Clubs In Crisis
Nobody wins unless everybody wins...
www.ClubsInCrisis.com 07 April 2009 - 20:36

Advice And Help

This page is specifically for the supporters of clubs who want help to combat the problems they face.

At Brighton we tried many different tactics to oust our old chairman, who we believed was the main cause of our problems. While the long-term future of the club is still uncertain (because we have no permanent stadium), we brought about a change in the ownership that at one stage seemed impossible but which saved the club.

We don't think we have all the answers so we want anybody who has any suggestion for any other group of fans to help them to please email the . I will try to ensure that anything that goes on to the site is legal.


How To Save Your Football Club - Ten tips from the Brighton & Hove Albion experience

1. Background

A club in crisis is one that is in imminent danger of being lost to its traditional community or being unable to fulfil its function within that community. It may be that the club is in danger of folding because of a debt crisis; or that those in control of the club propose moving it to another town or city - or even shutting it down completely to gain from the development of the ground; or that its development within the community is being stifled by minority factions.

Every crisis is different as the particular circumstances of ownership or debt are special to each club. In our case at Brighton & Hove Albion the predicament was initially financial - the club was in debt with only one major asset, the Goldstone Ground - but it evolved into a power struggle where money was not the main issue. Now the problem is a battle to secure planning permission for our new stadium.

These notes are intended to help supporters of other clubs who may find themselves in similar situations.

IMPORTANT

In anything written, broadcast, put on the web, or published in any other way, STICK TO THE FACTS YOU KNOW. DO NOT ACCUSE ANYONE OF DOING ANYTHING YOU CANNOT SHOW TO BE TRUE. You will be battling against businessmen used to dealing with lawyers, and a letter from a solicitor can seem pretty threatening. If you receive one then you should seek legal advice.

KEEP EVERYTHING PEACEFUL AND LEGAL. Any personal violence will only harm your cause and greatly reduce any sympathy, while anything illegal could land you in trouble. For instance, a 20-year-old from Brighton was gaoled for eight months for making threatening phone calls to a club director.

You may want to resort to on-pitch demonstrations if your situation becomes absolutely desperate, but you must remember that IT IS A CRIMINAL OFFENCE TO VENTURE ONTO THE PITCH AT A FOOTBALL MATCH and could get you banned by the club and the courts. You might presume that, in such circumstances, there would be safety in numbers, but that is not necessarily the case as individuals may be arrested. If you do go onto the pitch - and remember it's illegal - you must not get involved in any fisticuffs or you will be portrayed as football "thugs". Non-violent sit-down protests must be the aim of any such illegal pitch invasion.

At Brighton & Hove Albion we fought a bitter war against our directors from 1995 until 1997, following their decision to sell the Goldstone Ground without an adequate replacement. While the long-term future of the club is still uncertain, we helped to bring about a change in the ownership that at one stage seemed impossible, but which saved the club. And we are still grateful to the thousands of fans of other clubs who gave us their support in our darkest hour.

Supporters may be able to bring about change to their club by merely expressing dissatisfaction or by staying away, but that depends on whether those in control have the best interests of the club at heart. Increasingly, it seems, some directors or owners of clubs may not. If that is the case, other action is required.

2. Unity is strength

If your club is in crisis then you need every supporter to come together. Do you have a supporters' club or association that is independent of the club? If not, form one.

You may already have a number of groups. You must get together and come up with a united front. Any petty differences between factions are irrelevant while the club you all love is on the brink. At Brighton & Hove Albion, we had a Supporters' Club which changed its rules to become independent of the football club, and an unconstituted Independent Supporters Association. Together with the fanzines, we all came together to fight the common enemy and have co-operated healthily ever since.

If you don't have a fanzine then start one. It doesn't have to be a fantastically designed work of art on glossy paper. Indeed, many see the charm of fanzines in the fact that they look like they've been thrown together in someone's bedroom! All it need contain is the latest news and notice of demonstrations and other events to keep your own supporters informed. Call it a newsletter if you prefer. Remember, not everyone by any means is a user of the Internet.

