Terrace Thoughts 6, 23/11/18

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.

“How do you watch that every week?” was a question posed by many friends of the Ashton household who, for whatever reason, ‘enjoyed’ the Barnet debacle via the powers of television. As I said to Mrs A, “I bet that’s the first time that you haven’t had an answer for anything!” She punished me, cruelly. “Well, you’ll have to watch the Gillingham game completely sober as I’m not driving you to the Super6”

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.

And the Gillingham game wasn’t one to watch without the aid of pre AND post-match alcohol, was it?

I thought that, after the abject display on Sunday, at least we looked decent during the first half of proper time against Gillingham; but my bigger concern (outside of the disorganised and dispiriting on-field performances – and concerns over whether or not Mrs A will be driving on Saturday and Tuesday) is the financial cost of failing to get a reasonable run going in the FA Cup – I fear that any financial modelling undertaken by our saviour (as that is what Mr Singh is, without question) was based on revenues being generating by a cup run – and/ or promotion form leading to larger crowds – as, if he did (which would mirror what his predecessors did) we may be facing similar challenges to those that were faced in late 2017.

I touched on the ‘youth set up’ last week – a substantial cost and I raised the questions as to which managers have tried to use ‘our youth product’, and how much revenue has the youth system generated in sales? In recent years? You don’t need to be Paul Daniels to answer that! Continuing investment in ‘the youth system’ would be an obvious decision if managers used the kids and a regular flow of sales to larger clubs was generated. Again, I hope that the powers that be haven’t assumed a few sales this season.

I recall a conversation with Garry Gibson many years ago – he explained that he had told managers to play youngsters on certain occasions – if promotion was out of the question and if he reckoned that youngster A or youngster B could attract attention if played. I’ll save blushes by not naming the two players that he told me about – but he was right. A somewhat abused and misunderstood bloke, I for one appreciate what Gibson did for Pools – he is another guy who, if it hadn’t been for him, the Vic would probably now be housing!

Garry Gibson – the beginning of the glory days? And before anyone shouts – ‘glory days’ are relative!

One of my favourite memories of the Gibson era is that season leading up to the Northampton match on 11 May 1991. The Vic rocked with 6,957 (lifelong – well, at least for that day!) Poolies seeing goals from Dalton, Allon and Baker – but that season delivered so many memories – 46 league appearances from Joe Joe, Baker and Dalton, 45 from Robbie Mc, 43 from Ian Bennyworth and 42 from my ‘all-time hero’ Brian Honour. We were referred to as a ‘promotion juggernaut’, we lost four nil at Burnley and two nil at Cardiff (and where are those teams now!?!), we scored five at Aldershot, Billy Ayre (RIP) beat Alan Murray to Manager of the Month, and Stevie Tupling graced the Vic with that hair!

It is easy to understand why folk are less than enamoured with the current position of the once mighty Pools; but, as I’ve tried to explain over recent weeks, we were perhaps spoilt in the past (by Garry, the great Harold Hornsey and Ken H), and lets not lose sight of the need for support from an outside individual……………….or Supporters Trust. So thank you Mr Singh. And thank you HUST – keep up the good work; you/ we don’t know when you’ll be needed.

And, on the subject of Trusts: Hartlepool United Supporters Trust is holding its AGM on 6 December 2018 – all members are welcome and anyone else can join on the night! Details are on the HUST website/ Facebook page. I understand that a representative of the Wrexham Supporters Trust will be in attendance, explaining what they did with Wrexham FC: this is great on so many levels – your own Trust working with/ learning from another Trust, Trusts (who support rival teams) working in harmony for the good of the wider football family, and all of you being given an opportunity to listen to your Trust, another Trust, and to join them in making a positive contribution to football in Hartlepool – and the rest of the planet! OK, I got a tad excited there.

But back to Northampton – last week I promised to talk about Supporters Direct, an organisation for which I have the utmost of respect and the very beginnings of Supporters Direct can be traced to Northampton Town.

The roots of Supporters Direct (SD) were in response to another near extinction at Northampton Town FC in 1992. The following is from the Northampton Town Supporters Trust website, written by founder, first Managing Director and former Chair of SD, Brian Lomax (the following is an extract from the SD website):

Northampton Town Supporters’ Trust was formed in January 1992, as a result of a large public meeting attended by over 600 fans. This meeting was called by a group of ordinary supporters in response to a financial crisis at the club and a series of misleading statements issued by the then chairman.

The club was reluctant to send representatives to the meeting, but relented at the last minute, and the situation disclosed by them was a debt approaching £1.6 million, representing more than two years’ turnover for the club. As the Trust subsequently discovered, the rot had set in some time before, and unpaid bills stretched back several years, to the time of the previous regime at the club.

The crisis, however, had been precipitated by the club’s failure to pay the previous two months’ players’ wages, which amounted to about £64,000. The Professional Footballers’ Association had had to cover this, and so it too had now become a creditor of the club.

The Trust was set up with two objectives: first, to raise money to save the club (but not for the then current regime), and to be accountable to the supporters for the expenditure of that money; and second, to seek effective involvement and representation for supporters in the running of the club in order to ensure that such a crisis situation would never occur again.

In this latter respect, the Trust marked itself out as being distinct from normal supporters’ clubs, in that from its inception it has had an inescapably political dimension. By doing this, the Trust emerged from a variety of independent supporters’ associations and other similar bodies, who have sought to change the way that their clubs are run and how they relate to their fans.

