Well we did it: we came together as a community and saved our club!
For those that don’t know me, my name is Jason Shaw and I have run the Vikings Quid’s In scheme (VIQI) for the best part of 20 years now. I am a Chartered Engineer for a large engineering firm and I have the responsibility for managing multi million-pound contracts. I have been a fan of the club for over 43 years and I am passionate about the fans being the heartbeat of our club. I am driven by the desire to see our club reach its maximum potential and enable the younger fans to see some of the great achievements that I have been so privileged to see.
A bit of background about what happened, I received a phone call from the club on Tuesday 19th February 2019 after the previous consortium had run in to some issues. I was already working in the background on a relaunch of the VIQI scheme, following a meeting with another die-hard fan. Peter O’Donnell, who had been to see me in the weeks leading up to the crisis at the club.
In the days leading up to the club entering into administration, myself and another staunch Vikings fan, John Hughes, had been working tirelessly into the night to develop a new slick system. The new system would be more user friendly for the fans to sign up to, along with a newly developed VIQI website. In the space of a few days we had completed these tasks, but once we entered into administration we were prevented from launching the details via the club, until given the go ahead from the administrator. This was granted on the morning of Saturday 23rd February 2019 and it was all systems go to launch our new platform and membership system.
In parallel to this happening, Bethany Pennington had set up a ‘Save the Vikings’ GoFund Me page. We quickly linked up in order to ensure a coordinated and joined up approach to help save our club.
The vehicles we put in place to generate funding in the short term and ensure sustainability in the longer term, provided the fans with the means to support their club. It was imperative that we ensured that all monies were protected and ring fenced via the existing VIQI account, whilst the club was negotiating its way out of administration.
As part of the bid, I personally had to take a week’s annual leave and spent over 12 hours a day at the club, working alongside the most dedicated staff, who had not been paid, players, volunteers and new board members who all continued to go above and beyond to help save our club.
At times this was extremely challenging and stressful and I speak for myself (but I’m sure others will say the same), I have never experienced such a roller-coaster of emotions as we encountered numerous setbacks and challenges.
Along the journey I witnessed first-hand the overwhelming and heartwarming generosity of the Widnes fans. On a daily basis, they arrived at the club showing their generosity with their donations. These were wide ranging from auction prizes, bucket collections, children with their money boxes, even local businesses were sending in food parcels. One fan even turned up with a car full of beer, wine and Pringles, when they were thanked by the staff, the culmination of long days and hours culminated in a very emotional moment. The staple diet for everyone involved during this difficult time was pizzas, chip barms, doughnuts, homemade sponge cakes, cupcakes (more doughnuts) crisps and fizzy drinks! The overall generosity of the fans was truly awe-inspiring.
The response from the fans was both overwhelming and surpassed all of our expectations. We had over a 1,000 members inside 3 days, doubling our previous highest membership number in nearly 20 years.
Whilst this is fantastic and we currently have over 1400 members, I am still convinced we can grow this further by being transparent and accountable to our fans.
We have utilised a proportion of the money raised to buy shares in the new club, Widnes Rugby League Club. This enables the fans to have a say and vote at board level. This is a fantastic achievement in itself and a truly remarkable acceptance by the new board. This clearly demonstrates that they truly want the fans to be fully involved with the way the club is managed, as we move forward in to this new exciting phase for the club. The club will now move forward empowered by the fans working collaboratively with the new board.
My role in helping to generate funding for the club and being part of the consortium that took back control, has enabled me to better understand the position the club was in and how we are best placed to navigate to a better position this season.
As I am sure most will be aware, it’s been a tough journey and sadly we lost a lot of good people in trying to navigate our way through this challenging crisis. It’s important that the fans are kept updated with the current position. I can confirm that money raised by VIQI ensured that the remaining players and back room staff did not have to take a pay cut as was first expected. VIQI is also stepping in to help prevent any further players having to leave the club, as ALL players’ salaries are fully paid for by the club.
The make up of the new board is professional, diverse, exciting and dynamic. In such a short space of time I have come to know them as the most dedicated, passionate and determined group of people the Widnes fans could ever wish for. They view the club as a community club, with the fans at the very heart of everything they do. I am fully aware that one of the things that put people off supporting the club in the last few years was the idea they were simply funding Directors salaries. I would also like to confirm that all directors on the new board, are volunteering their time and no one is drawing a salary from the club. They all have jobs; families and other time consuming commitments yet everything they do will be done on a voluntary basis. There is no us and them, we are all in it together. We were all overwhelmed with emotion with the scene that met us when we played Featherstone Rovers. This gave us the belief that working together, our club can become great again
Without the VIQI money the team you see each week would almost definitely look different. This shows the influence the fans can have and my philosophy has been simple through out “the many giving a little is our millionaire”. I believe having a single investor leaves a club vulnerable, should that person ever leave. We have to manage our club with the income we know is sustainable and with VIQI subscriptions now generating in the region of £170k per year, this is how we can achieve that.
It is absolutely imperative that all members stick with the scheme as we have made decisions based on the current membership levels. We are also hoping that the fans who may have become disillusioned, will feel that they can now commit to buying seasons tickets to help the club further.
We are not out of the woods yet and this season will be extremely challenging, with the reduced income streams that we have lost from season tickets, sponsorship, advertising etc, that has already been received by the previous now defunct club. Now is not the time to sit back and relax thinking we are safe and there is nothing more to do.
Your club needs you to keep up your brilliant support and spread the word that the Vikings are back! We need to keep the VIQI numbers growing, as this will ensure a greater future for our great club.
More details will follow about the formation of a VIQI board and the updating of the VIQI constitution, commensurate with the evolution of the VIQI scheme.
FROM THE BOTTOM OF MY HEART, THANK YOU WIDNES FANS, YOU ARE JUST THE BEST!