Proposed Chelsea FC Supporters Trust – Answers To Possible Questions
What is this ‘Chelsea Trust’?
The Chelsea Trust has not been created yet, but we are a group of like minded Chelsea supporters who believe that there is a lack of engagement by the club with its supporters. By coming together to debate the Supporters Trust concept, we aim to increase our voice as supporters and enter into a positive dialogue with the club. Ultimately we aim to represent the views of as many Chelsea supporters as possible (accepting that 100% representation will never happen), and if created, will adopt the same transparent, democratic and co-operative model as seen at a number of other clubs.
What is a Supporters Trust?
The basic definition of a Supporters’ Trust is a democratic, not-for-profit organisation of supporters, committed to strengthening the voice for supporters in the decision making process at a club, and strengthening the links between the club and the community it serves. Although in some ways it may look like a charity, and has the name ‘trust’, it is not a charitable organisation.
What’s the role of Supporters Direct?
Supporters Direct (SD) helps supporters form trusts by offering advice on how to get it off the ground. They ensure that as many supporters get involved as possible. Having worked with supporters setting up over 160 trusts since 2000, they advise supporters on what works and what doesn’t and give examples of good ideas from other places. SD also take up some of the workload, as they have full-time staff who are at the end of a phone to advise if needed. They also pay for all the legal costs of setting up a Trust and may be able to provide small grants, to cover things like advertising, printing, and room hire etc.
Why form a Trust? How does it differ from an Independent Supporters’ Association or supporters’ club?
It’s SD’s belief that an Industrial and Provident Society (IPS) offers the best way forward for supporters’ groups as its legal assets can be owned ‘corporately’ in a group rather than being vested in individuals. Members also get the benefit of limited liability (and so do the elected officers in most cases) – members are only liable for £1 if anything goes wrong – for example, if the Trust is sued.
It’s democratic and not-for-profit and states clearly and boldly that a key aim is the securing of representation and strengthening the links between club and community. It’s got the ‘big idea’ that helps get an organisation off the ground – the idea at the heart is “why always be criticising, when we can be participating and communicating – we think we can bring huge benefits to the club, so give us a chance”.
Finally, the people who get involved in a trust as members know that their money is protected; it can’t be spent on anything other than what the constitution says, and anyone who does this can be taken to court.
An IPS imposes certain disciplines on a group that can only be a good thing – democracy, accountability and transparency, and this can only reinforce the points you make. Basically, it comes down to what you want a body to do. A trust, constituted as an IPS stays in existence until its members decide to dissolve it, and so they have greater ability to stay around. Often, ISA’s go into a lull when key individuals become inactive. All these are of course applicable to a trust, but the disciplines we mention above make it more likely that weaknesses are identified and rectified. For starters, the act of becoming an IPS is a collaborative effort so you need a good team from the off.
Who are you? Aren’t you just a self-appointed clique?
At present we are a group of individuals who share the same broad range of concerns over how the club is currently run and financed. No permanent structures have been created and will not be unless supporters feel there is a need to do so. The purpose of this communication is to get in touch with various existing groups, web sites, bloggers, fanzines etc to try and get their support for a Supporters Trust to be set up.
We want to hold a public start-up meeting at the start of next season. The purpose of this public meeting will be to discuss the validity of creating a co-operative grouping of Chelsea supporters based on the Supporters Trust model. The centre piece of this meeting will be a vote on whether to move to establish a Chelsea Supporters Trust run on democratic and transparent lines. The individuals who are currently involved in hosting this meeting are clear that without a mandate from Chelsea supporters, no Trust will be created.
We will actively encourage as many Chelsea supporters to attend this meeting and contribute to the debate.
You can never buy the club. What’s the point?
Given the ownership model in place at Chelsea, it is obviously unrealistic for a Supporters Trust to aspire to own the club. Instead, our aim is to simply increase the voice of Chelsea supporters by formalising a collective engagement with the club, and potentially acting as a conduit for supporter complaints and problems, working with the Supporters Liaison Officer. Any Trust that is created will not claim to speak for all Chelsea supporters but only for its members, so we want to see as wide a representative of supporters join us to make our collective voice heard.
One aspiration for a trust could be to target a place on the board – it’s about putting a professional face to the club and saying ‘we’re capable, skilled people with something to offer the club.’ That doesn’t mean that you’re unable to criticise or beholden to the club – as a democratic organisation, the members determine your policy and stance towards the club.
Whilst we believe that the Chelsea Board and employees should be allowed to run the club without interference, we also believe that as temporary custodians of the club they have a responsibility to engage with supporters in an equal, mutually beneficial partnership. Presently there is little formal structured or transparent engagement between supporters and club, apart from the quarterly Fans Forum, and little way that we as supporters can raise questions and if necessary, hold the club to account. It will be the aim of any Chelsea Trust to help formalise this role, acting as a bridge between club and supporters, so we will be proactive in encouraging as many supporters to join as we can.
