What is a Supporters’ Trust?
A supporters’ trust is a democratic, not-for-profit cooperative, which, in the case of the Leeds United Supporters’ Trust, exists as a legal and financially-approved entity to work with its members and shareholders to gain influence in the running of Leeds United to the benefit of Leeds United’s fans. In the UK, all the supporters’ trusts at various clubs are governed by a body called Supporters Direct (SD). SD have a model of rules upon with the Leeds United Supporters’ Trust is financially, democratically and constitutionally based. All the supporters’ trusts in the UK stand for similar things, such as openness and transparency, inclusion and diversity, fair treatment of fans and two-way, progressive communication with the football club. The ultimate aim of supporters’ trusts in the UK is engagement between supporters and their football club, ideally leading to the involvement of supporters and communities in the running of, and where applicable, ownership of their football club.
How can the Trust help me as a Leeds United fan?
We believe the football club has a duty of care to its supporters, to run Leeds United with sound governance and with community values at its core. Where our shareholders feel this is not happening as it should they can ask us to challenge management at Leeds United and seek answers. Furthermore, we can work constructively with the club both on these issues and with other grievances fans may have of a more everyday nature, such as ticketing, stewarding, banning orders and the general match day experience.
What benefits are there to joining the Trust?
Apart from the membership card and badge sent out to all shareholders upon signing up, you will receive regular newsletters with updates on our activities, projects and dialogue with the club. You will also be able to take part in regular surveys to make sure your voice is heard, and this input is extended to include voting rights at the AGM and at other required intervals. Most of all, you will become part of a constructive, creative and forward-thinking Leeds United supporters’ group that cares passionately about every aspect of the football club and believes every fan has a right to air his or her views about how it is run, what problems they have encountered and how they believe improvements can be made. You will also be sharing exactly the same status as our honorary members who include ex-players, managers and celebrity Leeds United fans.
What is the relationship between the Trust and Leeds United?
The Trust has always had a constructive relationship with ticketing staff, the safety officer and the supporter liaison officer at Leeds United. This has mainly been built on addressing everyday issues relating to the supporters’ match day experience or addressing specific grievances for individuals. Higher up the club’s management structure, the Trust is currently building a relationship where it is hoped progressive dialogue can take place over a long term basis. The Trust has no desire to simply look at everything from a negative point-of-view, nor will it make knee-jerk reactions or persist with single issue grievances, this is not the way to build successful engagement with the club and expect constructive, two-way dialogue and a relationship built on trust.
What happens if a football club goes into administration at any point, where does the Trust fit in?
The start of the 2015/16 season saw changes to the Football League’s insolvency rules introduced, and amongst many new directives, including a tougher points penalty for club’s entering administration, the new rules offered fans a chance to own their football club. Where administrators are appointed they will be required to market a club to credible bidders for 21 days, during which time they must meet with the supporters’ trust and provide it with an opportunity to bid for the club. Of course, the Trust would then be in a position to speak to various parties and find suitable funding and capable management to run Leeds United and have a direct say in its long term health. This doesn’t mean the Trust would be, or would want to be, running or owning the club. It just means they can be a conduit to placing it in the hands of appropriate people – capable, considerate and professional people – should the opportunity arise.
What is an Asset of Community Value?
In 2011 the Localism Act was passed into UK law. It offers a way for football fans to control their ground’s destiny by way of making it an ‘Asset of Community Value’ (AoCV).
Declaring a football ground an AoCV is a way that football fans can work together to establish some control over what fate befalls their ground. Oxford United’s fans were the first group to do this in 2013. Being separated from a football stadium is a real issue, as Brighton & Hove Albion and Coventry City have found. But an AoCV has three key aspects to it, which would enable Leeds United fans, for example, to breathe easily in the knowledge that their home is to some extent secured, regardless of the current owner of it.
- Firstly, an AoCV lodged with the local council can be used as a material planning consideration, i.e. it can be used as a factor in refusing planning permission for change of use or demolition.
- Secondly, an AoCV provides a ‘community right to bid’. This means that the owner cannot privately sell an AoCV and must publicise an intention to sell, the community is then given six months’ moratorium in which it can raise funds itself, or find a person/group to ‘represent the community’ and purchase the AoCV.
- Thirdly, and perhaps in Leeds United’s case, most pertinently, an AoCV offers compulsory purchase rights, in that it can be compulsory-purchased by the local council “if the asset is under threat of long term loss to the community”. With the council already owning much of the land around Elland Road, it is sure to be on their radar to purchase the ground should a suitable opportunity come up, and an AoCV could represent that. This is also probably a better solution than a fans’ group owning the ground, which carries with it certain pitfalls, most notably in the awkward situation faced if the club struggled financially to keep up with regular rent payments.
So far a number of supporters’ groups have taken the route of securing their club’s ground as an AoCV, amongst them Manchester United, Liverpool, Ipswich Town, Charlton Athletic, Hull City, Birmingham City, Blackpool, Blackburn Rovers, Bury, Doncaster Rovers, Leyton Orient and Newcastle United. The process of securing Elland Road as an AoCV would be relatively simple and the Trust has all the paperwork already in place. We are simply waiting for the right opportunity to proceed, and at that time we will canvass opinion from our shareholders with a view to establishing that is the right course of action.
What is the relationship between the Trust, the FSF and Supporters Direct?
The Football Supporters’ Federation (FSF) is a free-to-join democratic organisation that seeks to represent football fans in England and Wales. It has campaigned for various fans’ topics such as safe standing, Fans For Diversity and Twenty’s Plenty and offers assistance and legal advice to fans facing banning orders, or who have other grievances relating to attending football matches. The Trust is fully affiliated with the FSF and enjoys a helpful, friendly and positive relationship with a number of people within the organisation.
Supporters Direct (SD) is a body that was formed in 2000, and since this time has worked to assist football supporters to gain influence in the running, and sometimes the ownership, of their football club. This has involved helping to set up 185 supporters’ trusts and raising millions of pounds to be re-invested into community football clubs. SD work at all levels of the game and have a wealth of resources to assist fans in setting up their own trusts, raising money, liaising with their football club and gaining a meaningful voice. The Trust is governed by SD and enjoys a helpful, friendly and positive relationship with a number of people within the organisation.
Are the Trust supporting fan ownership?
As with all major discussion points relating to the governance of Leeds United, the Trust’s board has a stance on the matter of fan ownership, but ultimately the position it takes in any discussions going forward will be dictated by the Trust’s shareholders. This will be decided in a democratic manner through canvassing the opinions of all voting shareholders. There are individuals on the Trust’s board who passionately believe in fan ownership and would love to see it at Leeds United, but equally there are other board members who disagree and do not support the concept of fan ownership. With any contentious issue such as this you will see a dichotomy in opinions and stances across such a wide network of Leeds United fans, and as such, in this case in particular, we feel the Trust’s board is suitably representative of the Leeds United fanbase.