Another cup hero and great servant to Killie, Mark ‘Mavis’ Reilly is a Trust member and gives us regular support. The idea of a Killie family may sound a bit twee to some but if you are part of it then you can appreciate what it is all about and Mark knows all too well that as one of us he will always be a part of something special.
Since the Killie (Community) Working Party lodged its Letter of Intent with Michael Johnston, Chairman of Kilmarnock FC, we at The Killie Trust have been working hard behind the scenes to ensure that the proposition is given due consideration by the club and is understood by the wider community. It is encouraging that all parties we speak to directly both understand the concept and agree that the working party are right to actively seek meaningful community involvement in the club and that community ownership should be the desired position on Mr Johnston’s exit from the club.
Whilst communication with the club has been disappointing to date, we have engaged with the local MP, MSP and council leader, all of whom have agreed to encourage Kilmarnock FC to meet either the working party or Killie Trust, as representatives of that group. An excerpt of a recent e-mail to the politicians follows. This helps to explain the views of the working party which resulted in the Letter of Intent being issued and why the Killie Trust is committed to taking this forward.
“Many thanks for your help over the last few weeks with the Killie (Community) Working Party and also taking the time to learn a bit more about the Killie Trust. I am aware that you were all going to suggest to Michael Johnston that he meet with the working party to enable us to explain our Letter of Intent more fully. Despite this, and his comments in last week’s Standard that Michael would welcome a meeting, there has been no communication from the club. Indeed, Billy Bowie had indicated he would be in touch w/c 17th to arrange a meeting with me, and despite chasing this up, I have had no further communication from him either. I also note that there has been no formal response to the Letter of Intent.
You will appreciate that it is extremely difficult to try to build any meaningful working relationship with an organisation who cannot communicate effectively. You will recall that we mentioned the Trust has had an unsigned NDA sitting with the club for the best part of a year after Michael requested this. Sadly, the club do not appear to want to engage with either the working party or the Trust. As you know, the Trust is the second largest shareholder in the club and is a properly constituted community driven organisation with circa 400 members.The working party the Trust is represented on is keen to move down the road of meaningful community involvement with the goal of ultimate community ownership.The club has mentioned publicly its desire for community involvement yet does not even want to discuss this vision with these bodies, both of whom could certainly offer constructive guidance and support.
My only conclusion is that the Community Involvement Board the club is planning is their preferred vehicle for community involvement. I imagine that this is in the hope of satisfying the club’s bankers in negotiations during a review of their debt. I assume this board will not be endorsed by the Scottish Government as it does not, as far as I understand, meet the co-operative values of one person/one vote. I believe this is why Paul Goodwin of Supporters Direct cannot back the idea as it stands. I am intrigued as to how any lender will afford debt forgiveness to a window dressing style of community involvement in a private limited company with one major (80%+) shareholder. However, I genuinely hope a suitable deal can be done to ensure the survival of the club.The bank’s stakeholders and many SMEs in Scotland may have their own opinion on that though.
As you know, the purpose of the Letter of Intent was to seek a route to ensure that, on Michael’s exit from the club, the fans and community are given the opportunity to own the majority stake in the club. It was neither a formal bid for the club nor a suggestion that the club be passed to the fans for no financial consideration. We would be dismayed if the club ended up in the hands on an individual or group who had no real understanding of the importance of the organisation to the community and who might, as we have seen elsewhere, use the club for their own purposes thus creating a greater divide than we see presently. I suppose the greater fear is that Kilmarnock FC then slips into an insolvency event as that type of owner has no passion or true vision for the club and community.”
KILMARNOCK FC SUPPORTERS GROUP MAKE OFFER TO PURCHASE THEIR CLUB
The Killie (Community) Working Party, established with support from Supporters Direct Scotland, has announced its intention to make an offer to purchase Kilmarnock FC’s Chairman’s entire shareholding.
Gary Torbett, on behalf of The Killie (Community) Working Party, said: “We would like to acknowledge the work being undertaken by the Chairman of Kilmarnock Football Club to make the club debt free and would positively encourage him to make every effort to come to an agreement with the club bankers and other significant lenders to reduce the debt to zero. The Killie (Community) Working Party would like to make an offer to purchase the Chairman’s entire shareholding if this can be achieved.”
“This offer would be contingent on a fair valuation of the company and the completion of a satisfactory due diligence process. This purchase would be undertaken by a new Community Interest Company (CIC) with a democratically elected board.”
