The Football Shake-Up Q&A, Part Six
Should supporters trusts be enabled to acquire a set minimum share in their clubs?
Gary Andrews: I think it’s dangerous to look at the Bundesliga and say the situation works well over there so we should implement the 50+1 rule over here. It can provide a good template for success in the English game, but that doesn’t mean it’s right for everybody. While I’m very much behind the spirit of any such law, I’m also somewhat nervous that it could store up other problems. Some clubs may not be suited to a Trust model, or the Trust may not be in a strong enough position to become a shareholder. And it seems a tad unfair that a well-run club with a benefactor, such as Brighton, or multiple owners, should be forced to give up their shares, and I could imagine legal challenges to it. A club should be free to choose the model that works for them.
That said, having fan representation on the board is a good thing, can only be encouraged and it would be good to see every one of the 92 league clubs, and those in non-league, have an active Trust. I think before we can start talking of fan and trust ownership, we need to set up an even firmer Trust movement, rather than just seeing them arise out of crises (no criticism of Supporters’ Direct, who do a fantastic job). This could help to get them into a viable position where we can legitimately make a case to become shareholders. Funding of clubs would need to be explored. For a Trust owned club, the nature of funding probably means there’s a ceiling to how far they can take the club without outside investment, sadly.
Matt Tickner: I think that this is one measure that we should see happening as a matter of course, not just to ensure that clubs are not run beyond their means, but also to ensure that there remains a community feel to a football club. So often in an era of high-level investment, fans can feel detached from a football club making decisions with profitability in mind. Exeter City is a perfect club to take as a case in point. Fans of The Grecians took over the club in 2003 and it is now 75% owned by a co-operative and, as a League One club, it is one of the most successful Trust owned clubs in the Football League. The success at Exeter City has seen a significant growth in attendance, increased localised sponsorship and revenue up by over 50% in the last three years.
We can see then, that a Supporters Trust involvement in the running of a football club can have a reciprocal effect on the organisation. It becomes evident that a football club run in tandem with a Supporters Trust, enables the club to fulfil its social duty – promoting democracy amongst it’s supporters, garnering community links and outreach, maintaining local business interest amongst other things. But then that in turn benefits the club.
A report commissioned by found that “clubs labour under the financial pressure of putting a competitive team out, and often hive off their social role to semi-separate community departments”. When it comes to football clubs then, it may be the case where the greater community outreach and social impact are found in lower divisions, in clubs that are small enough to be able to manage their own community activity, without the need to pass it off to a separate department. Perhaps this is why there appears to be a sense of disillusionment with the Premier League at the moment, at least there is with me.
Ian Stirling: FSF has discussed this and agreed that members of clubs (ie fans) should have a golden share by right – (this requirement includes but is not limited to supporters’ trusts)
Rocco Cammisola: I’d be interested to know more about how this works in Germany, where no one can hold more than a 50% share in the club and supporters are given a percentage.
Mark Pitman: Fans have a crucial role to play at each and every club, as the regular customers, they will be there for the good times, but far more importantly, for the bad too. I believe that the number of modern failings mean that an option should be in place for an official supporters group of any club to be entitled to buy into a percentage of their team should they want to. What that percentage should be, I don’t know, but I think fans have an increasingly important role to play and that each club should have an official supporters group that is backed and advised by an independent body, such as Supporters Direct for example, and that the option must be there for them to buy into a percentage share of their club. Football clubs are an integral part of society and to each and every community, those responsible for making the key decisions must be held accountable, and I think this initiative would offer more transparency to each clubs situation.
Gavin Brightman: Absolutely. I’ve never been comfortable with the outright ownership of clubs by individuals. This gives no say whatsoever to fans. Supporters Trusts have done wonders in recent times to ensure the survival of many clubs on the verge of entering into administration. If they were given equity within their clubs, then they could do more to influence the way their club is run. Personally, the Bundesliga 50+1 is the best model for this, although this would be almost impossible to implement in the current climate of English football. Legally, how could you force an owner to sell half of his shares and in some cases, how could any Supporters Trust afford it?
Jimmy Daniel: Supporters Trusts are run by people who actually care about their club. I do think that these trusts should be able to acquire shares in clubs, as the fans are those who ultimately pay the player’s wages, and should be entitled to have their say in how the clubs are run. You ask any Exeter City fan how they feel about the fact that they are a club run by the Supporters Trust, and the majority, if not all, will probably say that it is the best thing that has EVER happened to their club.
Rich Pye: Supporters Trusts can only be a positive check to balance the decisions being made on behalf of clubs. Owners should want to encourage fan involvement as it not only provides their ultimate customers with a forum to express displeasure or even satisfaction, but from a business standpoint, provides a level of continuity and overview which is often lacking in the short-termist world of football today.
The obvious issue which arises is that of granting compulsory levels of shareholdings to the Trusts, as, for a privately owned business to be dictated to on who must be allowed to own an interest, goes against the grain of the free market place. This however, goes straight to the heart of the problem with football as a business. Football is a rarefied atmosphere, one which is unique in many ways, especially in a corporate sense. Somehow, we as fans need to apply a pressure across all areas of football finance and governance, that will take football back to what made it so beautiful in the first place: It’s simplicity and innocence.
A massive thank you to Gary, Matt, Ian (and everyone at the FSF), Rocco, Mark and Jimmy for contributing to the Football Shake-up Q&A. A massive thanks as well to everyone who has read the series.
Football is in need of a damn good Shake-Up, and the only way we’ll get that to happen, is to keep talking about and debating the issues and proposing solutions. If you would like to do just that, please do get in touch.
Keep your eyes peeled in the coming weeks for more shaking, as well as much more here at HeadersandVolleys.co.uk.