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Restored faith

Supporters' Direct Conference

I attended the ‘Supporters Direct Fans Weekend’ today, in Chester.  A great venue, The Queen’s Hotel (opposite the train station), for anyone planning a short break.  I have to say the whole experience restored my faith that most people there were representatives and delegates for the right reasons.

Chester was a favoured location, being home to the phoenix club post the League Club’s demise.  Since, being reconfigured, some three leagues below it now boasts average crowd attendances of over 2,500.  The last Football League gate was circa 1,000.  So better governance, more community focus, despite lower league football has brought supporters back.

After recent activities, the Chair of SD said her colleagues had wondered if the Conference would indeed go ahead.  There was a rallying call somewhat akin to a communist ‘together comrades we can achieve’ speech from former days and a presentation of unity amongst fans of different clubs.  The Guardian’s journalist Louise Taylor took a verbal kicking for her editorial, in her absence.

The recently resigned Dave Boyle’s name got a rapturous applause. Notable milestones announced included: 170 supporters’ trusts formed, the active engagement of more than 270,000 fans and 26 trusts having achieved majority equity stakes in the clubs in which they are involved.  Trusts are now established under the auspices of SD in ten European Countries. Short-term funding shortfalls for the likes of this event had been plugged by the Co-op Group.  The preamble concluded with the message, naturally, “that the supporters’ trusts movement is alive and kicking”.

New directive paper 3 was formally launched “Financing Supporter Community Ownership” – with the caveat ‘Achieving club ownership always requires supporters’ trusts to be able to finance that ownership’.  Topics covered in this publication are: community share schemes, fighting funds/transferable shares/loan notes/bonds, share issues in Ltd.co, minority shareholdings, fan share schemes, community interest companies and fundraising.  How I would like to have written that last chapter to extend the possibilities based on my experiences in sports. A novel idea of ‘supporters’ class of shares’ was aired.  This could have a role in any critical vote to veto such as a ground sale to property speculator.  Nice to have in place with uncertainty at E.P?

Paper 4 followed: “Business Advantage of Supporter Community Ownership in Football”.  Contents were: strategic partnerships, sponsorship, Co-op added value, resilience, finance, facilities, spending, supporter satisfaction, volunteering and participation, supporter spending, donations and transparency.  12 points but represented on a PowerPoint slide as 11 to try and fit with a team positions
formation.  Was 8 repeated twice on purpose?

The sample size and methodology of paper 4 I will have to look into. It didn’t seem particularly ‘deep’ despite being presented by a consultancy called Substance?  The panel of speakers put credence on the achievement of £2 average secondary spend in stadia, such as AFC Wimbledon and AFC Telford.  Give me a project to increase that figure any day.

A really good point on the day was one that opposes my beleaguered County’s approach to liaison with local government.  Established trusts are now approaching their respective local authorities with structures and governance that means they can assist in being catalysts, partners or providers of community benefits.  Rather than approaching with a ‘begging bowl’.  FC United and Brentford FC’s trusts recognised as examples of best practice in the process.

Missing ‘tools’ from the comrades were a request for SD to add advisors from financial/accounting professions – to avoid any pitfalls in longer term planning.  A ‘community club kitemark’ may be in the pipeline also – watch that space!

It was good to meet two academic friends of mine namely: Coventry and Birkbeck.  The Chairman of Newcastle’s Supporters Trust explained the Club under Mike Ashley.  FC United’s General Manager kindly introduced me to the Editor of FC Business whom seemed genuinely interested in my fundraising prowess and FC Sports Marketing’s work in Turkey.

Fate took me by luck to a dinner table with two representatives of Stockport County Supporters’ Co-operative where we shared stories on common ground.

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