The first few weeks of 2013 were a turbulent episode in the history of Swindon Town and this has shown that even with a consortium with benign, honest, financially aware and business-like members, the “generous benefactor” model of ownership has serious weaknesses.  One or more can lose interest or need to withdraw their investment, or friends can fall out, and the football club which seemed to be on an unstoppable upward trajectory lurches into crisis.

Swindon Town’s new ownership gives supporters the opportunity to see what can be done to prevent this occurring again.  What are the options?

In Germany fans own 51% or more of nearly all the major clubs. This provides stability and continuity and German football does not seem to have suffered either in the quality of its national league or internationally.  In England this is the exception although Exeter City, Wycombe Wanderers, AFC Wimbledon  and Portsmouth are all owned by their supporters’ trust and the Swansea trust has a 20% shareholding.

In the recent past the Swindon Town Supporters Trust (Trust STFC) has argued that we should build on the Trust’s existing shareholding, while admitting that it would take many years to reach even the Swansea proportion. A drawback of this approach is that if the majority of shares are held by one person or a small group, if they wish to prevent the Trust acquiring a significant stake in the club, providing they are willing to invest more of their own money – they can hold a rights issue of new shares and buy them themselves, thus diluting the Trust’s shareholding.

The most crucial thing in the Trust’s mind is for fans to start being involved in how their club is run. Managers, players, officials and owners come and go. We supporters remain through thick and thin. The others, however important, depend on our attendance, paying ever-higher prices for tickets, refreshments and travel.

Even when the club is run by a board which we trust and things are going well, there is scope for rumours to start and spread rapidly by social media. When there is a blip, or something worse, it is even more important to have a link through which Club and fans can communicate. Supporters should also know who to turn to if they want to find out the truth about what is happening and also through whom they can transmit views and comments about the club.

So the communication needs to be regular and structured.  At present anyone can e-mail the club or accost a member of staff in the Legends and sound off about their latest bête noire; which the Club can then ignore if they so choose.

There should be a structured relationship between club and fans so that views truly representative of supporters can be put to the club and so that the club can consult fans on any possible changes which they are considering in the knowledge that these will be disseminated and discussed.

One element of this structure already exists, Trust STFC.

Its constitution provides for annual elections to its board by one member one vote, regular board meetings and an annual and special general meetings.

In recent months the new owners of the Club have already agreed to regular meetings with representatives of the Trust, with a formal agreement of the subjects to be covered. Similar arrangements already exist at clubs as different as Arsenal and Bradford City.

It will be vital to have this communications channel in place if the development of the County Ground proceeds in the same timescale as seemed to be envisaged by the previous owners.

This is a more realistic objective than starting a campaign to buy more shares in the Club.  Instead the Trust can concentrate its fundraising on the Red Army Fund (RAF) to help the Club. We’ll be contacting all Trust members to discuss how these funds are best utilised.

In the meantime, it is important that the new owners demonstrate the transparency and accountability to which the fans are entitled, explaining their ambitions for the Club and what level of investment they envisage. We hope to see this portayed at the Business Plan presentations in July.

The main Trust STFC achievements over this period included:

  • The Red Army Fund has increased to £9,963.99 as of 24th February 2013; and
  • The Trust received increased positive exposure of activities and campaigns via Swindon Advertiser and BBC Wiltshire;

Key lessons learned:

  • It became apparent that many supporters didn’t realise the Trust still existed under apparent good times at the Club. This view was compounded by a lack of action by the Trust over recent years with no stated short, medium and long range plans for Trust projects and involvement;

and Finally,

  • The Trust needs to aspire to provide a more effective campaigning voice for supporters and to deliver on those objectives. The strategic aims of the Trust should therefore be re-stated at both the Trust AGM, through the production of a Business Plan and via Trust communications with its members.

Strategic Aim 1 – To strengthen the bonds between the Club and the community which it serves and to represent the interests of the community in the running of the Club.

