Life at the Top: Supporter Trusts at the Big Clubs

The fan-ownership movement has touched every echelon of the game, challenging the private model that has dominated football for over a century. Punk Football is the story of this revolutionary force in modern sport but can it take hold in the high-stakes, big-money arena of the Premier League?

There is a suspicion in the game that as worthy as supporter ownership is, it might be best suited to non-league football and the lower reaches of the Football League. It is a suspicion borne from the fear that the levels of cash involved the higher up you go in the game act as a barrier for ordinary fans to obtain a stake in the club. Although the fan bases might be bigger in the top flight and the Championship, raising multi-million pound sums is always going to be logistically trickier than raising tens of thousands.

At many big clubs too, the need or the opportunity for fans to gain a stake hasn’t arisen that often. Wealthy investors, usually promising deeper and therefore more alluring pockets than any supporters’ organisation can rival, have tended to out-manoeuvre trusts whenever shares have become available or takeovers undertaken. And they have done so with the tacit support of the fans too. Despite the manifold instances of private investors coming in and failing at clubs, in most supporters’ minds the tantalising riches on offer as a team inches towards the top are still most easily accessible if the business is backed by a few quid, something that tends to not be the case if fans become the partial or total owners of a club.

In the early days of punk football, when trusts took control or founded clubs, such as AFC Wimbledon and Exeter City (along with others like Brentford, York City and Notts County), it certainly appeared to be the case that this new phenomenon was a lower-league thing. And in reality little has changed that perception since. Most of the instances of supporter-ownership that have popped up in English football during the past decade have continued to be in the lower reaches of the game, at clubs such as AFC Rushden & Diamonds, Wycombe Wanderers and Chester FC.

But just because ownership, whether total or partial, is more common in League 1 and below doesn’t mean that it necessarily has to stay there. And if you want proof of this then look no further than Swansea City.

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When Swansea took to the pitch to face Valencia away in their first group game of the 2013/14 Europa League, it marked the culmination of a remarkable journey for the Welsh club. In 2002 they had been mired in the bottom tier of the Football League and caught in a financial quagmire. Yet here they were, just over a decade on enjoying a third season in the Premier League, earnestly defending their Capital One Cup triumph of the previous campaign and, alongside Spurs, representing the Premier League in Europe. For the fans, the journey from adversity to success must have been hard to believe.

‘It might be something of a cliche, but it’s been a roller-coaster ride. There aren’t many fans that have experienced what we have over the past decade. We’ve had some great times but equally there have been some real lows too, times when we thought this football club could go under,’ says James White, long-time fan and current vice-chairman of the Swans Trust.

Prior to their recent incarnation as the Premier League’s sexiest football team, Swansea City spent an age in the doldrums. Although they had tasted top-flight success in the past (under the guiding hand of John Toshack) the club’s time as First Division starlets in the early 1980s had been brief. The latter part of that decade and the entirety of the one that followed had been fairly bleak in football terms.

Like with many clubs at the time, the way that Swansea had been run for decades was proving incapable to adapting to modern football. Rising wages, escalating transfer costs, commercial naivety, an antiquated ground and falling attendances had resulted in a loss making club and one that was racking up debts season by season.

For the owners, Ninth Floor plc., this was bad news. A business like the Swans was hardly the most welcome addition to their balance sheet, one that was already heading in the wrong direction. Keen to concentrate on their security and IT projects (the perfect bedfellows for any football club), Ninth Floor began looking for a way to extricate the company from the football world, finding the answer to this problem in the shape of Swansea’s then commercial manager Mike Lewis (the same man who would later go on to run Exeter City into the ground). In July of 2001, 99 per cent of the club was passed to Lewis for the princely sum of £1 (and the promise to repay Ninth Floor’s loans to the business, which totalled just over £800,000).

Lewis managed to keep Swansea going but within three months of taking control he was already looking to follow Ninth Floor’s lead and palm responsibility off to someone else. That someone else turned out to be Tony Petty, a London-based businessman and a self-confessed West Ham fan, who bought the club and the debts for a quid towards the end of 2001. With unusual honesty, Petty arrived claiming to be no ‘white knight’, promising fans that they shouldn’t expect any injections of cash into the club.