Surely Supporters Trusts only work where clubs have gone into administration?
Supporters Trusts have been created at other clubs like Portsmouth and Leicester when they have run into severe financial or administrative problems. We would like to ensure that Chelsea supporters have a structure through which they can work with the club both now and in the future. We believe that whilst the board has a duty of care to run the club in the interests of the supporters, we as supporters have a duty to make sure there is an open and transparent mechanism in which problems can be addressed and issues dealt with. The Supporters Trust model is a successful way that supporters can work through.
Why do some Trusts place more importance in influencing the Board, whilst others seek to own shares or get fan Directors?
Each trust has to look at what the situation is at their club and act in the way most likely to produce results. At some clubs, the owner might not be up for selling shares, so the trust might look to get hold of the share register and try and find other sources. At other places, the value of the club is so much that supporters are going to find it very difficult to get together the tens of millions of pounds needed, so they look to be the bridge between the club and community and get credit for that.
As you don’t have to own any shareholding to be on the board, it’s not necessary to own a stake in the club (though it usually helps). All of them are united in a desire to make the mechanisms for dialogue between club and supporters as solid as possible, and as entrenched as possible, so it can’t be undone should ownership or personnel change and a different group of people come in who want to end that dialogue. And, although every club’s situation is different, we can help advice in the light of what might have worked at other clubs in similar situations.
Why are Trusts concerned about links with the local community, even in cases where the club is in crisis?
A lot of people look at how sport has changed over the past 10 years and feel that the community roots of a club in some places have been lost, with clubs seems to care more about money, or sponsors, than supporters. The club represents the very best of the community it plays in, and can act as a symbol of that community for everyone to support. Trusts are about making that really happen. It’s usually the supporters who care most about these things as they often live in the community or used to, and they want to see the kids in the town centre on a Saturday wearing the local club shirt rather than that of a club 250 miles away.
Aren’t you just a group of do-gooding, interfering busy bodies?
The Supporters Trust has not been created yet, but the many individuals who have been meeting to discuss this so far are from all walks of life and from all over the world. We actively want more Chelsea supporters to get involved, helping to build a united, powerful voice.
Aren’t you just a protest group?
We are not a protest group. We do not believe that supporters can successfully engage with the club if the basis for that relationship is negative, knee jerk or based on single issues. Instead, we aim to create an open, transparent and democratic structure through which supporters can raise their voice and help the club better communicate with its supporters.
We also have a clear sense of what we want. We aim to build fan influence within Chelsea FC. We are clear that can only claim to speak for our members, but we are united in the belief that we want Chelsea to be all it can be.
We feel that, as the club are thinking about possibly reformatting the Fans Forum, now would be a good time to create an umbrella supporters group. A Supporters Trust would also bring together supporters from all sides of the recent (and ongoing) CPO debate to work together in a common cause.
Supporters Trusts might be OK at lower league clubs like Telford, Wimbledon and Exeter, but not at bigger clubs like Chelsea.
Supporters Trusts have been formed by supporters of Manchester United, Arsenal and Spurs and each acts as an important channel through which supporters can raise their voice. However each Supporters Trust is different and the agenda and direction of any Chelsea Trust will be determined democratically by its membership.
If the board don’t want to engage with you, or supporters don’t want you, what’s the point of in a Supporters Trust?
Each Supporters Trust has its own issues and priorities. Some have succeeded in securing fan representation on their clubs’ Boards, others have bought their clubs and others still exist solely to deal with their own unique circumstances. It will be up to the membership of any Chelsea Trust to decide how it will work, its priorities and how it will measure its success. It will not be up to those currently involved in helping raise the profile of a proposed Supporters Trust to dictate any agenda to any future membership.
How much is this going to cost me?
As there is no Supporters Trust at present, we do not ask for membership fees. We simply want those Chelsea supporters who are interested in this concept to get involved in the discussion or attend the public meeting.
If a Supporters Trust is created, it may then ask for a membership fee. Supporters Trusts are formal, non for profit legal entities and as such subject to company law and strict auditing procedures. The must prove their transparency and openness – by law.
What are the next steps?
Please give us your feedback and, ask any questions that spring to mind.. If interest from the groups and individuals we are contacting is sufficient then we would look to hold a public meeting for Chelsea supporters early next season, and would look to widely publicise this. Amongst other issues, at this meeting we would look to get a constitution and board structure agreed, and to hold elections for the board positions. SD will provide support and advice at this public meeting.