Establish a structured relationship with the Club

  • Discussions with the Board (at least one meeting every two months)
  • Published reports of constructive dialog with Club officials

Lead Trust Member: Steve Mytton, supported by Ron Smith.
Target Date: April 2013

Increase Trust STFC membership numbers

  • Improve communications with members and encourage membership
  • Conduct analysis of current Trust STFC membership – in terms of age, gender, profiles, professions, skills etc
  • Produce induction pack for new Trust members

Lead Trust Member: Phil Stokes, supported by Ron Smith and Cliff Ponting.
Overall Target Date: March 2014

 

Strategic Aim 2 – To benefit present and future members of the community served by the Club by promoting encouraging and furthering the game of football as a recreational facility, sporting activity and focus for community involvement.

Plan and run community events for Trust STFC members and non-members

  • Plan for the completion of at least one themed social evening
  • Identify and participate in at least two community events, including “STFC Football in the Community”

Lead Trust Member: Steve Mytton, supported by Alan Jones.
Target Date: April 2014

 

Strategic Aim 3 – To further the development of the game of football nationally and internationally and the upholding of its rules.

Maintain active participation in Supporters Direct events and meetings

  • Attendance at Supporters Direct conferences
  • Reports of Supporters Direct activity communicated to Trust members

Lead Trust Member: Steve Mytton, supported by Alan Jones and John Ward.
Target Date: Ongoing

Maintain active contact with the Football Supporters Federation

  • Maintain contact with Football Supporters Federation
  • Reports of Football Supporters Federation activity communicated to Trust members

Lead Trust Member: Steve Mytton, supported by Alan Jones.
Target Date: Ongoing

Maintain ties with the Swindon Town Supporters Club

  • Invite Supporters Club representative to the Trust AGM
  • Seek a closer relationship with the Supporters Club

Lead Trust Member: Steve Mytton, supported by John Ward.
Target Date: Ongoing

Maintain ties with other STFC regional supporter groups

  • Invite Supporters Club representative to the Trust AGM
  • Seek a closer relationship with the Supporters Club

Lead Trust Member: Steve Mytton, supported by John Ward.
Target Date: Ongoing

 

Strategic Aim 4 – To encourage the Club to take proper account of the interests of its supporters and of the community it serves in its decisions.

Establishment of a new annual supporters survey to influence future Trust strategies with the results made public

  • Develop survey questions, promote survey, publish results with Trust response to findings, leading to actions discussed with Club

Lead Trust Member: Ron Smith, supported by Simon Brooks.
Target Date: November 2013

Scrutinise and support as appropriate the Club’s plans for the County Ground redevelopment

  • Secure a meeting with the Club to discuss their plans for a redevelopment following the takeover

Lead Trust Member: Steve Mytton, supported by Ron Smith.
Target Date: April 2013

Support the Safe Standing Campaign led by the Football Supporters Federation

  • Present the case for Safe Standing with the Club and notes reported
  • Organise a visit to Peterborough or Villa should their trials commence

Lead Trust Member: Ron Smith, supported by Cliff Ponting. 
Target Date: November 2013

 

Strategic Aim 5 – To encourage and promote the principle of supporter representation on the board of any company owning or controlling the Club and ultimately to be the vehicle for democratic elections to the board.

Explore the opportunities available to the Trust to discuss and promote the principle of supporter representation on the Board with the Club

  • Presentations delivered and outcome of meetings published

Lead Trust Member: Steve Mytton.
Target Date: April 2013

Secure the Trust a 5% proxy stake in the Club

  • Meeting with the new Board and notes of meeting reported

Lead Trust Member: Steve Mytton.
Target Date: March 2014

 

Strategic Aim 6 – To promote, develop and respect the rights of members of the community served by the Club and people dealing with the Society as set out in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, having regard in particular to the need to provide information to members and conduct the affairs of the Society in accessible and appropriate ways.

