Quite some time ago now we published a very brief question and answer article. With there being so much interest we thought we'd do an updated one:-
1. What is a Supporters Trust?
The basic definition of a Trust is a democratic, not-for-profit organisation of supporters, committed to strengthening the voice for supporters in the decision making process at a club, and strengthening the links between the club and the community it serves.
2. Why do we need one?
Manchester City supporters have traditionally had a reputation of tremendous loyalty and the club has always had the reputation of being friendly and supporter-oriented. However these reputations seem to be under threat as crowds diminish and the club appears to be more remote to the majority of its supporters. The fact that we only took half the numbers to Blackburn that we took two seasons ago and that we only just had 40,000 for the home match against Arsenal tells its own story. Ticket income now represents just one-quarter of our total income and many fans feel that the club is prepared to sacrifice its loyalty to them, when compared to other stakeholders.
We feel that a supporters trust can help to address these issues, as supporters trusts can do things that supporters club branches can’t (see below)
3. That’s all very well but aren’t these really for small clubs in financial trouble?
Many trusts have come about because the clubs have experienced difficulties and these have tended to be smaller clubs. The trust provides an excellent vehicle for fans to put their efforts into saving their club. However probably the best known example of a supporter-owned club (though not a trust) is Barcelona, the current European Champions and they are hardly small or in financial trouble. Nor are supporter owned Real Madrid. In the Premiership there are a number of trusts including those at Arsenal, Spurs, Aston Villa, Reading and Watford. Rangers and Celtic also have them.
4. How do you go about setting one up?
The first formal stage in the 3 stage model will be to hold an open meeting for all those interested. At that stage a democratic vote will be taken of those present to decide if the supporters of Manchester City want to see a trust formed. Then an interim committee will draft a constitution and start the activities leading up to the next major milestone, the launch, when people can start to join the trust. The third major milestone is the first Annual General Meeting.
Supporters Direct, the government funded umbrella organisation for supporters trusts, recommend setting up the trust as an Industrial & Provident Society (similar to a co-operative) and all this has to be done before the AGM. It can take more than 12 months to get all this in place.
5. How is it different from a Supporters Club?
A supporters’ trust is not an attempt to by-pass or replace the network of Supporters Clubs that City is lucky enough to have. They perform a valuable role in allowing supporters in a particular location to meet together, organise activities, tickets and travel.
Trusts are formal bodies usually incorporated under the Industrial & Provident Societies Act and regulated by the Financial Services Authority. An incorporated trust can hold property on a corporate basis whereas a branch’s assets are effectively held by the committee or trustees. This means that trusts can hold shares in the club as well as any held by individual members (although the OSC holds some shares, we understand).
A trust that holds enough shares can exercise influence with the club that small shareholders couldn’t. This can extend from regular meetings with the club officials, to a seat (or seats) on the board right through to outright ownership. At least 4 league clubs, and many non-league clubs, are owned or controlled by their trusts.
6. What about membership?
Open to anyone to wants to join. The level of subscriptions is set by the trust itself and should be affordable by as many people as possible. Membership is slightly different to membership of a branch as each member is a shareholder in the trust. However, they hold one £1 share and one share only. No-one can acquire a majority holding. So it’s one member, one share, one vote as opposed to a plc, which is usually one shareholder, many shares and many votes.
7. Can someone be a member of both a trust and supporters club branch?
Yes - there is no conflict. Two of the people behind the trust are members of their local supporters club. Many members of the trust will be people who have no intention of belonging to a supporters club. Likewise not all members of the supporters clubs will want to be members of the trust. It will be down to individuals.
8. How will the Trust work with the Supporters Clubs?
The extent and process of working together is open to discussion but we would foresee that the OSC & CSA, as well as the Disabled Supporter Clubs and the International Supporters Club, could have representation on the Trust Board if they and the trust members wanted that. Similarly the Trust could interact with the supporters clubs in an agreed way.
9. What about Points of Blue?
“Points of Blue” is the current name for the old Fans Committee. There is an open meeting about every four months and this agrees a range of topics to discuss with club officials. A delegation then meets with the club and discusses the issues raised. Sometimes the club is willing and able to do something to rectify a problem and sometimes not. The topics tend to be items of concern to the fans, such as ticket pricing, stadium catering and the match day experience.
It is undoubtedly a useful forum but it only exists due to the goodwill of the club. If that was to be withdrawn then Points of Blue could not operate. In addition Points of Blue has no legal or other formal foundation and the delegates are not accountable to anyone. No one doubts they do their best however and they have achieved some successes.
The Trust is an independent body and does not need the goodwill of the club to operate although we would prefer it. If the trust can wield enough power, via a significant shareholding then it has the option of getting someone onto the board to represent the views of the fans directly.
10. Do you have to be a club shareholder to belong to the trust?
No. You will be a shareholder of the trust with each member holding a single £1 share. The trust may be a shareholder of the club and you may wish to use any shares you hold in the club for the benefit of the trust in some way. However, no matter how many Manchester City shares you have you will still only have one share and one vote as a member of the trust.
11. You’ve said a trust is democratic – does that mean they vote on every decision?
No. Like any other organisation, the trust will appoint a board of directors who will make all the day-to-day decisions. They have to abide by the constitution of the trust and any other applicable rules and policies. They will also clearly have to abide by the wishes of the members. There will be an annual general meeting at which all board members will have to stand for election and then re-election.
Some decisions at general meetings will be agreed by a simple majority but more fundamental changes may require a larger majority in favour, depending on the rules and legislation.
12. What if a large minority of trust members disagree with the direction of the majority?
It would be foolish to suppose that, with a sport that arouses as much passion as football that everyone will always agree on everything. However, like all other organisations, compromise is a fact of life and conflict can often lead to a stronger position evolving as all sides of the argument are fully taken into account. The democratic and accountable nature of a trust means that people have to justify their decisions.
As normal we welcome feedback and questions please send them to email@example.com We look forward to hearing from you.