Supporters’ Trusts and Rogue Owners: a Case Study

Had it not been for a chance encounter last month in the south side of Glasgow with Killie Trust Chairman, Jim Thomson, I highly doubt that I would have found myself writing this feature now. Nevertheless, the world works in strange ways and proverbial doors often open when we least expect them to. An inspired chat, an encouraging email conversation and an enthusiastic blether over a mug of tea later, I am delighted to now call myself the Media Correspondent for the Killie Trust. Working closely with other individuals, I’ll be preparing regular (and, hopefully, engaging) content designed to raise awareness of the organisation, its achievements to date and its hopes for the future and ultimately galvanise Kilmarnock Football Club’s quite brilliant fanbase to get fully behind the Killie Trust. Thank you.

The Killie Trust

When Kilmarnock Football Club announced plans in June to install safe-standing sections in both the East Stand and the Moffat Stand at Rugby Park, it would have been easy to overlook the fact that this is the first such project in Britain to be funded entirely by the fans. In the same respect, so too would it have been easy to overlook the laudable work over the years of the body that has made such fan funding possible: the Killie Trust.

‘A Supporters’ Trust is a democratic, not-for-profit organisation of supporters, committed to strengthening the voice for supporters in the decision making process at a club, and strengthening the links between the club and the community it serves’ – Supporters Direct Scotland

Launched in 2003, the Killie Trust (the Kilmarnock Supporters Society Limited) and the volunteers behind it have worked tirelessly to give the Kilmarnock faithful a greater say in the running of their beloved club. The achievements of the Trust to date make for impressive reading: helping to rescue the clubs’ youth development programme, securing the appointment of a fan to the board of Kilmarnock Football Club, paving the way for a new viewing platform for wheelchair users in the Moffat Stand and of course funding the new safe-standing sections. Through both the Killie Trust itself and its ‘Trust in Killie’ campaign, almost £300,000 has been injected into the club in total: £120,000 via the Fifty for the Future campaign and £180,000 via ‘Trust in Killie’.

Hearts, Motherwell and St Mirren

Elsewhere, the success stories at Hearts, St Mirren and Motherwell respectively are further demonstrative of the inherent advantages that supporters’ organisations can bring to Scottish football. At Tynecastle, considerable funds have been invested by the Foundation of Hearts. In particular, the Foundation contributed a staggering £3 million towards the construction of the capital side’s immaculate new stand – that figure represented 20% of the reported total cost. Overall, monthly contributions from 8,000 members have allowed the Foundation to plough over £9 million into the club since 2013.

At Fir Park, the Well Society has played a pivotal role in both reducing the club’s debt and facilitating the day-to-day running of the Club’s youth academy. Backed financially by the Well Society, the success of the academy at Motherwell has been irrefutable: David Turnbull, Jake Hastie and Allan Campbell are just a few to have come through the Steelmen’s ranks in recent years. The Society currently boasts over 2,800 members contributing more than £15,000 per month to the Club. Coincidentally, Motherwell are one of a growing number of Scottish clubs (such as Stirling Albion and Annan Athletic) that are owned by their supporters. While fan ownership may not float every supporter’s proverbial boat, the progress that has been achieved at the Lanarkshire outfit clearly serves to further highlight the power and potential of supporters’ involvement.

Over in Paisley, St. Mirren’s ‘Buy the Buds’ initiative, driven by the St Mirren Independent Supporter’s Association (SMISA), is supported by about 1,250 members.  As well as purchasing shares in St. Mirren Football Club, SMISA also devotes a small percentage of funds raised to specific club and community-related projects voted for specifically by its members. So far, the initiative has enabled a batch of season tickets to be purchased for use free-of-charge by local community and charity groups. Financial support has also been provided to St Mirren Women’s team, funding the purchase of away kits and match balls. Perhaps most notably, £50,000 was committed towards the cost of replacing the astrograss pitch at the club’s training ground and youth academy.

Whether it be financing stadium improvements, investing in the youth academy or making a palpable difference in the local community, the potential of supporters’ organisations is indisputable. Regarding the ‘Trust in Killie’ initiative and its 400 or so subscribers, there is an understandable sentiment that the loyal fanbase turning up at Rugby Park on a fortnightly basis remains a resource that has not yet been fully tapped into. With increased support from those fans, the Killie Trust can continue to make a positive impact and emulate the commendable achievements at Hearts, Motherwell and St Mirren.

