Terrace Thoughts 5, 16/11/18

Have we all booked our hair appointments ahead of Sunday’s televised clash with Barnet? I’ve waited months to use that pun. And was told not to….

In recent weeks I’ve been focussing on recent events at Bolton Wanderers and, outside of some references to the ‘glory days’ at Pools (comments which garnered some interesting reactions – to which I can only respond with, ‘it’s all relative, guys!’), I’ve been pretty much negative.  So, this week let’s look at a ‘good news’ story and, again, see what we can learn from it.

In the words of Nicola Hudson from Supporters Direct, “Six years ago, black clouds loomed over Fratton Park as Portsmouth had been plunged into their second administration in three seasons, suffered their third relegation in four seasons and had started their stint in League Two with minus 10 points.  The once high-flying Premier League club faced its toughest test yet…survival.”

“With a revolving door of bad owners, each more comic book villain-like than the last, the club was in dire need of a saviour.”

Enter the Portsmouth Supporters Trust, stage right.  The heroes of the hour.  With sheer determination and after a slew of High Court battles it was loyal and dedicated fans who stepped up and saved Portsmouth FC, turning them into the biggest supporter-owned club in English Football”

“Supporter-ownership brought with it a new set of challenges and an impressive amount of success both on and off the pitch.  Four successful years in the supporter’s hands saw the club’s considerable debt cleared and delivered a promotion back into League One.”

“Having repaid approximately £7 million to the club’s creditors and clearing the club’s debts two years ahead of schedule the PST showed the true power of a correctly executed fan-ownership model and it was these achievements which garnered the attention of former Walt Disney chief Executive Michael Eisner and his Tornate investment group.”

“Last year Eisner made an offer of £5.67 million for 100% ownership of Portsmouth FC with a promise to invest a further £10 million in the club, a drop in the ocean of Eisner’s estimated $1 billion net worth.

“The takeover offer was put to PST members who voted a majority in favour of accepting alongside a majority of the club presidents who in turn had an ownership stake of 51%.”

“The PST don’t view the takeover as a failure of fan-ownership, nor should they.  It is regarded by all as a successful chapter in the history of their club and importantly the final decision whether to accept the takeover was made by them, the supporters.  The PST chairman, Ashley Brown, said in a statement: “This is true fan ownership and democracy at work. Our fans decided who the next owner of our club would be – and it will be Michael Eisner and Tornante.”

“It is a little over a year since the Portsmouth Supporters’ Trust sold their shares in the football club.  But while saving the club from extinction by fronting an unprecedented fan takeover in 2013 was the PST’s most ambitious project, what has followed is surely a close second.”

“Supporters trust boards are elected from their members and are volunteers.  None are paid for the work they do in connection to their trusts or clubs, all united by an overwhelming dedication to serving both their clubs and their communities.  The PST showcases the true diversity of skills found within a football club fanbase and the impressive success a group could have when effectively accessing, nurturing and channelling those skills.”

Our very own HUST is very similar to PST, albeit that HUST, like many trusts, is always looking to strengthen its membership base and board.

“The volunteer members of the PST have spent the last 12 months redistributing the £2.75m they received from Michael Eisner back to the fans who originally invested to fund the takeover.” 

“Pompey fans who had bought shares for £1,000 to fund the takeover back in 2013 could apply to receive their money back from the PST.”

“Donald Vass, PST Treasurer, said: “The share withdrawal scheme was a hugely ambitious project fraught with difficulty – immense credit must go primarily to Simon Colebrook and Steve Hatton who have ensured its smooth running.”

“Each individual handwritten application, and there have been more than 2,300 to date, has had to be manually checked, input and paid.” 

“It is, frankly, remarkable that we have had no reports of missing or incorrect payments, which is testament to the care taken by those working on the project.”

“As well as returning more than £2,300,000 to those who invested in order to save the club, large donations have been made to important local organisations thanks to the generosity of the shareholders, who were given the option to give some of their returns to community projects.” 

The community projects to benefit thus far include ‘Pompey in the Community’ (who work with more than 7,000 people a week in the Portsmouth area and provide education, coaching in schools, inclusive, accessible football and multi sports for those with a range of disabilities as well as an array of community engagement projects) and The Pompey History Society (this was formed in 2015 when a group of like-minded fans, who share a passion for the club’s history, came together to start work towards creating a permanent physical and digital archive for the club).

“The PST now focuses on providing a crucial link between fans and the club’s new American owners.  The PST occupies three seats on the club’s Heritage and Advisory Board which has a remit including protection of the club’s name, colours, badge and the prevention of relocation to anywhere more than 15 miles from the city centre.”

“The PST representatives meet regularly with the owners and directors of the club to represent the views of fans and give feedback on the running of the club.  Recently the club and the PST have been jointly nominated for “Best Club and Supporters Group Relationship” at this year’s Football Business Awards.”

“The award is there to recognise the close and positive relationship between the supporters trust and club and is a testament to the ongoing dialogue and developing bonds between all parties for the betterment of the club, the protection of its heritage and its future.”

“There is so much positive engagement work being done by the PST who proved themselves to be dedicated custodians of the club in its darkest hour and this should be celebrated.”

“Who knows exactly what the future will hold for Portsmouth FC, but with the club currently sitting top of League One with a manager brought in by the supporters and with a sustainable playing budget matching the one which was achievable under fan ownership, the forecast looks to be clear skies and success”.

And so here is a positive story with many points worthy of consideration by both HUST and the owners of HUFC.

For those of you who may not know, Hartlepool Supporters Society Limited (‘the Trust’/ HUST) is a legally established ‘Community Benefit Trust’ with the stated aims of  assisting in securing the ongoing presence of a professional football club in Hartlepool, whilst simultaneously providing financial and other support to selected community groups. Formed with the support of, and affiliated to, Supporters Direct, the Trust currently enjoys a membership of approaching 1,000 Pools fans and is always on the look-out for new members and, critically, new Board members. HUST should not be confused with a ‘supporter’s association’ or similar and clearly needs to stand independent of many similar looking groups.

And on the subject of Pools and Portsmouth we’ve played each other 14 times and Pools have only won once – 26 January 2013 at Fratton Park with goals from Jack Baldwin, James Poole and Greg Rutherford – and looking back at the programme I read that Darren Holden (an unused substitute that day) was (is) South African – I never knew that! And I’d forgotten about Greg – he made a mighty nine substitute appearances for us over three seasons!

A notable point about Greg is that he was a ‘product’ of the HUFC youth team – and, with apologies, here I go again! Just how successful has the massive investment in the HUFC ‘youth set up’ been over the years? We can all name a few successes – but then we’ve all seen certain managers all but ignore what the youth team may have to offer – and I now ask myself, given the budgetary challenges, is it sustainable? And why, in recent years, have we given chances to youngsters from the Borer ahead of our own? If we’re going to keep going to Rockcliffe, why bother with our own expensive outfit?

So, who was the last manager to use our youngsters to any great effect? I’m thinking Neale Cooper……….

I keep referring to Supporters Direct and it is perhaps now time to look at the background to this organisation – so I’ll be back very shortly with a brief look at the history of Supporters Direct…..

More next week. Time for several pints. John

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