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.”
In response to comments made by KFC Chairman Michael Johnston in todays Daily Record Gary Torbett had this to say on behalf of The Killie (Community) Working Party:
“Further to the announcement by The Killie (Community) Working Party [on the 11th of February 2014] of its intention to offer to purchase the shareholding of Michael Johnston, Chairman of Kilmarnock Football Club, in the event that the club were to become debt free, we are extremely disappointed that Mr Johnston has so swiftly and publicly dismissed our intentions.
“It is disappointing that this proposal has been dismissed so early into the process without any constructive dialogue with Mr Johnston. Mr Johnston has offered our group the opportunity to buy a seat on the board should it purchase circa 10% of the unallocated shares in the football club. It would not be appropriate for this particular group to purchase a tranche of shares at this time to obtain a seat on the board of Kilmarnock FC, given our stated purpose.
“The group would welcome, indeed we would urge for, the opportunity to meet with the football club to establish a mutually agreeable route to genuine community ownership, which has the club’s long term future in mind.
“Our doors remain firmly open to Mr Johnston.”
Supporters Direct Scotland has also reiterated its willingness to work with both parties.
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.
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.
This event was attended by Elaine Millar, Barry Richmond and Andy Millar from the Killie Trust board. This was an opportunity for supporters to discuss common issues and to share experiences on a number of subjects.
The Stirling Albion story
First we had a presentation on Stirling Albion’s move into community ownership. This change of ownership took place in order to prevent the heavily in debt club going into administration. The debt stood at £1.3 million with no real plan to reduce this figure. A situation very similar to the one at Killie but on a slightly smaller scale. The long term strategy for Stirling Albion was to deal with the debt and have a sustainable football club.
The Dundee story
The story of Dundee’s various administration events and dubious owners is well documented. The crucial part of the story is how much more difficult the purchase of the club was while in administration. The time scales for taking action can be very short indeed.
The Clyde story
Finally we told about the day to day operations of Clyde FC which is a Community Interest Company (CIC). This included the work and democratic process that has been undertaken around the proposed move to East Kilbride. Clyde have been working with in a sustainable budget since they became a CIC as the rules that cover CICs do allow them to work any other way.
- In which areas could community clubs work together to reduce overheads and increase income.
- What governmental and governing bodies legislative changes could be made to benefit clubs moving toward or in community ownership.
Finally we had an opportunity to update the other attendees about what was happening at our respective clubs and trusts.
It was very interesting to hear what has been happening at other Trusts in Scotland, and in particular to hear from Clubs that are now in community ownership.
We came away with a lot of very good ideas that we will be adapting for our use and a lot of good contacts. There is no reason that football clubs cannot help and support each other off the pitch and still compete on it. If all scottish football fans work together we can start to improve that situation our game is in for everyone and community owned clubs are leading the way.
Supporters Direct and the Football Supporters Federation held their first Supporters’ Summit at the English FA’s new Centre of Excellence, St George’s Park near Burton upon Trent on the 22nd of June.
Two volunteers from the Killie Trust made time to attend the summit on behalf of the board. Events like this are very interesting and well worthwhile attending. The speakers were very informative and the workshops were very relevant. The best thing about the trip to Burton upon Trent was the opportunity to meet supporters from other football clubs and Trusts from across the UK and Europe. The most striking thing about speaking to other supporters is how much we have in common. Our situation is not unique. This is very unfortunate for the health of football but is fortunate for us as supporters, as it provides us with a wealth of experience and knowledge to draw on in our efforts to bring our club into community ownership in a sustainable way that is valued by everyone in our community.
The format of the day was fairly straight forward. During the opening session we heard from the Andy Burnham MP and David Bernstein the Chairman of the English FA. Andy Burnham was instrumental in getting Supporters Direct established back in 2000. David Bernstein was the chairman of Manchester City FC but he still sees himself as a fan first.
The rest of the day was split into workshops so our intrepid volunteers spilt up in order to cover as much ground as possible, gather as much information and hear the views of as many people as they could. The workshops they went to were as follows (for more details please check out the Supporters direct page about the summit.):
Sustainability or Bust. This workshop covered how community owned football clubs must to have a sustainable business model and how this can be achieved by having a long term financial plan.
Reclaim our game. This gave practical guidance on how fans can get involved in their clubs and make a real difference in how it is run and ensure that good governance takes place.
Improving football governance. There are great examples from all across Europe where fans are making a real difference to how football is being run. In Sweden fans ensured the 50+1 rule was kept for all sports clubs in the country despite the wishes of a few powerful individuals.
Fan engagement: Why it works for clubs and fans. This was a fascinating presentation from Tim Connolly the Vice president of sales for the Green Bay Packers. Green bay is the only community owned club in the NFL. Tim gave some great examples of how the community ownership model really works for them. Green Bay have a waiting list for tickets but only charge the league average for their tickets. For every dollar spent at the Green Bay’s stadium $5 are spent in the teams local community.
Transparency and Vigilance. Micah Hall from Portsmouth gave an account of his search for the truth about the ownership of his club Portsmouth FC on his Hall Right Now Blog and how transparency is vital to the health of every organisation. The owners of Pompey tried to sue Micah over the content of his blog. As he said “you know you are asking the right questions when that happens”.
They also bumped in to some of the people running the Shelbourne FC Trust (The 1895 Trust) and had a chat about the good old days of Killie in Europe.
The Trust Movement in Ireland has had a great boost in recent months with the launch of the ‘Heart of the Game’ handbook. A new ‘how to’ guide for League of Ireland supporters. This handbook has received government backing and was launched at Dáil Éireann by Minister of State for Sport, Michael Ring TD. – See more at: http://heartofthegame.ie/
By all accounts it was well worth the long journey to St Georges Park. Which for the record is so new it is not on Sat Nav yet. For the purposes of full disclosure our volunteers paid for the entire trip themselves.
Killie Trust board member Andy Millar was interviewed by the Co-Op news channel at the Supporters Summit 2013 which was held at St Georges Park on the 22nd June. He appears about 1 minute 20 seconds. There are a lot very interesting comments made about community ownership in the video.
A report on the whole summit can be found here on Supporters Direct website.