It’s the day of the annual Supporters Direct Conference in Chester, and one issue seems likely too hang over the day’s festivities like a black cloud: funding. Now is probably not the time to rehash the events of last month, but it is worth reflecting upon the uncertainty that continues to envelop the organisation. Since we last wrote on the subject, little seems to have changed. The Supporters Direct Has My Support Facebook group has over 2,000 members and, as we mentioned before, several articles in the press made it quite clear that the decision of the FSIF – some might say, in other words the Premier League – to withdraw its funding has been shown up for what it is. Seventy-eight MPs have signed Early Day Motion 1909, which “on the Government to reaffirm its support for Supporters Direct and its aims by making representations to the Premier League to rescind its decision”, but at the time of writing we seem no closer to the FSIF reversing its decision. The pressure must continue.
It’s hardly as if there isn’t still considerably more work to be done. One of the defining features of the five years of Twohundredpercent has been the continuing drip, drip, drip of football clubs getting themselves into a pickle. Just two days ago, for example, a statement on the official website of Northern Premier League club Hucknall Town cast considerable doubt over whether they will be able to start the new season, and ongoing issues facing the supporters trust at Wrexham are a matter that we will be returning to shortly. There have been times when it has felt as if this flow of stories might begin to dry up. That this hasn’t happened, however, is in itself an opportunity to reflect upon the continuing importance of the organisation. Today, hopefully, will provide further evidence that Supporters Direct cannot be allowed to die.
Today will almost certainly touch upon the successes of the last twelve months as well. The Premier League will start next season with, for the first time, a team taking part that has a significant proportion of its shares owned by the supporters: Swansea City. The Swans’ rise from the bottom of the Football League to the Premier League in a little over eight years is onw of the quieter success stories of the year. Elsewhere, trust-owned Exeter City continued to perform above expectations and only narrowly missed out on a place in the League One play-offs, whilst AFC Wimbledon, AFC Telford United and Chester won promotion at the end of last season. We know that supporters taking a greater say in the ownership of their clubs works. The proof lays before us at the end of each season.
After the workshops and speeches of today comes the action itself, and the Supporters Direct Fans Weekend will continue tomorrow with the SD Cup match, this year to be played at The Deva Stadium between Chester FC and FC United of Manchester. Chester’s first season was a success, though a team attracting average home crowds of 2,500 in the Northern Premier League Division One North might have been expected to flourish in a relatively mediocre environment. FC United, meanwhile, have had a mixed year. Off the pitch, they saw their plans to build a ground of their own dashed (under, according to some, suspicious circumstances), and in the league they failed in the play-offs in the Premier Division of the Northern Premier League. Their run to the Second Round of the FA Cup, however, provided some of the feel-good moments of last season and stories that those watching it will be able to tell their grandchildren – and that, it should perhaps be remembered, is the reason why most of us get involved in this often infuriating game in the first place.
At The Queen Hotel in Chester today, though, the most important business on the agenda will be how Supporters Direct can save itself, and perhaps the most important thing that we should reflect upon should be the importance of there being another conference this time next year. The rights and wrongs of what happened earlier this summer are neither here nor there (although we are entitled to retain a strong opinion on the actions of the FSIF, whose hasty behaviour and almost extraordinarily imperfect suggestion as to the future of their relationship with individual trusts – that these trusts were still welcome to make applications for funding to them, a statement made apparently without irony, which seemed almost blithely unaware of the fact that the expertise and advice of Supporters Direct is as important (some might say more so) as any financial backing that they offer – might cause some to wonder as their fitness for purpose. Today, hopefully, will bring us at the very least a significant show of support for Supporters Direct, which remains an organisation too important to lose.
Follow Twohundredpercent on Twitter here. We will be tweeting LIVE (ish) from Chester throughout the day.