Although a handful of supporters’ trusts emerged in the 1990’s – including at Kettering Town and Crystal Palace – it was the third report by the Government’s 1999 Football Task Force, ‘Investing in the Community’, that gave birth to SD and saw the Trust Movement become a force.

The report’s authors noted that:

“Supporters have shown how they have an important role to play in maintaining a strong relationship between clubs and the community. Fans organisations are being asked to play an increasing consultative role and financial support should be available to them.”

So SD began work in October 2000, based at Birkbeck College. Our initial business plan envisaged the establishment of 50 supporters’ trusts, but it soon became clear that demand massively exceeded expectations, with supporters’ trusts being formed in excess of the original 50 estimated, and as at the start of 2018 totalling more than 200.

At the heart of our work sits the principle that as fans, what unites us is greater than what divides us over the course of a match, and as a result, you will always see fans of apparently sworn enemies like Liverpool and Manchester United, Chester and Wrexham, or Spurs and Chelsea, working collaboratively for the good of the supporters and the wider game. 

England and Wales (The English Football Pyramid)

Supporters’ trusts quickly became the rescue model of choice for clubs, with Chesterfield were the first club owned by a supporters\’ trust in April 2001 when the Chesterfield Football Supporters Society saved it. Enfield Town followed months after, taking the radical step that a group of Manchester United fans were to take several years later when they broke away and formed a new club, Enfield fans refusing to accept the owner\’s unfulfilled promises of a new ground following the sale of Southbury Road. Others at York City, Rushden and others came, but given the sorry state of some of those, even after the extraordinary commitment of fans, not all remained in fan ownership – though all had more of a future than before.

The financially troubled era of 2002-2004, in part caused by the subsequent collapse of ITV Digital in England, saw a massive growth in our work, with clubs like Exeter City under community ownership and notably Swansea City still benefiting from the creation of the Swans Trust that saw them at the centre of their rescue and restructure that is the direct cause of their long period of growth and stability.

Perhaps most notably in 2002, SD was involved in the response to the biggest failure of football governance in many years, which saw Wimbledon Football Club effectively franchised to another town. The supporters however, refusing to accept that continuity as a South London Club “Reforming would not be in the wider interests of football” (a quote from the authors of the report) re-established the club under the ownership of The Dons Trust.

However, our work in England and Wales isn’t simply with clubs in crisis or supporters getting directly involved in the ownership and running of their clubs. A growing number have built trusted mechanisms for dialogue with their club at all levels, recognising the value that consultation and involvement of supporters brings. 

Our work lobbying for a game that is better run, more open, honest and transparent, has become one of the most important things we do to represent the movement in England and Wales. The Government Expert Working on Football Ownership and Engagement in which SD played a leading role, included a commitment that all leaders of clubs in the professional leagues must meet with their supporters at least twice a year as part of their structured dialogue commitments. 

Scotland

In 2002 in Scotland, both Clydebank and Airdrie collapsed, with a consortium from the latter being given permission to buy Clydebank\’s league position. The tragic result was turned around by the fans of Clydebank, who reformed the Club in the junior leagues in Scotland and have continued to thrive. Other tragic collapses have seen supporter-ownership as the solution in Scotland – most recently Gretna, now back in the Scottish pyramid and playing in the new Lowland League, but also as a longer-term solution like that at Clyde.

Since 2012, Scotland has seen the Trust Movement expand once more, with Dunfermline moving into part-ownership last year, and others – amongst them Heart of Midlothian – having similar plans drawn up.

SDS voted to become independent in 2017 and continues to grow its influence north of the border.  

Europe

In 2007, following a UEFA funded feasibility study, SD Europe was created with financial support from UEFA, and our work expanded to main Europe. SD Europe is now active in over 20 countries, including Spain, Italy, Belgium, Sweden, Poland and Germany. The demand demonstrated in the feasibility study has resulted in the creation of a network of democratic groups across the continent, all aiming to be involved in the ownership and decision-making processes at club, national and European level.

In 2010, we were appointed by UEFA to facilitate the implementation of Article 35 of their Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play regulations, which states that all clubs wishing to receive a UEFA licence must appoint a Supporter Liaison Officer.

Since then, we have completed a highly successful European Commission Funded project across eight European countries and nine partners, and launched the ‘Heart of the Game’ position paper at the European Parliament. 

SDS voted to become independent in 2016 and continues to go from strength to strength.  

In 18 years we have now reached the 200 mark of supporters’ trusts in the UK – covering some 75%+ of the top football divisions in both England and Scotland. In the UK we use the democratic, not-for-profit Community Benefit Society model, whilst using similar principles and legal structures in mainland Europe.

The future of SD

In July 2018 members of SD voted to join forces with the Football Supporters Federation, and create a powerful single voice for supporters. 

I do not apologise for rambling on here – the work of Supporters Direct, and by which I mean those hard working individuals behind it, is to be applauded and respected – and in a similar vein, the efforts of the folk working behind the scenes of HUST are to be appreciated and should be supported.

Who enjoyed the Keegan night last Friday? Sure there were a few who misbehaved but it was a memorable night – a night which would not have happened had it not been for those hard working folk behind HUST – and I very much hope that it raised an appropriate sum for their funds.

More next week.

Time for several pints as I start worrying about Dover.

John

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