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What Is A Supporters Trust?

By: Bill Osborne
Date: 16/07/2002

THE basic definition of a Trust is a democratic, not-for-profit organisation of supporters, committed to strengthening the voice for supporters in the decision making process at a club, and strengthening the links between the club and the community it serves.

WHY FORM A TRUST? HOW DOES IT DIFFER FROM AN INDEPENDENT SUPPORTERS' ASSOCIATION?

  • The main difference between a Trust and a supporters club is twofold - attitudinal and organizational

  • The organisational one is easy - an Industrial and Provident Society (IPS) offers the best way forward for fans groups - its legal assets can be owned 'corporately' rather than being vested in individuals; members have limited liability (and so do the elected officers in most cases) and the full force of the law can be brought to bear on anyone who misappropriate the funds. It's also a democratic not-for-profit.
  • Finally, it states clearly and boldly that a key aim is the securing of representation and strengthening the links between club and community. It's got the 'big idea' that is often needed to get stuff off the ground - the idea at the heart is "why always be criticising, when we can be running and participating - we think we can bring huge benefits to the club, so give us a chance - to own the club we love (or a part of it)"

    WHY DO SOME TRUSTS AIM TO INFLUENCE THE BOARD WHILST OTHERS SEEK TO OWN SHARES?

  • Each Trust has to look at what the situation is at their club and act in the way most likely to produce results. At some clubs, the owner might not be up for selling shares, so the Trust might look to get hold of the share register and try and find other sources. At other places, the value of the club is so much that fans are unlikely to ever have the wherewithal to get 10s of millions together, so they look to be the bridge between the club and community and get credit for that. As you don't have to own any shareholding to be on the Board, it's not necessary to own a stake in the club (though it usually helps). All of them are united in a desire to make the mechanisms for dialogue between club and fans as solid as possible, and as entrenched as possible, so it can't be undone should ownership or personnel change and a different group of people come in who want to end that dialogue.

    ARE TRUSTS USUALLY FORMED WHEN THE CLUB IS IN CRISIS?

  • Many are, and the most spectacular successes and growth are usually at a club in crisis, where people fear their club could become extinct. That acts as a rallying call, and people make sacrifices that they might normally not make. But plenty of clubs aren't in dire crisis, or even in any crisis at all at the moment. The crisis is the 'future' - who knows what tomorrow might bring - new owners, massive debts, the football bubble bursting.

  • Football is an eventful sport, and clubs rarely have a period of settled calm where nothing serious happens to them. At these types of clubs, the Trust is an insurance policy against that day, should it ever come. If owners change, it's there to remind the new people that the fans love and care for the club and their interests need to be protected and their voice listened to. They're also there to be a vehicle to save the club should things go badly wrong, though of course no-one ever wants to see that happening.

    WHY ARE TRUST'S CONCERNED ABOUT LINKS WITH THE LOCAL COMMUNITY , EVEN IN CASES WHERE THE CLUB IS IN CRISIS?

  • A lot of people look at how football has gone over the past 10 years and feel that the community roots of a club in some places have been lost - the clubs seems to care more about money, or sponsors, than fans who live in the area. The classic example is a Premiership club that doesn't allow a supporters club to be based in the area where it plays, as they assume everyone there supports them anyway.

  • The club represents the very best of the community it plays in, and can act as a symbol of that community for everyone to support. Trusts are about making that really happen. It's usually the fans who care most about these things - they live in the community or used to live there, and they want to see the kids in the town centre on a Saturday wearing the local club shirt rather than a club 250 miles away.

    HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO BECOME A MEMBER?

  • That's something for each trust to decide. Supporters Direct won't work with a group that sets a subscription rate that is too high and will stop some fans joining. But ultimately, you have a to set a subscription rate that at least covers the admin costs. As a basic rule of thumb, we recommend that it should cost no more than the average price to attend a home match, but with prices as they are at some clubs, that could be as high as 30 pounds, so we'd recommend a smaller sum to get as many members as possible, as that can bring strength in itself, by virtue of having a lot of supporters represented. Those who can afford to contribute more still can through fundraising, but anyone should be able to afford to join.
    As you can see, there are a number of ways that a trust can go. Some trusts have one major aim and that is to secure shares in the club. At Grimsby we know how difficult that could be but that should not be a deterrent.

    At Grimsby, having representation at club level, supporting the club financially and working with the community should be major aims.

    But that would be established by the working party, in consultaion with supporters, prior to the trust being launched and Supporters Direct will offer support and guidance in all that the working party does.

    Who Are Supporters Direct? click here to continue



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