At bigger clubs, where followers run into huge numbers, the humble fans' forum can feel like a sanitised event. For often understandable reasons, only selected supporter representatives get an audience with those at the top table.

It is at the smaller venues where, without the need for such restrictions, the fun is to be had. That's if you can describe fun as, for instance, a radio presenter being disgracefully ambushed by directors and certain fans at an event he was actually hosting, such as occurred at Grimsby last season.

One hopes that whoever presides over Carlisle's latest forum next Thursday survives unscathed. At the same time, one also hopes the event is lively, and serves a useful purpose - an aim which carries shared responsibility.

A fans' forum can be one of the great levellers, something a club is always better having than not. Owners, directors and the paying public in the same room: it doesn't happen often enough for it to be dismissed lightly.

It is, as many have pointed out, an opportunity for the masses. But supporters are not the only ones with an obligation. Those sitting on the panel, behind the table, must also make the most of it. The club at its levels of power must capitalise as best it can.

It needs to be an exercise in openness not just of information but tone, which has not always been the case in years past. In this respect it is a good thing that David Holdsworth will be among Thursday's talking heads, and one can certainly expect new insights from United's new director of football.

Holdsworth is also due to meet the media next week and while this is overdue, the fact these encounters are now scheduled suggests he is here for the foreseeable, likewise the reasons and motivations for his appointment.

Hopefully, then, some unanswered questions can be dealt with and, given the well-known links with Edinburgh Woollen Mill, the words Philip and Day can be uttered or at least whispered without someone in Brunton Park having a coronary.

Giving supporters a path to believe in is what every board-fan interaction ought to be about. On this score it is a shame EWM will not be formally represented at Thursday's forum through their recently-appointed club director, John Jackson.

EWM's group financial controller is known only to United insiders. It is unlikely many supporters could identify him in the street. This appears to be the way he prefers it, given that interview requests have so far been rebuffed, in line with the EWM stance of not commenting on their dealings with the Blues beyond the bare minimum.

Football, though, is a voracious audience, and considering the position EWM now have at United - loaning money, with a charge against not just the ground but the club's assets - it feels like a missed opportunity that they may not be able to speak for themselves in five days' time.

There will, one imagines, be familiar talk about the help they are offering, and the fact they wish to be discreet on the public relations front. This is acceptable to a point but it is harder to present a fans' forum as a ticket to the heart of power when some of the people holding some of the most important strings will not be there.

One senses many supporters wish to believe that EWM at United is a good thing, something with bright possibilities. It may indeed be that. If background noise about potential takeover is to remain at its current hum (though nobody from any party has pledged as much on the record), it cannot be wrong to want to hear their thoughts.

If those noises are wrong, and there is no such intention, then a word or two would be just as significant, for different reasons.

At United's AGM earlier this year, one or two fans picked carefully at this thread. They argued that it was difficult not just for supporters but for businesses to get wholeheartedly behind something that they couldn't see or hear. The consistent reply from chief executive Nigel Clibbens has been that Carlisle are respecting EWM's wishes regarding disclosure, and were not in a position to stamp their feet demanding more.

The substance of their behaviour, rather than any hot talk, was viewed as more important.

And to a considerable point - yes, actions over words. Hearts and minds, though, is an area that should not be neglected when the turnstiles are rotating at their present speed. Directors have been caught on the back foot in terms of public opinion many times before and being able to steer the conversation is a canny skill.

Hence Holdsworth stepping forward, first to a business club meeting last month, which the News & Star was granted permission to attend. There, he spoke fluently about Carlisle's new, cost-conscious philosophy. Much of what he said had an air of hard-headed sense.

It may not have shone flattering light on the club's previous approach to spending but there was a sense of a cold eye being applied to the Blues - and who, broadly speaking, would argue with their club being eased away from a position of risk, or of "frailty", as the director of football called it?

These were outlines, though, and the more colour that can be applied, the more fans will surely appreciate it. At Brunton Park these days we also have directors' press conferences, every month to six weeks, which offer more access than some other clubs provide.

Credit is due to those who brought such forums into being. They have bridged a little of the transparency void, as will next Thursday's session in the Sunset Suite.

The only regret, and suspicion, is that the body who may hold the long-term keys to United's future will not be there officially, and while there is certainly scope for some decent dialogue with those present, one hopes that the unfilled chair on the panel will not be replaced by an elephant in the room.


Colchester, 532. Macclesfield, 639. Burton, 724. Grimsby, 746.

Another champagne night for Checkatrade Trophy attendances, then.

"If they [young players] are not playing in front of stadiums where there is a decent crowd, it doesn't replicate that atmosphere and experience we're trying to create," EFL chief executive Shaun Harvey said.

"We need fans to support this competition and in doing so, actually support their club."

A friendly word, then, to Mr Harvey. Some of the people boycotting your pet competition are among the most passionate supporters of their clubs around.

They are staying away precisely because of that passion - for their club's status, their standing, which they believe the Checkatrade with its "B Team" format attacks.

In any case, considering the EFL have offered to subsidise losses clubs make at deserted home games, it is as though they already knew fans would be turned off by the Under-21 invasion; that not "every game matters" when the cost is so concerning.

Shouldn't that tell you something?

Gareth Southgate was also wheeled out this week to supplement the League's spin. This came a few days after the England manager bemoaned a lack of first-team opportunities for English players in the Premier League.

Asking clubs like Carlisle to solve problems of the top-flight's greedy making is a paltry and, in the process, damaging attempt to make up lost ground.

No other ruse that resulted in fans abandoning stadia would be tolerated at higher levels. So why should we take it?