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Recently our Supporter Liaison officer and Former Match day Ambassador Nick Brodrick wrote an article for our friends at the Non-League paper.

In case you missed it here's a copy of what he wrote...

Supporters’ trusts should not be confused with supporters’ clubs which are generally run and overseen by the football club whereas a supporters’ trust is an independent body.

What a trust is, is a democratic, not-for-profit organisation designed simply to ensure the long term sustainability of its football club. Commonly supporters’ trusts are generally founded in order to increase influence at clubs through a financial stake.

There are over 140 supporters’ trusts across England, Wales and Scotland while the majority of these are affiliated to football clubs some exist for Rugby Union & League.

Trusts are formed within the legalities of the Community Benefit Societies (CBS). CBS’s are registered with the Financial Conduct Authorities. The members own all assets and liabilities collectively and any profit made is either kept as reserves or reinvested to meet its objectives. They are not charities.

They exist to develop and strengthen the relationship between the football club and the local community, representing the voices of supporters whether living in the local area or as exiles. Relationships between supporters’ trusts and owners/directors of the football club clearly vary from club to club ranging from trust directors sitting on football club boards to trusts being kept at arms length. But in some instances, trusts actually run their football club.

In the National League there are 13 clubs which have a supporters’ trust. At Wrexham they own the football club; at Woking the trust is the second largest shareholder.

Notts County’s have a 30% share in the club. And at Chesterfield their Community Trust is in talks to become the major shareholder of the club by mid-February.

But let’s take a look at a supporters’ trust in a little detail.

At Torquay United the supporters’ trust (TUST) was established in 2006, since then

there have been ups and downs with a succession of chairmen, the last but one, Michael

Goulbourne, having to resurrect the trust in 2014 from almost going out of existence.

TUST, now under the leadership of Michel Thomas, a passionate, driving force, has over 370 paid up fans and corporate members.

Fans pay £2 a month to be members with each one having a voting right. And corporate members pay £50 which gives their business a local platform, as they have advertising space in TUST’s annual brochure.

It acts as a critical friend of the football club with its mission statement saying, ‘ TUST promotes good governance and seeks to ensure the long-term sustainability of our club for the benefit of current and future supporters and the wider community.’

Thomas explains, “ Football clubs’ supporters and the clubs’ wider communities are there for the long term. Supporters’ trusts exist to represent people’s interests in their clubs ranging from highlighting and supporting initiatives that enable supporters to enjoy a comfortable and positive match day experience to endeavouring to support or influence decisions that promote their club’s sustainability for a longer term future.”

He continues, “ It’s important for the custodians, whoever they may be, to recognise that the clubs they run are much valued assets to their local and wider communities.” Tellingly Thomas adds, “ Football stadiums are places for regular community gatherings and not just on match days; they are a part of our culture which is worth preserving and supporters’ trusts are there to ensure this.”

At Torquay United current owner/chairman Clarke Osborne ,who bought the club in December 2016, is rarely seen at matches leaving the day-to-day running of the club to CEO, George Edwards. Osborne, though, through his company Riviera Stadium Limited, owns 92.341% of Torquay United and one of his stated aims is to move the club to a new stadium and this is where TUST as the club’s supporters’ trust can keep an eye on proceedings.

To be fair, to date, as the most recent accounts show, Osborne has ploughed in £2.1million to revive the club’s fortunes.

Supporters’ trusts are full members of the Football Supporters Association (FSA), a national body, which provides support and advice, especially to trusts and Supporters’ Associations who have concerns about poor governance of their club. Furthermore, they are represented on the FA Council and advise the Parliamentary Media, Culture and Sports Select Group on national football matters of importance to the game.

So what does a supporters’ trust involve itself in? What does a typical trust do bearing in mind trust officials, although democratically elected, are all non-paid volunteers giving freely of their time?

A good example is, in 2018, through the efforts and initiative of the TUST board, Torquay United were the only non-league club to be awarded a grant from the Premier League Fans Fund (PLFF) to enable the trust , along with the Torquay United Community Sports Trust (TUCST), to purchase special equipment, such as a very popular speed goal, to use at FanZones. These have been held on regular occasions before home matches and at outreach events throughout South Devon.

At the same time for the 2018 - 2019 season TUST, with the club’s support, introduced what turned out to be a popular MatchDay Ambassador scheme where a team of volunteers, led by TUST’s supporter liaison officer (SLO) a post which is mandatory in the EFL, welcomed supporters into the ground and dealt with any issues, such as seating problems, which arose. In the National League only 9 clubs have a SLO.

Earlier this season TUST became headline sponsors of Torquay United Community Sports Trust (TUCST), purchasing training tops for the TUCST coaches as well as competition shirts for the TQ1 kids and tracksuits for the Torquay United Women’s team.

As TUST chairman Michel Thomas puts it, “ We’re really pleased to show our support of TUCST as it underlines one of our core objectives - outreach and community engagement.”

What is clear is the growing importance of every club having an active supporters’ trust to not only work with their club but also to be there in times of need.

“ We fell asleep” is what Bury’s supporters’ trust admitted after the sad demise of their club so there is a big lesson to be learnt.

Towards the end of last year there was an exciting initiative with the inaugural meeting of the supporters’ trusts of Exeter City, Plymouth Argyle and Torquay United to form a Devon Supporters Trust Group with the intention of increasing this into a bigger south-west alliance.

With their growing influence in the life of a football club supporters’ trusts are here to stay and all strength to those who run them.

By Nick Brodrick

TUST Supporters’ Liaison Officer

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