Supporters Direct Lose Their Funding

By on Jun 13, 2011 in Latest, Politics | 24 comments

Football is a passionate sport. It’s played by passionate people, and followed by passionate people, and without such people, the sport would not thrive the way that it does – as Jock Stein famously said, “Football without the fans is nothing”. The various governing bodies use the fact that the game is passionate, and that football fans are passionate people in order to sell television rights, and other marketing concepts around the world. Those television rights holders also play on the passion of the fans, in order to not only sell their product, but also to advertise their product. The Premier League have played on it, Sky Sports play on it, and most of the newspapers have played on it to plug their own coverage from time to time. One time of the year when that passion is plugged into the most, is when the end of season play-offs arrive, with its various crowd shots of deliriously happy fans celebrating, or disappointed fans in tears.

Amongst the teams that won promotion at the end of this season, of course, were AFC Wimbledon. And without retreading old ground too much, the story is routed in the theft of the club, thanks to the actions and lies of the then owners of the club, which was rubber-stamped by a three man commission. This led to the formation of England’s second Trust-owned club AFC Wimbledon (the first one being Enfield Town FC), who have made the journey from the Combined Counties League to the Football League in 2002. The Dons’ victory at the City of Manchester Stadium was the latest triumph of one of football’s feel-good stories, and fans of many clubs up and down the country took the internet to celebrate the Dons’ ascension into the Football League, seeing this as a poke in the eye to the likes of Pete Winkleman in the process.

One of these fans was Dave Boyle; AFC Wimbledon fan, and Chief Executive of Supporters Direct – the governing body of Supporters Trusts. Like many people that day, Boyle took to social media site Twitter in order to make his feelings known – in the UK, the phrase “afcwimbledon” was the most used on the site in the UK, leading the “trending topics” for a few hours after the match. Some of Boyle’s tweets contained colourful language, and some of the comments were directed at Franchise owner Winkleman, and members of the FA’s three-man commission. It is understood that the nature of these tweets reached the Premier League’s Director of Communications Bill Bush, and chair of the three man panel that considers funding applications from the Premier League-funded Football Stadia Improvement Fund. With six of Supporters Direct’s funding applications of the table (three of which having already been approved), Bush wrote to the Supporter’s Direct chair Dame Pauline Green regarding Boyle’s tweets, and unsatisfied at her response, withdrew the funding from the applications – estimated by the Guardian’s David Conn as being worth £1.2m. The question of the rights or wrongs of the Tweets concerned is probably neither here nor there, though, because this decision has the feel of having been taken because those that could take it, took it.

In the recent Department of Culture, Media and Sport investigation into football, former Football Association chairman Lord Triesman testified about Premier League chairman Dave Richards that “points are made in a very colourful manner. I wouldn’t use that language” – yet colourful language would never, obviously and rightly, cost the Premier League any of its funding. In March, Wayne Rooney recently shouted “fuck off” into a camera, after scoring against West Ham United. This was broadcast live around the world, and seen by millions. Rooney was suspended from two games – a punishment that was seen by many as harsh. However, when it comes to a fans organization, using colourful language does not just cost the job of the official concerned, it also used as a justification from withdrawing £1.2million from the whole movement.

Indeed, the haste with which the funding was withdrawn – it has been reported that, following Green’s response to the letter from Bush, the FSIF withdrew funding with no further communication with them – may well lead us to the conclusion that this incident was little more than all the excuse that the Premier League needed to withdraw its funding from an organisation that has been a thorn in its side in recent years. Some may also wish to reflect on the irony – if it is mere coincidence – that the story first appeared in a Mail Group newspaper, whose group, just over a year ago, managed to get another individual that had come to stand for the reform of English football, Lord Triesman, removed from his position with the FA. Similarly, the timing of the release of the story – the results of the parliamentary enquiry into football governance are expected in the near future – could regarded as highly convenient for those opposed to its reform.

Clearly, the feelings amongst the Supporters Trust community is high, with many feeling that the double standards have been applied in this case, especially when compared to the higher profile cases of Richards and Rooney. In this respect it feels that Dave Boyle is merely a scapegoat – the high ranking official within Supporters Direct that has made the mistake that has allowed the Premier League to withdraw funding from a movement that it does not share the aims of. The timing of this is especially unfortunate, when you consider that AFC Wimbledon have joined Brentford and Exeter City as 100% Trust-run Football League clubs, and that Swansea City have just become the first Premier League club to have a sizable (20%) Trust ownership, as well as having the Premier League’s first Supporters Trust appointed director, in Vice Chairman Leigh Dineen.

