The power truly is with the people according to Tom Davies
It’s a new season, hopes spring eternal (for a while anyway) and it’s time to dwell on some positive developments at embattled clubs. The fan takeovers at Stockport and Rushden over the summer bring the number of British clubs now owned and operated by supporters’ trusts to 12, with another, Brentford, run if not yet owned by fans.
Although democratic supporter ownership is still mostly concentrated in the lower divisions and non-League game, and has tended to emerge in response to severe crisis, a notable feature of the takeovers at Edgeley Park and Nene Park (the latter covered on page 15) has been their amicable nature, with chairmen and owners willingly handing over the reins.
Increasingly, supporters are using arguments that ten or 15 years ago chairmen would have used against them – that fans are hopelessly idealistic and unable to deal with cold hard business realities – and presenting a model of club stewardship that contrasts starkly with the dizzy profligacy that has characterised much post-1992 football management. Even if – as at Enfield Town, AFC Wimbledon, AFC Telford and FC United of Manchester – supporters have had to start up new clubs from scratch. The other clubs owned and operated by trusts are Bournemouth, Chesterfield, Exeter City, York City, Clydebank and Newport (Isle of Wight).
The Stockport deal struck in July was the culmination of five months of talks between the trust and previous owners Cheshire Sports (see WSC 218), who had invited the trust on board on the proviso that it came up with a viable business plan. The result was a takeover that gives the trust a 98 per cent stake in the club, a 25-year lease on the ground at £1 a year and an option to buy the ground within ten years. One potential sticking point, though, is that former chairman Brendan Elwood, from whom Cheshire Sports bought County in 2003, still retains an interest in Edgeley Park and has not yet agreed to sell. Rugby union club Sale Sharks, who have been sharing with Stockport since the Cheshire takeover, will continue to play at the ground, too. But, as trust secretary Steve Johnson says: “For once the envious glances are directed from Stretford to Stockport and not the other way round.”
The task ahead for Brentford fans is altogether tougher. The Bees United trust are engaged in a frantic fundraising campaign to raise £1 million so they can exercise an option to take full control of the club and wrest it from the clutches of Ron Noades. The cash will take the form of an interest-free loan to the club, which will enable the terms of Brentford’s overdraft with the bank to be renegotiated. Noades’ company, Altonwood Holdings, currently guarantees the overdraft, but if the Back the Bees campaign can reach the £1m target it would free the club from that burden and pay off a major part of the overdraft.
At the time of writing, the campaign has raised at least £700,000 in pledges and donations but needs another £300,000 by the end of this month. Failure to reach the target would leave the club vulnerable to alternative take-overs, according to Bees United chairman Brian Burgess: “There is a serious risk of the club being sold to people who see it primarily as a property investment.”
The perennial cash worries aside, the trust’s credentials are strong. It has stemmed Brentford’s losses since taking over day-to-day management of the club in April 2003 and last season turned an operating surplus. Acquiring the majority shareholding is the next, vital step. It would also allow the trust to progress its already well developed plans for a new stadium in Lionel Road, next to Kew Bridge railway station.
From WSC 224 October 2005. What was happening this month