Peter Lorimer’s thoughts on fans being on the boards of football clubs (1) were, at least as reported by the BBC, somewhat confusing and even confused.
Certainly his assertion that he does not envisage a member of the Supporters Trust having a place on the Leeds United board is hardly a surprise given the way that Chairman Bates views fans (2). In fact, it’s no more ‘news’ than would be David Cameron announcing that he could not envisage an Argentinean having a place on the Port Stanley Parish Council.
As Lorimer said, “People put a lot of money in and they’re entitled to run the club as they want.” I was reminded of the Ingram brothers and their long-running confrontation with the Yeltz Supporters Trust (3). To many on the owners’ side of football’s divide, legal ownership is simply about the right to control, and there is no recognition of the fans’ perspective of psychological ownership. There are exceptions – most notably that at Arsenal, where the notion of being ‘custodian’ rather than ‘owner’ has a long history – but their numbers are few.
In other words, Lorimer simply pointed out that current owners, be they ‘benefactors’ or investors, see Supporters Trusts as the natural enemy, because they want to take over the company running the club. As Basil Fawlty once put it, a ‘statement of the bleeding obvious’.
What was confused and confusing with his comments were his attempts to add a rationale to the argument – one that doesn’t need to be there, and, in the case of his comments, is a flawed rationale.
He was quoted as saying with respect to having members of the Supporters Trust on the board of a club “For me it’s never worked at any club” and “I just don’t think it works on a whole scale. I’ve seen a number of occasions where fans have ended up running a club and it’s ended in disaster.”.
I can only think of one case that I would consider to have ended in disaster, which was that of Notts County, where the Supporters Trust was all but conned out of ownership (4 and postings passim). Another case that was not an unmitigated success was that at Bournemouth, with the Supporters Trust having to give up control of the club as it continued to struggle financially (5).
Incidentally, while digging the last link out of my files, I came across the following snippet for The Independent of 12 January 1993. I reproduce it without comment as it may be of interest to those who followed a recent unsuccessful prosecution:
A PAYMENT of £100,000 made to Harry Redknapp, West Ham’s assistant manager, when he left Bournemouth last summer was paid personally by the chairman of the south coast club. Norman Hayward gave Redknapp the gift when he left the club after nine years in charge. Bournemouth had been swamped with angry calls and letters from fans who threatened a boycott when it was made known how much Redknapp was receiving at a time when the club was fighting for survival with debts of £2.6m. Hayward said yesterday the payment came from his own ”personal funds”.
But I digress.
The Bournemouth case, at least in wider context, is typical of clubs when Supporters Trusts take over – they almost invariably do so in the direst of circumstances. ‘Benefactors’ and investors take over in a variety of financial circumstances, so any comparison is automatically weighted against the Supporters Trusts being successful.
To be clear though, there are numerous examples of Supporters Trusts turning a club round. It is easy to fail to appreciate the numbers involved, especially as many cases are further down the pyramid. Recent data from Supporters Direct shows the following clubs with Supporters Trust shareholdings (%):
|AFC Telford United||100|
|FC United of Manchester||100|
|Merthyr Town FC||100|
etc. etc., including Swansea City. In total, 95 English and Scottish football clubs are run by companies with Supporters Trust shareholders. 68 clubs have a Supporters’ Trust director on the board. The following are fully supporter-owned: AFC Telford United; AFC Wimbledon; Brentford; Chesham United; Chester FC; Clyde; Clydebank; Crusaders (Northern Ireland); Enfield Town; Exeter City; FC United of Manchester; Fisher FC; Gretna; Hendon; Merthyr Town FC; Newark Town; Prescott Cables; Runcorn; Scarborough; Stenhousemuir; Stirling Albion; and most recently, Lewes and AFC Rushden and Diamonds. There may well be more – please comment if I’ve missed any from these lists.
This hardly squares with Lorimer’s claim that “it’s never worked at any club”. More to the point, I wonder whether he really believes that ‘benefactors’ or investors are more likely to make a success of running a club. My list of clubs that have suffered events is littered with the failures of clubs that were NOT run by Supporters Trusts.
If Peter Lorimer really thinks that traditional owners make a better fist of running clubs than Supporters Trusts, I can only recommend that he starts reading a fascinating new series of postings by Ian King on the twohundredpercent website – The 100 Most Controversial Football Club Owners of All-Time. It will open his eyes.