Football Management

Commentary on the management of over 160 English football clubs by Dr John Beech, winner of the FSF Writer of the Year Award 2009/10 Twitter: @JohnBeech Curator of! Football Finance

Supporters Trusts v. Benefactors

Posted by John Beech on October 14, 2009

There is an interesting piece in today’s Guardian (1), welcome not least because it promotes the Supporters Direct Conference at the NEC this Friday. I’m attending and it would be great to meet up with any readers who are attending too (there’s a photo of me on the About tag for those who haven’t met me before).

But back to David’s article.  He is of course constrained on the length of article he is allowed to publish (fortunately no such constraint in the blogosphere, although I do try to police myself!) and offers an even-handed overview of the successes and the failures of the Supporters Trust model of ownership and governance.  To argue however that “This has not, on the face of it, been the best 12 months for the enlightened idea that football clubs should belong to their supporters” is, to me, a little misleading.

After all, it would be difficult to make the case that this has been the best twelve months for the unelightend view that clubs should belong to benefactors.  The clubs which have faced insolvency events in the last twelve months include Ringmer, Darlington, Stockport County, Gresley Rovers, Fisher Athletic, Darwen, Northwich Victoria, Chester City, AFC Hornchurch, Merthyr Tydfil, Farsley Celtic, Salisbury City and Halesowen Town.  These cases are populated much more by failed benefactors than they are populated by failed Supporters Trusts.  In the cases of Merthyr Tydfil and Halesowen Town, Supporters Trusts were not prepared to bolster failing benefactors even at the priceof the club entering Administration, sensible decisions in my view.

There are also the ‘nearly cases’.  At Accrington Stanley, a failing benefactor is trying to ‘save the club’ when actually this means ‘save the current board’.  He has rebuffed attempts by an alternative benefactor who has offered to back a supporters group to take over the club.  At Portsmouth we have seen in recent weeks the benefactor model at its worst, with a brief takeover by a wannabe benefactor who couldn’t actually produce the funds in time, a story which echoes through clubs all the way down the Pyramid.

As David points out, a major problem for a Supporters Trust is to compete financially, especially with clubs in the higher echelons.  I watch with interest nonetheless an ingenious scheme being proposed at Newcastle.  It involves unlocking a significant amount of your pension fund (2) – a high risk strategy for the fans who choose to do this – but then what are the bounds of committment?  News of developments will presumably appear on the Supporters Trust website.

The Supporters Trust model undoubtedly has a future, but I think we can expect to see more examples of a hybrid model – benefactor-backed Supporters Trusts.  Let’s hope they prove to be the best of both models rather than the worst of the two models.


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