Paul Goodwin, Head of Supporters Direct Scotland said, “I met with Michael Johnston, on behalf of The Killie (Community) Working Party, on Friday [7th February] and conveyed the outline of the supporters’ offer. I reiterated SDS’ willingness to assist in progressing this offer to a satisfactory conclusion for both parties.”
Gary Torbett added: “We see this move as a genuine step forward as we prepare to get our club back.
Unfortunately there remains concern amongst supporters with the long term position of the club and we firmly believe that fan and community ownership is where that lies rather than relying on a single majority shareholder who won’t be around for ever. The only constants at any club are the fans and the community it is based in.”
“We will shortly launch our formal efforts to raise the money to take the club into community ownership and we hope that the business community – both private and public – as well as community groups and supporters will get behind us.”
Kilmarnock fans have a history of successful fundraising and community involvement. Over £100,000 has been directly raised for the Club’s youth development programme and a number of initiatives driven by The Killie Trust have seen financial awards to a many community based projects in recent years.
The Killie (Community) Working Party is made up, in no particular order, of:
- The Killie Trust
- The Kilmarnock FC Supporters Association
- Minority shareholders in Kilmarnock FC
- The Business Club
- Young Kilmarnock
Issued on behalf of The Killie (Community) Working Party by Supporters Direct Scotland.
For further information please contact Paul Goodwin on 07702 252519 or Gary Torbett on 07905 478179
What exactly is happening with the Community Ownership Group?
Through the various mediums we’ve been putting stuff out about COG all year and I’m pretty sure most Killie fans are aware of it at least. The situation regards ownership of the club appears to be a state of constant fluctuation at the moment so it is difficult to pinpoint exactly where we are with COG other than to say that regardless of who is in charge at Rugby Park, the Trust will continue to push for community ownership in the long term.
There has been a lot of publicity on the back of the open meeting held by the Supporters’ Association at the Grand Hall…the upshot of which was the formation of a working party of various groups who also want to deliver community ownership to the club. Obviously the Trust has been heavily involved with that and we have four board members nominated to represent our interests at the table. As seems to be the case these days we had to sign a non-disclosure agreement to be party to the talks and can’t discuss anything in real detail, but as ever we still aim to get as much information out there to our members as possible and see it as one of our duties to encourage the working party to engage with the fans and keep them up to speed with anything that is going on.
To be fair there is not much to report at the moment other than what has appeared in the media already. We asked the Kilmarnock Futures Consortium, who are part of the working party, to give us something for the purposes of the AGM which may make their position clearer and were sent the following statement: “Kilmarnock Futures Consortium is committed to immediate supporter representation on the new Board and believes that community shareholding would have significant benefits to the Club, the supporters and to the wider East Ayrshire community. The Consortium will work with Supporters Direct to build options and plans for greater community ownership over an agreed period”.
That’s where we are at the moment. It has been widely reported that while the club are negotiating with the KF Consortium that they are still working behind the scenes on a plan to get debt reduction from the bank in a similar manner to other Scottish clubs whom have recently almost went to the wall. The one major difference it would seem is that Mr Johnston is only willing to implement some form of “community involvement”, as he calls it, on his own terms and his refusal to engage with the two largest democratically elected supporter’s organisations will make it very difficult for him to make any headway with the bank. We push on with COG regardless and maintain that while debt reduction is a good thing, that the only beneficiary of a deal with the bank should be Kilmarnock Football Club, not any individual.
Is it true that the Killie Trust are in league with the Klin Group and want to sell Rugby Park for housing and move to the new HALO Arena?
In a word, no. The Klin Group had a viable plan to turn things around at the club and introduce community ownership to it over a sustained period of time as their legacy to the people of Kilmarnock. The Trust bought into that and supported it at the time because it was the best viable option on the table to ensure the club not only survived but flourished and it ticked a lot of boxes as far as we were concerned on the community front.
Our primary concern is the club’s future and we are willing to talk to anyone who is looking to restore Kilmarnock FC’s place at the heart of the community where it should be and make it a sustainable entity that we can all continue to be proud of. That is why we are currently in discussions with the Kilmarnock Futures Consortium, their plans also merit consideration and should the current regime come up with a plan that does not involve individuals financially benefiting at the expense of the club then we would certainly look into that too.
