COG Update – 4th March 2014

COGlogoSince 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.”

Its Good To Talk

Last week during discussions with the KFCSA committee, we suggested that it would be a good idea to invite Paul Goodwin (Head of Supporters’ Direct Scotland) along to their open meeting on our behalf due to his experience in dealing with clubs with problems like ours and his expertise in governance and community ownership; along with our own board member Andy Millar who obviously has a better handle on things from our perspective. Mr Goodwin graciously agreed to give his time, despite the fact it wasn’t primarily a Trust meeting, as part of his remit with SDS is to help out wherever possible when clubs are deemed to be in trouble.

Mr Goodwin has subsequently received a request from Michael Johnston, Chairman of Kilmarnock FC, to meet with himself and new director William Bowie on the proviso that the talks would take place prior to the KFCSA open meeting on Thursday. The invitation was extended to a couple of representatives from both the Trust and the KFCSA, but unfortunately it has been arranged at too short notice for that to happen in the time frame requested. We have offered to meet with the club directors at the earliest possible convenience for all parties and hope that a reply to our legal representatives and the verification of our recent share acquisition is on the agenda.

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The Growth of Democracy in Scottish Football

Scottish-FansHi everyone, the following blog was first published here on the 28th February on the www.Scottishfans.org website by Paul Goodwin from Supporters Direct Scotland. We have reblogged it here in case you missed it.

Strange things are happening in Scottish football and the fans are very much part of what can be described as a changing landscape.

In the summer the clubs and the football authorities were told not to treat supporters with contempt and suddenly integrity and consultation became key words in the world of football politics.

With the weight of public opinion behind them and their season ticket money in their pockets supporters managed to drive home the message that they needed to be listened to. It really was the start of something different never before seen in the Boardrooms of Scottish Clubs.

Fans Parliament & Roadshow Launch HM & PGWith five senior clubs in Scotland now “fan owned” and operating on the co-operative basis (one member/one vote), those who matter most – fans, supporters, loyal customers – will have a growing say in what will happen in Scottish Football in the future.

This change has been recognised at Hampden Park where both the SFA and the league bodies have really started to engage with fans in a far more meaningful way. In my work with Supporters Direct Scotland it has been encouraging that we really have started to make an impact with our Fans Parliament initiative that provides fans with a voice. If we’d had that voice a few years back then maybe the debate over the new League Reconstruction package might have been more fans’ focused. As it stands we hope that the growing importance of supporters is extended beyond the current debate. Most observers recognise that the fans may not get everything they want this time around – bigger leagues or the desire not to have to play each other 4 times a season – but there is much in there for the fans to take heart from such as having one league body, fairer financial distributions, more play-offs, a stronger pyramid structure and hopefully better governance too.

With the potential shift of power towards these super loyal customers it means that the existing dynamic of dependency on a wealthy owner /benefactor (if you have one of them) could be coming to an end.

This creates a unique opportunity in Scotland – with little chance of a profit and a market where very few want to buy a football club, it means that fans’ being more involved in owning and running of clubs is here to stay. More than that, it is the future. Who else has a fan’s lifelong commitment to their club and an interest in ensuring it is safeguarded for the long term? Fans are the lifeblood of football – not just socially and culturally but economically and there are now real chances to turn that commitment into meaningful involvement in the way clubs are governed.

Clubs such as Motherwell and St.Mirren are already seeing this as a positive step as a long term community strategy and fans of clubs such as Hearts, Dunfermline and Kilmarnock are all desperate to have a say in how these clubs can be run as sustainable community assets. The goalposts are moving fast.

Of course with potential power there comes responsibility and how many times have we heard in the past that the Board of a club should be held to account when they have not taken fans’ views into consideration. At the five community owned clubs in Scotland there is already democracy in action.  There’s no need to be standing outside shouting to sack the Board or to be throwing stones. Instead you just need to turn up at the AGM with your fellow members and vote off for change.

There is no doubt that there is a cultural change under way and that change isn’t going to happen overnight. Everyone involved in fan and community ownership is learning about how this new model will work best and how their own club adapts to the change.  Like everything else, change takes time to settle and, with every day that passes, new challenges will face everyone involved in a club, including those difficult moments that, ideally, no-one ever wants to see happen. 

Today, the Fans Representatives on the Board at Dundee FC, a club that is owned 52% by the community, are coming to terms with a managerial appointment that hasn’t been received well by its supporters.

There isn’t a Board of Directors at any club in the country that will have received universal backing for a new managerial appointment but what is different at Dundee, and those other clubs that have embraced the fan ownership model, is that rather than being on the outside venting their spleen they have the ability to change, through voting, those representing them in the boardroom.  This simply wouldn’t be an option with traditional ownership models and it is this level of transparency and accountability which provides the basis for the long term success of the model. If you still need convincing, then you need only look to Germany and the Bundesliga where they have embraced supporter ownership for the last 40 years backed up by robust regulation.  Not only has that led to unrivalled levels of financial sustainability but it has also been achieved whilst protecting the interest of fans and attracting the biggest crowds in European football – and they’re not doing too badly on the pitch either!

In Germany this structure has been part of the fabric of the game for generations, but here a transition will not be immediate and will not be easy.  However, whilst the ownership structure that fans now have may not be the perfect model , at least fans can no longer be ignored and, whether you like it or not, that has got to be good news for the game and for the green shoots of football democracy.

Paul Goodwin is Head of Supporters Direct Scotland

and author of Saving Scottish Football ( Tangent Books)