Supporters Trusts On The Increase
I attended Supporters Direct's annual conference last week. There was a record turnout with 226 registered delegates (76 Supporters Trusts were represented) with another 33 organisations also present. If you don't know already, there are currently 147 Supporters Trusts in existence in England, Scotland and Wales and one thing I didn't know was that all Scottish Premier League clubs have a Supporters Trust.
There was an impressive array of speakers and the first to speak/ open the conference was Stephen Birch of NTL: Telewest Virgin who were sponsoring the event. Although American he professed to being a big football fan and made it clear that NTL: Telewest Virgin were "big supporters of Supporters Trusts" and "eager to help".
Next to speak was an equally enthusiastic Richard Caborn the Minister for Sport. Whilst enthusing about Supporters Direct and the Supporters Trust movement he confirmed that Supporters Direct had managed to secure a three year £1.8m deal to carry on their work and expand into other sports. He commented in particular that sport had "a value above and beyond business" and that "commercialisation has over taken governance". He went on to say that he was concerned that the main stakeholders (the supporters) had been overlooked. He also mentioned the Independent European Sports Review ("IESR") which I was unaware of at the time.
The IESR is an independent review set up to evaluate various issues affecting modern-day European football including; the central role of the football authorities; the ownership, control and management of clubs; the level of expenditure in respect of players; activities of agents; the system of player registration and movement; the distribution of revenues within European football; the provision of funding to generate opportunities for all people to participate in football; and investment in football stadia with a focus on safety and security. For more information please go to http://www.independentfootballreview.com/
The next speaker at the conference was William Gaillard the UEFA Director of Communications. He was impressive and passionate underlining the importance of the Supporters Trust movement in the United Kingdom and Europe. He confirmed that one of the recommendations from the IESR was "to examine the feasibility of a European Supporters Direct body" and that Supporters Direct would be employed in this respect. He also made it very clear that UEFA fully supported the Supporters Trust movement commenting that "football fans are a key stakeholder group in football" and reaffirming that "football is the people's game and at UEFA we want to keep it that way".
William Gaillard also made some interesting comments saying that "UEFA deeply believes in bringing football closer to the grass roots (the rank and file)" as well as "the principles of subsidiarity". He echoed these two points throughout his speech. In his closing words he said that he hoped that "the IESR would go a long way to protect sport from commercialism".
Phil French the Chief Executive of Supporters Direct wasn't able to take the stage due to him being on crutches following a parliamentary football game! He did however comment on the funding saying "This funding will enable us to start building on the success and growth of the 140 Supporters Trusts in the UK and looking at ways of expanding our work across Europe." He went on to say "We are extremely grateful to UEFA for having the vision to back this initiative, which will enable supporters to play a responsible part in improving the financial stability and governance of their clubs".
If ever there was a "call to arms" then this conference was it. I was totally impressed by the government and UEFA's stance and continue to be impressed by Supporters Direct and all that they are trying to do. Supporters Trusts are definitely on the rise and the movement has some very important and influential backers.