‘And he was true to his word,’ states Leigh Dineen, one-time chairman of the Swans Trust and current vice-chairman of Swansea City. According to Leigh, what the club got instead was a thoroughly business-like approach. ‘Petty acted like this was an ordinary company. And the first thing you do if you takeover an ailing company is try to remove as many high-paid staff as you can from the payroll. So one day the fans woke up to the announcement that he was planning to sell seven of our best players. The problem is that although this technically makes business sense, in football it’s a stupid thing to do. Among the fans the hostility directed towards Petty was palpable.’

Back in the summer of 2001, concerned about the way that Swansea were being run, a small group of supporters had already set up the Swans Trust (established as an IPS). Adversity seems to be the key for the popularity of trusts and in this Tony Petty was a gift. His decision to try and sell the club’s key players galvanised the fans against him and support for the trust blossomed.

Subsequently, life became fairly unpleasant for Petty whenever he attended a home game at the Vetch Field, Swansea’s dilapidated ground. At one match against Rushden & Diamonds, the club’s owner was verbally assaulted for the full 90 minutes and had to leave the stadium surrounded by stewards.

‘On the terraces and behind the scenes, the Swans Trust became the voice of the fans. We organised marches, campaigned inside and outside of the ground and put a lot of effort into getting rid of Petty and looking at ways that the trust, along with other local businessmen, could take control of the club,’ says Leigh.

The size of the Swans Trust, the limited finances it was able to accrue through fundraising and the extent of the debt that Swansea carried meant that it had little hope of success in the fight if acting alone. Fortunately it didn’t have to. From the beginning, the trust and the campaign to oust Petty received vital support from former directors and local business people, key among who was Mel Nurse.

In the autumn 2001, Nurse (a former player and something of a hero at the Vetch) made another invaluable contribution to the club by purchasing the £800,000 owed to Ninth Floor. By becoming the club’s principal creditor, it gave Nurse, who was in constant conversation with the supporters movement and broadly supportive of their desire to gain a stake in the club, the ability to pressurise Petty to sell to alternative owners or force the issue by placing Swansea into administration.

‘There was a lot of pressure on Petty now,’ explains Leigh. ‘There were legal moves to try and get him to sell, there was hostility on the terraces and there were demonstrations in the town and outside the Vetch. It felt inevitable that he would finally get the message and sell up. When he did, vitally for us at the trust, any new regime at the club had to be one that included an element of supporter ownership.’

Working with local fans from the business community, the Swans Trust was able to become part of a consortium that approached Petty with an offer to take over the club, an approach that was ultimately accepted at the beginning of 2002. Building upon its initial £50,000 investment, today the trust currently owns 100,000 shares, representing a 20.4 per cent stake in the club. This significant concern allows the trust to have one executive director and one associate director at the club, each elected by the Swans Trust’s board.

Leigh says, ‘It’s a testament to the generosity of the fans and everyone involved with the trust that through all kinds of fundraising schemes and the ubiquitous bucket being passed around at games, the Swans Trust came up with that initial investment. It was a lot to ask of our supporters but they came through when it mattered most.’

Although the power struggle at the club might have been resolved this didn’t mean that Swansea’s problems were suddenly over.

James White recalls, ‘The early years of the consortium’s time in charge, a period when we were all still trying to recover from the hangover of the Lewis and Petty era, were difficult to say the least, specifically the 2002/03 season. I remember that Brian Flynn had built a new team pretty much from scratch and results hadn’t been that great. It came down to the last game of the season and a home fixture against Hull that we had to win or risk going down.

‘You probably couldn’t have written a more dramatic end to the season. We survived. Just. I think everyone who followed the Swans was emotionally drained by what had happened. The trick now was to never get in that position again. We had to rebuild the club financially and on the pitch, start making us candidates for promotion rather than relegation.’

And that’s exactly what’s happened. From that point on, in financial terms there has been no return to the grim days of the past. Losses might have been incurred here and there but the club has remained averse to unnecessary borrowing and in the Premier League today, Swansea are one of the few clubs to have no debt, which is an amazing accomplishment.

‘It would have been pointless to have run the club any other way,’ explains Leigh Dineen. ‘Everyone who got involved in the consortium that took over, from the big shareholders to the thousands of fans who are part of the Swans Trust did so to ensure that this club was saved and it was never run in such an unsustainable fashion again.’

Despite the absence of a backer to bankroll them and the presence of a budget that has often been dwarfed by league rivals, Swansea have managed to combine financially stability over the past decade with a miraculous climb up the football pyramid. First under the management of Roberto Martinez, and then Paulo Sousa and Brendan Rodgers, the club edged their way up the league system, eventually gaining promotion to the Premier League in 2011. How has this happened?