It is vital that, together, you command overwhelming support among your own fans. Hold regular open meetings for all supporters to keep them informed of developments and proposed action, and to discuss tactics and get fresh ideas. Be prepared to listen to alternative viewpoints.

Select a few supporters to negotiate on all your behalves if there should be talks with the club, the FA, the local council, etc. Nominate one or two articulate people to do any media interviews to put your viewpoint over.

You will undoubtedly need a fighting fund to pay for leaflets and other campaign material. Set up an account so that money can be paid in. Nominate three or four trusted supporters who will be signatories to the account, so that any cheques need two or more of their signatures. Put the arrangement on a formal basis with a Memorandum setting out what the money can be used for, i.e. funding the campaign to save your club, and what should happen to any money left over at the end of your campaign. Publish the Memorandum. Keep all supporters up to date with the financial position of your campaign through your leaflets or fanzines. Send the fund-raising buckets around at your public meetings and pass the money received to your trusted signatories. You will need to come up with other fund-raising ideas.

You may wish to put your togetherness on a more formal basis, perhaps as a trust, a properly constituted body which could eventually buy a stake in your football club. Indeed, some supporter trusts have even taken over their clubs. If this is the case it is absolutely essential that you contact Supporters Direct. This organisation was established in 2000 to help give supporters a stronger voice within their clubs and to put the finances of clubs on a sounder basis, and has been involved with the setting-up of numerous supporters' trusts. They will provide you with practical advice and experience, and supply model constitutions suitable for different circumstances as you establish yourselves.

3. Find out as much as you can

Professional football clubs are, by and large, limited companies. That means they are owned by shareholders and run by directors who must stick to certain rules and are answerable to the shareholders. In recent times a number of the bigger clubs have been moved into the ownership of public limited companies (PLCs) which are quoted on stock exchanges (where shares may be purchased and sold).

In cases where football clubs are limited companies, the supporters are, legally, merely customers of the company. In reality, of course, the club belongs morally to its supporters and to its community. They are the ones who really care about the club, who will always be there when players, managers and directors have all passed through. Switching to another club - or company - is just not an option for a real fan.

All companies must publish accounts. Get hold of your club's accounts and those of any associated company. Your local reference library should be able to help you identify the company numbers (which must also be included on company notepaper). Then contact Companies House. For a small fee, they will send you microfiches of the records which you will again need to take to the library to read and get print-outs from special viewers.

You will probably need an accountant to sift through the results. Are there any supporters who have such knowledge to analyse the figures? If not, use your funds to get professional help.

Each crisis is different. In some cases the directors of your club may be on your side; in our case they definitely were not. The accounts will help you identify the directors and owners of your club, and will probably give their home addresses. They will tell you the names of other companies of which these people are directors. Get the Companies House returns for these companies too. They will give you information on your club directors' other businesses and the names and addresses of their business associates. Find out every location of their businesses; again the library may help.

Included with the documents from Companies House will be the Memorandum of Association and the Articles of Association of the football club company. These form the constitution of the club. Read the aims of the company carefully. Any transgression of these rules is potentially a criminal offence which could lead to directors being stripped of their office. (If this is the case the the Department of Trade and Industry will be the interested public body.) Under FA rules, the Articles of Association must include clauses which say that the FA can disqualify a director, and that if the club is wound up any remaining monies after creditors are paid must be given to a charity, sporting trust, or similar body.

Supporters Direct may be able to steer you in the right direction for all this information but they cannot undertake the research themselves.

Every football club needs a ground on which to play, but a club may well not own its ground. It might, for instance, belong to the local council, to an individual, to a trust or to another company. Whatever the case, there will be an agreement over the use of the ground by your club.

If the ownership of the ground is at the heart of your crisis then you must find out as much as you can about that ownership and the agreements regarding the use of the ground. You should also try and determine if there are any agreements on the use of the land; there may, for instance, be "restrictive covenants" that require the land to be used for recreational purposes. Your local authority may well be able to help.