Moving the club to the HALO Arena from Rugby Park has never been a topic of discussion at Trust Board Meetings, the Klin Group have previously stated that was not their intention either. We view it for what it is, an impressive plan for a state-of the-art multi-use stadium which our whole community can benefit from. In our case we thought that it would be perfect for bringing team training back to our own area and put a stop to paying for facilities in Glasgow to keep the squad in shape.
Are the Trust behind the “Not a Penny More” movement?
Again, no. At no stage have we ever encouraged fans not to go to Rugby Park or to stop putting money into the club. I never have and never will do that personally and I would have to seriously consider my position with the Trust if at some point that was the road the members chose to take. The sad fact is that attendances in Scottish football have been declining for years now, and we are one of the most affected. The slightly elevated downturn in figures this season can most likely be attributed to the reaction of fans to events on and off the park towards the tail end of last season and into this.
I find it incredulous that anyone would try and lay the blame for falling attendances at our door. People have minds of their own and make decision for themselves based on their own circumstances and what they believe. We are not in the business of telling people what to do, our business is to ensure that the fans get proper representation when it comes to the running of the club and that whoever is in charge is held accountable for their actions. There are many reasons why fans have stopped going, too many to mention, sadly it does not look as if the decline in numbers will stop until there have been some sort of regime change at the club that will make fans feel as if they belong again and its still their club.
Is your plan to force the club into administration to get rid of Michael Johnston?
I’ve honestly never heard anything quite so ridiculous, but it is another popular myth doing the rounds, and one which the chairman himself has recently suggested. It is simply not true and has never crossed our minds, despite being advised by some parties that a “newco” club would be a much easier solution to our problems. We want to avoid the club going into administration at all costs. We have learned a lot from the mistakes of other clubs and other Trusts and we would never want to put our proud history at risk by flirting with financial skulduggery to achieve our aims.
If we were in favour of an administration event why would we be accumulating shares in the club which would ultimately prove worthless? We doubled our holding this season, albeit courtesy of a generous benefactor, and are constantly on the lookout for more; in fact if anyone out there feels that their shares would be of more use as part of a collective run in a democratic fashion then please feel free to get in touch. Setting up shell corporations and selling or transferring assets while hiding behind a myriad of non-disclosure agreements is not the way we want to operate; we have and always will be open and transparent and if we really thought that administration was an option then we would come right out and say it.
Have you got anything to ask the Trust Chairman or the Trust Board? We believe in transparency and honesty and are keen to dispel any dodgy rumours doing the rounds. Send your questions directly to email@example.com if you would like a personal reply or indeed just post them on our Twitter or Facebook pages and we will do our best to make sure that you get an answer.
In April 2013 Kilmarnock Supporters’ Society Ltd (The Killie Trust) made a formal approach in writing to Mr Johnston, Chairman of Kilmarnock Football Club, to express a desire to enter into dialogue with him regarding the way ahead to community ownership of the Club. This approach was made on The Killie Trust’s behalf by a well respected law firm. In his response Mr Johnston requested that The Killie Trust, through their legal representatives, submit a draft Confidentiality Agreement for his further consideration. A document which, in the opinion of The Killie Trust and their advisors, can be considered suitable and appropriate was duly forwarded to Mr Johnston on 27th May. This document has been neither accepted nor rejected by Mr Johnston. Our legal representatives have contacted Mr Johnston in recent weeks for an update on the matter and have not, as yet, received any response.
Having attended the Supporters Summit 2013 at the English Football Associations new centre of excellence at St Georges Park, which was hosted by Supporters Direct and the Football Supporters Federation. This event was attended by supporters from across all Europe. These supporters came from a wide range of clubs in a variety of situations. Some are simply trying to keep their club alive despite the best efforts of business minded people, others have lost that battle and have started their own phoenix club based on democratic community ownership principles. The Trusts from many of EPL clubs are working to keep their club grounded in their community with a local sense of identity and history.
The very next weekend we met up with an equally diverse group of Scottish football supporters at the Supporters Direct Scotland Club Ownership Summit at Stirling Albion. Here we met supporters who already own their football club or in a very good position to take control of the destiny of their club or believe that community ownership is the only sustainable future for their club.
So what have learned from meeting all these football supporters?