Leigh says, ‘The board recognised early on that we were financially limited. Our investors were not overly wealthy and there are only so many times that you can keep going back to the supporters asking for hand-outs. We came to the conclusion that we would have to do something different to other clubs if we were to thrive. The team had begun playing attractive football under Kenny Jacket and had some success. This is a style that you don’t often see in the lower leagues and it struck us that there might be something in it.

‘But the real catalyst for our development of this playing style was the appointment of Roberto. He came with a football vision, centred on his sides playing attractive, attacking football and not the long-ball, kick-and-rush approach so common in the lower divisions. This style of playing became the “Swansea Way” and it worked. It accommodated our deficiencies elsewhere, turning a club with limited resources into one that could compete with much wealthier rivals because of the way we played.’

Another aspect of the Swans’ success has been the ability to manage such a large and disparate consortium. When a club is run by a consortium, there is always the possibility of a clash between different personalities and different perspectives on how to run the club. And that’s just when it’s a handful of people in charge. When you’re talking about a consortium in which there are thousands of fans too, then the potential for conflict must increase exponentially.

And yet at Swansea this hasn’t been the case. Leigh Dineen is well placed to comment on why their model has worked. Although he was instrumental in the establishment of the Swans Trust and served as its supporter director for two years, Leigh has subsequently become a major shareholder himself and now works with the trust rather than for it.

He says, ‘Along with all interested parties sharing the football vision for the club, which has been hugely important, it also helped that we formed the consortium during a period of adversity. It forged a sense of unity among the interested parties that might not have existed had it been a conventional takeover. The fact that we took over a club that had been so disastrously managed in financial terms helped too because it created a shared desire to make sustainability paramount. If this hadn’t been the case then over the past decade there might have been more disagreements between the different parties on the issue of spending and transfer budgets, which could have led to a collapse of the consortium.’

Despite the level of agreement that has existed, Leigh admits that all parties involved have had to make slight compromises over the past decade, because none have a majority shareholding. Not that he thinks that this is necessarily a bad thing.

He adds, ‘What’s great about Swansea is the fact that this is not one man’s vision but that of thousands of fans, including shareholders like me, who are working together. How many clubs in the higher divisions can claim to have that?’

Along with delighting anyone who enjoys a story of success against the odds, Swansea’s arrival in the Premier League also gave a significant boost to the cause of supporter ownership. Although the Swans Trust is only a minority partner in the consortium, Swansea’s success in getting into the Premier League and impressive performance once there, suggests that perhaps punk football need not solely be confined to the lower leagues.

James White says, ‘You hear a lot in football about this model being unsuitable in the Premier League. And it is probably difficult to imagine a club like Manchester United suddenly being entirely owned by its fans. But what we’ve illustrated is that an element of supporter ownership is compatible with success in the higher divisions. It doesn’t have to hold a team back. In fact, I can’t see any reason why every club in the top flight couldn’t have some percentage of this. It works in Germany and look how well their clubs are doing in Europe. I think at the moment English football is stuck with a perspective that still sees private owners as the best option available, this is despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.’

Although Swansea are technically a Premier League club with an element of supporter ownership, the top flight is not where their experiment with punk football began. Anyone sceptical about the ability of fans of teams in the Premier League or even the Championship to gain a share of the clubs they follow could rightfully point to the fact that when the Swans Trust entered the consortium, it did so at a time when buying a share in the club came at a relatively modest price. It would be much more difficult for that to happen today, a time when Swansea are awash with European and Premier League television money, enjoying life in a brand new stadium and have become a club with a turnover that those in League 2 could only dream of.

Gaining a stake in a top-flight club is always going to be difficult for a supporters’ trust because of the costs involved. But it’s not impossible. Arsenal are one of the biggest clubs in England. According to Deloitte, during the 2012/13 season the Gunners generated €284m of revenue, a figure only bettered in England by Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea. On an international level, the club was eighth in Deloitte’s Money League, gradually pulling away from traditional domestic rivals such as Liverpool and Spurs.

In short, this is not the kind of club where you would expect to find an active supporters’ trust complete with its own portfolio of shares. But since being formed back in 2003, the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust (AST) has proven that even at the very highest levels of English football, supporters can gain a foothold at the clubs they follow.

‘There’s little chance that the AST will ever own the club. But that doesn’t mean that supporters have to just sit back and have no say in how their club is run. A share, however small, gives you a voice. And that’s what we’re all about, giving our members a voice,’ says Emma Shepherd, who has been following Arsenal for as long as she can remember.

