Looking out for the fans

Dons Trust Board Chair Matthew Breach explains some of the “outward-facing” work that the Trust is involved with and why it is so important.

Most of the time that the Dons Trust Board (DTB) spends together (a regular monthly meeting plus a number of ad hoc meetings for specific issues) is devoted to the club, concentrating on implementing our strategic oversight of the Football Club Board (FCB) on issues such as football, finances, youth development, commercial operations and – particularly in the last couple of years – the new stadium project. What other time is available is usually taken up by internal Trust matters, such as communications, consultation and surveys, and data protection. All these things are vital to the effective running of club and Trust, but are very inward-looking and don’t address many of the external relationships that are important to us. To address this shortfall, many of these key relationships are allocated to specific members of the DTB who manage them either individually or with the help of a team.

The most important of these external relationships are with our governing bodies, the EFL and FA, and with various other government departments or bodies such as the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport. Obviously, the club – through Erik Samuelson and other FCB members – have a lot of contact with the FA and work almost daily with the EFL on a variety of operational issues. Where the DTB has interaction with these bodies it is because we are addressing them in a different context.

As examples of this, the DTB has two very different interactions with the EFL. The first is in our role as the owners of AFC Wimbledon. The EFL holds club meetings roughly every three months, plus an AGM every summer, and these are designed to let the EFL board communicate what they are doing on behalf of the 72 league clubs, and to allow clubs to give feedback on what they want the EFL to prioritise. Over the last 18 months or so I have attended a number of these meetings as a representative of the club to ensure that the voice of the supporter is not lost; with Exeter City and Wycombe Wanderers (who also usually have trust representation), we are able to work together to promote the fans’ viewpoint. Getting behind changes of regulations to strengthen the Fit and Proper Owner’s Test, objecting to the inclusion of Premier League and Championship Academy teams in the Checkatrade Trophy, and supporting the maintenance of Financial Fair Play rules are all examples of this. We don’t always get our way, but at least we get our voices heard!

The second interaction with the EFL is very different. The Dons Trust is one of nine trusts that join with Supporters Direct and the Football Supporters’ Federation in sending a representative to the “structured dialogue” sessions held by the EFL every six months. These are part of the EFL’s formal engagement with fans’ groups and cover many issues of interest to football supporters. In a number of areas, the policy of the EFL doesn’t align with the views of the vast majority of fans – the format of the Checkatrade Trophy, for example – and both Supporters Direct and the Football Supporters’ Federation find it very helpful to have representation at these sessions from Exeter and ourselves as we effectively “sit on both sides of the fence” and can ensure that such issues are raised at the EFL owners’ meetings.

Other areas in which we are currently active include lobbying for tax breaks for community clubs, campaigning in favour of safe standing, and promoting diversity and inclusion – all things that I hope you agree are important to us all. As the leading fans-owned club, we have a very high profile and we look to exploit that wherever we can to improve the lot of supporters, particularly our own!

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