If your ground has been sold, try and find out who it's been sold to. If the ground still exists, write to them and plead with them, pointing out how they may be destroying your community. If you get no joy but the company appears to be vulnerable in some way (for instance it might be a supermarket or DIY chain) then let other know about it - nationally.

Whatever the situation surrounding your club, you must try to talk to your club's board. If they are not co-operative then demand meetings with them and put them under pressure. Don't take no for an answer, keep on at them. Try to elicit as much information from them as possible. Speak to any former directors of the club, especially any who may be disenchanted with the present regime. They may well be able to shed more light on what's going on and provide inside information.

Many non-league clubs may be still be true clubs, i.e. owned by and run for members who have paid a subscription. In these cases there will be rules which should be available to all members. Those that run the club, usually a committee, will have to act according to the rules or they can be challenged in the courts.

Once you know what is happening, tell the world. If there are enemies of your football club, expose them. Tell the world what this person or people or company is doing to your club.

4. Use your talents

Football fans are as diverse as the rest of our society. Within your own fanbase there will be supporters with professional skills that will help you in your struggle. Use the professional talent that is available amongst your supporters. Appeal for people with useful skills to come forward and get involved in your campaign.

At Brighton & Hove Albion we've used the skills of accountants, designers, advertisers, printers, journalists, etc., all of them Albion fans. A sympathetic lawyer is also a great asset as legal action may well be necessary (we threatened to sue the FA unless they took action to stop the apparent abuse of the game in our case). We even had a professional performance poet as one of our campaign leaders, a great asset with the media!

5. Contact the authorities

The Football Association has a duty within its own constitution to protect the game from abuses. If you believe the game is being abused by the owners or directors of your club (who are subject to the rules and regulations of the FA) then tell the FA. Ring them up. Write to them. Fax them. Keep pestering them until they start to do something. Get a copy of the FA's latest handbook containing the Association's rules and familiarise yourself with them.

Your club's league might also be able to do something, although their greatest sanction is likely to be expulsion which is probably not what you want. Nevertheless, contact them and pester them similarly.

Then there are your local councillors and MPs. Write to them and keep writing to them. When elected representatives are inundated with mail on one subject they tend to do something about it. Get the council involved and remind them what an asset to the community and town your club is. Speak to the leaders of the council and the leading council officers. (Councillors are your elected representatives while council officers are the "civil servants" of local government.) If they don't do anything then embarrass them until they do. Demonstrate in front of the Town Hall and outside councillors' homes. You must get the local authority on your side - and they should be anyway.

Write to the Minister of Sport at the House of Commons, and tell him/her what's happening to your club.

National supporters' organisations include the National Federation of Football Supporters' Clubs and the Football Supporters' Association. Both will be interested in your story and in bringing it to the wider audience of football fans.

Whether you wish to set up some form of supporters' trust or not, tell Supporters Direct of your plight. They will offer useful advice.

6. Tell anyone and everyone who might help

The Internet deserves a special mention; see below.

Other outlets for your story are the newspapers, both local and national, magazines and club fanzines. Don't forget the broadcasting organisations.

The press may or may not be interested in what you have to say, but try them. Send all the sports desks letters outlining your case, but keep them brief and to the point. News agencies such as the Press Association may well take your story and distribute it nationally.

The "serious" press is more likely to be interested than the tabloids unless it's a "big" club. Try also the football magazines: Four Four Two, Match of the Day, When Saturday Comes, etc. Have a pack of detailed information readily available if they request it, and have someone ready and willing to do interviews. Your information pack should contain the basic facts of the case with background information on the major "players". Include any relevant correspondence with the club or the council. Include a summary of what action you've taken thus far. You must include the contact details of your spokesmen/women in case the editors wish to follow up the story.

