A Game Of Two Trusts
On Tuesday October 17th I was a guest of the Supporter Director of Northampton town at their cup match against Brentford. These two clubs are very significant in the history of supporters trusts as Northampton were the first to go down that route in 1992 and Brentford are one of the four clubs controlled by their supporters trust, who hold 51% of the shares.
Northampton was in financial trouble in the early 90’s and the supporters trust was formed and forced the club to disclose the true position. Once this became known the group raised money to keep the club going but was persuaded that the best hope of ousting the then current chairman was to wind the club up. They worked closely with the council during this time and established their credentials as a serious and committed group. Eventually a winding-up petition was brought by a fan and creditor and eventually the club went into administration. The chairman thought he had bought some time to get the debts written off and start again with a blank sheet. However the supporters group gained the trust of the administrator, who formed a new board and got rid of the chairman. With the help of former directors, fans and the council, they came out of administration and moved to Sixfields in 1994, which was leased from the council. The terms of the lease mean that the club must have a supporter director until 2019.
The club have since bought the lease off the council and are looking to develop the site to support a significant expansion of the ground. This is dependent on the council building a district centre but the decision has been delayed a number of times. The Trust now holds about 3% of the shares. It was more but they had to dilute their holding when their current chairman took over a couple of years ago. The supporter director is accepted by the rest of the board and fully involved in the decision-making process.
Brentford have four supporter/directors on a nine man board. Their chairman is Greg Dyke, former BBC Director General and he is a passionate advocate of supporter involvement in the running of their football clubs. They were given the shares for a nominal sum but had to take on about £9m of debt. I was speaking to one of their supporter directors and mentioned that some people felt fans should not be in the boardroom. His reply was simple and eloquent. "Who better!"
Incidentally, the Cobblers (managed by John Gorman) lost on penalties. They played some great football, mostly on the floor, but couldn’t put the ball in the net.