In February 2019 The Mariners Trust, Grimsby Town’s official Supporters Trust signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Directors of Grimsby Town Football Club. Speaking of the signing GTFC Director John Fenty said:
“We are more than happy to cement our relationship with the Mariners Trust with the signing of the memorandum of understanding. The club is nothing without its fans and having a high level of engagement with them can only be good for the future of the club.”
With the support of Supporters Direct the Mariners Trust-Grimsby Town FC MOU is the fifth to be signed between a Trust and their club and follows on from similar engagements at Fulham, Norwich City, Nottingham Forrest and Rochdale. An MOU is an agreement between fans and their respective clubs that is used to clearly define and guarantee a level of engagement and dialogue between the two. This might include transparency of financial performance, consultation on issues such as ownership changes, club badge changes or issues relating to the club’s stadium, and it acts to formalise the relationship between fans and owners/directors for the overall good of the club, reflecting the importance of fans to the success of any club.
Deborah Dilworth of Supporters Direct summarised her thoughts on the new MOU:
“The agreement is symbolic of the desire to proactively engage supporters within the club set-up and shows a genuine commitment from both sides to commit to structured dialogue. It is also public acknowledgment from the club that supporters are key stakeholders.”
Recently HUST Board members Jo Grylls, John Cooke and Richard Ward took a trip down the A1 and across the M62 to meet with Dave Roberts of the Mariners Trust to congratulate them on their MOU and to find out more.
Did you know:
- The experienced and successful Mariners Trust was formed in 2003 and was given a boost by the involvement of Supporters Direct in 2012.
- They currently have around 800 members on home gates of around 4000 (>3000 season ticket holders).
- The Mariners Trust own almost 20% of the shares in their club.
- A Board member from the Mariners Trust sits on the Board of Directors for Grimsby Town Football Club.
- As part owners of the club the Mariners Trust run all the bars and refreshment facilities on behalf of the club with the profits going directly into the club.
- For the 2015/16 season The Mariners Trust ran the amazing #OperationPromotion crowdfunding campaign which raised an incredible £110,000 for improvement of the club’s playing budget, helping the club secure promotion back to the football league.
What was apparent during our meeting with Dave was how few parallels it was possible to draw between HUST and the Mariners Trust – two very different Trusts. There are, though, some similarities between the associated football clubs.
The Mariners Trust was initially established to democratically represent the voice of fans with the owners of the club, and from there they have developed a close relationship built on mutual trust and respect. Such was their relationship with the shareholders and directors of Grimsby Town that they were gifted their share ownership and offered a seat on the club’s board. While they are committed to raising funds for GTFC their seat on the board is not subject to any conditions on this, and there is huge support from the fan base to get behind the club as part owners. Dave was clear that the focus for the Mariners Trust was on the relationship with the club as a priority, and as it stands, they are not seeking to build any ‘emergency funds’ for security. Grimsby Town FC has operated cost neutrally for the past six seasons and while there is a club contingency plan should anything unexpected arise, there is complete agreement between the fans and the club that sustainability via a sensible business model should be a priority. With a Fan Director seat on the board there is a level of transparency that allows the board of the Mariners Trust to follow how the club is performing behind the scenes.
In 2010 Grimsby Town found themselves relegated from the Football League (and in doing so became just the fourth team to have played in the top five divisions of English football) and subsequently suffered the same difficulties that Hartlepool United are now discovering. They too experienced the significant reduction in League funding and had to make immediate and substantial changes to their business model and club structure to keep the club on a sound financial footing, including changes to their Academy set up. The fans, however, remained patient and supportive as the club slowly adapted, both financially and on the pitch, to the rigours of the National League, and thanks to a 3-1 2016 Play-Off final victory against Forest Green Rovers under the Wembley arch they are happily back in the EFL, using their additional league funding to strengthen their first team set up and to redevelop their academy.
Speaking with Dave, a committed and long serving Grimsby fan, it was evident how much effort had gone into developing a relationship between fans and club but that the advantages to both parties in doing so was huge. In keeping with research from Supporters Direct it was his belief that with the Mariners Trust so closely engaged the fans were more supportive of the club and invested more of their time and, perhaps most importantly, money. While the MOU was a welcome addition to formalise the relationship between the two parties, this is a natural extension of what is already in place.
So, what did we learn for HUST?
The Mariners Trust are an example of what can be achieved between fans and clubs, and while clearly HUST is currently in a very different position to the Mariners, our aims reflect their relationship with their club. HUST also seeks to build a close relationship with the owners and management of HUFC such that as fans – and as stakeholders – we can actively engage and have influence and involvement in Hartlepool United Football Club for the overall good of the club now and in the future. Building from a low starting point this might be through improved structured dialogue, or it might be through pursuing a sustainable equity investment, but as with The Mariners Trust story this takes time and a willingness from both parties.
What is important from the Mariners Trust and from other trusts that we have spoken with, including the Leyton Orient Fans Trust, The Dale Trust and the Wrexham Supporters Trust, is that having a coordinated voice with democratic representation is just a first step, and while there will always be critics, a constructive relationship between fans and club is beneficial to all.
A huge thank you to Dave Roberts for his time in meeting with HUST and all the best to everyone at the Mariners Trust for the future.