Supporters Summit 2015

The fourth Supporters Summit was held in Manchester last month. Dons fan and Football Supporters’ Federation national council member Tim Hillyer was there, and reports on the proceedings.

While footballers were enjoying their holidays in exotic locations and many football fans had transferred their sporting attention to the England batting debacle in the Second Test at Lord’s, several hundred supporter delegates arrived in Manchester for the Supporters Summit 2015.

This was the fourth joint conference of Supporters Direct (SD) and the Football Supporters’ Federation (FSF). Since many fans’ groups are members of both organisations, it makes sense to combine the AGMs and associated meetings into a long weekend, rather than have the two organisations holding similar, parallel gatherings just a couple of weeks apart.

Brian Burgess, chair of SD, opened proceedings followed by Malcolm Clarke, chair of the FSF. Both put their respective bodies into the context of current issues with reference to their existing workload, recent achievements and upcoming challenges. Brian is a director at Brentford, with specific responsibility for the development of the proposed stadium at Lionel Road.

The FSF enjoys a higher profile thanks to its campaigning activities on issues such as safe standing, ticket prices (Away Fans Matter, including Twenty’s Plenty), policing and stewarding (Watching Football Is Not a Crime!) and Fans for Diversity. The increasing role of Supporter Liaison Officers (SLOs) is also under the remit of the FSF.

In contrast, SD is focused on governance structures in football – and other sports, mainly rugby league – in England and Wales, with a slightly different remit in Scotland, and in Europe via its sister organisation SD Europe.

Both organisations send delegates to the Expert Working Group (EWG) set up by the previous Minister for Sport to examine football supporter ownership and engagement; the Dons Trust is represented at its meetings by Zoe Linkson. The new minister, Tracey Crouch MP, recently made a statement encouraging the EWG to complete its deliberations and deliver its findings.

Currently there are supporter trusts at 13 Premier League clubs (Swansea City is 20% owned by its trust), 51 Football League clubs (including four-supporter owned clubs – Portsmouth, Wycombe Wanderers, Exeter City and AFC Wimbledon) and 56 non-league clubs, of which 26 are supporter-owned.

SD has suffered funding difficulties as a result of financial problems at the Co-operative Group. This has been compounded by the short tenure of former Chief Executive Robin Osterley, who was in post for just over a year. In consequence, a strategic governance review has been set up “to identify and assess potential options”. A contested election for four vacancies on the SD Board was held. One of the those successfully voted onto the Board was Dons Trust Board member Kris Stewart.

In addition to the routine business of the AGMs and associated formalities, a Q&A session was held to discuss the fallout from recent exposures about corruption in FIFA. A panel including Jaimie Fuller (Sports Ethics Campaign), Stephen Russell (Playfair Qatar) and Tom Greatrex (former MP and founder of Fulham Supporters’ Trust) summarised the issues.

There were several workshops, catering for special interest groups such as rugby league, the Premier League and supporter director training. Other sessions were on topics of more general interest, such as fundraising and community ownership.

The event closed with an excellent speech delivered by Andy Walsh, chief executive of FC United of Manchester. He summed up the occasion to perfection: “As supporters we protect the interests of the game and also our own, because if we don’t, nobody else will.”

(This article originally appeared in the official matchday programme for the match against Cambridge United, played on August 18.)