It is with a growing sense of disbelief that many supporters of Kilmarnock Football Club look back at the events of September 2013. The Chairman of the Club appears to be developing a new business model for football that requires no fans at all.
At the start of the month the Club informed the Trust that no one would be attending the charity ball to celebrate the Trust’s tenth anniversary. The reason given was they faced a moral dilemma as the ball was not being held at the club’s hotel. The Trust had planned to hold the ball there but were told the chosen date was booked.
A matter of days later the Chairman wrote to the Kilmarnock Supporters’ Association to inform them that the club would no longer provide any member of staff for question and answer sessions at Association meetings, until the democratically elected chairman of the organisation was removed from office.
These Q & A sessions have always been a great way for players and coaching staff to engage and communicate with the supporters. This format permits an open and honest dialogue without any agenda or loaded questions. It allows questions to be answered fully without them being distilled down to a sound bite or a headline. They are heaven sent for a new manager who is trying to mould a team, as he can get across his hopes and fears for the season to a receptive audience. Unfortunately Alan Johnston has now been denied this opportunity by the Chairman.
Just as fans recovered from these localised PR disasters, news broke of the Chairman’s offer to drop ticket prices by 20% for Celtic season ticket holders for the game at Rugby Park. This one day only offer was available until the ticket office closed at Celtic Park on the Tuesday before their Cup game. No equivalent offer was announced for Killie fans for more than 24 hours and any Celtic fan that had purchased their ticket before or after Tuesday had no recourse for a rebate.
Mr Johnston has chosen to hide behind rules, a tactic he has used many times before. Rules that were written with no expectation by their authors that a club would ever try to deliberately disadvantage its own supporters. Imagine how long a shop would last if it only ever offered discounts to people that live outside its town. There has been no explanation why the two offers were not announced together. In order to calm the situation the Chairman took to the local paper in order to inform the support that they had over reacted.
Crowds at Rugby Park have been in decline for a number of years and the current chairman seems incapable of reversing this trend, in fact his actions at times seem to be hell bent on chasing away as many home supporters as possible. Many Killie supporters this season have made the incredibly difficult decision to not attend home games as they refuse to prop up the current regime. They have been driven to this by a number of decisions that have alienated fans over the years. This decision in particular seems almost perverse at a time when the Club should be working hard to build stronger bonds between themselves and the supporters.
The Killie Trust believes that the only way to save our Club is to urgently take it into true community ownership. This ownership would draw upon the skills and resources available within the support to develop a club that puts its supporters and its community at the very heart of everything it does. There are a huge number of community owned clubs that are doing amazing things. They have achieved this by fully engaging with their supporters and have incredible levels of participation at all level of the club. There is no room any more for people that believe there is money to be made from exploiting football fans.
As a great Scottish manger once said “without fans football is nothing” apparently Michael Johnston knows better.