Friday, January 05, 2007

Research & Organisations Back Supporters Trusts

We first ran an article on Substance's recommendations re Supporters Trusts on 7 October 2006. Since then much progress has been made and so we thought we'd run an updated article.

Substance is a social research company with particular expertise in sport, young people, urban and popular culture. A few months ago 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 We have also added a link to their website for future use.

During the course of our research and planning we have spoken to many industry professionals and it would appear that Supporters Direct, the Football Supporters Federation, the FA and the Football Foundation have endorsed Substance's report. It is unclear if Manchester City Football Club or the Premier League has endorsed it.

We must pre-warn you that Substance's report is substantial, so for the purposes of this article we are concentrating on the Supporters section of the report in particular comments and recommendations made with reference to Supporters Trusts.

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 over the last five months or so. 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’”.

We know there is a significant number of City fans that no longer feel close to the club anymore instead feeling that they are required more for their money and not much else. You only have to look at the home and away crowds so far this season and compare it to previous seasons to get a flavour for the problem. In addition, you only have to go back one month to the AGM when the Chief Executive of our Club, Alistair Mackintosh, referred to the supporters as "consumers".

Substance's research lead them to follow our Club 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”.

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”.

Substance ends 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

We have summarised Substance’s report with reference to Supporters so please take the time to go to their website and read it for yourself we strongly feel that you will find Substance's views of supporters trusts to be a positive step forward for the future of clubs, their supporters, shareholders and communities. We have also added a link to their website on our blog.

Ollie briefly met Dr Adam Brown of Substance in London a few months ago when we discussed the formation of the Supporters Trust and possible Community based projects open to it when formed. We continue to research the "Community based projects" area and will be publishing articles in this respect in due course. We have kept in contact with Substance and will be meeting with them again soon to discuss our progress and the opportunities that lie ahead.

Finally, ahead of us running future articles on "Community based projects" we must make it clear that we will not be proposing that the Supporters Trust pressure our Club to provide or divert additional funding from other areas to it's Football In The Community schemes, that perception would be wrong and far from the truth. Our Mission Statement is clear "We also recognise the excellent work that Manchester City already does in the community and wish to support that and spread it further, wherever possible."

What we will be proposing is that any "Community based projects" undertaken by the Supporters Trust will be self-financed whether it be from its own resources and/ or with grants available from appropriate sources. Of course one area that does not need finance is time. We must thank the many supporters who have contacted us to offer their time to the trust. We look forward to the day when the Trust sets up and runs it's first "Community based project" run by the trust members/ supporters.

If you are involved with Manchester Community Projects, please do not hesitate to contact us or draw attention to causes that may be of interest to the proposed trust.

As is normal, we welcome feedback, comments, suggestions or input to us at

Best wishes

Colin, Colin, Mickey, Miles & Ollie


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