In the meantime, a Facebook group regarding Supporters Direct and their future have already been has been supported by over a thousand people within the Trust community, and avenues of further action are being explored. If you feel you can help, or just wish to add your support, the group can be found here.

Twohundredpercent can be followed on Twitter here

Rob Freeman can be followed on Twitter here

Share Button

    24 Comments

  1. The timing of the Daily Mail articles is very odd. There were 2 articles on consecutive days and the first one appeared a full 2 weeks after Dave Boyle’s offensive tweets. The funding was withdrawn a couple of days later.

    Did someone tip off the Mail journalist to write the piece to give credence to an already made decision to withdraw funding? The Premier League just doesn’t like what Supporters Direct stands for and is afraid of its influence – that’s the real reason, I suspect. Outrage at Dave Boyle’s tweets is just a pretext.

    curranhung

    June 13, 2011

  2. The whole article misses the point. DB has gone because he showed extreme bad judgement. As a CEO of an organisation with responsabilities to over 130 potential supporters groups and one of the main players in lobbying parliament on football matters you have to accept you put your personal stuff aside. All this “right-wing media” garbage doesn’t wash and neither does the “under threat”. The reality is SD got themselves tied into the football establishment too much re income and because they have been so relativily unsuccessful in generating successful trusts (despite claims of over 100 having some shareholding in clubs)the withdrawl of this stream of funding (which lets be clear will still go to the end recipiants, SD simply won’t top-slice) exposes them to the same issues all social enterprises and co-operatives face today, the challenge of reigning in and refocusing.

    DB has gone, all job losses, from Sports Ministers to Rushden tea-ladies are a shame. But now SD has to move on, reassess its role and its way of working and adapt to where we are now not where we were in 2000. Articles like this simply invite them to sticjk their head in the sand with the ultimate result of more failure to come.

    MG

    June 13, 2011

  3. ” ….. this incident was little more than all the excuse that the Premier League needed to withdraw its funding from an organisation that has been a thorn in its side in recent years”

    I think your hammer may not be unadjacent to the pin-shaped fastener sold in DIY stores.

    Personally, I can’t see what’s wrong with being unpleasant towards Wankey Peterman.

    Oh well, I suppose it’ll all end up being Luton Town’s fault again – if they hadn’t been so careless to lose to Wimbledon, none of thi sowuld have happened. Deducet them points, I say!

    Dermot O'Dreary

    June 13, 2011

  4. Who is opening a book on who MG is? I have no idea but I bet I could write his profile. (First clue its male).The Mail group is right wing. Their article falsely claims Boyle is ultra left wing. Surely this is ping pong politics i.e. choosing to pick whatever facts (or lies) suit your purpose. SD will survive and the PL will ultimately take another blow to their credibility as anything other than a billionaires bank

    Lotus

    June 13, 2011

  5. surely WISA & the Dons Trust, Erik Samuelson etc should take some of the blame. They have been content over the years to fuel the flames leading to incorrect information being printed in the media. Phrases such as Winkelman stole a club etc etc, the vitriol spouted by WISA when Milton Keynes may have been used for World cup games. WISA, the Dons Trust & Samuelson should have showed professionalism also

    Peace

    June 13, 2011

  6. MG, odn’t you see that the point of this article is Dave did stuff that vast swathes of people involved in football do, none of whom, particularly the astonishing waste of air that is Dave Richards, ever get even a slap on the wrist for. This is purley politically motivated because Richards and Scudamore think that palling up with arms dealers, dictators and rupert murdoch is more important than us the fans.

    we need SD as an umbrella body so that they can set the priorities, not let it be at the whim of FSIS who will not want to rock the boat with their chairman mates when it comes to handing out the 0.1% of their broadcasting revenue to the proles…

    CarsmileSteve

    June 13, 2011

  7. The factual inaccuracies in MG’s comments are borderline overwhelming. Almost every point made neglects the full facts of the story. However, (s)he has hidden a valid issue in there.

    The fact that the Premier League funds an organisation with the football-wide scope of SD IS too much of a “tie-in with the football establishment.” But that was the reality SD faced. Not because of the inadequacies MG imagines but more the real inadequacies of the FA, who have allowed the EPL to undertake another task which rightfully belongs to the game’s governing body.

    The haste with which the FSIF, on EPL instructions, has over-reacted to the situation shows the real motivation. Had the EPL wished to continue this funding, they could have done so without a single eyebrow being raised – probably not even in the Raj Parker household, unless Dave Boyle has twitter followers there.

