Most fans have an image that comes to mind when people talk about football club owners. For those, like me, whose formative years were the 1970s and 1980s, its the old-school stereotype that pops into our head: the cigar-chewing, sheepy wearing, local boy made good; the man who wants to bring the hard-nosed lessons he learned in the business world to the club that he supported as a boy. But if that all seems horribly archaic and youre more of a child of the Premier League-era, then the images that come to mind are probably of the games new generation of owners, like the Russian oligarch, the Middle Eastern sheik, or the passionless, dead-eyed, American automaton.

Regardless of your age, Id bet that the one image that definitely doesnt pop into your head is that of you; the ordinary fan. And yet, theres probably not a supporter alive who hasnt at some point idly daydreamt about running the club they follow, imagining the changes theyd make with the first sweep of the new regime. But for much of the games history, the likelihood of these daydreams one day becoming reality has always been unlikely.

But is that still the case today? Over the past few decades a revolution has been taking place within English football that has begun to challenge the long-held belief that fans have no place in the boardroom. At the heart of this revolution has been the creation of the supporters trust, democratically structured organisations that seek to hold clubs to account and advance the cause of fan ownership.

From its first rumblings at Northampton Town back in 1992, with the backing of Supporters Direct the trust movement has blossomed. In English football today there are currently 104 supporters trusts, 73 of which are in either the top-flight or the Football League. Although not all own shares, many do. And there are even some that possess a majority shareholding, like the trusts at AFC Wimbledon, Exeter City and Portsmouth.

In many ways the revolutionaries of the trust movement are simply taking our game back to its roots. Before the arrival of the moneymen, clubs were traditionally owned and run by the fans and the players. The board was elected and the membership deferred to on decisions that mattered. This was football as the embodiment of democracy, or about as far away from the modern sport as its possible to be. It was only with the coming of the professional game and its never-ending demand for cash that this supporters utopia began to unravel in England.

It was an unravelling that set football on a path that ultimately led to the sport that we know today, one characterised by an unsustainable degree of debt, banana-republic levels of wage inflation and the growing role played by owners without a connection to our clubs. But it could have been different. In other countries, such as Germany, Sweden and parts of Spain, the membership model persisted. As a result, over there, supporters have continued to see themselves as being a vital element within the community of the club, one that has a voice which deserves to be heard.

Punk football, the sobriquet adopted by the English supporter ownership movement, can be seen as this countrys attempt to both recapture the spirit of the game as it existed pre-professionalism and ape the membership model of ownership of continental Europe.

To date, despite its blossoming, punk football in England has largely been a phenomenon of the lower leagues. In the Premier League, there are only two clubs that possess share-holding supporters trusts, Swansea and Arsenal. The former acquired their shares when the club was hovering near the bottom of League Two, in dire financial straits and for sale at a knock-down price. The latter have just three shares out of a grand-total of 62,000, which hardly makes them the Gordon Gekko of supporter ownership.

Two big reasons for this lack of impact at the top are the costs involved in takeovers and also the absence of a level playing field once the fans have taken control.

When it comes to big clubs, the idea that the fans could ever unite to takeover seems remote because it would take thousands to each invest and thousands of pounds to do so; something that has never taken place in world football. Take us as an example. The club is currently up for sale for around 125m. If everyone sitting in Goodison got involved in a takeover, it would still equate to an individual investment of over 3000, which is a big ask.

But even if the fans did manage to beat the odds and gain control, there would still be huge challenges to face. Once at the helm, those same thousands of fans would have to support the club financially, keeping it competitive against rivals backed by deep-pocketed owners, which could very well lead to stagnation or decline. At several clubs where the fans have taken control in the past, such as Brentford, York City and Notts County the inability of the membership to adequately fund the club led to the abandonment of their experiment in fan ownership.

So does this mean that punk football has no place in the Premier League and that trusts are meaningless?

Although ownership, no matter how small gives a voice, that doesnt mean that without a stake fans and trusts are powerless or without purpose. At rival clubs such as Chelsea, Liverpool and Utd, the trusts active there have sought to become an effective medium through which a strong relationship can be forged between the club and the fans.

These trusts have campaigned upon issues such as the creation of safe standing areas, the improvement of the clubs links to the local community and ticket pricing. Of course the nature of ownership has meant that not all of these campaigns have been a success and theres been little to stop the clubs involved ignoring the demands of the trusts or any other supporter organisation, which is exactly what has happened on several occasions.

But in an age when our national game has never been more commercialised, as fans we should take comfort from the fact that even in the Premier League there are supporters who refuse to simply be viewed as customers alone.

At the moment, supporter activism is still young and the supporter trust movement a mere infant. Football has changed beyond recognition over the past twenty years and as supporters many of us are still trying to adjust to the new reality. The trust movement is a reaction to these changes and for many fans their way of attempting to redefine what it means to be a supporter in the modern game.

There will undoubtedly be success and failures and times when the struggle appears futile, but as fans, whether we follow a Premier League giant like Everton or a minnow plying their trade in the Conference, if we care about our game and about how our club is run, then it makes sense to be more than just a customer and join together in a trust. And in the long-term you never know what could happen. With enough members and enough momentum, football supporters are capable of achieving just about anything.

