Saturday, September 23, 2006

Supporter's Trust Article Of 17.8.06

On 17.8.06 MCIVTA published an article by one of the guys in our group. His name is Colin Savage and he is based in Manchester. With the kind permission of Colin and MCIVTA (thank you Heidi) here is the article. By the way please take some time to look at MCIVTA's website

Many of you may be aware of the existence of the above at various clubs.

These are formed for a variety of reasons but the aim is to provide a democratic and legally constituted framework for a club's supporters, through which they can, if desired:

1) Represent the views of supporters to the club;
2) Bring the club closer to the community;
3) Own shares in the club, where appropriate;
4) Possibly take some part in the running of the club, often via the election of supporter directors.

The best known example of a supporters' trust is Barcelona, where the supporters own the club, but many English & Scottish league clubs also boast supporters' trusts and these are actively encouraged by the Government, via the Supporters Direct organisation. A few English league clubs are, like Barcelona, also wholly owned by trusts (Brentford, Chesterfield, Rushden & Diamonds and Stockport). Often these have been set up as a response to financial difficulties but Manchester United fans also set up a trust as a reaction to the potential takeover by Sky. It still exists following the Glazer takeover although it has no connection with the club.

Trusts that do have some connection are mainly found in the lower leagues but Spurs, Arsenal and Villa, as well as newly-promoted Reading and Watford all have them. Reading is an interesting example as their chairman, John Madejski, has over 97% of the shares so the trust has no hope of being able to influence events via a significant shareholding. However they have built up such credibility that they now attend part of the regular senior management meeting at the club.

Manchester City is a publicly quoted company on the Ofex market, meaning that its shares can be easily bought (and sold) and many fans, me included, have done so. This entitles you to attend and vote at the AGM and receive copies of the annual report and accounts. There are currently around 55 million shares in circulation and they can be bought for 24p each at today's price.

Any shareholding over 3% has to be declared to the Stock Exchange and shown in the accounts. This means that we know who owns large shareholdings in the club.

The main blocks of shares are held by four groups. John Wardle & David Makin are the major shareholders with 29.95%, followed by the estate of the late Stephen Boler, with 18.75%. The next two large shareholdings are in the hands of Sky and Francis Lee, with 17% between them. This makes up 65.7% and given that there are no other holdings above 3%, it is therefore likely that the largest group of shares, about a third, are in the hands of a few thousand small shareholders.

Clearly, the more shares you hold, the more of a say you potentially have in the club, particularly once you get a significant stake. However the concept of a trust, if set up as a sort of co-operative in the recommended way, means that everyone, regardless of their individual shareholding, has the same stake and standing. That is not to say that individual shareholdings are "re- distributed" but that they can potentially be combined, in various ways, into one voting block of far greater power than a myriad of little holdings. The trust can also buy shares on its own behalf, with funds contributed by members. The rules for the trust should ensure that membership is open as widely as possible via affordable subscriptions and that the trust is a non- profit making, fully accountable body.

The idea of a Supporters Trust at Manchester City has been floated again recently. There is a wide diversity of views about the way our club is being run but I think we all agree that there is less regard for the ordinary supporter these days. This may well be a general trend across the Premiership but we've certainly seen it at City. There is less and less support for the Supporters Club branches. The AGM is a chore to be got over with as soon as possible. The more money that comes into the game from Sky and other corporate sources (hospitality & sponsorship) the less important we individual fans seem to be both financially and as a voice. A Supporters Trust is one way to address this.

The Club has been approached and their response has been resoundingly non- committal so far. This is not helpful but is certainly not a show-stopper. In fact this response says to me that we need this more than ever, rather than the increasingly sanitised communication channels we currently have (Points of Blue and the club-provided spin in the Manchester Evening News) plus the blanket assurances about the finances that never seem to be borne out in reality. When Don Price starts to get cynical and disillusioned then it's time to worry. My own concerns started when I experienced the AGM and realised that the club was not prepared to engage with its supporters and shareholders in any meaningful way.

Please note that this is not intended to be a single-issue pressure group (like Stand Up Sit Down) or breakaway unit (like FC United). We are not going to solve the football-wide problems of diving, the increasing influence of television or an unequal financial playing field. Ideally we would like to work with the board and management in order to ensure that the fans that go to Sunderland or Reading on a Tuesday night are seen as more important to the club than the people who pay their Sky Sports subscription but have no interest in Manchester City (or any other club for that matter).


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