    But it should not be the job of an individual league, whatever its finances, to facilitate football-wide projects. That’s the FA’s job. They are not doing it. And that’s a real, on-going issue.

    Mark Murphy

    June 13, 2011

  8. Leigh Dineen is no longer the Supporters Trust Director at Swansea. he resigned this position to become Vice Chairman. the Supporters Trust Director is Huw Cooze.

    Paul

    June 13, 2011

  9. Its clear that the PL don’t like what SD have done. Two of the biggest nails in the coffin that is the big-boys-self-interest-club at the PL are the cogently agrgued SD briefing papers outlining all that is wrong with football finance. They attack the very foundation of Scudamore’s belief that the main activity of interest in English football is the transfer market. And they expose how English football is wide open to practices that are unethical at the very least.

    How scared they must be to appear so petty.

    SJ Maskell

    June 13, 2011

  10. Winkelman DID steal a club, because he couldn’t be bothered to get a local non-league club up the pyramid and into the league, via legitimate means, as it would “take too long”. Why shouldn’t the vile, disgusting way in which Franchise came to be, have attention drawn to it. If anything, WISA/DT/ES probably showed too much restraint.

    Mike T

    June 13, 2011

  11. Regarding the Mail’s misdescription of Dave Boyle as “extreme left-wing”. This is a common trope for the Mail, and is merely an attempt to deflect criticism from readers, who will happily accept any criticism of anyone, no matter how wrong or wrong-headed, if the target is left-wing. It’s identity politics, pure and simple.

    As for the PL’s capo-like quiet word and the immediate yanking of funding, this does scream pretext. That said, Boyle should have been far more circumspect in his comments, given his public role, and I do think SD’s initial reaction was far, far too weak.

    I feel bad for Dave Boyle – his reaction was far politer and milder than mine was (for example). But then I’m not the leader of a grassroots football organization.

    Craig Burley

    June 13, 2011

  12. Indeed Mike T, if a club is uprooted and moved 90km away and its name changed to the new location’s, I’m not sure what verb other than “stolen” we should use.

    Craig Burley

    June 13, 2011

  13. MG is a cheerleader for the MK Dons and has chosen to fight Ken Bates “from within”.

    SW

    June 13, 2011

  14. Lets bust a few urban myths:

    I think AFC Wimbledon will soon hit a ceiling – they won’t have huge attendances compared with other clubs and so the financial advantage that bought their meteoric rise through the pyramid will grind to a halt. Oh yes, the truth is when you have 10x the number of fans other clubs have it’s that extra revenue that gets you the success, just the same as it is in any other club.

    I am sick of hearing grand plans for 20,000 people each investing 500 quid a year in their club – they already do and its called a season ticket! If you want to own the club in addition to buying a season ticket you need to find even more money every year. Its not realistic in top tiers of football where players earn collectively millions a week. I can see why Notts County just gave the club away to Munto Finance – it must have been very enticing not to have to spend all your money in a black hole!

    Clubs 100% owned and financed by fans will never be able to compete with the corporate behemoths at the top of the game, its small beer and hardly a threat to the Premier League!

    -Its not just football that is financed by wealthy individuals and corporates – how many fan owned Formula 1 teams are there?

    -Ebsfleet United is a complete nightmare – what are they down to now? 3,000 out of 35,000 ‘owners’? How can so many people collectively make timely decisions?

    -Foreign clubs like Barca which may be ‘owned’ by fans are actually controlled and financed by their Presidents, we all remember Beckham being an election promise at Barca?! Can the ordinary fan be President? Can they heck, you need to be a rich businessman to finance a campaign to get the job. Oh.

    Not David Conn

    June 13, 2011

  15. I’m not sure why I authorised that last comment, as it relates as much to the subject as a bit of spam trying to flog viagra.

    Stil, if we’re busting some urban myths:

    ” the financial advantage that bought their meteoric rise through the pyramid will grind to a halt. Oh yes, the truth is when you have 10x the number of fans other clubs have it’s that extra revenue that gets you the success, just the same as it is in any other club.”

    With extra fans comes extra running costs, and while they probably had the biggest budget in the Combined Counties (and that’s hardly their fault for being popular), but in the Conference, they only have their gate income and membership money (which I believe is £25 a season). They don;t have limitless funds from anonymous owners unlike (say) Crawley, and they don’t live beyond their means unlike 90% of professional clubs.

