The Killie Trust was initated, as many were, after a group of fans attended the launch of Supporters Direct Scotland at Tynecastle in 2002. The Killie Trust was started a year later in 2003. Kilmarnock were in a period of relative success and everything appeared on the surface to be going in the right direction. The club had gained promotion to the Premier League in 1993 under Tommy Burns. The redevelopment of Rugby Park was completed in 1994 making it an all seated stadium with a capacity of just over 18,000. The club won the Scottish Cup in 1997 and was then involved in European competitions in four of the next five years. In order to diversify income streams the club board decided to build a four star hotel on the site of the training pitch at Rugby Park. Most fans could see the logic of this decision when there was a successful hotelier on the club board. The Park Hotel opened in June 2002. So things appeared to be going well, but fans were already aware of being marginalised and were concerned by the amount of borrowing required to build the hotel.
A change of leadership at the club in 1997 had seen the charismatic Bobby Fleeting leave the club. With him went the sense that fans would be listened to and in its place came a view from the board that fans should be seen and not heard. New income streams and the rise and rise of TV money appeared to fool a lot of clubs into believing that the need to engage with their supporters was no longer important. Kilmarnock was as guilty of this as any other club in Scotland.
In 2005, Jamie Moffat resigned as chairman and sold the club and his 86% shareholding in it to solicitor Michael Johnston for one pound. Part of this deal was that there would be no more money to bolster the club from the Moffat family. Changes to company law in the UK have made it legal to allow the board of Kilmarnock Football Club to dwindle to just one member.
Over recent years the chairman of Kilmarnock Football Club and sole board member Michael Johnston has made a number of deeply unpopular decisions, which appeared to have been taken with little or no regard for supporters’ views or wishes. With no sign of new investment or ownership on the horizon the Trust launched the Community Ownership Group (COG) in June 2012. The principle behind COG is to develop ownership of the club as a partnership between the supporters and the local business community, putting the club at the very heart of the community in every way possible. The long term goal is 51% ownership by the supporters and 49% owned by a range of local businesses.
The sacking of Kenny Sheils, the popular but controversial manager, who had delivered the League Cup for the first time in the club’s history and broke a 57 year spell without a win at Celtic Park was the straw that broke the camel’s back for many.
Kenny had publicly stated that he had a vision for youth development at the club and a five year plan to make that vision a reality. In contrast the chairman stated at the club AGM in January 2013 that he “did not have a business plan as the environment was too dynamic”. Most football supporters understand the importance of youth develop to their clubs and the loss of someone with a long term strategic view was very hard to take.
However it is unlikely that this event alone could have caused the reaction it has with the majority of supporters. It is the cumulative effect of the chairman’s poor decisions over the years that has generated it. As a result a grassroots campaign sprang up to oust the chairman. Supporters’ protests have taken many forms: some have not purchased season tickets and will not attend any home games; some have cancelled gym membership; others will not spend a penny at KFC, the Park Hotel or the club shop until the club is in new ownership (#notapennymore). These are drastic and painful decisions that are being taken by life-long Killie supporters. The protest has been symbolised by Blue and Yellow scarfs and T-shirts with a variety of polite slogans asking Mr Johnston to move on.
Short and long term objectives
The Killie Trust, The KFCSA and supporters’ short term aims are to persuade Mr Johnston to do what is best for the club before it is too late. Offers have been made but they have been rejected for reasons that are not entirely clear. In the longer term the Trust aims to initiate and develop a process that will take the club into a genuinely democratic form of community ownership. This model will ultimately lead to a stronger more sustainable club that considers the community in everything it does. Without the community the club is nothing.
The Trust has had representatives at a number of events in recent weeks: the Supporters’ Summit 2013 held at St Georges Park; the Scottish Fans’ Summit on Club Ownership and the Supporters Direct Scotland Cup at East End Park. At all of these events we discovered that you will never get all the supporters to agree (football is all about opinions after all). You can only hope to work with the active supporters that are able to put their shoulder to the wheel to help save their club. However when the crisis strikes the vast majority of fans will give what they can to help save their club and that is what makes the difference. Despite what they have been told, fans hold all the power at any football club.
The Killie Trust’s greatest hope is that Kilmarnock Football Club can avoid the same fate as Dunfermline and Hearts and transition to a new ownership model that will bring community ownership without the need for administration, as this is a messy, expensive and uncertain business.
What’s going on?
It is expected that Killie supporters will make their feelings felt about the chairman peacefully but loudly at away games across the country, and protest outside (and inside) Rugby Park. Hopefully the Killie support will become a sea of Blue and Yellow at every game this season.
The other big event coming up on the 7th of September is the Killie Trust Charity Ball to celebrate the first decade of the Killie Trust. We have been working on this event for some time. It was decided many months ago that the profits from this event should be split between the Rett UK and the Ayrshire Hospice. Later in the year we will no doubt hold another of our very successful comedy nights.
A Decade of Trust
The last ten years have been quietly dramatic for the Killie Trust. We started as a way of working with the club to promote the views of supporters. Over the years we developed a number of community based projects to help promote the Club and Trust. Now the Trust finds itself standing side by side with the other supporters’ organisations working to bring a change to Rugby Park and start the journey into Community ownership. The only constant at any football club are the supporters.
You can donate to the Community Ownership Group here
Update. Local businessman Billy Bowie joined the board of Kilmarnock football club in August 2013. The details of this investmehttps%3A%2F%2Fs2.wp.com%t.
First publish by Scottish Fans in August 2013.