Supporters Direct published their Proposals for Football Club Licensing in November 2011. This includes a staged model for engagement by supporters trusts with the clubs they represent.
The Argyle Fans’ Trust has made a submission to the Committee in advance of its meeting, which reads as follows:
Argyle Fans’ Trust statement on Football Governance
The Plymouth Argyle Supporters Society (trading as the Argyle Fans’ Trust) welcomes the report of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee on Football Governance, as published on 29th July 2011. We also welcome the recommendations on licensing put forward by Supporters Direct (Proposal A).
Lower league football clubs are important parts of the identity of their local communities and as such must be protected in the interests of not just supporters but of the towns, cities and regions which they represent. Too many of these clubs have been put into financial difficulty by directors and owners who do not value this attachment, and for various reasons have saddled their clubs with huge debts which they do not have the means to pay following the departure of said directors or following a decline in the club’s league status. Supporter governance is therefore key, as it strengthens the links between the club and its community whilst guaranteeing that the importance of the club to its communities’ identity is safeguarded by those who recognise this importance and value it more than wealth and prestige.
The experience of Plymouth Argyle fans over the past few years has highlighted just how far a club can fall in a very short space of time when directors are not properly accountable to the communities which they serve and the supporters of the club of which they are just temporary custodians. With debts rumoured to be in excess of £17 million, Plymouth Argyle was placed into administration, at which point not only was the club deducted ten points but its very future was put at risk. The directors of the club faded into the background whilst it was the supporters came to the fore to fight for the future of the club. Together, they raised over £100,000 to help the staff who worked on during a lengthy administration period. The fledgling Argyle Fans’ Trust, operating under Model Rules and advice provided by Supporters Direct, gained 1,500 members in a very short period of time, and it was that force that played a key part in the club’s survival, as a new owner was found who both respected the supporters place within the club and the club’s place within the community.
Current football governance provided no checks or balances against the debts that were built up by former directors and, like in so many cases, the supporters and staff were the ones left to pick up the pieces alongside a new owner. Had there been better governance, which included supporter scrutiny, the lack of communication over the decisions and risks being taken by our former directors would have been far less likely to have happened. Supporters are the constant, and they are the soul and conscience of a football club; they should be considered as such in terms of governance so that they can help protect vital community assets for future generations.
The Trust supports the proposals for licensing put forward by Supporters Direct. We believe that fan engagement with their clubs, to ensure sustainable and community-focused operation, with transparency and accountability at the fore, is key to the future well-being of football. As the Committee’s report states (p.63), clubs must be protected from over-ambitious or otherwise incompetent or duplicitous owners, while good owners much be encouraged to stay in the game. The Supporters Direct proposal for football governance echoes this when it says the framework for sustainable development should promote financial and social responsibility, and ensure that clubs and their assets are protected for current and future generations. The Trust supports Supporters Direct’s framework for “Fit and Proper Supporters Trusts” to be granted legal rights towards governance and scrutiny over the clubs they represent, rights which become more powerful through incremental levels as the trust establishes itself, demonstrating its own proper constitution and governance, a strong membership, and community and social engagement.
The Argyle Fans’ Trust believes the current owner of Plymouth Argyle is making genuine moves to significantly improve supporter engagement, following a sustainable operational model, with supporters having a voice, and welcomes these moves. We must however also consider the positions of other clubs, whose owners may not be as open to such engagement, or of our own club should its ownership change at some point in the future. If the football authorities will not act to facilitate the supporter engagement model proposed by Supporters Direct, we believe legislation should be put into place to enforce it.
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