As 2016 dawns, Bolton Wanderers is a club with significant and well publicised problems. Although the large debt that had been accrued over a number of years has been removed there are still losses on a month by month basis, and new ownership is required.
There’s another issue which has been bubbling under the surface for a while. Bolton was always regarded as a family based club. With the move to what is now the Macron Stadium, the years of Premier League tenure and the adoption of a more corporate image, that feeling was lost.
Can anything be done about the disconnection between Bolton and its fan base? Perhaps. If new ownership was secured it would be the ideal time to set up a supporters trust.
A supporters trust is a cooperative which allows fans to gain influence in the running and ownership of their clubs. Objectives can vary. Some trusts have secured part ownership of their clubs, others have supporter representation on the board.
A trust is usually established as a Community Benefit Society. It must be democratic, transparent, open and affordable to all fans or fan organisations and non-profit making.
Thanks to Supporters Direct, an organisation that was set up with cross party support, there is an established framework for setting up a trust, although it takes time and committment from those involved. There are currently over 170 clubs in Britain who have supporters trusts, and many have been set up in response to a financial crisis.
Of course Bolton already has a supporters group, the BWSA – Bolton Wanderers Supporters Association. Respect should be given to those who formed it, but it has a partially deserved reputation as the cardigan and slippers brigade and does not represent a true cross section of fans. Whites followers are a diverse bunch. From the gobby lot under the scoreboard, to the more sedate souls in the Upper West. From the admirable hard core who find their way to every away game to the occasional visitors.
Attempts were made to revitalise the BWSA some years ago. Four indivduals were drafted onto the controlling committee. There was a measure of success. Social gatherings went well and membership increased over five fold to around 500.
But some at the club wanted full control of the organisation and undermined it from within when that wasn’t forthcoming. Ideas pronounced as unworkable when advanced at meetings were stolen. Player appearances at meetings were limited to thirty minutes and some team members who were booked to attend were withdrawn at short notice. There were threats not to donate merchandise that could be used in prize draws.
Unable to work under such conditions the four new committee members resigned and the BWSA returned to it’s previous state. Ironically, those who impeded progress are no longer employed by Bolton Wanderers so a productive working relationship between the different organisations can be expected now.
Mass membership of a new fans’ organisation would ensure that all fans are represented. A supporters trust can also act as an umbrella organisation, so existing groups such as the BWSA and the London Whites can retain their own identities while being part of the whole, should they wish to do so.
There are three stages to setting up a trust:
1. Hold an open meeting – Explain the concept of a trust, provide examples of trusts at other clubs, vote to form a trust, generate funds and assemble a working group. Preparations for this meeting have already taken place. Supporters Direct and the club have been contacted and the response has been postive.
2. Trust Launch – Explain the trust aims and obtain a mandate for the steering group. The steering group will decide on election procedure, hold elections and prepare for the AGM.
3. The First AGM – Appoint auditors, present the business plan, present the election results and hold a Q & A session.
The open meeting for the formation of the Bolton Wanderers Supporters Trust will be held on Wednesday 6th January 2016 in the Platinum Suite at the Macron Stadium.
Supporters Direct will explain what a supporters trust is and a representative from another club will speak of their experience of setting up a trust. At the end of this meeting everyone will be asked whether they wish to proceed in setting up a Bolton Wanderers trust.
Those who have an interest in Bolton Wanderers and the wider Bolton community are strongly encouraged to attend.
Bolton Wanderers Supporters Trust Website – Scroll down and click on the Eventbrite meeting page link to reserve your ticket for the meeting.
– Richard McCormick