developing and keep winning’

Social Media

  • Julie Anne was asked if she wanted to clarify recent comments on social media and go into more details on her recent interactions with supporters
  • ‘Don’t get me wrong. I love it. I think it’s really great. I love being able to talk to you all. Someone tweeted me today saying something was broken in the ladies bathroom, so we’re going to fix it, and that’s really helpful. What I get upset about is that I really want to win here. If it helps supporters by venting at me then I’m fine to be the bearer of that. But it’s important that we all have a winning mentality. Look at how great we’re doing. We’re sixth. That’s good. So my synopsis of social media is I’m happy to be the one, as I enjoy talking to you, I really, really do, but when you’re down in the dumps I don’t want to be down in the dumps either as it’s my job to be positive and optimistic, and if I can do one thing during my time at Barnsley it’s to say ‘look, you have an amazing club’. As someone said to me in a quite aggressive manor, ‘You’re going to leave, You’re going to go. We’ll be here forever’, and you know what that’s probably true as I’m not from Barnsley, this is your home home home club and means so much to you. If I can make one little contribution, which is to help you value what you have, rather than thinking about all the rubbish and the bad things, think about the fact we’re still standing. Literally, if you knew the depth of what has gone on, we should not be standing. But we are standing. And we are thriving. That’s my synopsis of social. Happy to be there. DM me.’

Open Q&A

  • Michael Duff joined the panel and went into detail on how big a decision it was to come to Oakwell and why it was important as a two-club man that he took his time deciding on any move away from Cheltenham
  • Michael also clarified the situation on the transfer policy at the club, saying that he knew the model and the objectives of the board when taking the job so it wouldn’t be right for him to then be upset that we’re not in the market for a team of 28/29 year olds
  • On Martin Paterson being attracted to Barnsley from Miami, Duff was keen to point out how keen Pato was to come back to England, and how family can play a far more important role in decision making than some supporters give credit to, as he’d not really seen his family for 18 months
  • Final comments on Duff centred around the dynamics of the coaching team, how positive it was to have Davvers involved with all his knowledge of the club, and how they all bring something different to the table
  • On the potential of lunchtime kick offs due to the cost-of-living crisis, Khaled confirmed there would be an EFL meeting on 29th September. The club are aware discussions are happening, but nothing official, and we’re exploring our own cost saving opportunities at Oakwell
  • The club confirmed that they would welcome continuing previous discussions with BFCST on the issue around football governance, with a shadow board something they would look to explore once the club was stabilised


Barnsley Football Club Supporters’ Trust would like to thank everyone who attended for giving their time as a collective to openly answer questions from supporters.



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