Response to More Than Ninety Minutes fanzine

Published on Thursday 13th January, 2005 by Celtic Trust

Jeanette Findlay responds to concerns or criticisms about how the Trust works

This article was published in More Than Ninety Minutes, an Irish-based Celtic Fanzine in late 2004. In it Jeanette Findlay of the Trust Board responded to an article published in the fanzine which raised a number of concerns or criticisms about how the Trust works. Despite Michael’s fears that he might have to wear a crash helmet to his next home game, I was actually quite glad to see his article. I am fairly certain that the kinds of concerns that he raised are quite common among people who have heard about the Trust but who have never come to a meeting or had any discussions with us. The only criticism I would have of Michael is that he could, much more easily, have raised these things directly with us and we could have discussed them with him. However, having said that, the route that he chose to go down means that I can now respond to a lot more people in one go. Let me start by giving a bit of background to the setting up of the Celtic Trust [1]. A group of academics/football fans who were working in the area of football economics and the governance of football clubs had organised a series of conferences in Birkbeck College, London. The theme of the conferences was around the idea that football clubs were very different from other businesses; that they had important links to their communities and to the identities of fans and places and that, for these reasons, fans should have a greater say in the way that they were run. In fact, our ultimate aim, which is still the guiding principle of most of the Trust members, is that clubs should be run as mutuals ie membership-based along the lines of FC Barcelona. Those conferences, and the support they received from policymakers, led directly to the setting up of Supporters Direct, the government scheme whereby groups of fans could access both financial and organisational assistance to set up Trusts in order to campaign for more involvement in their clubs. This scheme, which was initially introduced in England and Wales, was eventually adopted by the Scottish Executive and introduced in Scotland also. Some of the people who were involved in this work, such as Sean Hamil and myself, happened to be Celtic supporters and we decided to try to set up a Trust for Celtic fans. We held an initial meeting in Glasgow in December 1999 on the same evening as we were launching a book which contained some of the papers presented at the Supporters Direct conferences. In order to get the discussion going, I invited a small number of people who I knew would be interested in this idea ie Celtic fans who were active in the trade union, labour and co-operative movement and who would be familiar with the idea of mutually-run businesses and co-operatives. Some of those people invited other people and among those was Peter Carr. Peter had, unknown to us, been pushing a similar idea through this own CSC, the Heriot-Watt in Edinburgh for about two years previously. At that initial meeting the decision was taken to launch the Trust. I won’t go into all the detail of what happened next, but essentially, we knew from the start that the organisation we were setting up had the potential to be very important in bringing Celtic back to the fans ­ if it had ever been there in the first place. We knew that it needed to be set up in a very precise way for both legal and financial reasons, because it could ultimately both own a large number of shares and control a greater number of shares belonging to the members. We were guided by a number of principles, chief among them being democracy (one-member-one-vote), mutuality (no-one could benefit financially by voting to dissolve the Trust), and inclusiveness (we created a Board structure which included the rule that all the main supporter organisations could elect a representative to the Trust Board). The organisation was open to shareholders and non-shareholders alike (you become a shareholder in common when you join because the Trust now owns shares in its own right). It took us nearly a year to get the legal basis of the Trust right. Guided always by the same lawyers in Manchester as the Man Utd trust, we eventually approved our constitution and in September 2000 we were formally registered as an Industrial and Provident Society by the Registrar of Friendly Societies. That body formally oversees our accounts and ensures that it is run according to our constitution. Our history since that time would take longer to detail than I have here and I would like to get to the substance of Michael’s criticisms. The first thing I suppose we need to say is that establishing the principle of having a democratically-elected and accountable fan representative on the PLC Board is important but it is not the be-all and end-all of what the Celtic Trust does. However, for reasons which I shall go into later, it is the aspect of our work which is most well-known and recognised and therefore needs to be addressed. Michael argues that the information we have given on this ‘has been at best sketchy’. I think that the supporting statements that have been distributed with the last two AGM papers have been fairly detailed about the idea. What I think Michael is talking about (and I’m sure he’ll correct me if I’m wrong) is the mechanics whereby the elections will take place. Part of the reason for not going into a huge amount of detail on this issue in our AGM press releases etc, is that we are some way from establishing the principle and we regard that as being a necessary first step. However, we do have our own ideas about the actual process which we would bring to the inevitable debate on the issue along with everyone else’s views. The Trust was specifically designed so that it could be a vehicle for such elections. That is what makes it different in concept to the other fan organisations which we never intended to compete with. Membership of the Trust makes you a shareholder which is a necessary prerequisite for electing a member of the PLC Board. We would suggest that the way to establish your right to vote would be to join the Trust and thereby become party to all of the discussions and internal voting procedures (either in person or virtually). This is not a way of building ‘our’ organisation, the Trust is a legal vehicle which