Sunday, 30 September 2012

Responses to questions raised before start-up meeting


Responses to questions raised in advance of
CFCST start-up meeting held 22/9/12

Because of time constraints, not all questions/issues submitted in advance could be discussed at the Chelsea FC Supporters trust start-up meeting last week. Apologies for this.  Here are the responses , which have been reviewed by James Mathie of Supporters Direct. If you have follow-up questions, please e-mail them to cfcstrust@gmail.com.

1.  What is a Supporters Trust?

1.1  What is a trust? Why is it different from existing supporters groups? Can’t they do everything a trust does?
There are two approaches to this answer
Operationally
A supporter’s trust is a fully democratic organisation with formally incorporated as a Community Benefit Society which is a type of mutual registered with the Financial Services Authority (FSA). It has limited liability status, and assets and liabilities are held collectively by the members rather than by individuals.

It is built on a one member one vote basis which is enshrined in the constitution, and any surplus made will be either kept as reserves or reinvested back into the organisation to fulfil its objects. An annual return must be filed with the FSA and any rule changes must be agreed by the members and are only effective once accepted by the FSA.  
Other supporters groups will be unincorporated which is likely to be the right legal model, but by being incorporated as a Community Benefit Society there is more flexibility in what can be done and protection of the democratic principles.

StrategicallyFor many fans are the moral owners of club, but until supporters can become involved in legal ownership, it’s always easier to ignore or patronize than actually listen to. Supporters have been consistently ignored for many, many years, and if asking nicely for a hearing would be all it took, it would have worked long ago.
On one level a supporters’ trust acts as the guardian of the future of the football club; if they believe that the club is heading in the wrong direction or being run incompetently and not in the interests of the fans they will not be afraid to criticise. But, they’re not there to be relentlessly critical. They are also about helping the club, tapping into the skills and expertise of their membership and offering solutions and not just posing problems.

Being a Supporters Trust would allow us to join the membership of Supporters Direct (SD). SD work towards and promote supporter involvement and ownership in Clubs, and there are networks we could benefit from such as the links to other trusts at many other PL and FL clubs.  As an example, there is a quarterly PL Trust Network meeting, and ongoing support from Supporters Direct, so a Chelsea FC Supporters Trust clearly has the opportunity to identify and apply best practice.

1.2  What can a trust realistically achieve at a big club like Chelsea? It is easy to see their impact at much smaller clubs, but I struggle to see what the goals could be.
It is for the trust membership to decide the goals, but these would be more than just ‘housekeeping issues’.  Input to any redevelopment of Stamford Bridge or move to a new ground, and having a supporter on the board of the football club are both potential long term goals. Being a representative and credible voice for Chelsea supporters is a sensible aim, and one which is in our control. We hope this will have a bearing on the Club’s willingness to listen and consult but there are other stakeholders relevant to the Club that we can form partnerships with.
1.3  What works at other clubs won’t necessarily work at Chelsea given the ownership structure.
Regardless of the ownership structure, effective dialogue with the club is clearly paramount. We can learn from what has (and hasn’t) worked at other clubs – as an example the Arsenal Supporters Trust has formal dialogue with the club on a regular basis..


1.4  We don’t have the same issues as clubs like Man U, Portsmouth, Leeds etc so I can’t see the point of a trust.
See response to 1.2 above. The general theme of consultation remains but the issues might change, and we shouldn’t become wedded to just one issue, if we set up a Supporters Trust it should be with the aim of existing for future generations.
1.5  You say a trust is democratic and transparent and that sounds a good thing but what does this mean?
A trust has a board elected annually by their membership, who also vote on key issues. The whole idea is that the priorities and key actions of the trust are decided by the membership, and if they don’t like what the board are doing they can vote them out. In addition by law we must have an AGM presenting accounts and filing a publically available annual return.


2.  Trust Membership
2.1  How would membership work? Why should people pay good money and receive nothing in return.  What would membership fees be spent on?
The membership process will need to be thought through. One possible model is to have a small membership fee (say £3-£5) which gives voting rights, and separate to that a free non-voting option The money raised would pay for administration of communicating with the membership so things like meeting room hire, printing, postage, web hosting etc., which in the scheme of things are relatively small costs so fees will be kept to a minimum.

The fee for membership will always be low as we want to be inclusive, but there may be times where we need more money which can be achieved through various means.

