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Meeting and Formation of the Nottingham Forest Supporters' Trust

A meeting was held at the Albert Hall Conference Centre on Thursday 7th April with a view to voting as to whether those in attendance felt that the formation of a Supporters' Trust was desirable. What follows is an attempt to describe those events for those who were not in attendance.

The panel consisted of:

Richard Antcliff - a supporter and keen advocate of Supporters' Trust

Thomas Newton - a supporter and keen advocate of a Supporters' Trust

Nicola Hudson - adviser regarding the establishment of Supporters' Trusts

Ian Bason - from Leicester City Supporters' Trust - Foxes Trust

To kick off proceedings, the audience was shown a stirring montage, which celebrated some moments from the club's illustrious past.

Richard Antcliff then spoke about how the game in general has changed since Sky television and the formation of the Premier League. He expressed the feeling that somewhere along the line, the fans are being left behind and becoming an afterthought in the modern game. One only has to look at the extensive fixture rescheduling that has been a feature of this year's Championship season. He reiterated that the aim of any Trust would be to ensure and preserve sustainability. In doing so, stability would surely be a happy bi-product.

Richard also highlighted the power that a collective fans' voice can have, citing the recent 150th anniversary fan event organised entirely by supporters and beyond Nottingham Forest, the recent walk out Anfield which contributed to the £30 away ticket cap to be introduced to the Premier League.

In his opinion, a Supporters' Trust should give supporters a voice to challenge and support the club, with which to push for a sustainable plan and clearer dialogue. Perhaps such a Trust might exert pressure for investment in infrastructure, the stadium, the Academy or campaign for fairer deals regarding ticket prices and kick off times.

Thomas Newton was next to address the audience. He was keen to reinforce that the movement was not one with the aim to remove any current persons from the club. The main aim was for supporters to feel a sense of belonging to the club with a view to contributing in whatever way it could to making the club great again.

Nicola Hudson then provided detailed information on Supporters' Trusts in general. She started by paying tribute to Brian Lomax - a Northampton Town fan who founded Supporters Direct and played a huge role in preventing his club going out of business in the early 90s.

Nicola informed that there are currently 42 clubs in the UK that are owned by their supporters, including five in League 2: Exeter City, Wycombe Wanderers, Portsmouth, Newport County and AFC Wimbledon.

She went on to clarify exactly what a Supporters' Trust is. Amongst other things - and from a legal perspective - it is of community benefit, registered with financial conduct authority and not for profit. They operate on the basis of 'one member - one vote', have an elected board, must ensure any profits are reinvested, have limited liability for members and have the ability to raise money in a cost effective way.

Nicola then addressed what exactly a ST can actually do. The answer is that it varies from club to club, depending upon the club's requirements at such times. For example, the Newcastle United ST has the current aim of trying to bring their current owner to account. At Swansea City, the ST owns 20% of the club and has a genuine voice. Bradford City's ST is hugely involved in community work and act as a sounding board for the CEO and board. It should be remembered too that STs could have a collective voice beyond their own clubs and for the greater good of the game and fans in general.

Nicola concluded this section by clarifying the purpose of the evening's proceedings - to vote on the following question: 'Do we want to set up a Supporters Trust for Nottingham Forest supporters?'

It is worth acknowledging the recent legislation regarding supporters groups which broadly speaking, exerts pressure on football clubs to be more accountable to its fans.

Ian Bason then spoke about his experiences in establishing the Foxes Trust. Theirs was borne out of severe concerns about their club in 2002 and was formed with a view to playing a role in saving the club. Back then, the ST met with two consortiums who both wanted to buy the club. The club was saved with £6.4m of which £100k was Foxes Trust initial investment. For this £100k investment, Foxes Trust was given an observer position on the LCFC Board. Then Milan Mandaric took control of the club and things changed again - not for the better.

