First dividend for shareholders
16 April ~ The excellent interim financial results recently announced by Swansea City are yet more good news from a club that can seemingly do no wrong. Part owned by the Supporters' Trust, the club has been rightly held up as a model for others to follow; while modest about their achievements they are happy to be portrayed as a community-based club run by local people. In 2002, the club's nine shareholders (including the Trust) invested £50,000 each to buy out the despised previous owner Tony Petty and have not taken any money out since. Indeed only in recent years has full-time chairman Huw Jenkins received a salary for his efforts.
With the announcement came the news that shareholders were, for the first time, to receive a dividend – initially £1 million. These included the Trust who have received £200,000 for their 20 per cent holding. Trust chairman Phil Sumbler said: “In terms of the interim dividend, the Trust board fully backed the vote of the Directors in the award of the dividend, when you factor in that during the 11 years in charge, no return on investment has been asked for or offered, until such time that the Club has been in a position that they could afford to consider such return to investors.”
Given the above there has been little, if any, concern from Swansea fans who recognise the efforts made by the board since the takeover in 2002. Both supporters and shareholders might therefore have been surprised to see the criticism by David Conn of the Guardian which was published on April 8 under the headline Swansea City's halo slips as owners decide to pocket £2m windfall.
Conn has been one of Swansea’s biggest supporters over the years but argues that in paying their shareholders the club have lost the essence of what makes them different. The article also reflected on those unsecured creditors who only received 5p in the pound when the current board took the club into a company voluntary arrangement (CVA) soon after taking over.
It seems churlish to begrudge shareholders a return after 11 years of success and hard work. Given the £15.9 million profit declared for the first six months to November 30, perhaps the club could have recompensed those previous creditors – £271,208 was the amount owed under the CVA – at the same time as announcing this dividend. It would have been a great public relations exercise if nothing else but, despite Conn’s views, missing out on such an opportunity is probably the only thing that Swansea City can be criticised for here. Paul Ashley-Jones