Before today’s match, supporters of AFC Wimbledon and Wycombe Wanderers joined together for a minute’s applause in tribute to Brian Lomax, a leading figure behind the supporters’ trust movement and an inspiration for the Dons Trust and AFC Wimbledon. This article appeared in the matchday programme.
Dons fans have spoken of their sadness at the death of Brian Lomax, the founder of the first supporters’ trust at Northampton Town, describing him as an inspiration to them in the establishment of AFC Wimbledon. Brian died of lung cancer earlier this month, aged 67, and his funeral took place yesterday (November 20) near his home in Northamptonshire.
Kris Stewart, the founding chairman of AFC Wimbledon, recalled how much Brian gave inspiration to Dons fans in the midst of the fight against the move to Milton Keynes:
“We were fighting almost on a game-to-game basis, but we needed something more, something bigger. I went to a conference organised by Supporters Direct, and heard Brian speak about what he had done and how Northampton Town fans were involved in the running of their club.
“It wasn’t a radical idea, really, that fans should be involved in running clubs, and that the money they put into a club should give them the same influence as the money put in by traditional directors. It just shows how completely out of the picture fans were that this should be seen as revolutionary.”
Brian had formed the first- ever supporters’ trust in 1992 at Northampton Town. The club, then as now, was teetering on the brink of insolvency with reports of unpaid bills and mis-spent money. He and some friends discussed the situation after a match, decided to act and called a meeting of fans.
He had been inspired by a rent strike by student activists at Lancaster University earlier that season in which his daughter had taken part, and resolved that fans shouldn’t be treated as passive fundraisers at a time when the club that formed part of their identity was imperilled.
A boyhood Altrincham fan, Brian first made the transition from football fan to activist by inspiring people to get involved in saving their club. For many years he was Altrincham’s only away supporter, travelling around the grounds of the Cheshire League on his bike, and eventually he would be given a lift by the team bus.
In the early 1960s, with the club teetering on the edge of extinction, he wrote an impassioned letter to the local paper about the importance of saving it, and a few days later Altrincham FC was bought by two local businessmen called Noel White and Peter Swales. The latter would come to own Manchester City, and the former would come to be chairman of Liverpool FC.
Following the meeting of Northampton fans, an organisation was formed, taking the name Northampton Town Supporters Trust (borrowing from the Rugby Mayday Trust, a charity of which Brian was chief executive and whose transformation from a dormant halfway house for paroled offenders into a shelter for victims of domestic violence and recovering addicts he had overseen). Northampton Town by now had been put into administration, and Brian and a fellow trust representative had been invited to join the board – where Brian used his political skills to maximise his impact.
“Brian was a genius in that kind of environment,” said AFC Wimbledon fan Dave Boyle, who knew him for 20 years and was a successor at Supporters Direct. “We used to joke that he was like Columbo: he lulled people into a false sense of security, and they always underestimated him. He used the haughty arrogance of his adversaries and turned it against them.”
Brian’s politics were founded on a commitment to the Liberal Party, and in the days when the party had single-figure representation in the House of Commons, he was a keen activist. At the age of 9 he had heard the Liberal leader Jo Grimond speak at their annual party conference, and was entranced.
Grimond was an advocate of decentralisation, and believed that people everywhere were better than distant bureaucracies or companies at running the things that mattered to them – their workplaces and their public services. Brian’s political and professional life would be dedicated to empowering people to control the things that mattered to them and their communities.
He was an academic prodigy, passing his entrance exams for Cambridge aged 13, but he spent time working as a paid agent for the Liberal Party in Manchester before going to university, where he toyed with entering the priesthood and embarked on a theology PhD.
Politics called more strongly, though, and he fought Michael Meacher in the Oldham West by-election of 1968, losing then and again in 1970. He was lined up to fight the Rochdale by-election in 1972, but was asked by Jeremy Thorpe to stand aside for Cyril Smith. He stood for Parliament on another three occasions, losing each time but steadily increasing the Liberal vote.
Brian was far more politically influential as an advocate of supporters’ involvement, and he impressed the administrators working on the 1997 Labour Government’s Football Task Force, who were taken both by Brian’s story and by the man himself.
In 1999 he was asked to head a new organisation to help fans across the country become more involved in running and owning their clubs: this was Supporters Direct, which began its work in October the following year. Brian was its first managing director and would later become its chair.
It was soon after this that Brian first came into contact with Wimbledon fans seeking to fight the move to Milton Keynes, and he attended the meeting, as he did so many in that period, to decide whether or not to form a supporters’ trust at the club. At the end of the meeting, fans agreed to form the Dons Trust, but there was a feeling that more was going on.
“We talked afterwards that there was an energy that would see fans form their own club in the event of Milton Keynes being given the go- ahead,” said Dave Boyle. “Wimbledon fans had come to understand that they, not players or owners, were the club. Brian had always known it, and it was what animated his evangelical work in football.”
While the creation of a wholly owned club, AFC Wimbledon, went beyond what had been achieved at Northampton Town, Kris Stewart remembers how Brian was an inspiration to many of those involved at the time:
“He was just right about football and football politics, and he had this ability to make other people believe in what they could do. It wasn’t that they wanted to copy what Northampton Town fans had done, but that Brian had this knack of making people do something they might not otherwise have had the confidence to see through. That was the case with us.”
Brian was an enthusiastic supporter of taking that extra step, building on an existing affection for the club. Like many lower- league football fans, he’d been admiringly supportive of the rise of Wimbledon FC, seeing it as an example that his beloved Northampton might one day be able to follow again, and later he would speak of the “magnificence” of AFC Wimbledon as an example to follow. He was able to present the Supporters Direct Cup to the club, their first piece of silverware, after the victory against Enfield Town in 2003.
The achievements of the man dubbed “the inspirational Brian Lomax” (TIBL) by Dons Trust founding chair Lou Carton-Kelly were recognised in 2009 when he was awarded an OBE for services to football.
In the days after his death, many people commented on social media and messageboards that they truly believed that were it not for Brian, they would have no club to support. AFC Wimbledon fans were, quite rightly, amongst them.