I was fortunate enough to be asked to attend an Everton Shareholder’s Association meeting as an independent representing NSNO. The topic for that nights discussion? Is a Supporters Trust something that Evertonians could get behind?
Shareholders were presented with the pros of a trust by guest speakers Andy Burnham MP, Trust Everton and a representative of Supporters Direct an organisation that has helped set up and maintain many trusts and one which Andy Burnham help start.
Supporters Trusts are not a new thing and Everton are lagging behind in this respect as the vast majority of Premier League clubs have a Supporters Trust in some form or other with Tottenham Hotspur cited as a recent successful example. The idea behind it is simple, get fans registered for something that allows them to have a direct influence on the important issues to them at their football club or, to put it in more formal terms:
” A supporters’ trust is a formal, democratic and not for profit organisation of fans who attempt to strengthen the influence of supporters over the running of the club they support”
The first question that might come to mind is do we need this? After all we already have a Shareholder’s Association,Everton Disabled Supporters Association, a Fans Forum and even a Junior Fans Forum. However, what we don’t seem to have is one large cohesive group who can represent a wider fanbase. The representative for Supporters Direct and Andy Burnham spoke at length and eloquently of the benefits of a large and democratic group who could act as a voice of supporters. While groups I mentioned above clearly do a sterling job in representing a specific proportion of fans it could be said that the wider fanbase don’t have a large enough voice.
One thing that was clear is that the consensus from the panel is that the time is now for such an idea to put forward to the wider fanbase. Andy Burnham was quick to point out the air of positivity around Everton at the moment after a period of restlessness in the fanbase and the representative from Supporters Direct said that this is the time when such trusts tend to be, “in it for the long haul” whereas a lot of trusts are setup in moments of crisis and tend to be hijacked by the more militant fans out there. While the current consensus is that Everton is largely being well run, there is a real chance of creating something that is democratic and for the benefit of all.
One of the main benefits Andy Burnham outlined for a Supporters Trust is that when something big does come along, and he cited the failed Kirkby ground move as an example, the fans will be represented so decisions are not made without consultation and:
“The supporters voice must be unified, organised, positive and play a proper role in navigating that complicated road from getting this club to where it is right now to where we would all want it to be.”
However, this all sounds fine and dandy but the main question is how can it be accomplished? Now I went to this meeting with the reservations of many running through my head. The presumption was that this is a vehicle for The Blue Union. I can categorically state this is not the case and any trust would have to be democratic, indeed there are very strict guidelines to be followed if you want to be registered as a Supporters Trust with Supporters Direct in the first place. There are a number of ways to set up a trust and one of those ways was put forward by Trust Everton.
Trust Everton’s Mission Statement is:
To see the future of Everton FC secured for the current and subsequent generations of Evertonians.
The initial rationale for Trust Everton is to explore thoroughly the feasibility of a supporters’ vehicle providing sustainable long-term funding for the real-estate assets of the football club. The two that spring to mind are the training ground and the stadium.
To progress beyond this first phase Trust Everton will need to raise and manage safely a considerable sum of money, and then run and maintain valuable property assets. Its infrastructure and management will need to be of “industrial strength” in order to do this.
In essence the idea is, if enough fans join and contribute, a facility can be bought for Everton to use and this gives the wider fanbase a tangible asset that gives them a stronger voice within the club. The example pitched by Trust Everton was that of raising the money to build the accommodation complex that Roberto Martinez has indicated was necessary at Finch Farm which allows the fans to have a stake in something Everton need. This could be the starts of something bigger with indication that a long term plan could be fan ownership of stadia and even a representative in the boardroom.
Once all of the speakers had explained what a Supporters Trust could be, with everything from an expanded fan voice that costs nothing to club ownership laid out eloquently, the debate was opened up to the floor for questioning.
Now Trust Everton have clearly put a lot of work into this method and they backed up their claims with lots of research. However, there was instant issues raised by several people on how exactly such a scheme would work with amounts and figures batted around. They will be doing some more research with fans to see what fans are willing to pay and how exactly they will sell the benefits to them but there did seem to be a rigidity to the idea that many were simply not able to see past. This was further hampered by the representative from Supporters Direct, stating rather candidly that the model in it’s current guise is not something that they could work with. They described the model as, “putting the cart before the horse” and would like to see a Supporters Trust established first before anything happens regarding investment. While the representatives of Trust Everton admitted that ideas do evolve they seemed to rail against the idea of doing things in any other way than how they envision.
A concern I raised was how behind the idea Everton were and this is a question that no one seemed to be able to answer to any satisfaction. While Trust Everton stated they have had several meetings with the club they stated the fact that they have had three different communications directors to speak to has made things difficult. Also the failure of Everton Place has made the club wary of any schemes so it might be a case of getting people interested first.
The debate continued to rage to the point where the chair simply had to call time otherwise it could well have run all night. One thing is for certain, the idea of a Supporters Trust IS a good one. Large scale fan representation can never be a bad thing. However, unless there can be some sort of consensus on how it can be achieved and some flexibility from those who might try to achieve it it’s going to be something that is unlikely to come to fruition. It’s become a matter of, who do we trust with a Supporters Trust? Sometimes you come out of something with more questions than answers and this needs to be resolved to get this off the ground. I look forward to seeing how the idea progresses.
More information about Trust Everton can be found here. http://www.trusteverton.com/
Details on what Supporters Direct do is here. www.supporters-direct.org/
Is a Supporters Trust a good idea?