    “I am sick of hearing grand plans for 20,000 people each investing 500 quid a year in their club”

    You should stop listening to the voices in your head then. I doubt the club are suddenly going to increase their membership fees by 2000%, nor are they likely to get permission to fit 20,0000 people in a 5,000 stadium, let alone suddenly quintuple their average gate. Certainly no-one from the club has talked about this. Maybe some randoms have made comments like this on message boards, but as you can see with people like yourself, you can post any unsubstantiated crap and pass it off as fact.

    “Clubs 100% owned and financed by fans will never be able to compete with the corporate behemoths at the top of the game, its small beer and hardly a threat to the Premier League!”

    Well, Brentford and Exeter City (not to mention Wimbledon) have made a good fist of being 100% Trust owned so far, and in fact, there hasn’t been a 100% Trust-owned club fail (neither Notts County, nor Stockport County were 100% Trust owned)

    “Ebsfleet United is a complete nightmare – what are they down to now? 3,000 out of 35,000 ‘owners’? How can so many people collectively make timely decisions?”

    And what does that have to do with anything? The supporters Trust movement is built on fans owning their own club, Not thousands of people owning someone else’s club.

    “-Foreign clubs like Barca which may be ‘owned’ by fans are actually controlled and financed by their Presidents, we all remember Beckham being an election promise at Barca?! Can the ordinary fan be President? Can they heck, you need to be a rich businessman to finance a campaign to get the job. Oh.!”

    Yes, because the individual benefactor has been so great for football. From John Batchelor to Ken Bates to Stephen Vaughan to Peter Ridsdale to Simon Jordan to Milan Mandaric. It’s a foolproof formula that’s never gone wrong. Oh.

    Rob

    June 13, 2011

  16. Just to build upon what Rob said above, there, SD was one of the few organisations to be critical of the Ebbsfleet take-over at the time that it was going through. Ironically (perhaps, this might be entirely predictably), Ebbsfleet have got their act together as they have moved some distance away from their early promises and bluster and towards a more conventional Trust-run ownership model.

    Ian

    June 13, 2011

  17. @Rob

    Brentford aren’t 100% ST owned, are they? They’re 60% trust owned with Matthew Benham, a wealthy fan, owning the bulk (36%) of the remaining shares.

    http://www.beesunited.org.uk/faqs/who-owns-brentford-fc

    I believe he puts considerable funds into the club to allow them to remain competitive in League 1. This includes a £5m loan, the terms of which will allow him to take a majority shareholding in Brentford if it is not paid off.

    There are deficiencies in the ST ownership model (the main one being that it is hard for sustainable clubs to compete with bankrolled or debt-fuelled clubs) and we desperately need to acknowledge that if Supporters Trusts are to have a fighting chance.

    Claiming that Notts County and Stockport are somehow not valid case studies and Supporter Trust ownership always leads to success does us no good at all.

    a_different_ian

    June 13, 2011

  18. Thanks for that information about Brentford a_different_ian, I genuinely was unaware of that.

    I wouldn’t call “(the main one being that it is hard for sustainable clubs to compete with bankrolled or debt-fuelled clubs)” a deficiency. After all, a Trust run club can (if it wishes) appeal for further funds from it’s members in an attempt to compete with bankrolled clubs – one member one vote does not mean that everyone has to pay equal, should someone wish to donate further funds (look at FCUM’s pay what you want for your ST scheme). It can also choose to take on unsustainable debt if it so wishes (and in such circumstances would deserve to fail as much as any unilaterally run club that ran on ). One wouyld hope that its members would do what they are allowed to stop such a mechanism rather than running with it. But this doesn’t tend to happen – mainly because those Trust run clubs have gained their ownership after a spell of deep peril, and the fans appreciate having a club at all, and value their club competing on its own merits, over risking it all. NOtts County was an obvious exception to that rule (so far), and let’s be honest, they were conned out of their shareholding (as were the other shareholders).

    “Claiming that Notts County and Stockport are somehow not valid case studies and Supporter Trust ownership always leads to success does us no good at all.”

    No you are correct, or you would be, had I claimed that they are not valid case studies, which I didn not. Notts County usually temds to be the example given of a Trust run club failing, but they have to consider the other shareholders (and often could not proceed without their approval), so claiming it’s a Trust-run club that has failed is exceptionally harsh, even if there are lessons there that all clubs can learn from (Trust-run or not).