Today the AST owns three shares in Arsenal plc. Although this might not sound much, and actually isn’t when you take into account that the company is divided into just over 62,000 ordinary shares, the fact that the AST holding has a market value of around £48,000 illustrates how costly it is to gain any stake at a big Premier League team. Although the finance for these shares has principally come from trust members, the AST has also had some assistance from the club.

Back in 2005, just as Arsenal were issuing more equity to fund the Emirates Stadium project, it was noted that the club had one authorised but un-issued share. Dubbed the ‘orphan share’ by the AST, its members campaigned to have it transferred to their ownership to provide a ‘safe home’, something that the club eventually agreed to in 2007.

Although the AST only owns a very modest shareholding, according to Emma, possessing it does provide certain rights.

She says, ‘At the very simplest level, it gives us a seat at the AGM. It means we get to question the board, officially register our opinions on certain matters and vote on club issues. And I think that because of this, the club takes us seriously as a supporters’ group, more so than if we had no stake. It’s the reason why we have such a good relationship with the board and why the levels of communication between both parties have always been very strong.’

Key to the AST’s relationship with Arsenal is the concept of ‘custodianship’. Like other trusts that have taken a share in football clubs, the AST sees supporters as a group within the Arsenal community best placed to guard the club’s values. From their perspective, owners come and go but the fans endure. Because of this, the AST has been keen to extend the plurality of ownership and include more supporters as shareholders. The problem, and this is one common to all big clubs, is that a share in Arsenal costs around £16,000, a figure well beyond the means of the average fan. The AST’s solution to this problem is a novel idea called Fanshare.

‘Fanshare is designed to make investment affordable because it significantly reduces the cost of a share,’ explains Emma.

The scheme works like this: you become a member of Fanshare by paying a one-off fee of £20. After that, punters decide how much they would like to invest each month in buying Arsenal Fanshares, the minimum being £10 and the maximum £1,000.

‘Say then for example,’ continues Emma, ‘we have 1,000 fans each saving £10 per month and the cost of one ordinary Arsenal share is £15,000. After two months those savers would have reached £20,000 in total, giving them cumulatively enough to purchase one share (with £5,000 left in the kitty).’

Once this share is purchased, it is divided into 1,000 Fanshares with each member being given one share and a cash balance of £5. In return for their investment, along with obtaining a stake in the club, members of Fanshare also get a place in a ballot for a seat at the club’s AGM. So far, the uptake of Fanshare has been pretty good and to date around 2,000 people have invested.

‘The only problem,’ admits Emma, ‘has been acquiring shares to buy. As you can imagine with a club like Arsenal, one in which two people, Stan Kroenke and Alisher Usmanov, own around 95 per cent of the stock, not a great deal of shares are available. Despite this, Fanshare’s still managed to acquire 104 shares, making it the third largest stakeholder at the club.’

Through Fanshare and the stake acquired by the AST, the Arsenal faithful are doing their bit to expand the role that ordinary fans can play at the club, ensuring that supporters can have a voice even at one of the Premier League’s big boys.

According to Dave Boyle, obtaining a share and building upwards from there will always represent the best way for fans to influence policy at their club and hold that club to account.

Dave says, ‘Ownership is king. That’s what my experience of working with trusts and clubs has taught me. Total ownership is obviously best but any degree of shareholding is beneficial. Even one share can provide fans with a voice, one that the board can’t dismiss out of hand. Of course, that’s not to say that fans are powerless without ownership. There are many examples of fan groups at big clubs, such as Spurs, Newcastle and Fulham, campaigning on certain issues and achieving a positive result. It’s just that, from my experience, the cause of the fans is a lot stronger if they also possess a stake in the club at the same time. And the bigger that stake the better their position will be.’

But sometimes this is easier said than done. As the examples of Exeter and Swansea revealed, although horrible to endure, financial catastrophes at clubs often present an opportunity for fans to gain a stake. But in the higher reaches of the game, even when a club is in a financial mess, organising fans to mount a takeover is not always that easy.

In 2007, Tom Hicks and George Gillett, two American businessmen with a background in sports ownership, seized control of Liverpool. Although they arrived claiming to respect the traditions of the club and also promising to invest in the squad and provide the funds for a new stadium, it was soon revealed to the fans that the plans of the new regime were built on shallow foundations. Liverpool’s new owners had borrowed £185m to fund the takeover of the club and a further £113m to accommodate player signings and running costs. They later refinanced the entire package and took out a new loan which came to a total of £350m.