is subject to external regulation and control, which could be used by fans as the means to organise discussions and voting on all issues to be raised at the Board and, specifically, on electing a representative. It would not be ‘our’ Trust ie it would not be owned by the current members. It would belong to the whole Celtic support and anyone could become a member for a nominal fee (I mean buttons here!). The person nominated would also be accountable to the fans via the Trust ie they would report back and be subject to recall if they began to fall prey to the dangers which Michael correctly perceives when he talked about the representative being ‘talked round’ by other PLC Board members. This does not mean that they will always be able to get their own way in any debate but they would be able to bring the democratically decided view of the fans to the PLC Board and to argue their case with the strength and weight of the fans behind them. One of the arguments that the current PLC Board have used against this concept is that there are certain issues which are confidential. Clearly, there are a number of issues such as salaries and other matters of commercial sensitivity which would require to be kept confidential. We believe that there are only a relatively small number of these and that many things which are currently kept secret do not really require to be so kept. Another argument is that no-one could represent the fans because they all have different views. Well, frankly, that is an argument against the whole system of representative democracy. That means you would not elect, councillors, MSPs, MPs, TDs, Trade Union officials and so on. The basis of that system, which is at the heart of every democracy, is that you choose between people, after free discussion and you refuse to re-elect them if they do things which you regard as completely unacceptable. You do not need to agree on every single issue in order to elect someone. If they elected representative is doing their job they will be mindful of where their own views are different from the views of the majority of their constituency, in this case, the Celtic support. Another problem which the current Celtic Trust Board comes across is that people think we already have someone in mind. This is part of the understandable cynicism of fans given the dangers of egomania which has arisen in recent history. Can I take this opportunity to say, categorically, that we have no single person in mind. We have discussed among ourselves thetype of person it might be and the qualities they would need to have, and inevitably people have said like this person or that person. However, the actual person selected would be a matter for everyone. It is not a case of the current Celtic Trust putting up a candidate on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. Given that most people only hear about us at AGMs they would be forgiven for thinking that we only come alive once a year. There are two reasons why we have been unable to dispel this notion. First, we are still a very small organisation of only a few hundred people with very few activists. We are, I think, a victim of Celtic’s success. When things are going well, people don’t feel the need to spend time and effort on something like the Trust. So we struggle to get our message out. We know that our web site is inadequate (no disrespect to Cáit who does her best with very limited resources) and that we need to spend more time holding public meetings and meetings of supporters across Scotland, Ireland and beyond. We simply don’t have the activists at this point to correct these things. The second reason is that although over the past 3 years we have been involved in discussions with Celtic on a quarterly basis, we agreed at the start to keep a lot of the discussion confidential to try to deflect the charge that we would leak damaging information to a Celtic-hating press. I am glad to say that I think we have now established that. However, our unwillingness to give the press the opportunity to attack Celtic has meant that a lot of the small victories which we have achieved have gone unnoticed and perhaps we need to look again at our practices in this regard. Maybe, in the current climate, we need to up the ante a bit? It is also the case that getting resolutions on the PLC AGM Agenda is actually a massive undertaking which takes months of work each year. It is also the reason why Celtic has been forced to take us seriously and why we are currently punching well above our weight as an organisation. It clearly stretches our resources just to maintain that presence. However, we always knew this was going to be a long war and, happily, we are still here and plugging away. The kinds of things which we feel we have achieved are round issues like getting Celtic to finally make the non-branded children’s strips more easily available, to restore the rights of shareholders whose conditions had been eroded, to agree to withdraw the smutty range of women’s wear that appeared in the recent catalogue, to actively consider (despite calling for a vote against at the AGM) the dividend reinvestment scheme which will lead to more funds being made available, hopefully, to Martin O’Neill. Believe it or not, Michael, we have, along with the Celtic Supporters’ Association and the Affiliation, already raised the issue of the prices charged by Lonsdale Travel and had repeated discussions over the issue of European away games and the treatment of Celtic fans both while abroad and in terms of ticket allocations. We were able to get a full account of the ticket distribution system for the first time, in writing, by John Paul Taylor of the Ticket Services section. Our weakness is that we haven’t been able to make sure that everyone knows about these things. We really welcome this opportunity to try to address some of these matters and if any of you need further information then please contact us via the website (www.celtictrust.tripod.com) or by phone 07952 588191. After that, if you like what we are saying then please join us and give us a hand. Maybe that way there won’t be so much confusion about who and what we are and what we are about. [1] For a more detailed account please see ‘The Celtic Trust’ by Carr et al in ‘The Changing Face of the Football Business: Supporters Direct’, Hamil et al (eds), 2001, Frank Cass, London.

 
 

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