The Supporters Trust Movement and Fan Ownership

01Oct08

The Supporter Trust movement is funded and supported by the Labour Government through Supporters Direct. Amongst the aims are to give supporters the right and the power to protect the clubs they love from unscrupulous owners who do not care for the interests of the club and who wish to exploit their assets for profit. Supporters Direct help to advise and establish supporters’ trusts, aiming to deliver responsible, democratic representation at football clubs to help promote the highest standards of governance, financial accountability and community re-orientation. 

Supporters Direct provides advice to supporters’ trusts on how to organise and acquire a collective shareholding in their football club. They offer guidance on governance and financial accountability to its members and to play a valued and responsible role in the running of their clubs, improving communication and building a better relationship with the local community.

Supporters’ trusts have now been established at over 140 clubs, with a total of over 120,000 members. Thirteen clubs are owned by supporters’ trusts, including the World’s oldest professional club, Notts County. At least 100 supporters’ trusts have a shareholding in their club. 

There have been two high profile examples of supporter-owned clubs that have been formed from scratch as a result of problems at the club they used to follow. The first example is AFC Wimbledon, who were formed after Wimbledon FC were franchised to Milton Keynes to form MK Dons. The club were only formed in 2002 and have impressively climbed to the Conference South, just two leagues away from the Football League.

The other example is FC United of Manchester. The club was formed in a reaction to the takeover of Manchester United by the Glazier family, who saddled the club with millions of pounds of debt. Formed in 2005, FC United won promotion in their first three seasons and are currently one step below AFC Wimbledon. 

At a time when the Premier league has become a billionaire’s playground, it seems that fans are starting to take control of lower league clubs. The most recent example is an interactive website in Kent, www.getkentunited.co.uk, that is attempting to create an online community to takeover a non-league team, arguing that the club would be truly representative of the community that it serves. 

It seems that community-run clubs offer stability and openness that seems to be missing from the top flight of english football. It could be argued that Premier League clubs have been taking advantage of their fans loyalty. Disillusioned fans will certainly find mainly well-run clubs, where they can play an active role and where their voice is heard, in the lower leagues.

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