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Yesterday was an important day in Italian Football Culture, as Serie A’s first Supporters Trust – Azionariato Popolare AS Roma – was formed, as the first attempt to run a football club by the fans in Italy. Azionariato Popolare AS Roma are the second Trust to be formed it Italy, after Società Cooperativa Modena Sport Club was formed in 2008, by fans of Serie B Modena.
The desire for Italian fans to follow what so far is a very British-style movement, may seem strange, considering the differences between the cultures of the relative nations football goers. However, the mainly Italian Ultra movement, far from being the excuse for hooliganism that the English media often inaccurately paints it to be, is in fact proof that Italian football culture is historically a lot more organised than British football culture has ever been, which is something that Azionariato Popolare AS Roma very much has in their favour. Azionariato Popolare AS Roma have symbolically begun with 83 founder members, each member representing a year in AS Roma’s history, but this number is expected to grow significantly.
Like with so many Supporters Trusts over here, the catalyst to the formation has been due to problems off the pitch. Roma have just completed their season by finishing runners-up in Serie A, just two points behind Champions League winners Inter, but off the pitch, financial worries dominate the minds of the fans. Just like the English Premier League runners-up Manchester United, Roma are servicing a debt run up by their owners (the Sensi family) that runs into hundreds of millions of pounds, and just like Manchester United, Roma are servicing a reported €400million debt is not football related. Roma’s “debt” is actually a debt of oil storage company Italpetroli – also owned by the Sensi family. Italpetrol indirectly control Roma, but are also 49% owned by the Italian bank Unicredit, who just happen to be owed €300million of the Italpetroli debt. It is meetings between the Sensi family and Unicredit, and suggestions that the future of the club was in doubt as a result that saw the initial meetings to get the wheels in motion regarding creating Azionariato Popolare AS Roma.
Like with any Trust created in the UK, getting everything into place takes time. The formation has taken around three months – the official press conference to launch the Trust was just over three months ago. Everything is essentially being done by the book, rather than with haste in mind, although as they are the pioneers of the Trust movement in Italy, Azionariato Popolare AS Roma are essentially writing the book.
As with Trusts over here, Azionariato Popolare AS Roma’s aims are ambitious, but no more unrealistic than those of most Trusts. They are initially looking to invest, in exchange for a minority say in the club, but the long term aim, is the same as Supporters Trusts over here – ownership of the club. However, fan ownership is not the be all and end all for Azionariato Popolare AS Roma, as they are looking to highlight high profile issues that fans care about such as ticketing and communications, but also raise awareness of issues that are still low-profile in Italian football, such as rights for disabled fans and ways in which the club can work with local children.
In a country where the common model for running a top flight club usually involves pumping unsustainable millions, it will be interesting to see if Azionariato Popolare AS Roma can take over the running of their club long term, or become pioneers along with Modena, in a new wave of Italian football culture.
For more information about Azionariato Popolare AS Roma, visit their website at www.myroma.it, which is both in English and Italian. Twohundredpercent.net would like to thank Vanda Wilcox for her help with this post.
Ian began writing Twohundredpercent in May 2006. He lives in Brighton. He has also written for, amongst others, Pitch Invasion, FC Business Magazine, The Score, When Saturday Comes, Stand Against Modern Football and The Football Supporter. Ian was the first winner of the Socrates Award For Not Being Dead Yet at the 2010 NOPA awards for football bloggers.
AsRoma – unlike Manchester United – is not servicing any debt of its majority shareholder/owner, Italpetroli, the company of the Sensi family. The debt is Italpetroli’s and is nothing to do with AsRoma. Consequently, the negotiations between Italpetroli and Unicredit about the repayment of Italpetroli’s debt could not put the future of the club in doubt.
James I wish that was the case – Italpetroli’s failure to repay their agreed interest repayments means that not only is there no spare money to invest in the club but that as one of the comapny’s assets, Roma are indirectly involved whether they like it or not. Unicredit has in the past 9 month foreclosed on other assets belonging to the Sensi family, and there is nothing to prevent it ordering the sale of Roma as & when it pleases.