Club Members/ Subscribers Average Home Attendance Uptake (percentage of average home attendance signing up)
Hearts (Foundation of Hearts) 8,000 15,620 51%
Motherwell (The Well Society) 2,800 6,468 43%
St Mirren (SMISA) 1,250 6,059 21%
Kilmarnock (The Killie Trust – yearly contribution) 700 6,202 11%
Kilmarnock (‘Trust in Killie’ – monthly contributions) 400 6,202 6%

Safeguarding the future of the club

In addition to supporting and delivering numerous worthwhile projects, bodies such as the Killie Trust also have a vital role to play in safeguarding the future of their respective clubs as a whole.

Two recent examples from south of the border have served as a chilling reminder of the ease with which poorly run clubs can find themselves on the brink of financial ruin. Perhaps the most alarming aspect of Bury Football Club’s demise was the nonchalance of owner Steve Dale as the situation worsened at Gigg Lane. When he took over, Dale allegedly made outlandish and unrealistic commitments that were, perhaps unsurprisingly with the benefit of hindsight, never realised. Indeed, Dale conceded in a recent interview with Radio Five Live that he ‘never went to Bury, it’s not a place I frequented so for me to walk away from Bury and never go back is a very easy thing to do because I don’t do anything up there’. He then went on to say that ‘I didn’t even know there was a football team called Bury to be honest with you, I’m not a football fan’. Ultimately, Dale’s dilettantish approach betrayed his ultimately fatal lack of commitment to the club, the fans and the local community.

At Bolton, Ken Anderson had previously been disqualified from directing businesses after eight of his companies had gone bust. A warrant for his arrest had also been obtained when he failed to appear to be examined on one of his company’s finances. However, when his disqualification order concluded in October 2013 Anderson was allowed to become involved with Bolton. The ominous writing was on the wall and the tumultuous downward trajectory that the Trotters have suffered since their relegation from the Premier League back in 2012 largely coincides with the businessman’s time at the club. While players went without wages, suppliers went unpaid for extended periods and the EFL imposed a transfer embargo, Anderson himself was conveniently paid over half a million pounds in supposed ‘consultancy fees’. Perhaps understandably, former Crystal Palace owner Simon Jordan described Anderson’s reign at Bolton as ‘the worst kind of ownership you can ever see’ in an interview with talkSPORT.

Supporters’ organisations across Scotland, working closely with boards of directors, can however ensure that their cherished clubs never find themselves at the whim of such erratic and dubiously-motivated individuals. Reassuringly for Kilmarnock fans, director Phyllis McLeish confirmed at the recent Killie Trust event, On Board…in Person, that the club would only consider investment where the would-be investor has the appropriate motives and can demonstrate a connection with the town and the club or, as the case may be, conveys a genuine willingness to develop such a connection.

Quite simply, the only constant at a Club is the fanbase. An owner with deep pockets can come and hastily go. A league sponsor might abruptly pull the plug on its funding. A broadcaster could plunge into administration overnight. However, the fans turning up on a weekly basis or tuning in from abroad to support their team with unwavering loyalty will, for the most part, always be there. Indeed for Kilmarnock fans, it is important to remember the unsustainable financial malaise that threatened to slowly strangle the club over a number of years. Had it not been for the life-saving deal that was reached with Bank of Scotland in 2014, who knows what would have become of our great club. Thankfully, the Killie Trust provides us, the fans, with a fully transparent avenue through which we can ensure that the Club never finds itself in that position again.

How to get involved

With continued and increased fan support and donations, the Killie Trust undoubtedly has the potential to further develop its integral role in both safeguarding the future of our club and helping to drive it forward. Currently, almost 700 active Trust members pledge their support through an annual subscription while 400 fans from around the globe contribute to the ‘Trust in Killie’ initiative on a monthly basis. While these figures are wholly encouraging, it is hoped that the number of fans taking a few minutes to sign up to one or indeed both of the programmes will continue to rise over the coming months.

Trust Membership costs £10 a year in exchange for an important voice in the running of the Trust. The ‘Trust in Killie’ initiative offers a further opportunity for supporters keen to provide financial support: fans can opt to donate as much or as little as they want on a monthly or ad-hoc basis. Those who sign up to the ‘Trust in Killie’ initiative are entered into a monthly prize draw and have the opportunity to attend exclusive events like the hugely successful ‘On Board…in Person’ event last month with Cathy Jamieson and Phyllis McLeish. Notably, donations through the ‘Trust in Killie’ initiative create a tax free revenue stream to boost the Club’s budget. Every penny donated therefore through the initiative goes directly to the Club.

The sign up process is straightforward and takes less than five minutes. A match day sign-up stand will soon be in place in the new Killie Club (formerly the Sports Bar) at Rugby Park, offering supporters the chance to come along, sign up in person, ask any questions they may have and discover the full range of benefits that comes with signing up. Supporters can also sign up online. To find out more, please email thekillietrust@gmail.com.

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