Is Fan Ownership All Down the Swansea?

Date: 12th November 2016

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As Motherwell, welcome fans onto their board, down in Wales, relationships between some fans and their board – at Swansea City – seem to be heading in the opposite direction.

Is it too demanding of fans to have a say on the direction in which their club is travelling? I thought we had had this principal accepted a long time ago. After all fans are always wanting to know what is going on in the board rooms and with ownership of some of these strong community assets going to concerns that are outside their communities – especially to people with no ties to their club, emotional or otherwise – it can be difficult for fans to keep a very positive connection. In Swansea, the saving of the club in the early part of this century, led by Huw Jenkins, and with the full backing of the Swansea City Supporter’s Trust, is long forgotten. Fans are now feeling that they are looking at the club from the outside with their noses pressed up against the glass, as their club takes decisions and moves in a direction that seems like it is sailing away from them.

What makes it all the more galling is that Swansea City was once a proud fan/board partnership that was the envy of many. Swansea had battled from the point of near extension in 2002/2003 and the Trust were a major part of the transformation. It saw them, well within a decade, get into the Premier League. In June this year the club was sold on and many who had bought the club when it was struggling are now cashing in with what are claimed are multi million pound deals. All this has been done, claim the fans with never a glance in the rear view mirror to see what has been left behind as some form of legacy.

The Trust, who own 21% of the club themselves, have gone on the offensive through their chairman, Phil Sumbler who claims that after a sale that netted an incredible £75 Million for former shareholders that these shareholders, former partners in saving the club, acted “purely from a position of self-interest with little regard for the future of the football club”.

Of course, one thing that Boards can often do to hide any turmoil is have a successful team on the park; whilst the team are performing well, dissension is always at a minimum. Unfortunately City sit 19th in the league and have brought in American, Bob Bradley as the new manager to help steady the ship.

The new owners – also American – claim they want to work alongside the Trust to build the Swans but the Trust’s Board room representative, Huw Cooze, claims that communication is “lacking.”

Ironically one of the issues that concerned the Trust was being left on the outside of appointing a new manager. Bob Bradley arrived and the Trust, who were supposed to be involved in the choosing were simply left out of it all. The Trust have been in receipt, though, of an apology as the owners, Jason Levein and Steve Kaplan, have written in a match day programme to apologise for not keeping Cooze fully in their loop. They wrote, “Not informing him sooner as to our ultimate choice was an error on our part and one for which we take full responsibility… Having realised our mistake, we immediately sent a written apology. We respect the Supporters’ Trust and its important role with the club. Now we move on.” They do maintain that the Trust were kept informed about the process, but seemingly not the outcome.

One of the clues as to why the communication between owners and Trust broke down may be due to the possibility and number of leaks over the manager’s position, though the Board have quickly confirmed that they do not think that the Trust was the source of any leak.

Just how this shall play out is going to be interesting for a number of clubs where there has been a partnership between Trusts and the local business community. Here is one example of the community getting behind the club, the Trust getting behind the initiative and partnership but then some time down the line the partnership dissolving because the major party can make a profit out of their rescue package.

Supporters Direct, having described it as “the most high profile example of the involvement of a supporters’ trust in the direct running of a club” may find themselves in a sticky place. With Scottish Premiership club Motherwell probably in a much better and more influential position in their club, perhaps some should look at how little power you get with only a 21% stake.


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