Hold regular Trust STFC Board meetings

  • Board dates to be agreed for April – December 2013
  • Minutes of monthly Board meetings published to all members

Lead Trust Member: Cliff Ponting. 
Target Date: Ongoing

Gain members views of what they want the Trust to do on their behalf

  • Improve contact with Trust members
  • Introduce yearly questionnaire for Trust members on its activities
  • Invite guests to attend Board meetings

Lead Trust Member: Ron Smith, supported by Simon Brooks.
Target Date: August 2013

To identify and co-opt additional active members into Trust activities

  • Increase Trust board membership
  • Welcome non-board members into working groups to establish and implement Trust strategies
  • Invite guests to attend Board meetings

Lead Trust Member: Steve Mytton.
Target Date: Ongoing

Plan for the 2014 AGM

  • Book venue
  • Promote more Trust members to stand for election to the Board

Lead Trust Member: Alan Jones, supported by Cliff Ponting.
Target Date: February 2014

Hold AGM

  • Publicise and hold AGM

Lead Trust Member: Alan Jones, supported by Cliff Ponting.
Target Date: February 2014

Prepare a Business Plan on an annual basis to set out the primary objectives and associated deliverables for the Trust  

  • Publish Business Plan following AGM
  • Second edition Business Plan to contain long term objectives and deliverables, financial planning, further governance and media strategy  in accordance with Supporters Direct guide

Lead Trust Member: Ron Smith, supported by Steve Mytton.
Target Date: March 2014

Hold a mid-term review of the Business Plan

  • Review and publish outcome to all Trust members

Lead Trust Member: Ron Smith, supported by Steve Mytton.
Target Date: September 2013

Publish accounts and create Financial Plan

  • Publish Accounts
  • Adoption of Financial Plan as Appendix to Trust Business Plan

Lead Trust Member: Alan Jones, supported by Steve Mytton.
Target Date: June 2013

Establishment of a media and communications strategy

  • Establishing a Communications working group to formulate a Media Strategy and secure it’s implementation
  • Adoption of Media Strategy as Appendix to Trust Business Plan

Lead Trust Member: Simon Brooks, supported by Paul Robson.
Target Date: August 2013

 

Other Aims – Not included Above

Promotion of the Trust and its activities

  • Advertising within the Country Ground on advertising hoardings
  • Investigate advertising in the Club matchday programme
  • Sponsorship of Club players / staff – as appropriate
  • Leaflet distribution on matchdays – as necessary

Lead Trust Member: Steve Mytton, supported by Alan Jones.
Target Date: Ongoing

Publish communications to all Trust members and to the wider community

  • Maintain and regularly update TrustSTFC.com website
  • More effectively use social media to promote Trust activities and increase ‘followers’
  • Publish a Trust newsletter to be circulated to members via email on a bi-monthly basis
  • Publish press releases, emails and other communications to members and the general public as appropriate
  • Review establishing an online forum to improve communications between the board and trust members
  • Explore publishing a Trust article in the Club matchday programme on a regular basis
  • Secure agreement with TheWashbag.com to publish Trust press releases and newsletter on a regular basis
  • Undertake consultation of the future business plan with Trust members

Lead Trust Member: Steve Mytton, supported by Simon Brooks, Ron Smith and Cliff Ponting.
Target Date: August 2013

Operate and promote the Red Army Fund (RAF) to provide financial assistance to the Club through funding of player registrations

  • Regularly update the RAF fund total on the Trust website
  • Expand information on the trust website with previous expenditures by the club using funds
  • Review the continued long-term operation and purpose of the RAF with the club, Supporters’ Club and Trust STFC members.

Lead Trust Member: Steve Mytton, supported by Alan Jones.
Target Date: February 2014

 Establish a permanent matchday presence at the County Ground

  • Explore options for permanent matchday premises at the County Ground / redevelopment

Lead Trust Member: Ron Smith, supported by Alan Jones.
Target Date: February 2014

Preparation of an ‘Emergency Plan’ to guide Trust STFC activities should STFC be under the threat of, or enter Administration.

  • Prepare and publish an Emergency plan

Lead Trust Member: Steve Mytton, supported by Ron Smith.
Target Date: October 2013