These articles are published in the Slough Town FC programme. The Rebels play in the National League South in a swanky new ground. I’ve been supporting Slough since the beginning of time despite now living in Brighton.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Trust The Fans

Printed in the Slough Town V Cheshunt Ryman Premier League 11th January 2005

If ever there was a good argument needed to any Rebels fans who ask why they should join the Slough Town Supporters Trust, then it is Exeter City.

Both Exeter and - come on let’s admit it - Yeading, did non league footie proud, but that Exeter even got to play Manchester United in the first place was thanks to the hard work of their fans. Just two seasons ago they had debts of £4.5 million and were relegated from the league. They looked dead and buried - not even Uri Geller’s ‘positive thinking’ could save them (Geller might be good at bending spoons but most people would like to bend his neck.)

That’s when the fans stepped in, setting up a Supporters Trust and taking over the running of the club. They then set about raising money to stop the club going to the wall, doing everything from parachuting out of planes to taking baths in baked beans. As the club's honorary president Ivor Doble put it, the Manchester United draw was “a just reward for the supporters who have stuck with the club in the last 18 months. We were days, if not hours, from going out of business. So, to see one of the greatest teams in the world play at our own ground is an absolutely amazing occasion. The pleasing thing is that the story has not all been 'the minnows of Exeter'. It is gratifying to explain how a supporters' trust can actually organise a football club. We are trying to reconnect with the communities that the club came from originally." They didn’t even raise prices for the cup game, because as one of the Trust members put it Exeter were now “ a community owned club run by the community, for the community” and not into ripping their fans off.

Now with two thousand trust members, the way Exeter is run is the complete opposite to the footballing commodity that is Man United. To take one example while Manchester United's chief executive David Gill enjoys a salary of £900,000, one Exeter board member took his seat at the third round replay fresh from a stint on the turnstiles!

United are a global brand with a global support from people who probably haven’t even seen Coronation Street, let alone visited Manchester – but this makes them vulnerable to hostile takeover bids such as the recent one from a billionaire whose never even seen the club play. Exeter on the other hand symbolise a democratic spirit and ownership structure that United fans would probably swap their stock market listing for the influence it gives the club's supporters. What the Exeter game showed, was that the fans can take control. It also showed that no matter if you get 67,000 a week through the turnstiles or just 67 football clubs aren’t business’s. You wouldn’t find many people parachuting out of planes or sitting in a bath of baked beans to save the local McDonalds now would you?

As for the Rebels, even if by some miracle we got land given to us for a new ground it would take several years to move in. But in eighteen months time, our rental period with Windsor and Eton ends, as does our chairmans rent guarantee. What happens then? Could our Trust raise enough money to keep the club running at our current league level?

The Trust is the only way that fans can band together and try to make a difference. So all you who haven't joined yet now’s the time to sign on the dotted line. It may seem a small contribution, but at least it’s part of looking at the long term future of the club.

We might not have to jump in cold baked beans just yet, but we should all be looking at ways to keep the club alive if things take a turn for the worse. Joining the Trust is the first step. Man United away in the third round of the cup next season also wouldn’t go amiss!