Wednesday, 8 September 2010

What is Supporter's Direct?

Written For:-
Chester vs Trafford, 8th September 2010

Since the reformation of Chester FC there have been many changes to our club. Cosmetic changes such as new players, league, kits and badge are always the most obvious. However the most important and fundamental transformation our phoenix club has gone through is simple: we have a new philosophy.

The club is now truly our club, not the plaything of a single owner. The difference means that everyone can get involved with helping our club in any way possible, not just turning up on match days and paying your money. Chester FC is no longer just a football club, but an important part of the community. The reason behind this change is that the club now follow the guidelines for a supporter owned club as set out by Supporters Direct.

But who are Supporters Direct, and what do they stand for? I spoke to Kevin Rye, a Supporters Direct spokesman, and asked him why Supporters Direct had been set up.

“Essentially the first Trust, Northampton Town, was established because the club was bankrupt again, and Brian Lomax, a fan and eventually our first chair and MD, proposed the model as a way of
protecting the club in the future (by giving fans a seat on the board and shares). This idea didn't really take off at many clubs except Kettering really, until 1997, when the new Government set up a
commission to look at the game as it was viewed to be moving away from the fans and communities they served. What resulted was a divided view- the authorities essentially issued a report saying that everything was pretty much ok, and a majority report said it wasn't. In the end, the 'compromise' was the Football Foundation and Supporters Direct. And the rest, as they say, is history.”

And quite some history it is too. Since Supporters Direct began supporters’ trusts have been set up at over 160 clubs with over 120,000 members, with 16 clubs now wholly owned by their supporters’ trust. I asked Kevin Rye what the aim of Supporters Direct was in setting up supporters’ trusts.
 “To promote sustainable football clubs based on supporters' involvement and community ownership; bringing clubs closer to their fans and communities by providing a way for supporters - a Supporters' Trust - to take stakes in and have directors at their clubs. What has developed over the years is a narrative that says clubs are better with their fans involved, and that ultimately they actually benefit most when the club is owned by the people who are there in all weathers, come what may. Now we've developed our role further to campaign for you, and all fans, to change football and the way it's run, and now we are increasingly working to do that.
It's great to see Chester joining the ranks of community and supporter-owned clubs. I'm angry
that it took bankruptcy and a lack of care and good regulation by the authorities for Chester to be supporter-owned and, as a Wimbledon fan, resent the idea that the only way for me to own my club was for the authorities to permit our league place to be sold to a town in the Midlands. We want football to be in a position where we don't need these responses as the only way to achieve supporter-ownership and community involvement; we want the game to be run in a more open, transparent and democratic way, for fans to be at the heart of that in their clubs, and reflected in what the authorities do and say. In fact, supporter representatives in the leagues and authorities
would be a very good start!”

Finally I asked Kevin Rye what being a supporter owned club ultimately means.
“It means being in control. It's liberating isn't it?! You don't control through voting every single
day-to-day decision that happens, but you now control its direction, its ethics - the way it behaves, how it interacts with the community, how its role is shaped and ultimately its destiny. And you are now responsible for a very important institution.
And there will be times that you will have to make difficult decisions; you may have to forgo promotion because you can't afford it; you will have to let players go who want to move on because you can't give them the money they want, or the prospects they think they deserve. You'll learn a lot, you'll sometimes be disappointed, and you'll sometimes wonder whether you'll progress to the next level without a big wodge of cash, but never, ever, forget; the only reason this club exists is because you made it so, and giving away something that precious would be the most foolish decision you could ever make.
Just enjoy the ride, and the bumps in the road along the way, because I can honestly say it's the best thing you've ever done as fans, and the best time I've had as a fan.”

Well, that sounds pretty good to me!

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