If you can get your local paper on your side then you will have a powerful voice. They should be in any case; after all, football fans will make up a large proportion of their circulation. Tell them all you know and encourage them to investigate the situation; they will have journalists used to doing this. If they don't come on board then write letters, phone them, fax them and e-mail them until they do. Your plight should be a massive local story.

Then there are the broadcasting organisations. For the same reasons as just mentioned, your local stations should take an interest in what's going on. Nationally, Sky TV, BBC Radio Five Live and TalkSport are the most likely stations to be interested, so contact them.

Be ready to send information packs to all these organisations to outline your problem, and send press releases to them all when you are organising specific events/demonstrations. Give your press release a hard-hitting headline to grab attention. Keep the content short and to the point. Try and finish with a quote from one of your spokesmen/women, and, if possible, a quote from someone of influence (for instance, a director, a councillor, an MP, a celebrity fan). You must include the contact details of your spokesmen/women in case the editors wish to follow up the story. You can finish off with a brief note on the background of your struggle.

One of the most successful courses of action will probably be contacting other clubs' fanzines. They always need articles to fill their space and will usually be happy to publish anything you send. Make it clear what the problem is, and tell the readers how they can help, perhaps by signing petitions, writing to the FA, or boycotting certain shops or businesses. But keep your pieces free from any potentially libellous comments; stick to the facts. You can find a list of fanzines in When Saturday Comes, or seek them out on the Internet.

7. Use the Internet

If you're reading this, you must have access to the World Wide Web, so use it to your advantage by creating a web site for yourself. It's pretty easy, and someone in your fanbase will undoubtedly have the necessary skills. Perhaps there is already a well-established independent website relating to your club which could be used.

Your site will need the following:

Keep your site simple, easy to read, and quick to download. This is not really the time for all those clever graphics.

Once your web site is built, you need to let others know about it. This is where we at Clubs In Crisis can help. We have developed our site to maximise the publicity on the Internet for clubs in trouble, so let us know. We will add your club to our current list and link to your site. Give us a brief summary of your crisis and the full address of your campaign pages. Please download our logo and link and paste it to your website so that we can maximise our presence - and yours - on the web.

You may like to contact other Internet sites to tell them of your plight. Again, probably the best way is for them to link to you via Clubs In Crisis. With so many clubs in trouble, it is too much to expect webmasters to include links to every one of those clubs. That's why we set up Clubs In Crisis: with just one link to our website, anyone reading a particular club's page can jump to our site and then to your campaign pages in a flash. So if you find a site that doesn't have our logo and link on it, the best thing to do is to ask them to download it from our site. Always be polite when asking; polite requests are much more likely to be answered positively.

Keep your website up-to-date with as much latest news as you can. Make sure you publicise any events, demonstrations, marches, petitions, etc.

You may well receive some abusive messages in your campaign from fans of rival clubs. Ignore them - do not respond. True football fans will support you in your efforts to save your club.

In our Brighton guestbook from 1996/97 we had a handful of abusive comments, but 99% of the messages we received were backing us in our fight. Even Crystal Palace fans were offering their best wishes! Let's face it, without rivalry football is just another entertainment, lacking the passion that makes it so special to us all. What's the point of seeing your rivals going under? It's more fun to play against them and beat them!

The support from some of our most bitter rivals gave us a huge boost in what, at times, seemed an impossible battle to win.

8. Keep campaigning

Every crisis is different, but you must not let up until the battle is won.

Most important of all, you must keep your own supporters up-to-date with the latest news. Use your club programme (if you can), fanzines, newsletters, websites, local newspapers and radio stations to keep the home support together. Hold public meetings so the issues can be debated in the open and alternative views and ideas expressed.

You will find that a good number of your own supporters will disagree with your actions. Many will argue that you should be supporting the team and not, for instance, arguing with the directors. You can of course put the view that, unless you do something about the situation, there won't be club to support, but remember that they are not your real enemy, so don't use up too much energy trying to convert the unconvertible.