Through the way that Hicks and Gillett had organised the ownership structure at Liverpool, the supporters discovered that the club would be paying the interest on this loan from cash flow. As long as the duo stayed at the helm this figure would be around £40m per year. It became clear to the fans that this was not the deal that the supporters had been sold and there was also no way on earth that Hicks and Gillett had enough cash to fund a new stadium – a development that was estimated to cost a minimum of £300m.

As supporters of a club which until that point has always enjoyed financial stability, the takeover unsurprisingly caused disquiet among the fans. Angered by the debt the club had taken on and concerned that the team’s performance on the pitch was beginning to suffer, the supporters were spurred into action. Led by the club’s supporters union, the Spirit of Shankly (SOS), marches and protests against the new regime became a common sight at Anfield.

‘There were rallies in Liverpool city centre, sit-ins at Anfield, flag days, leafleting campaigns, and marches on the ground. Probably the most high-profile example of our campaign was a rally outside Anfield before a home game against Blackpool in 2010 which saw between 5,000 and 7,000 supporters in attendance. We tried anything we could think of really to highlight our cause and make sure that the media’s attention was fixed on what these two cowboys were doing to our club,’ says current SOS secretary Paul Gardner.

But as useful as these methods were in galvanising opinion against Gillett and Hicks and keeping the issue alive in the media, for another group of fans it appeared to make more sense to try to tackle the issue head on by engaging directly with the new owners. Share Liverpool FC (SLFC) was established in 2008 with one aim; to unite fans in an attempt to buy-out the club.

Their aim was to turn Liverpool into a scouse version of Barcelona, with around 100,000 members buying a single share at around £5,000 a pop (giving SLFC enough cash to mount a £500m takeover).

Although it was envisioned that any supporter organisation that arose from these plans would be run as an ISP, initially SLFC faced something of a credibility gap with the fans, as Graham Smith, one time secretary of SOS explains, ‘We were a democratic organisation. SLFC weren’t. No one doubted that everyone involved with SLFC was a committed Red but they’d been brought together by Rogan Taylor, the man behind the plans, and not elected. They were also talking about £5,000 like it was nothing. Most Reds, specifically those from the city, would not regard £5,000 as a drop in the ocean.’

To address this credibility gap, during 2010 SLFC went into partnership with SOS, providing several members of the fans’ union, such as Graham, with seats on the SLFC board. Together these two groups then set about furthering the cause of supporter-ownership at Anfield, which as the year rumbled on was becoming a more realistic proposition by the day.

In October 2010, any notion of a supporter takeover was rendered moot when Gillett and Hicks sold Liverpool to Fenway Sports Group (FSG) for a fee of around £300m, far below the pair’s valuation of between £600m and £1bn. The arrival of Fenway effectively ended the SLFC’s attempts to buy the club and recently the scheme has been placed into cold storage; several years of cordial relations and the sense that the club is back on track robbing the group of its impetus. Despite this, there are still some fans, like Graham Smith that harbour dreams that one day a scouse version of Barcelona could become a reality.

He says, ‘The truth is that FSG are a sports investment company (or a hedge fund if you’re being less kind) and they’re probably not in this for the long haul. Their primary focus is not the club’s heritage and traditions. They got Liverpool cheap and their medium- and long-term aim is to increase the club’s value and sell it on. Because of this, the fans should be setting themselves up as FSG’s exit route. What’s to stop the owners selling parts of the club bit by bit to the supporters with a long-term aim for us to have 100 per cent ownership or majority control at Anfield? The numbers are certainly out there. Liverpool FC have told SOS that there are about 6m people worldwide with a connection to the club. We’ve also got commercial relationships with several big companies, who could be part of the solution, in the same way that Adidas and Audi are at Bayern Munich. If FSG, the club and the supporters worked together on this incrementally, there’s no reason why it couldn’t become a reality.’

A lot of what’s happened with trusts to date has been reactive, supporters responding to a crisis. But it doesn’t have to be this way. As Graham argues, with the right organisation and a positive relationship with the owners, there’s nothing stopping fans at big clubs from believing that partial or total ownership is one day possible.

‘But the key to this I think is the ability to build a mass membership,’ suggests Duncan Drasdo, chief executive of the Manchester United Supporters’ Trust (MUST).

