I have been pleased to be involved since the inception of CFU, although its function has changed since those early and naïve days, as has the nature of football and society too. The Trust was formed at the beginning of the millennium. Its aims were to be supportive of the club, raise the club’s profile in the community and to represent its members and supporters. Since its formation we have seen the need to raise 100k, a situation in which our ground was sold, administration and assisting, whenever possible to ensure the club just survived in the non-league. Since then, of course, things have not been so bad or high profile, and one consequence has been that CFU’s image has changed. We are not perfect but we try to do our best whenever we can. We are not always right but then no one is. However, we do constantly try to learn from our mistakes.
During the past few years we have helped with many of the functions around the club that needed doing but have done so in the background. We have not tried to say we did this or that. We have just done it. Many of the jobs were done in non-league days by some wonderful volunteers who complemented the work done by the staff.
It’s much easier to understand the point of a Supporters’ Trust when times are difficult and when there is a clear crisis to be fought, like when we slipped out of the League and those faced by fans of Northampton, Coventry, Hull, Blackpool, Grimsby and Portsmouth – to name but a few.
We have also tried to ensure that with the ground re-development any issues have been worked through and dealt with quietly in the background rather than on the back page. That may have been wrong, but it did lead to the most successful season the club had with the League return and FA Trophy win. Few people will know that there was a possible demonstration being planned to take place at Wembley when Greg Dyke was attending. Few people know I have attended meetings with the FSF, Supporters Direct and other groups concerning B Teams. Supporting the national supporters’ groups is essential when they talk to the governing bodies on behalf of supporters and their issues. Individual clubs or supporters cannot do it all but everyone working together could.
Problems often arise when clubs are apparently owned by those who have no affinity with the club and then proceed to lose interest and reduce investment, leaving clubs unsustainable and in free fall. Football isn’t really working as a business in many cases. Apart from top tier teams receiving fortunes from TV, no one is ever going to make a profit from football. When there is little money available, many clubs will struggle and supporter ownership is likely to become the only viable option for many of the smaller clubs. I think we will see this more and more, as the football politics and generations change. Technology moves on and diversifies, as it will surely do in the future. The television monies that currently flow through the levels of the game will become less evenly and fairly spread.
Therefore, my view is still the same as it was nearly twenty years ago, Clubs will need to be run by the people who care most for them, the supporters and individuals within that fan base who have and always will support the club. Those who care most about that club. The ones who would feel the pain and hurt if it ceased to exist.
Clubs who engage with their communities will be supported by that community. CFU are committed to helping within the local community and the club’s Community Trust. In the beginning we tracked Chesterfield whose Club’s Hub was leading the way in the early 2000’s. Supporter Trusts understood the importance of community from the very beginning.
Currently the leagues are divided into teams which are ambitious and over invest, more prudent clubs which budget properly and those which are desperately hanging on to their status and their existence. In the second division you are one bad season from the non-league. In Division One you can play without that threat constantly hanging over you. Just because you want to be prudent does not mean you lack ambition. Sometimes not winning everything does not mean you have not been successful. By spending less than others does not mean you cannot succeed. Success will come if there is a bond, a unity, a togetherness, a common goal to achieve. Money does not guarantee success. Sometimes just knowing what you want to be and what you want to achieve is enough.
Coventry have gone into steep decline since their time in the Premiership. Lacking the income of the top league and the perception that the club is not being run for supporters, that decline was inevitable. Too much emphasis on the wrong agenda and not enough on the welfare or wishes of fans is dangerous.
Trusts exist to protect their clubs from being destroyed. Trusts exist to ensure that supporters can be heard. However, they are only one voice. When that voice is used, it needs to be done with rationale, with passion and with a direction. It needs to ensure it is not just the loudest one and cannot be a voice that is destructive or at times damaging for short term reward.
When CFU formed it was agreed we would not become involved on the playing side. We have never commented on managers or done anything other than be supportive of the side that takes to the pitch. We try to represent all our fans not just those who are members although no two people will have the same opinion. As the club develops in the future, I would like to see more openness. Some things have to be kept behind closed doors, however there are items and issues that can and should be discussed and shared. To provide information would prevent vacuums, rumours and unrealistic expectations. We will be vocal on behalf of the fans and ask questions they want answered. We will advocate the full inclusion of everyone and support initiatives in the community which are already excellent. We will treasure our past, help plan for the future and consolidate the present. Whatever we try to do, we will make sure that it is done with a conscience and fairness.