Currently, the owners at Leicester City are very open to Foxes Trust. Ian reminded the audience of the aforementioned recent legislation: legally, the clubs will have to meet twice a year with democratically elected fan groups. Foxes Trust has achieved various objectives yet Ian reiterated that each Trust is specific to their own club and might focus on different aspects of need.

Ian then asked the question as to whether Nottingham Forest have a 'Supporters Liaison Officer'. This was met general bemusement from the audience as to whether the club indeed had such a person or role and if so, who it may be. It was suggested by some that Ben White might be that person. The official website refers to Ben White as Media and Communication Manager. There is no 'Supporters Liaison Officer' role listed.

As it stands, Ian explained that the Foxes Trust legally has to be informed were the current owners to seek to sell the ground. Early access to such information can be powerful and useful. The key is to be a democratically elected, legal body. This gives a Trust teeth.

At this stage, there was a short break.

Jonny Owen then said a few words about the formation of the Cardiff City ST - Bluebirds Unite. Jonny expressed his respect for Nottingham Forest and its fans and went on to speak briefly about how initially, only 40 people turned up to form a ST but when Mr Tan wanted to change the colours, 60,000 got involved. He felt that supporters count: they are the lifeblood of a club and believes that fans should have a say in what he sees as a brilliant club.

There then followed a Question and Answer session.

Question: Have organisers heard from the club? What contact have they had recently?

Richard had been assured that should a Trust be formed, it would be taken seriously.

There was a suggestion from the floor that the club should strengthen commercial side of the club so as to become more self-sufficient: maybe a Trust could help with this.

The point was made from the floor that the 150th anniversary seems to have passed the club by: fans seem to be an afterthought in such celebrations. This was received with applause.

It was also suggested that perhaps a Trust might initially be a lobbying body. After all, there is currently no board on which fans might have representation.

Question: What might a Supporter's Trust do differently from the current Supporter's Club?

Richard was quick to acknowledge that the Supporters Club does fantastic work. He then pointed out that a ST is a legal identity, which might be able to open more doors. But essentially, both can exist independently of each other and work harmoniously; there is no reason to believe that there should be a conflict between such groups.

The representative from the Supporter's Club expressed disappointment that no contact been made from the ST representatives. Thomas challenged this.

(This exchange reminded this observer of the Judean People's Front scene in Monty Python's Life of Brian. It strikes this observer that surely both can co-exist and work together for the greater good of the football club.)

Question: Is there a timetable of events? Essentially, should a vote of yes be agreed, what happens next?

Nicola explained that the Trust would be registered, credit checks would need to be undertaken and they would need to prepare an election. Supporter's Direct would steer and advise. To do so might take a few months. As it stands, the club was not in a dire financial situation, unlike, for example, Bolton Wanderers, who have quickly moved to form a ST as a reaction to recent events. It was wondered whether an already established ST might have helped to prevent such an escalation.

From the floor, Andy Hallam offered the use of the Southbank Bar as a venue for any requirements.

Question: Might former players be interested in getting involved?

It was explained that a working party would look to use some such persons. The belief is that some are receptive to such an approach.

The point was made from the floor (Steve Wright) that surely ST and SC can work together and use different skill sets and expertise: this was not about trying to push owners out but the need to think about the future for when the 'next' owner comes along.

This was met with applause.

Disappointment was expressed from the floor that no one from the club was present here tonight.

Question: Might the Trust be able to help with acquiring tickets for disabled supporters - making the process easier?

The response to this was 'yes: this is precisely the type of thing that a Trust would be able to exert pressure on.

It was then time to vote.

(This is not a picture of the actual voting process - this is a recreation for publicity purposes)

The voting was thus:

Of 108 persons in the room:

2 abstained.

1 voted against.

Consequently, the motion was passed.

Nicola explained that the next steps are fairly paperwork and constitutionally heavy: it wasn't a quick process but once the Trust was established as a legal entity, elections would held. Anyone and everyone is welcome to participate.

******

Here is some further related reading on the matter:

What does a well structured football club look like?

Trust in the Future: The First Step on the Road to Recovery

There's always more than one viewpoint