Government supports fans

A UK Government report was launched earlier in January at the Cherry Red Records Stadium. The report, which sets out ways to increase supporter ownership and engagement, drew on the experiences of AFC Wimbledon.

Back in 2011, a select committee set up by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport delivered its findings on football governance. A follow-up report in 2013 acknowledged the value of fan ownership, and an expert working group was set up to identify ways to overcome the barriers to fan ownership.

As well as representatives from Government, the FA, the Premier League, the Football League, Supporters Direct and the Football Supporters’ Federation, the expert working group featured representatives from the supporters’ trusts of Swansea City, AFC Wimbledon, Portsmouth and Wrexham, in recognition of their “specific expertise and insight into football club ownership”. And AFC Wimbledon hosted the national launch of the report, entitled “Government Expert Working Group on Football Supporter Ownership and Engagement”, on 19 January.

The report recognises that fan ownership is a “legitimate ambition”, but that there are barriers which make it “unnecessarily difficult”. It focuses on three key areas: making it easier for fans to bid for a club that has entered administration, providing tax breaks for fan- owned clubs, and providing funding and expertise to support fans in the bidding process. There should also be twice-yearly meetings between a club’s senior officials and its supporters’ group.

Dons Trust Chair Matthew Breach welcomed the report: “The Trust was represented during this activity by former board member Zoe Linkson, and we were very pleased to be asked to contribute. Several key recommendations have been made that we believe will make it much easier for supporters’ organisations to be fully engaged with their club and, when desired, to be able to take ownership.

“We look forward to seeing these recommendations taken further by the Government and the football authorities, and we would be happy to take part in future exercises looking at other areas of football governance.”

Supporters Direct Chairman Brian Burgess said: “AFC Wimbledon has a fantastic story, and the club is a fine role model for clubs at every level. The way that supporters have taken ownership of the club, along with its community involvement, sets a fantastic example for others to follow. AFC Wimbledon has been run successfully and sustainably, while generating social value at the same time.

“This report has the potential to mark the start of a new era of structured, meaningful dialogue between clubs and trusts, supported by changes which will lead to more opportunities for supporter ownership. Implemented correctly, it can be a welcome step forward in a long-term process of reform, helping to reconnect clubs to their communities.”

Kevin Miles, Chief Executive of the Football Supporters Federation, had this to say: “The way that AFC Wimbledon has risen through the pyramid and blossomed after the outrage of moving the old club demonstrates what fans are capable of and what they are prepared to do. AFC Wimbledon is a shining beacon of what fan power can achieve.

“All too often, crucial club decisions have been taken over the heads of fans, with the real financial and strategic position of clubs shrouded in mystery. Fans aren’t only concerned with facilities and team performance: we also care deeply about the ownership, governance and strategic direction of the clubs we support.”

This article originally appeared in the matchday programme for the game against Yeovil Town, played January 30, 2016.