Report of the Supporters Direct National Conference for 2009

by Martin Robinson

Meeting held on held on Friday 16th October.

Supporters Direct is a national organisation whose aim is to encourage the growth of Supporters Trusts to ensure football supporters (and now Rugby League supporters as well) have a democratic voice in the running of their clubs. This year’s conference was at Birmingham’s NEC which is very near that hotbed of football which is Solihull Moors’ ground. In fact the previous week it had taken me just over two hours to drive from my home in Brighouse to our match at Solihull. This morning it took over three hours due to a hold up on the M1 and as I drove towards the enormous NEC car parking area I wondered where to park. ‘Fortunately’ the car in front had a large Morecambe FC scarf in the window so for the first time in my life I followed Morecambe as I assumed they were going to the same meeting as me. A big mistake as in fact there isn’t a Trust at Morecambe and they were going to a Caravan exhibition! I must remember never to pay any attention to Morecambe again!

The conference started with the AGM. The treasurer apologised for some mistakes in the accounts which had been pointed out by an observant Trust the previous week. I sat there smugly knowing that it was in fact Trust In Yellow’s Treasurer, Phil Carder who had spotted the mistakes. You can be assured that the T.I.Y. accounts are in good hands with Phil.

Most of the morning’s sessions and the first part of the afternoon session were spent in workshops. I went to three which I felt were of most relevance to TIY in terms of building membership and in negotiating and working with a club board and will be reporting back to our members at the next meeting.

At lunchtime there was the chance to talk to other delegates and I had useful conversations with members from the Trusts of Hendon, FC Halifax Town and AFC Telford United amongst others. Telford of course run their own club and I am sure we all admire the way they do so with a real community feel, even though we wouldn’t like to go down the path by which Telford ended up with those wonderful facilities. Of course, having a well run supporters Trust club doesn’t guarantee you a good team as we saw the following day when we comprehensively out played them!

The final plenary session of the day saw three high profile speakers.

Lander Unzeata is the Chief Marketing and Commercial Officer of FC Barcelona. He spoke about the growth of his club as a worldwide brand whilst at the same time ensuring they have a community awareness as for example their support of UNICEF. One really good thing about Barcelona is that they are a club owned by their supporter members which ensures they are run with a social conscience unlike many large clubs. They have 170000 members and run teams in 20+ different sports. “It’s just like that at Southport”, I said to the person sitting next to me!

The second speaker was Alex Phillips from UEFA. Amongst the interesting information he gave was that UEFA  want to encourage clubs to only spend what they earn and, as a result, in three years time clubs will only be allowed into their competitions like the Europa League and Champions League if they are ‘breaking even’. How that will be defined I don’t know but I would like to think that clubs which are hundreds of millions of pounds in debt are banned from the Champions league. That should take care of Manchester United and Real Madrid and a few others. Why do I think it may never happen?  

The last speaker was Ian Watmore the new Chief Executive of the FA.

He has had extensive experience working in both the private and public sectors. He is a lifelong Arsenal supporter but since he has lived in the North West for 20 years he now is a supporter and regularly attends Altrincham’s matches! (This made me think of the question that has  troubled philosophers since Plato. Is it really possible to support TWO football teams?)

He spoke about the opportunities facing the F.A. including the 2018 World Cup bid and also of the various financial problems there are at present. One that may have an effect on the attractiveness of the Premiership to players is that the currency that these players (or their agents) use when dealing with clubs is ‘post Tax Euros’. In other words they  compare the amounts offered from clubs by working out how much they will get in Euros after tax has been paid. Because of the weakness of the pound and the fact that our top rate of tax for the highest earners is going up to 50% next year, it is likely that there will be a financial attraction for players to go to some of the other European leagues. In Spain for example the top tax rate is only 20%. So if Ces Fabregas leaves for Barcelona in the summer it might not just be because he has always been a Barcelona fan!!  Personally my heart bleeds for all those high earners in the Premiership having to pay more tax.                                                                                                                                              

Mr. Watmore also answered various questions including several about the ‘Fit and Proper persons’ tests for owners of football clubs. From the answers of both Ian Watmore and Alex Phillips it was apparent that they are having difficulties drawing up workable rules. I still think it should be possible to ban any owner who has obtained their money by criminal means (I realise proving it can be the difficult part).

It was a very productive day and I made useful contacts including a representative from the ‘Co-operative Group’. The group is very much involved in supporting the Supporters Trust movement and in particular is very keen on helping community ventures by Trusts. So if, for example, T.I.Y. can work with the Club, Southport Juniors and local schools on community projects there could be financial support. One of many things from the day that will be well worth following up.

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