By Susan Press
Dave Boyle has two major passions in life. One is sport and the other is politics. Luckily he is able to combine the two as the new Chief Executive of Supporters Direct.For the past eight years, in a variety of roles including Deputy Chief Executive & Society Secretary, Dave has helped build the initiative from the beginning as a sporting curiosity to an increasingly major player with well over 100 clubs now signed up across the country.The big multi-million- pound hitters like Manchester Utd and Liverpool may have a formidable stranglehold over the game – but increasingly supporters have had enough of over-priced tickets and a world in which the ‘beautiful game’ has become a role-model for global capitalism and rank profiteering.Dave and his team at Supporters Direct believe there is another way – an ethical way. They help football fans create trusts to help them get a share in their club. And there are even clubs – like Stockport County – that are now fully owned by their fans.Dave, who originally hails from Rochdale and is now a keen Wimbledon supporter says ‘Supporters Direct has basically changed the way in which football is talked about and changed the language and most importantly shown that people can be involved and that they should be listened to. They are not just prisoners of loyalty’.Last year four trust run clubs won promotion – Stockport County, Exeter City, AFC Wimbledon and FC United of Manchester. ‘I think their success is something everyone in the trust movement can celebrate because at clubs where they are finding it tough to make an impact, it is a struggle’ says Dave. ‘There are 13 clubs that are owned or controlled by a supporters’ trust, and every time one of them wins a promotion or goes on a cup run, they put the issue of trusts in the limelight. But more importantly they show that there is another way and that this other way and that this other way doesn’t mean the end of a decent team’.Like many other co-op enterprises, supporters’ trusts tend to take over the reins in a less than perfect financial situation.‘Trusts have usually taken over in awful circumstances. As we know, the only people left standing when the sums look appalling are the people who aren’t looking at it from a financial point of view – the supporters. In many cases the club has been nose-diving, and relegation either immediately preceded trust-ownership or has swiftly followed’.As Dave points out, 40 clubs have gone into administration in the last 15 years, and Supporters Direct offers fans another, collective way forward in line with the best principles of the Co-operative Movement.‘Breaking that spell – that the only way to run a club is through a ‘benefactor’ – is absolutely essential to any trust achieving its goals in the longer term. And that’s why successes of trust-run clubs are to be celebrated’.Another plus is that Supporters Direct has good friends in Government. Its former Chair is Andy Burnham, Secretary of State for Culture, Media & Sport and previous CEO Philip French is his Special Advisor. Supporters Direct is set to commission some research on who joins trusts and why. Dave says: ‘We’ve consistently pointed out what is wrong in our sports, but we need to start pushing our ideas to make it right and focus on getting them implemented.’REFLECTAnother key task is reviewing the way in which trusts are set up.‘When the model rules were written, there were only three or four trusts in existence, and it’s time to revise them to bring them into line with what the 150-plus trusts are actually like. We’ll be advising trusts on what they might want to get rid of; what they need to keep in their rules and what they need to add to reflect the way things are.’Above all, Dave believes it is the ethic of Supporters Direct which makes it an increasingly attractive proposition for football fans. ‘We also need to be mindful that while we say we know what our values are and what that means for trusts; we can’t take it for granted. There are still a good many people who will be either delighted or unsurprised if a trust were to fail or to bring the Movement into disrepute.’In May, Supporters Direct launched a one-year sponsorship deal with Virgin Media to help fund its development.There are also plans to expand its Rugby League involvement and over the summer SD tested the water by working in Ireland. The Welsh Assembly government has also made a formal commitment to funding Supporters Direct and in Scotland the organisation is close to finalising a new three-year funding package. Even more exciting is the news that a UEFA-funded feasibility study to develop Supporters Direct in Europe has almost been completed.‘We make the case stronger everywhere that supporters’ trusts are not just there for the nasty times in a club’s life – they’re the future. In the years to come I would like to see more trusts and more household names getting involved and being at the forefront of the movement. It’s a different way of doing trade and a better way of doing it’‘When people think of Barcelona, for example, they don’t necessarily think it’s a co-op – they think what a great football team. But that’s the kind of thing we can offer in the future if we get the chance. And we owe a great debt of gratitude to the Co-operative Movement for helping us get started’.