2.2  How will you build membership?  How can you elect a committee when you don’t have any members?
If it is decided to proceed with the trust, we will be looking for all interested parties to spread the word about membership, in addition to using social media, blogs, web sites, fanzines etc.  Realistically, it will be the end of the season before a board can be elected, as you would want a decent pool of members before  holding elections so that being an elected member of the Board meant something. Until then, there would continue to be a working group.


3.  Approach of a Chelsea FC Supporters Trust
3.1  I am concerned it will be too aggressive and hostile, like SAYNO became – it would need a more diplomatic approach and aim to work with the club.
We believe that an ongoing, constructive dialogue with the club is the way forward that is not to say that ‘difficult’ issues shouldn’t be raised, or that all responses are just accepted, but confrontation should not be the default position.


3.2  It needs to avoid becoming a ‘narrow issues’ pressure group.
We agree that focussing on a couple of issues, however emotive, is not the purpose of the rust, which should look to have short, medium and long-term targets , to be decided by the membership.


3.3  There is a real opportunity to build a mass supporters movement, but this will not be easy. How do you intend to do this?
By trying to build a large membership, and behaving in an open and democratic manner, we believe a trust can play a significant role in putting representing the most important people in any club, the supporters, to the club and other stakeholders. There will have to be delegated responsibility to the Directors elected to serve by the membership to move things forward, but they will operate within the confines of the rules and the aims and there still needs to be constant 2 way communication and proper consultation with supporters on big issues.

4.  Relationship with Existing Supporters Groups
4.1  Do you intend a trust should replace the existing supporters groups? Do you intend a trust to become an umbrella organisation of supporters groups? What do the existing groups think about this?
A key issue going forward would clearly be the relationship with existing groups and a sensible dialogue would need to take place. It is not for a trust to ‘replace’ existing groups and rebranding a supporters group is definitely not what this is about.


4.2  We don’t need another fans group, we have enough already.
A trust is different from other fans groups, as explained in 1. above.

4.3  How can a member of an existing supporters group realistically get involved in a Supporters Trust?
There is nothing to stop a member of an existing group from getting actively involved in a trust (or vice versa) and indeed a number have already expressed an interest in doing so.
5.  Relationship with Club
5.1  Do you intend to join, supplement, replace or ignore the Fans Forum?  The Fans Forum is ineffective and needs replacing in my opinion, but I’m not sure how a trust could do this.
There is a general feeling amongst many supporters that the Fans Forum is ineffective. What a more effective means of dialogue is, would need to be worked out. We would hope that through the vehicle of a Supporters a Trust representing a number of supporters, we could come back with suggestions as to how the Clubs engagement with supporters could be better – whether that is through an improved Fans Forum or a different means.  


5.2  There are issues that have been raised with the club for years (ticketing, match day experience, stewarding etc). Why would a trust be any more successful than the Fans Forum?
See response above.
5.3  How do you intend to interact with the club?  Why would the club engage with a trust – are they obliged to given the ‘official’ status?
The club are not currently obliged to recognise a trust, but we believe that given the incorporated status, backing of Supporters Direct and plans to optimise membership, our case for the club to talk to us will be stronger, although this will probably not happen overnight. The Supporters Liaison Officer (SLO) role is an example of the changing attitude Clubs and Football Bodies have towards supporters, as it is now a requirement for Clubs wishing to compete in Uefa competition to have an SLO. Something that SD has been working with Uefa to bring about.  
6.  Involvement of Overseas Chelsea Supporters
6.1  Would overseas supporters be able to join?  Foreign fans deserve a voice, and I suspect the club would be more supportive if a trust provided a mechanism to do this.
We are very keen to encourage overseas supporters to join the trust and will ensure that the process to do this is straightforward.


6.2  If a trust is set up, it would be good to have an overseas rep on any committee – Skype could be used to make this practical.
That is a very good point. There is an obvious logic to having an overseas rep on a trust board, although of course it is for the membership to decide the structure of the board. The rules that SD use are flexible in allowing participation from people who can’t attend Board meetings in person and for people to vote who can’t attend meetings.


7.  Goals – Short, Medium and Long Term
7.1  Who decides what the targets of such a trust would be? A self-appointed committee?
The Trust Board would be elected by the membership, who would decide on targets and priorities in an open and democratic manner.


7.2  What would the goals of such a trust be? Club ownership is clearly unrealistic, and our owner is not a divisive figure, unlike (e.g.) the Glazers.
Club ownership is clearly not a realistic goal. A long term aspiration, however, could be a supporter representative on the football club board.  All goals, however, are decided by the membership.

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