With Manchester United being worth more than a billion pounds, those fans who desire to one day own a stake in the club arguably have one of the most difficult jobs in English football. Despite this, Duncan feels that expanding the trust is the best way to secure the long term aim of having a degree of supporter-ownership at Old Trafford.

He says, ‘Fans that follow big teams obviously have a harder time obtaining a stake because the sums involved can be astronomical. But, on the plus side clubs like United and Liverpool also have huge, international fan bases. Our aim is to access this and build MUST into a huge organisation. The bigger we are, and the more members we have committed to the concept of supporter-ownership, the easier it’s going to be to react to any opportunity to gain a stake at United in the future. Asking hundreds of thousands of members to contribute a small amount is going to be a lot easier than asking a handful to contribute millions.’

In the absence of such opportunities, if in the meantime trusts at big clubs want to be more than just a pressure group, there are other things that they can do. And one area where there has been particular development has been that regarding a club’s assets.

Under the 2011 Localism Act, introduced by the Coalition Government, communities, and by extension local organisations, have the right to bid for ‘assets of community value’. The idea behind this piece of legislation is to ensure that land and buildings of value to communities, such as village shops, pubs and even football stadiums, are not taken away from local people without them first having an opportunity to purchase them.

For an asset to become officially of ‘community value’, an application must be made to the local authority which will then judge whether it can be added to its list. If the application is successful then should the asset come up for sale, the community organisation that made the request is given a six-week period to decide if it wants to make a bid for it. If it does, then it has a further six months to raise the necessary finance, effectively delaying any sale.

Several supporter trusts at big clubs, including those at Manchester United, Liverpool and Birmingham City, have already had their club’s stadiums added to the local authority’s list of community assets.

‘Safeguarding the future of the stadium is vital to us,’ says Steven McCarthy, chairman of the Blues Trust at Birmingham City. ‘Over the years there have been several clubs where the fans have had to endure the horror of their stadium being sold off. Not only is a stadium often something that is intrinsic to the identity of both a club and the fans, it is also the most important asset any club has. This is certainly the case with St Andrew’s. Our successful application now means that the fans and not just the board will have a say in any future sale of our stadium.’

Of course, grounds cost a fair few quid, and although purchasing one would be cheaper than buying out a top flight club, it still represents a big ask for most supporters’ trusts. But then the assets of a football club don’t end at the stadium. Many big clubs have varied property portfolios and it is here that some fan organisations in the higher reaches of the game have sought alternative ways to become stakeholders.

In 2012, a group of Evertonians got together to form Trust Everton, the driving force behind which was Tony I’Anson.

He says, ‘The initial rationale for the founding of Trust Everton was to explore thoroughly the feasibility of a supporters’ vehicle providing sustainable long-term funding for the real estate assets of the football club, such as the training ground and the stadium’.

Of key concern to the trust was the future of Finch Farm, Everton’s 55-acre training facility, which lies just outside the city. This had been acquired by the club in 2006 and then sold not long after to the development firm ROM Capital for £2.1m. ROM developed the site to the club’s specification, valued it at £17m and then leased it back to Everton.

‘In 2011 it was announced that the owners were selling the training facility, offering it at a price of around £15m, a sum which Everton couldn’t afford,’ says Tony.

For Trust Everton this represented an opportunity to acquire the asset, placing it in the hands of an organisation that would work with the club rather than solely seeking to maximise what it could earn from them. The idea was to use a subscription-based membership system and other forms of finance commonly employed by supporter trusts to raise the necessary finance to purchase the training facility.

Despite considerable interest among Blues in what Trust Everton was doing, its plans to buy Finch Farm never came to fruition. The scheme was rendered moot when Liverpool City Council stepped in and bought the asset for £12.9m. Despite this, what was attempted by a small group of Evertonians does reveal that in the absence of shareholding, a trust can still try to be more than just a pressure group, that there are other options available.

It might be drastic but for those fans who have found that influencing a club via a trust is simply impossible in the higher levels of the game there is another path to follow. Manchester United are the biggest club in Britain and certainly, alongside Barcelona and Real Madrid one of the biggest three in the world. Privately-owned and with a market valuation way beyond the reach of any ordinary supporter organisation, opportunities for fans to gain a stake are limited to say the least. For a small section of the Old Trafford faithful, a group that was growing disillusioned with the way that United had changed over the years the answer was simple: do an AFC Wimbledon and start a new club of your own.


The above is an abridged version of Chapter 7 from Jim's book, Punk Football: The Rise of Fan Ownership in English Football which is available to purchase from book shops and online at Amazon.