    Rob

    June 13, 2011

  19. A couple of small points, to expand on what’s been said above.

    Exeter City aren’t actually 100% fan-owned either, but the Trust is the majority shareholder. They’ve had trouble cleaning up the share register (was a bit of a mess), while some smaller sharehodlers don’t want to sell. It’s slight pedantry, as the Trust run the club day-to-day and have a shareholding of (I think) around 67%.

    Secondly, the Trust at Exeter doesn’t ask for a donation of £500 a year. Members are asked for a minimum contribution of £2 a month, although should a member wish to, this can be more.

    I think Stockport are always a tricky example to use of the Trust model not working, because the club was in a huge mess when they took it over and I’m not sure they were ever 100% in control of the club. Largely, the successes for the Trust model outweigh the failures (as you’d get with a benefactor model as well).

    That said, the Trust model may not always be appropriate or the best model for every club, and some will have issues that are quite unique to their club alone.

    But broadly, the advice and help SD gives to trusts or clubs looking to become fan-owned is vital, and has played a huge part in the saving of clubs like Swansea and York, and the rebirth of the likes of Chester and Telford.

    Gary A

    June 13, 2011

  20. I think any club that has a supporters trust with a majority shareholding and day-to-day control can be considered Supporter Trust run. (Incidentally, Exeter City Supporters Trust do not own 100% of the shares. I can’t find an exact figure, but an official website post from January of this year refers to increasing their shareholding as a long-term goal.)

    Certainly to not include Notts County or Stockport when talking about the successes and failures of supporter trust run clubs (or indeed to avoid talking about Bournemouth, Rushden or York or Lincoln) smacks of disingenuity because the problems that those clubs face are likely to be the same problems that any club that engages in a supporter takeover will face.

    Unfortunately, we are often too fixated on the successes of Supporters Trusts to properly learn from the mistakes of others. For us (Wrexham), as we embark on a trust takeover, to look at successful pheonix clubs is a distraction from the harsh reality that we face a long hard struggle against legacy debts and clubs with much greater resources with only small chance of long-term success.

    It’s a road we as fans are willing to take, but if we’re sold a dream that everything is going to be wonderful (as so many trust supporters seem all too willing to do) then failure is all but assured.

    But if we accept that it’s not going to be easy; that we’re going to need hard work, diligence and a large slice of luck then we genuinely stand a chance.

    a_different_ian

    June 13, 2011

  21. Supporters Direct seem to me to totally recognise this issue of the fact that running yourself sustainably in a system based on insane spending is a disadvantage. Their submission to the Select Committee Inquiry and their policy paper on football regulation make it clear that without licensing to control spending, trust-run and trust-influenced clubs will always be at a disadvantage, and in danger of being outspent to the point where people demand new owners with greater liquidity. It’s noticeable from those document that this is even more important than – say – requesting league rules are changed to make it mandatory to have an elected fan rep on every board or something similarly directly proceeding from their position as a lobby group for trusts. Seems to me that its exactly that policy lobbying that no trust can do, and why if SD didn’t exist, it would be created within weeks by trusts.

    Those docs here, by the way:

    Select Committee:
    http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmselect/cmcumeds/writev/792/fg35.htm

    Football Regulation:

    http://clients.squareeye.net/uploads/sd/SD_Brief_no2.pdf

    Allan Brown

    June 13, 2011

  22. Maybe some people should think about the hundreds of clubs who have failed under the single-owner businessman model than how many have failed under the relatively new supporter-owned model.

    Nathan

    June 13, 2011

  23. Although MG was wrong on most things, he was spot on about the inadvisability of Dave Boyle’s tweets. For all CEOs (and I speak from experience)one basic lesson of survival is never give your detractors or competitors ammunition by making unguarded or needlessly controversial comments. You learn to bite your tongue – not just to save your own skin but also for the sake of your employees and your clients. For all his previous great work, in a moment of understandable euphoria – I was there too – Dave made a big error of judgement in a hostile world. This is sad because Dave has given so much to football fans in the past and surely has much more to offer in a different capacity in the future. But it was a mistake of Gerald Rattner proportions.

    Ross

    June 16, 2011

  24. Well, he has paid the price for that, I think we can agree. At this point, I guess the question is what the future holds and – I’m sure you’ll all be delighted to know – this is something that I plan to have a look at tonight.

    Ian

    June 16, 2011

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Chi ha paura dei supporters trust? La Premier League vuole uccidere SD e tutto il movimento « the People's Game - [...] (Su questo argomento, gli articoli di David Conn, oggi, per il Guardian, e When Saturday Comes, Guardian e Soccer Issue. …

Post a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>