Dealing With Troublesome Supporters 101: Wrexham
Wrexham supporters have had a difficult time of things over the last few years. In the mid-1990s, they seemed likely to to break into the top two divisions of English football. Everything, however, fell apart in the first few years of this century. A financial crisis led to administration and relegation from the Football League at the end of last season. Some were concerned that this might sound the death knell for the oldest professional football club in Wales, but they have managed to stabilise themselves in the Blue Square Premier and currently sit in mid-table, still with an outside chance of making the play-offs for a place back in the Football League.
Off the pitch, however, they continue to be torn apart by what is rapidly becoming a vicious war of words between the club’s Supporters Trust and the owners of the club, which has culminated in an astonishing attack on the club’s supporters on the official website this week. The bone of contention is the rebuilding of a part of The Racecourse Ground. The plans were due to include a 5,000 seater stand but, when released, the plans themselves seemed to be limiting this new construction to a capacity of just 3,000. This, in itself, would perhaps not be a major concern. Wrexham’s average home crowds this season of around 3,500, it seems unlikely that they will be selling the place out in the near future.
What is more concerning, however, are plans for the current owners of the club to reduce their ownership of the club from one hundred per cent to just twenty per cent, with ownership passing to the property developers that will be in charge of the development of the stadium. This is an issue in two main respects. Firstly, what happens to any profit (and the profit from this venture could be sizeable)? Secondly, what happens to the club if the venture – which, whilst it could bring in a lot of money, retains an element of risk in the current financial climate – goes south and the new owners find themselves in trouble?
There can be little doubt that these are valid questions, and it should also be pointed out that the Wrexham Supporters Trust isn’t half a dozen activists with an explicit agenda beyond wishing to safeguard the long term future of their football club. The WST currently has around 600 members – roughly one in six of the people that turn out at The Racecourse Ground every week. For a club of the size of Wrexham FC, it is a strong organisation. The club, however, felt compelled to put the following message on the official website:
Once again we are concerned at the lack of factual information that the WST puts into the public domain. It is further evidence of their relentless plan to derail the planning application, mislead our fans and ultimately destroy our football club.
By making such reckless comments about an organisation that represents so many of their supporters, the club’s owners seem to be betraying their true colours. They have ended any form of contact with the trust apart from extremely unhelpful statements such as the one made above. If they spit their dummies out like this over what seem to be – especially in light of the club’s recent difficulties – perfectly legitimate concerns, it will surely only foster greater mistrust over what their motives are. There is talk that there are clashes of personality between the Trust Board and the owners, but the owners (and, by extension, the club itself) does itself no favours by refusing to deal with them and issuing such petulant statements as this.