Chelsea’s decision starts repairing broken relations with fans after European Super League fiasco

In the aftermath of the failed coup to take the ‘Big Six’ into a European Super League, Chelsea is the first club to make some positive move toward repairing the rift with their supporters.

Last week they released a statement announcing the intention to have three ‘supporter advisors’ attend four or more Board meetings per year to “ensure general support or sentiment is considered as part of the club decision-making process”.

There will be a nomination process to select the supporter advisors, who will then be elected for an annual term. I would prefer a term of three years to ensure consistency and continuity in decision making, but it’s a start. The successful candidates will be subject to the same confidentiality agreements as Chelsea board members but will have no ‘voting rights’ and will have no say on matters relating to players, staff or the Academy.

The Club intimated that they were prepared to consider some sort of supporter involvement in club decisions in an advisory capacity in recent meetings held between the Chelsea Supporters’ Trust and other supporter groups recently.

The fact that they have so quickly been as good as their word is welcome and very interesting. They have clearly taken the temperature and realized that things cannot go on as they were.

For anyone who has been involved with the Chelsea’s Supporters’ Trust since 2013, as I have, then this is potentially a huge step forward.

Since the Trust’s inception, one of their stated aims has been to “encourage the board of Chelsea Football Club to take into account the interests of all supporters when making decisions that impact upon them; act as an effective means of communication between club and supporters and to have an elected supporter’s representative on the board of Chelsea Football Club”.

The latter objective was always seen as very long-term and perhaps unobtainable. The fact that Chelsea will now go some way to making this happen is positive indeed and a sign of their rapprochement with the supporters. However, the devil will no doubt be in the details.

Those details have not yet been made clear, although the Trust and others have been promised some input.

It is a shame, but not unexpected, that the supporters will not have voting rights. Perhaps right now that is a bridge too far, but the chance to advise in an official capacity should not be sniffed at providing that advice is genuinely listened to, heard and acted upon.

The Club has held Fans Forum for years at the behest of the Premier League and the Trust has independently enjoyed a level of regular access to the Club board to bring supporter issues to their attention. However, there was always a sense that it was merely a ‘box-ticking’ exercise and that any advice was after the fact and as a result, decisions were rarely reversed.

The Fans Forum suffered, in my view, as it was wholly unrepresentative. None of the members of the Forum were elected representatives, it was self-selecting and therefore had absolutely no democratic mandate. The general feeling was that the Club used it to disseminate information on decisions that had already been made and were not interested in relevant feedback from supporters.

More to the point, it often felt like a ‘corporate jolly’ and a free lunch for some supporters rather than an environment for fair, free and frank discussions to effect change at its core.

If Chelsea are prepared to allow supporter advisors at their Board meetings, it must not be a mere gesture to fend off the Fan led review with the Government. It certainly cannot be as ineffectual as the Fans Forum.

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The selection of the nominees for the supporter advisors will be key to its success and any substantive change.

They must select the best people for the job i.e., the best three candidates to represent the interests of Chelsea supporters, not only match going season ticket holders and members, but also supporters from across the globe.

To be truly representative will be no mean feat given how global Chelsea’s supporter constituency is these days and indeed how disenfranchised many in the UK have become due to being priced out.

Whilst inclusivity and diversity are always welcome and indeed would in and of itself be representative, the election process must not be fudged to accommodate a false sense of inclusion and diversity. The selection process must be meritocratic and the election truly democratic. After all, I’m sure Chelsea selects the best people for the board, based on merit, rather than positive discrimination. The process to select supporter advisors should be no different.

As far as representative democratic supporter organisations go, the Chelsea Supporters’ Trust provides an excellent example.

The Trust board is elected each year in an election, one member, one vote. The motions which form the Trust’s policies are proposed and voted for by the membership, numbering many thousands of Chelsea supporters from all over the world, at the Annual General Meeting. The board and the Trust’s motions have a democratic mandate and the structure of the Trust is governed by a constitution, shaped through their association with the Football Supporters Association.

Chelsea fans will be back inside Stamford Bridge for the game against Leicester later this month
Chelsea fans will be back inside Stamford Bridge for the game against Leicester later this month

The club could do worse than follow Chelsea Supporters’ Trust’s representative and democratic lead here.