The position of our football club and the deteriorating relationship between He that “runs it” and its supporters is almost the default position for football clubs today. The single person ownership model is more prevalent than at any other time. A lot of football clubs are run with a cavalier disregard for the fundamentals of economics, business planning, marketing, social responsibility and sound financial planning. Sadly this includes our own club. Most of the clubs that make use of these basic business tools are clubs where fans have a strong voice or they are the outright owners.
Clubs that become community owned know that their most important asset is the supporters because without them there is nothing. A good relationship must be built and maintained with them to ensure sustainability off the pitch which ultimately helps to bring success on the pitch. At the Supporters Summit 2013 Tim Connelly the Vice President of Sales for the Green Bay Packers, the only community owned club in the NFL, said “if our customers are angry with us we have missed the point”. He also observed that Green Bay are in the subscription business “we want people to keep coming back and signing up for longer, to do that we have to give them something they want, they have to have a sense of community with the club”.
Back in Kilmarnock however, our Chairman seems unwilling to engage with the local community. Our attendances are dwindling, a 16% reduction in home attendances last season alone1. The average age of Killie supporters is rising so we are facing a demographic time bomb. We are a club that is in danger of literally dying out in the next 50 years unless we start trying to reverse this trend now. There is no vision or plan to reverse this trend coming from the boardroom. The local community is the biggest and most likely source of new supporters for us. As a football club our very existence depends on developing a long term and comprehensive strategy to bring in new supporters. This means Killie have to be at the very heart of the community.
The Trust has developed a number of projects that promote education, health and well-being in our community that also raise awareness of Kilmarnock Football Club. These projects have all been designed to be sustainable over a long period of time which is vital if the club is to start growing its support again. We realised from the start that we had to use the minimum amount of club resources as these are in very short supply. The K-Steps programme is just one of these projects. We have several others at an advanced stage of readiness, but they have been sitting on the shelf for over 18 months. The key element to going forward with these projects is the engagement of the club. The Trust has made several attempts to engage with Mr Johnston on the subjects of community development, the use of volunteers and community ownership. These were generally rebuffed and those that did move forward took so long to do so that the opportunity was lost or the conditions for club involvement were such that the board of the Killie Trust would have been at risk of breaking its own operating rules.
So where do we go from here? People say that community ownership cannot work at big clubs but the Champion’s League final this year laid that myth to rest once and for all. We, as a community, need to take the destiny of our football club into our own hands. There are great examples of community ownership across the UK.
There is no quick, easy answer to the difficulties our club faces, but the current chairman has no plan to take our club forwards and is unwilling to accept any support other than cash. Our Football Club should be doing great things in our community right now. Things that would start to reverse the inevitable decline we are in right now. However, short-termism is the order of the day for the Chairman and one man board of Kilmarnock Football Club.
There is no white knight waiting in the wings and anyone that claims to be a white knight needs to answer some very serious questions about their plans. People keep on asking “where is the alternative”. WE, the supporters of Kilmarnock Football Club, founded in 1869, are the alternative. Fans are always the bank of last resort. When everything has been run into the ground and every line of credit fails and the gates are about to be locked forever, the fans pull together. They find a way to put aside their differences and take that step into the unknown and take control of the football club they love.
It is happening right now at Dunfermline. Pars UNITED have been named the preferred bidder. The only other bidder decided to remain anonymous and this lack of transparency appears to have affected their chances.
It is happening right now at Hearts. The Foundation of Hearts has put in a very strong bid for the club and we will know soon if it has succeeded.
Are Hearts or Dunfermline fans any smarter than Killie fans? No. The only reason we will fail is because we fail ourselves.
What can we do?
- Buy a Blue and Yellow Scarf and wear it with pride.
- Make you voice heard.
- Ask the questions you need answers to.
- Join the Trust.
- Volunteer for the Trust or the KFCSA.
1. Kilmarnock Standard 12.07.2013, page 103, John Livingston.
The Scottish Daily Mail has run with a story today with quotes from our Chairman about our Trust writing to Michael Johnston as part of a takeover bid. He responded to the article on the fans forum so we thought our members might be interested in what was behind the article.
“Community ownership is a long term process and plans have to be made, so this is just a small piece of the jigsaw so to speak. We have been having discussions with local business people about COG and reacting to the feedback…and the general consensus was that our previous meeting with the chairman, which came to no conclusion, should be followed up with an official letter to try and clarify the position regards the majority shareholding and what it would take to procure that.
