A global Tottenham Hotspur podcast and viewpoint, by the fans for the fans.
by Martin Cloake
The success of English football is based on the loyalty and passion of football supporters as much as on the exploits of those who pull on the shirt. That may seem quite some claim, but it helps explain why football is so much more than just another sport, and why clubs are so valued and valuable.
And that, in turn, goes some way towards explaining why the Supporters Trust movement exists, and why fans invest so much time and energy in the Trusts attached to their clubs. According to Supporters Direct, the umbrella body set up in 1999 to promote the Trust model, there are now 203 Trusts or community-owned clubs in the UK, with a combined membership of 676,271 fans. Of those Trusts, 75 have representation on their club’s board.
THST is a representative, not-for-profit organisation run by fans for fans.
So what is a Supporters’ Trust? And what can it do at Tottenham Hotspur? Supporters Direct was based on the success of the first Trust set up at Northampton Town in 1992. The full story can be read in this fascinating article on Sporting Intelligence, but in short the idea was that giving fans both rights and responsibilities would lead to better-run clubs.
It’s easy to see how that works at clubs such as AFC Wimbledon and FC United of Manchester, where fans set up their own clubs, or at clubs such as Bournemouth and Portsmouth, where fans bailed out clubs financially ruined by the so-called great and good, and then took control of the way the clubs were run.
“..we also work on the smaller but still important stuff such as the quality of catering, access issues and boosting the voice of overseas fans.”
In the megabucks world of the English Premier League, it’s harder for fans to have any influence – largely because it’s harder for us to have any financial stake. But Swansea, another club rescued from potential extinction by its own fans, retains a supporter rep on the board, proving that the idea of fan representation on the board can work at this level.
As Spurs, the Trust suffered for a long time from the club just paying lip service to it, and from supporter apathy about whether anything could be achieved. But in the last three years, the Trust has upped its game at the same time as a wave of supporter activism across the Premier League’s clubs has put the fan perspective centre stage.
Our first principles are to be visible and open on the issues that matter. So dealing with ticketing issues takes up a significant part of our time. That ranges from day-to-day troubleshooting of individual fan problems, to lobbying for price freezes and reductions. We’ve built a good reputation among matchgoing fans for our ticketing work, and we’ve had some success in stopping price increases and extending concessions. And we’ve also restricted the chances for fans to be exploited on the StubHub ticket exchange scheme.
We also advise fans when they run into problems with the police and stewards at games, and get them legal advice when they need it. When serious problems arise entering stadiums and in away sections, as they did at Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge ground earlier this season, we collect fan complaints and push the football authorities for proper solutions. On both these issues, the clubs and the authorities are beginning to recognise the value of having input from an organised and constructive body of fans.
We also talk to the club about the atmosphere in the stadium. It’s becoming more widely recognised that the passion of crowds across the Premier League has lost its edge in recent years, and we’re keen to promote the kind of support that makes White Hart Lane one of the great football arenas on its day. But we don’t want traditional passion to be replaced by the kind of fake corporate flag-waving seen at some stadiums, so we work with grass roots fan groups and the club to make sure Spurs fans have the ability to express their support as passionately and genuinely as possible.
And, of course, there is the looming issue of the new stadium. Now that it has finally got the go-ahead, we will try to make sure that the fan perspective is fully taken on board. And that includes pushing for the cheaper prices we all want to see. We’ve already secured the club’s support for the introduction of a safe standing area if legislation changes to allow it.
That’s certainly one of the big issues, but we also work on the smaller but still important stuff such as the quality of catering, access issues and boosting the voice of overseas fans. And we work alongside other fan organisations nationally on campaigns around ticket pricing and policing especially, and on reforming the way football is run to strengthen supporter input. That national campaigning work has secured money from the Premier League to subsidise away travel and is driving the debate to bring prices down for away fans on a more permanent basis, as well as address the issue of why ticket prices remain so high at a time when an unprecedented amount of money is coming into the game.
All of this is done on a voluntary basis, which means we can’t always respond as quickly as we’d like or do as much as we want to. But, in the end, we do it because we think it’s worth working to show that fans can and should have a voice. At Spurs, it’s highly unlikely the fans will ever own all or even some of the club. But we believe a club in which fans can have a genuine say in its running has a better chance of long-term success.
“A football club can be a successful business because of the loyalty of the fans.”
Fans and those who run their club are not always going to agree. It’s even true to say that most fans don’t actually want to run the clubs we support at all. But what we do want is to have confidence in the way our clubs are run, to know our clubs are not just being bought and sold as commodities, and to know we are not just treated as an income stream.
A football club can be a successful business because of the loyalty of the fans that was mentioned at the beginning of this article. For too long, the only voice without any real influence in the game was that of the fans. That’s something that is beginning to change, and THST aims to play its part in shaping that change.
About the author:
Martin Cloake is the co-chair of the Tottenham Hotspur Supporters’ Trust, and a season ticket holder who has been watching the club live since 1978. He is also a journalist and author, and his personal website is http://www.martincloake.com.
For more information go to: https://www.thstofficial.com
Please follow the links below to listen to the interview held with Martin Cloake and his colleage Katrina Law: