Protecting Club Identity: Supporters Summit 2014 report back

Supporter’s Summit 2014, jointly organised by the Football Supporters Federation and Supporters Direct, was attended by up to 300 people who had come together in July to discuss the current state of football from a fans perspective.
Members of Blues Trust (Birmingham City’s Supporters Trust) and Cardiff City Supporters Trust give their feedback on ‘protecting club identity’ workshophull_city_name_change_verdict-370184

Protecting Club Identity

The proposed name change at Hull City and Cardiff City’s well documented colour rebranding have no doubt sparked a heated debate how to best protect a Football Club’s identity.

In the words of Brian Mertens, Cardiff City Supporters Trust Board member, “owners can do whatever they like”.

So how can supporters go about protecting a Club’s identity, and what can our national governing body do to assist? After all, reform does not simply lie in the hands of supporters.

The vast majority of supporters conclude that the Directors and Ownership Test for example is neither stringent nor indeed thorough enough, indicating that more needs to be done to identify just who owns our Club’s.

“If it oinks and smells, chances are it’s a pig”, remarked Mark Harris, who was formerly Chairman at Altrincham F.C and Northern Premier League outfit Witton Albion.

“Are you a gangster? Yes or no?” he continued to joke, much to delegates’ amusement.

Supporters Trust representatives argued that, in the first instance, there should be a greater focus on who owns our Club’s and where the money to fund their daily operations is coming from – if it is there at all.

Sue Maskell of the Portsmouth Supporters’ Trust said: “[The information] is available. It’s in the public domain”.

Speaking of the recent situation at Hull City, City Till We Die founder Chris Cooper said that in the case of Hull City’s proposed rebrand, the warning signs were there very early on.

“We noticed that the Club’s badge had changed at the training ground and the company name had also been changed” said Cooper, who claimed that Hull City CEO Ben Milhench categorically denied that the club were considering changing the Hull City name.

Cooper added: “When things like corporate branding starts moving in any way, start sharpening your pencils”.

Yet it’s the rebranding at Cardiff City which saw the Club’s traditional blue strip changed to red that highlights the reality of the modern game in Britain.

When Vincent Tan first arrived as the Bluebirds’ new owner, he pledged to invest £100 million into the Club. The catch? He wanted to change the Club’s colours. Tan did just that – and all without supporter consultation.

Though while delegates conceded more can and should be done to protect Club identity, Trusts have already been successful in other areas.

Trusts for Birmingham City, Oxford United and Charlton Athletic amongst others have all took advantage of Government Legislation in securing their Club’s stadia as Assets of Community Value under Localism Act 2011.

In summary, it is clear that delegates believe that a new system is required, where supporters must be consulted prior to any changes being made to a Club’s identity. How far away we are from implementing such a system however remains to be seen, despite keen interest from Labour MP Clive Efford, Shadow Minister for Culture, Media and Sport.

Lee Bradshaw
Blues Trust Board Member

The home shirt colour and badge change by Cardiff City’s owner and the attempted name change at Hull City provided examples of how owners – who make massive investments into football clubs – think that they can just run roughshod over the tradition and history without proper consultation with fans.

The panellists on the workshop, ‘Protecting Club Identity’ were Chris Cooper (City til I die – Hull City), Brian Mertens (CCST), Mark Harris (Evo-Stick League) and Clive Efford MP (Shadow Sports Minister).

There was an excellent debate with contributions from Malcolm Clarke (FSF, FA Council rep), various Trusts and a description of how the Portuguese Leagues control what owners can do.

Clive Efford explained that he is leading a cross-party investigation into these very matters, but he warned that involving politicians can result in the wrong solution for most.

Not all owners refuse to consult with supporter groups but rules were needed that clearly state what can and can’t be changed.

The FA could change its rules so that club owners would have to fully consult its supporters before making significant changes, but it would require a 75% vote in favour! ‘Turkeys voting for Christmas’ was mentioned!

Malcolm Clarke asked that we send our proposed rule changes to him and he will put these forward.

The end result of these discussions was that we can tackle these problems through political changes, FA rules or we as Trusts could do something ourselves.

A kite system where clubs are fully consulting with their fans, could be awarded by Supporters Direct and this could be seen by clubs as ‘a badge of honour’ which could be lost if they failed in the future.

This is a debate that will roll on until something satisfactory results.

Brian Mertens
Cardiff City Supporters Trust Liaison Officer

Read all reports from Blues Trust here: http://www.bluestrust.org/2014/08/supporters-summit-2014-reports/
C
ardiff Cty Supporters Trust report: http://www.ccfctrust.org/?p=3789

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