It is really no biggie and nothing we have not done already, only in writing this time so there can be no dubiety about what has been said, it just looks like news because it is in the newspaper. I was surprised at the call, the journalist seemed to know a lot about it and it would appear that the call emanated from a conversation with a Killie fan in Serbia…but it is not like there was anything to hide or anything to shock anyone here, so there was no point in being secretive. Anyone who pays their money and joins the Trust can come to a board meeting and hear the exact same.
On a positive note, other feedback suggests that we really have to ramp up the publicity about the Trust and COG as despite everything we do there are still fans out there who do not know what its all about and some who just do not get what we have done and are trying to achieve. I dare say that if we had gone to the papers with something as trivial as this it would have been roundly ignored so maybe not issuing press releases about every single thing we do is the way to get them interested enough to give us some coverage!”
It does appear to be a bit of a non-story but if nothing else it highlights that there are positive steps being taken behind the scenes on the COG front and the media attention would suggest that at long last community ownership is on the agenda, and not before time. Hopefully the establishment and the Scottish public are finally waking up to the fact that the way our game is run is what is killing it and that any hope of survival for us all is to ensure that if we are not running our clubs ourselves for the benefit of the community then at the very least those who are should be better regulated and made accountable for their actions.
You can follow the progress of our COG initiative here – https://thekillietrust.wordpress.com/
The Killie Trust held the first of many Business Network Meetings(BNM) on the 7th of February 2013 at the Coffee Press in Bank Street, Kilmarnock. These meetings are part of the the Trust’s Community Ownership Group initiative, their aim is to build closer relationships between local businesses and the Trust. These relationships will be vital for the long term sustainability of Kilmarnock Football Club and the local community.
We invited a wide variety of local businesses to this meeting and after everyone had settled down with some tea or coffee and a bite to eat the evening got started. Nigel Fitzsimmons from the Trust Board outlined the format for the evening and gave a brief presentation followed by a question and answer session. Nigel’s talk covered the history of the Trust, it’s objectives and recent activities. These activities include the Community Ownership Group or COG as it is known. There is an ever growing list of football clubs in community ownership across Europe, the UK and Scotland. Some of these include Dundee in the SPL, Swansea City in the EPL and most of the Bundesliga clubs; Germany provides some of the best examples of sound financial management, fan involvement and community ownership.
Nigel then moved on to explain the Trust’s Community Partnership initiative.
This initiative aims to promote local businesses which have similar aims and objectives to the trust and which have worked in partnership with us on a project or event.
Finally we had a question and answer session with a wide ranging discussion about the Trust movement, COG and the partnership initiative.
This was a very positive meeting and it was great to speak to so many people who have similar objectives and have the good of Kilmarnock the football club, the town and the community at heart. Everyone understands that COG will not be a quick fix but we must start somewhere. This meeting confirmed to the Trust that we have to build a greater understanding of our aims across all parts of the community. We agreed to give everyone regular updates on progress.
There will be many more of these meetings. We are also more than happy to speak to any local group as well. If you are interested in attending a BNM meeting or you would like us to give a talk about the Killie Trust and COG, please email the firstname.lastname@example.org.
Remember to look out for #COG and #killietrustbnm on twitter.
The Killie Trust would like to update our members on the current state of play with our community ownership (COG) plans in the approach to our AGM, which will be in the Park Hotel on Monday 17th December. We launched the initiative back in August and had hoped to firm up plans in the months following but unfortunately circumstances dictated that we had to put things on hold.
We were informed, by someone working closely with the club, that there had been an offer to buy out the majority shareholding and of course this would have a major impact on how we were going to progress our plans. Further investigation revealed that this information proved to be correct but that the board of director had rejected what appeared to be an excellent offer given the perilous state of football in Scotland and the debt carried by our club.
While we are extremely disappointed that there will be no change in how the club is currently run, it only serves to strengthen our resolve in bringing community ownership to Kilmarnock Football Club. We now plan a series of meetings, bringing together like-minded local businesses to support our long-term aim in ensuring the club’s survival.
Fans of other teams have found out the hard way that the only people that can be relied on to put the interests of the club first are themselves; we should learn from what has already transpired and not get caught out the same way. We currently have a good manager and squad of players who we will continue to support 100% but it is imperative that we prepare ourselves for the inevitable changes that are on the horizon and community ownership, now or a few years down the line, should be our ultimate aim.