Jim Keoghan is the author of Punk Football: the rise of fan ownership in English football, which is published by Pitch Publishing

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Tony I'Anson
1 Posted 25/06/2014 at 21:13:47
"So does this mean that punk football has no place in the Premier League and that trusts are meaningless?"


In the case of Everton fans, it could be said that <Everton FC Shareholders Association (EFCSA) is the original supporters trust established in 1938 owning a fair slice of the club.

Tony I'Anson
2 Posted 25/06/2014 at 21:38:36
Jim asked us for an interview, but for many reasons we couldnt add to what is already in the public domain. Here is what he says in the book. (Lyndon, could you fix the formatting if its all over the place)

In 2012, a group of Evenonians got together to form Trust Everton,the driving force behind which was Tony IAnson.
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, Evertons 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 clubs 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 couldnt 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.


The objects of Trust Everton have not changed since day one and work has continued on the project even after the sale of Finch Farm to the Council in 2012.

Derek Thomas
3 Posted 25/06/2014 at 22:59:08

The OP is interesting enough in an abstract way, or as some might say, yeah OK so what.

Since Tony and others announced the Trust thingy Ive been pretty keen and couldnt wait to get my cash (a humble amount though it was) into the Pot.

Im not having a go Tony, but how much, after 3 or 4 years, is actually in the pot, as times a wasting, each year the the amount needed to make a meaningful difference is growing. Just asking like.

Is this do-able any time soon

Paul Mackie
4 Posted 26/06/2014 at 13:06:10
Fan ownership of clubs is a wonderful ideal, but it would only work if it was in place at all clubs. As the article says, without the deep pockets of the sheiks and Russian oil tycoons, it just wouldn't be a level playing field. Not that it is now either like, but I think it would be even worse.
Tony I'Anson
5 Posted 26/06/2014 at 14:02:00
Derek (#3)

First, of all, a correction: the sale to LCC went through in June 2013 (not 2012).

The 13 million sale price of Finch Farm - and the much larger cost of building (or redeveloping) a top-flight stadium - has to be seen in the context of the total of 'only' 40 million raised by all supporters' trusts in the nearly 14 years since Supporters Direct was founded.

What Trust Everton is trying to achieve is on a very different scale and requires a different approach to many existing trusts. This includes the infrastructure on which good progress has been made to safely process and manage contributions from what may well be tens of thousands of supporters totalling millions of pounds per year before it is invested in real-estate projects. It is only recently that initiatives such as The Foundation of Hearts have demonstrated that large numbers of supporters can be inspired to contribute on this sort of scale. It may also be worth looking at Rangers First who are working along similar lines. There seems little point in taking in subscriptions and spending them on admin costs until there is a tangible project to go after, and the infrastructure to support it for the long term.

I will be at the Supporters Summit at Wembley on Sat 26th July and will be happy to say hello to any Everton fans in attendance.

Derek Thomas
6 Posted 27/06/2014 at 06:45:10
Thanks Tony#5. I can see your point re costs and admin and the whole thing to take on a life of it's own... for no good purpose.
Bob Parrington
8 Posted 27/06/2014 at 07:33:50
Interesting article Jim! Rather than spreading the share web to only those visiting Goodison, perhaps world wide there would be more than 3 times the fans, which would reduce the cpp. Beyond this, if a good dynamic board was put in place, who knows what could be achieved?

Always food for thought?

Rick Tarleton
9 Posted 28/06/2014 at 06:16:01
In some ways, Everton under John Moores, "The Merseyside Millionaires", started the trend of the super rich owners buying success and being resented by the clubs left behind.
Ray Roche
10 Posted 28/06/2014 at 06:45:36
Rick, Moores didn't pour loads of cash in to Everton. He stood as guarantor when the club took out loans. Everton had good gates and players were on relatively low wages so overheads were much lower and we were able to service these loans without a problem.
Eugene Ruane
12 Posted 28/06/2014 at 06:53:30
Rick (9)

There is a huge difference imo in what Moores's money allowed us and the present day the scale of money just can't be compared (the difference if you like between a millionaire and a billionaire).

Yes, we did have some success with Moores's help, but that success certainly wasn't (99.9%) guaranteed the way it has been for Chelsea and City.

Our money/spending didn't stop Leeds or Liverpool or Man Utd or Spurs or Man City or Ipswich or many others winning trophies.

Sure, we were able to compete for and buy an Alan Ball or a Bob Latchford or a Martin Dobson, but we were never in a position to have a squad of 22 Alan Balls or... (Plus look at many of the players we had under Moores after 1970 and you'd think "Christ, he couldn't have been spending that much...")

As for the 'Mersey Millionaires' tag, like a lot of tags, only existed because of the British media ('PISS-POOR PUERILE PIFFLE PURVEYORS') and their love of lazy childish alliteration.

Rick Tarleton
13 Posted 29/06/2014 at 21:58:21
Of course, Eugene and Ray, you're right, but it was the first time that this phenomenon of the very rich owner appeared in English football; the scale is different, but the principle is the same.
Rick Tarleton
14 Posted 29/06/2014 at 22:01:30
Also, the buying of Young, Vernon, Kay, Scott, Wilson, Gabriel happened in a short space of time. We were amazed to see Pickering arrive when we had Young and later on Henry Newton; why did we need Newton when we had Ball, Kendall and Harvey?

When Everton won the league, five or six players played all 42 games. The whole scenario was different, but Everton to a large extent bought their success because of Moores's backing.

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