When you are involved right at the heart of a football club, it’s very easy to get caught up in the nuances of the relatively minor occurrences that go on on a daily basis. When you’re hands on week in week out, it’s difficult and unlikely that you’ll take time to move a step away and reflect on the bigger picture. It is something that I had the chance to do recently – when I attended a two-day football event in Madrid – and the experience was nothing short of exhilarating.
I have been looking after an EC-funded project in Ireland entitled ‘Improving Football Governance through Supporter Involvement and Community Ownership’ for a little while time now. The response within League of Ireland circles has been very encouraging and also enlightening in many different ways. Somehow the thought of clubs more actively co-operating with other football clubs does not seem the alien idea it once was.
In that Project Manager role, I was invited to speak at the FASFE event by our Spanish partners, specifically to address the importance of fan involvement in football. To everyone involved in FORAS, the early days of the trust are a story we imagine that everybody is aware of at this stage but at least one prominent chairman in the League of Ireland believed that it was set up as a takeover group until quite recently…
In fact, the initial days of the supporters trust were quite modest and even humble. Members spoke about helping the club and its then reliable owner, with a view to perhaps working towards a sharehold in the club one day in the distant future. As it was life would overtake all plans, and FORAS would become a critical part of the CCFC story from the moment of its launch in 2008.
A talented Board, with great leadership at its helm, guided the trust along a potentially hazardous path until March 5th, 2010 that a team under the banner of Cork City FORAS Co-op took to the field in the Brandywell with the hope and pride of its hundreds of owners behind them.
I retold the story of those early days to delegates from clubs all over Spain last month. For supporters worried about their club’s future and fearful of what the coming years might bring, it is heartening to know that fans have made a real difference – as the likes of AFC Wimbledon, FC United of Manchester and Shamrock Rovers had inspired FORAS and Cork City FC at times.
La Liga is packed full of wonderful footballers right now. Lionel Messi is a wonder to behold and yet look beyond the glamour and Spanish football, like the country itself, is in choppy waters and heading for the eye of a huge storm.
Like sessions at the Heart of the Game conference in Ireland last year, participants heard from a variety of people all with one significant thread in common – a passion for their football club and an urgent desire to seek a more sustainable way forward. Spanish law requires that competitive sporting teams must be a limited liability corporation – a requirement that is of huge frustration to those that see the need for the game to head down a very different route.
The regional government in Valencia are involved in helping no less than three football clubs at the moment, while Deportivo de La Coruna went into voluntary administration on account of their financial woes in the last couple of weeks.
There is good stuff going on to of course – especially the emergence of clubs like CAP Ciudad de Murcia and Club Deportivo Palencia, both of which are making progress in their own way – but, like Ireland, these clubs don’t get enough support or even spotlight.
As at the Irish event, the immediate feedback was really positive. There is something hugely refreshing and motivating when you find football peers that see things the same way: they can see the urgent need for change, the importance of giving fans – as one of the game’s most significant stakeholders – a proper voice as well as the benefit of inviting fans into the inner circle not only to hear their contribution but to allow them have real input into the issues that affect them directly every week.The movement is gained momentum across Europe – assisted by the resources and time given by the hard working people at Supporters Direct Europe – but, importantly, it is also being noticed and backed by people working within UEFA and the European Commission amongst other notable organisations.
Sometimes change happens overnight in dramatic fashion; sometimes change is a persistent journey of small steps. Either way, evolution is inevitable and supporters will be part of the next chapters to come.