There are other Chelsea supporter organisations who are run along democratic lines, albeit in the more traditional corporate sense, such as the Chelsea Pitch Owners, whose board are elected each year at their Annual General Meeting by the shareholders, who in the main are long standing Chelsea supporters.

I would be perfectly happy if at least two of the supporter advisors come from the CST and CPO, who have already proven to be representative and democratically constituted.

Whatever is decided by the Club, hopefully with some input from the key supporter organisations, it will still lag far behind the much talked about German 50+1 model.

Contrary to what you might believe, the 50+1 model relates to voting rights not ownership.

Some Bundesliga clubs, such as Schalke 04 are run as ‘members clubs’ where members elect a committee, one member, one vote and the committee runs the club in the interests of the members with no external owner.

Clubs such as Borussia Dortmund, Bayern Munich, Eintracht Frankfurt and Hamburg SV are run along the 50+1 model. Here, the football team has split off from the members club to form a limited company and any outside investor can buy the company outright. However, the members club retain 51% (50+1) of the voting rights in the company whilst ceding ownership.

Ben McFadyean who is the President of the Borussia Dortmund London Fan Club, an official supporters club, provided me with some insight into how the members club and 50+1 model works in practice.

Ben pays £100 to be a member of Borussia Dortmund members club and is also a shareholder of the PLC and the football team is the most important element of the company or as Ben puts it: “The Chairman of the Club is the Chairman of the football division as well as the corporate division and all the decisions that are made on the corporate side are for the benefit of the football division.

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“There is also a Council of Elders containing people who’ve been in or around the club, or played for the club such as former directors, players or captains or people who have had highly influential positions within trade unions or local businesses. The Council of Elders are very influential.

“And you have a Council of Fans who are representatives of officially certified fan clubs. You cannot become a certified fan club unless you’ve fulfilled certain criteria. It has to be democratically organised and follow certain guidelines. The Council of Fans contains 30 representatives selected from the 800 fan clubs.

“Quarterly meetings are held with the football club, with representatives from the board of directors, the Fan Council and the team coach and players often attend too.

“The meetings are consultative in that we’re asked for our opinions about various issues. Once a year there’s an Annual General Meeting of the 160,000 members, where votes are taken and of course the Annual General Meeting for the corporate shareholders, where votes are taken.

“The running and decision making at the club is democratic, transparent and accountable. It’s a privilege that you pay for, but what you know is that there are checks and balances in respect of how the club is run.

Basically, we’re able to not only say what we don’t like, but also make an express and clear statement to the board, which the board then have to address immediately in front of the members. They can’t take it away and say, we’ll come back to you. They have to give a response straight away and a commitment.”

I was intrigued by the fact that at Dortmund, members were able to express directly to the coach and players their dissatisfaction at any poor performances at the AGM. Ben suggested that it made them feel directly accountable to the supporters.

Clearly Chelsea is a long way from offering that level of scrutiny on the team; the advice from the terraces will no doubt have to suffice for now, but they have perhaps made a very small step toward a version of this democratic model.

If nothing else, the German model proves that clubs such as Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund can still be successful on the pitch and off it with huge commercial investment and sponsorship deals. But the tail does not wag the dog as supporters retain control over issues that matter such as the history and traditions of the club and ticket pricing, atmosphere, kick off times and allocation.

English football can learn much from how supporters are included in the process and have real substantive input and it’s time for change.

As Ben says: “English football is massively skewed against the fans in every single way from culture to finances. I believe that English fans are massively underrepresented in terms of influence on the way the clubs are run.”

Chelsea damaged the relationship with their supporters by sidling up to the European Super League. The supporters let them know in no uncertain terms how they felt about them.

It could be that Chelsea’s road to salvation with their supporters is to offer the olive branch of genuine supporter input into decision making over key issues that affect them. However, it must be more than a box ticking exercise and smooth PR, it must expedite real substantive change.

David Chidgey

David Chidgey is on the Board of the Chelsea Supporters’ Trust and presents the award-winning Chelsea FanCast every Monday & Friday available from Acast, ITunes, Spotify or .

Source by Football London

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