The roots of Supporters Direct (SD) were in response to another near extinction at Northampton Town FC in 1992. The following is from the Northampton Town Supporters Trust website, written by founder, first Managing Director and former Chair of SD, Brian Lomax:
Northampton Town Supporters' Trust was formed in January 1992, as a result of a large public meeting attended by over 600 fans. This meeting was called by a group of ordinary supporters in response to a financial crisis at the club and a series of misleading statements issued by the then chairman.
The club was reluctant to send representatives to the meeting, but relented at the last minute, and the situation disclosed by them was a debt approaching £1.6 million, representing more than two years' turnover for the club. As the Trust subsequently discovered, the rot had set in some time before, and unpaid bills stretched back several years, to the time of the previous regime at the club.
The crisis, however, had been precipitated by the club's failure to pay the previous two months' players' wages, which amounted to about £64,000. The Professional Footballers' Association had had to cover this, and so it too had now become a creditor of the club.
The Trust was set up with two objectives: first, to raise money to save the club (but not for the then current regime), and to be accountable to the supporters for the expenditure of that money; and second, to seek effective involvement and representation for supporters in the running of the club in order to ensure that such a crisis situation would never occur again.
In this latter respect, the Trust marked itself out as being distinct from normal supporters' clubs, in that from its inception it has had an inescapably political dimension. By doing this, the Trust emerged from a variety of independent supporters' associations and other similar bodies, who have sought to change the way that their clubs are run and how they relate to their fans.
Although a handful of supporters' trusts emerged in the 1990's - including at Kettering Town and Crystal Palace - it was the third report by the Government's 1999 Football Task Force, ‘Investing in the Community', that gave birth to SD and saw the Trust Movement become a force.
The report's authors noted that:
“Supporters have shown how they have an important role to play in maintaining a strong relationship between clubs and the community. Fans organisations are being asked to play an increasing consultative role and financial support should be available to them.”
So SD began work in October 2000, based at Birkbeck College. Our initial business plan envisaged the establishment of 50 supporters’ trusts, but it soon became clear that demand massively exceeded expectations, with supporters' trusts being formed in excess of the original 50 estimated.
At the heart of our work sits the principle that as fans, what unites us is greater than what divides us over the course of a match, and as a result, you will always see fans of apparently sworn enemies like Liverpool and Manchester United, Chester and Wrexham, or Spurs and Chelsea, working collaboratively for the good of the supporters and the wider game. At the 'open meeting' as part of the formation stage of a supporters' trust, representatives from other supporters' trusts will always be present alongside representatives from SD.
England and Wales (The English Football Pyramid)
Supporters' trusts quickly became the rescue model of choice for clubs, with Chesterfield were the first club owned by a supporters' trust in April 2001 when the Chesterfield Football Supporters Society saved it. Enfield Town followed months after, taking the radical step that a group of Manchester United fans were to take several years later when they broke away and formed a new club, Enfield fans refusing to accept the owner's unfulfilled promises of a new ground following the sale of Southbury Road. Others at York City, Rushden and others came, but given the sorry state of some of those, even after the extraordinary commitment of fans, not all remained in fan ownership - though all had more of a future than before.
The financially troubled era of 2002-2004, in part caused by the subsequent collapse of ITV Digital in England, saw a massive growth in our work, with clubs like Exeter City under community ownership and notably Swansea City still benefiting from the creation of the Swans Trust that saw them at the centre of their rescue and restructure that is the direct cause of their long period of growth and stability.
Perhaps most notably in 2002, SD was involved in the response to the biggest failure of football governance in many years, which saw Wimbledon Football Club effectively franchised to another town. The supporters however, refusing to to accept that continuity as a South London Club "Reforming would not be in the wider interests of football" (a quote from the authors of the report) re-established the club under the ownership of The Dons Trust, and the rest of the story of AFC Wimbledon doesn't need telling here.
However, our work in England and Wales isn't simply with clubs in crisis or supporters getting directly involved in the ownership and running of their clubs. Indeed we've even branched out into Rugby League in particular. Some of our most recent success has been with the likes of supporters' trusts in the Premier League, working collaboratively with the likes of the Manchester United Supporters Trust, Spirit of Shankly, Tottenham Hotspur Supporters Trust and trusts from Cheslea, Fulham and others. Likewise in the Championship, the collaboration between near-neighbours is common to see - and greatly encouraged.
Our work lobbying for a game that is better run, more open, honest and transparent, has become one of the most important things we do to represent the movement in England and Wales.
In 2002 in Scotland, both Clydebank and Airdrie collapsed, with a consortium from the latter being given permission to buy Clydebank's league position. The tragic result was turned around by the fans of Clydebank, who reformed the Club in the junior leagues in Scotland and have continued to thrive. Other tragic collapses have seen supporter-ownership as the solution in Scotland - most recently Gretna, now back in the Scottish pyramid and playing in the new Lowland League, but also as a longer-term solution like that at Clyde.
Since 2012, Scotland has seen the Trust Movement expand once more, with Dunfermline moving into part-ownership last year, and others - amongst them Heart of Midlothian - having similar plans drawn up.
In Scotland, we have also seen the growth of other projects specific to our cousins north of the border, including the Scottish Fans network - something that fulfils the need for wider representation for supporters on a number of issues other than those that SD traditionally stands for, as well as the impressive anti-sectarian Colour of our Scarves project.
In 2007, following a UEFA funded feasibility study, SD Europe was created with financial support from UEFA, and our work expanded to main Europe. SD Europe is now active in over 20 countries, including Spain, Italy, Belgium, Sweden, Poland and Germany. The demand demonstrated in the feasibility study has resulted in the creation of a network of democratic groups across the continent, all aiming to be involved in the ownership and decision-making processes at club, national and European level.
In 2010, we were appointed by UEFA to facilitate the implementation of Article 35 of their Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play regulations, which states that all clubs wishing to receive a UEFA licence must appoint a Supporter Liaison Officer.
Since then, we have completed a highly successful European Commission Funded project across eight European countries and nine partners, and launched the 'Heart of the Game' position paper at the European Parliament.
In 14 years we have now reached the 200 mark of supporters' trusts in the UK - covering some 75%+ of the top football divisions in both England and Scotland. In the UK we use the democratic, not-for-profit Community Benefit Society model, whilst using similar principles and legal structures in mainland Europe.