Cork fans’ handbook a useful guide for peers

City supporters group produce a 68-page handbook on how fans can run their club

Wed, Jun 19, 2013, 01:00

Four years after they drew on the experience of fans both here and abroad to save their own club, Cork City supporters’ group FORAS yesterday published a 68-page handbook aimed at passing on the many lessons they have learned since.

Minister of State for Sport Michael Ring officially launched The Heart of the Game: Improving Football Governance through Supporter Inclusion and Community Ownership, a document intended, on the one hand, to prompt fans of other Airtricity League to get organised before they are actually obliged to in order to prevent their clubs’ extinction and, on the other, to provide a guide to overcoming the financial, legal and organisational challenges that await in the event that they do take on the running of their club.

Their lead
The authors have taken their lead from a number of sources, including German Bundesliga clubs which are, like their Swedish counterparts, generally required to be 51 per cent owned by their fans, the 150 or so supporter’ trusts already established in Britain and the various clubs Irish clubs that have come under supporters’ control in recent years.

It’s a trend, suggests project chair Niamh O’Mahony, that is likely to continue over the years ahead.

“I would certainly hope so,” she says, “and everything tends to point to the fact that that’s the way we are going. The people at Shamrock Rovers and Foras at Cork City, a key reason we became involved is because there weren’t companies there that were stepping in to take over the clubs. If we didn’t act then the likelihood was the clubs wouldn’t have survived.

“What we’re doing here is recognising that fact and saying to other supporters who haven’t been put in that situation yet, don’t wait until a crisis strikes, get organised now and then take a proactive role rather than having to react to a financial emergency when one arises.”

The document, which contains contributions by various Foras and other supporter group members as well as economists and academics, provides basic but essential information on issues such as company formation, business plans and the broader organisational structures.

It deals with issues such as community involvement, player welfare and charity donations; all areas in which many clubs currently struggle. One sensible piece of advice is to seek the advice of successful local business people.

“It’s very much a collection of case studies and practical advice aimed at people looking to set up supporters’ trusts and also running actual clubs,” says O’Mahony of the document which is the product of an 18-month project that has been supported by both the EU and British organisation Supporters Direct.

“Some of the legal stuff can be slightly heavy going but it’s important that people take that on board. We’ve sought to provide a fair bit of context too,” she added.

“We have sections on the history of clubs here and the experience overseas. People point now to the German model but you’ve got to realise there’s been 13 years of hard work put into generating this phenomenon that has supposedly come from nowhere.

“We not saying that everything is fantastic once supporters are running a club – look at Bohemians, they’ve been supporter run for more than a century and they’ve certainly had their ups and downs – that’s just the beginning of a lot of hard work but we do believe it is the way forward for clubs, especially here in Ireland . .”

The document highlights how Irish clubs continue to struggle financially against a backdrop in 2011 of, according to one survey, some €100 million being spent in Britain by 174,000 travelling Irish fans.

l The document is available at heartofthegame.ie