The latest newsletter from Supporters Direct deals with how fans ownership of football clubs in the Irish Republic has progressed in recent years. Recently, Shamrock Rovers and Cork City won the Premier and First Divisions of the Airtricity League.
Kevin Rye reports in The Journal, published in Ireland, how both clubs have come through some turbulent years – at times flirting with extinction – but are now owned by fans’ groups.
Supporters’ Trusts and ownership by the fans is not a new phenomenon in the League of Ireland.
Shamrock Rovers, is the most prominent example of ownership by supporters, and the recent resurgence of Cork City under a similar model is another cheering story. Television coverage in England of Shamrock Rovers’ Europa League group match against Spurs was liberally peppered with references from the commentators to the club’s ownership by the fans.
This is probably in part because the media in England have seen 11 years of supporters’ trusts, framed in the ever-increasing debt, bankruptcy of over 50 clubs in the top four divisions since 1992 and even the promotion of part-fan-owned Swansea City to the Premier League, they can in all seriousness no longer pat us all on the head when we say fan ownership not only works, but can be successful.
It’s an alternative vision of how football can be, and they have to sit up and take notice.
In Kevin’s experience, he reports that too many football clubs – and this applies across Europe – have all too often been looking exclusively for the next day’s headlines, or worse still, the next day’s planning applications or bank lending rates, rather than whether the club has a strategy for long-term player development, whether the latest marketing campaign has yielded any improvement in income or whether the volunteers or the kids at the club are being properly looked after.
He says he recently visited a club – somewhere in these Isles is all he will say – where an individual, under his own steam, had established a youth side, which he did with the support of the club, with little or no financial assistance. It brought under the club’s wing a group of youngsters playing in the club’s colours, which could ultimately help to feed the development of a conveyer belt of talent. Yet importantly it also meant that parents, other family members, friends and the wider community would have a connection with the club, as well as all the benefits those connections entail in terms of growth in the long-term.
A few short years later, with little or no notice, the youth team was ditched by the club with no good reason, dumped in a suburb miles away, with the individual concerned left to pick up the pieces. What’s remarkable is the youth side still plays in the colours of the club, and if the regime changed, would be back like a shot, because the value of this association is clear to them.
And that’s where this new(ish) movement in Ireland is not simply about having a fan on the board to make everyone feel better about themselves; it’s about a fundamental cultural shift in the relationship between those who run football clubs, those who follow them, and the local communities in which those clubs are based and which sustain them.
We pride ourselves as a movement of not just being more open, transparent and of being democratic, but also of knowing through a combination of instinct and hard work just what a specific kind of business a football club is and how to run it.
As fans themselves know, a football club is a living institution, more important to its fans and community than simply the 90 minutes each week, or the current manager, players – even directors and officials.
It’s a collective enterprise. It’s a community thing.
· Kevin Rye is Network Development Manager with Supporters Direct, a football fans’ organisation that has helped over 180 fans’ trusts.
Well put, Kevin, you articulate the thoughts of many Trust members - although I confess it’s me who has done the highlighting in some areas of Kevin’s report.