If your board of directors is the cause of your problems then protest at matches and shout them down every time they appear. Hand out leaflets home and away explaining what it's all about and how people can help. Opposing supporters will often be very interested - there will always be rivalry on the pitch but off it they will be supportive.

Car stickers and badges will help spread the word and unite supporters and sympathisers.

Travel to other clubs and hand out your leaflets there. Contact supporters' organisations and fanzines before you travel so that the home fans are prepared for you. This may be especially relevant in towns and cities where businesses relating to your directors are located. You will find the vast majority of fans of other clubs both interested and supportive. No decent football fan wants to see another club go out of business or lose their ground.

If you do have identifiable enemies then put pressure on them. This must be done carefully and legally. You may, for instance, consider that letters to their families, neighbours, business colleagues, friends, golf clubs or whatever may be immoral, but then is what they're doing to your club moral? If you do write letters then they must not be abusive in any way. Be aware too that if an individual writes more than one unwanted letter to another individual that they could fall foul of recently introduced laws against stalking.

An easy way to pressurise directors is to hand out pre-addressed postcards at matches, to be sent by fans to their home addresses. Keep the message clean, factual and non-abusive, but to the point, e.g. "You're destroying my football club. Please leave now." Allow room for the sender to put their name and address; the message will be all the stronger for bearing genuine names behind it. Put a date on the card when it is to be sent so that you know when they'll arrive. You may like to put a spread of dates on them so that they arrive over a number of days to keep the pressure on; Mrs Director is not going to take kindly to all those postcards dropping on her mat for a week!

Any novel form of protest will attract media attention. At Brighton & Hove Albion we had many, including:

Always seek the co-operation of the police where relevant. Ultimately, it took a mass pitch invasion - which was of course illegal - and the abandonment of a match to gain initial media attention, but then the press, radio and television were generally receptive to what we did. After our experience they are more interested in the subject of businessmen attempting to destroy clubs.

If shares are available in any of the companies involved - the football club, its parent company, your enemy's businesses, the purchaser of the ground - buy some (approach your bank or stockbroker) and embarrass your enemy at AGMs. Ask direct questions and demand answers. Write to shareholders if you can and tell them what is happening - remember, facts only.

9. Find an alternative

Whatever the problem your club faces, you must try and come up with some sort of alternative plan and suggest it to everyone with influence. The important players in this will be the local authority, the Football Association and your league, plus any major investors who may be out there.

If the problem is financial or one of lack of representation, then Supporters Direct will be able to give you advice. If it's a problem with the ground (if, for instance, it's been sold or development plans have fallen through) then the council will need to be involved.

At Brighton & Hove Albion the problem we had was a power struggle between a discredited board of directors which had sold the ground and a popular takeover consortium. We asked for independent arbitration to decide which side offered the best future for the club.

The Football Association eventually employed professional mediators, the Centre for Dispute Resolution, to bring about an agreement between the two sides. (The agreement meant that, in the event of any dispute between the two sides, the matter would be referred to two FA-appointed non-executive directors who would make a binding decision.) The plans of the consortium were always more credible than those of the board, so we always had a reasonably sound goal.

AFC Bournemouth found their salvation from financial disaster through a supporters' trust backed by local businesses and masterminded by a supporter who was also an accountant.

Whatever the problem, try and put together some sort of rescue plan with professional help, perhaps via the council. Are there any potential major investors out there? Get them involved.

10. Never give up

Even though the odds at times appear daunting, don't give up. You are fighting for yourselves, your community, your descendants and, ultimately, for all football supporters - for football cannot exist without football clubs. Just think of those empty Saturday afternoons if you cave in! You must fight to the "death".

At Brighton & Hove Albion we found great strength in our darkest moments through the solidarity of our own fans, but more especially through the encouragement and the fraternity of other supporters. Everyone will be behind you in your battle.

We like to sum it all up in one of the spontaneous chants from our unforgettable Fans United event:

Football, united, will never be defeated!