Saturday, October 07, 2006

Substance Recommendations Re Supporters Trusts

Much of what I am about to mention here has been taken from a report by Substance. Substance is a social research company with particular expertise in sport, young people, urban and popular culture. Fairly recently they published their report for the Football Foundation entitled Football And Its Communities which was funded by the Football Foundation and their Community and Education Panel.

The Football Foundation is the UK’s largest sports charity, to find out more about them and their aims (one of which is to strengthen the links between football and the community and to harness its potential as a force for good in society) please take a look at their website

I understand that Supporters Direct, the Football Supporters Federation, the FA and the Football Foundation have endorsed their report. What I haven’t been able to find out is whether Manchester City Football Club has endorsed it. This is something that I would love the club to comment on publicly.

The report is substantial and for the purposes of this article I am concentrating on the Supporters section of the report in particular comments and recommendations made with reference to Supporters Trusts. The report as a whole is very interesting and another one of our group is reviewing it in its entirety as part of our research into Football In The Community.

In Substance’s preamble of the Supporters section they mention something which appears to be a reoccurring theme amongst many City supporters these days, especially those who have contacted us. Substance says that “football supporters are rarely seen by clubs as ‘communities’, and are now, in fact, more often identified as individual customers”. The report goes on to say that “our research suggests that one of the principal strengths of football clubs lies in match attendees’ collective definition of themselves as fans, supporters and followers who develop long-standing attachments to their clubs through neighbourhood and family connections, rather than their status as ‘customers’ attracted to a superior ‘product’”. That sums it all up really, as we all know a vast majority of City fans no longer feel a closeness to the club anymore instead feeling that they are required for their money and not much else, indeed you only have to look at the home and away crowds so far this season and compare it to three years ago to get a flavour for the problem.

Substance interestingly followed City for three years. When commenting directly about the clubs they researched they said “currently, none of the clubs considered by our research has a policy orientation which relates to their supporters directly as ‘communities’”. A little later on their report says “it is also surprising and unacceptable that where fans themselves formerly organise around specific interests (for instance, to organise travel to matches, as independent campaigning organisations, or as trusts with mutual shareholdings), some clubs still refuse to recognise or engage with them. For example, involving supporters’ trusts in owning and running clubs, in the development of independent community organisations, or in creating new partnerships to enable clubs to be more outward facing, can only benefit clubs’ engagements with their communities and the fans involved”. At the time of me writing this article Manchester City Football Club had not made any attempt to engage in dialogue with us despite several attempts stretching back to the beginning of August.

Substance does make an interesting point to the Football Foundation Community and Education Panel when it says “…in line with government support elsewhere, the Football Foundation C&E Panel could do more to encourage the inclusion of fan communities in the running of clubs by working in partnership with Supporters Direct to promote fan ownership and representation at board level and prioritising funding for clubs who demonstrate that they are building relationships which enhance the shared community of clubs and fans”. As you know we are working with Supporters Direct towards forming a Supporters Trust, also as you know opening dialogue with the club has proven impossible.

Substance does end the report by making a number of recommendations to Central Government, the Football Foundation C&E Panel, FA Premier League and Football League and Football Clubs. The nine recommendations they make to football clubs are:-

1) Work with Supporters Direct to encourage supporter investment, ownership and representation
2) Understand, consult on and acknowledge the role of supporters beyond their status as "customers"
3) Conduct digital and qualitative "supporter community" mapping exercises to understand better their supporter communities and develop new ways of working with them around community issues
4) Include fans in preparations for match days, allowing them the freedom to create the "spectacle"
5) Ensure greater communication and access between directors and supporters in informal and open access environments
6) Increase player commitments to attend supporters' meetings, social functions and other informal space on match days and non-match days
7) Provide organisational and material support for fan-led volunteering and community development programmes
8) Support fan ambassador/ mentor programmes
9) Develop more inclusive ticketing, atmosphere and match-day access policies

I have summarised Substance’s report with reference to Supporters so please take the time to go to their website and read it for yourself I think (like me and the rest of my group) you will consider Substance's views of supporters trusts to be a positive step forward for the future of clubs, their supporters, shareholders and communities.

By the way, I understand that Dr Adam Brown and his team from Substance are attending the Supporters Direct annual conference next week. I will be trying to track them down for a chat on their findings/ views.


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