Much has been made of the fact that the two teams contesting this weekend’s Champions League final are fan-owned entities in the Bundesliga. There is a train of thought that clubs where supporters have a pivotal role in how they are run is the way forward for long-term sustainability and you don’t have to look far to see that Irish football is ahead of the game in this regard. Shelbourne are the latest club to embrace fan involvement in an official capacity with the recent launch of the 1895 Trust.
The League of Ireland has come through painful years recently losing some clubs while some of the giants have also flirted with extinction, but supporter involvement here is now among the highest in Europe with almost all of the top-flight sides now having part or total fan ownership
Shelbourne have endured tough years since the passing of their iconic Chief-Executive Ollie Byrne. Threatened with disappearing completely and relegated from the Premier Division, many people have worked hard to revive the fortunes of the famous Drumcondra club. Now the supporters have organised themselves to become partners in the progression of their beloved Shels.
The 1895 Trust has worked closely with Supporters Direct Europe, the experts on spectator involvement and ownership, to achieve the aims of securing the long term sustainability of the club and fulfill their aims which include achieving a mutually fan-owned Shelbourne FC.
Lee Daly is the chair of the Trust and he spoke with Póg Mo Goal.
What drove you to get involved?
I don’t see my own involvement as all that important but among the people who have become involved, whether as members, volunteers or committee members, there is a common desire to see a stable football club and an agreement that a Supporters Trust is a good way of doing it.
You’ve had a lot of co-operation with FORAS, the fans’ Trust behind Cork City FC and the EU-funded Improving Football Governance project.
Niamh O’Mahony, who is the project manager of the Improving Football Governance Through Supporter Ownership and Involvement Project and a former board member of FORAS, has provided a lot of knowledge and support to us, from advising on events and setting up a committee properly. Sean O’Conaill, another former FORAS board member, also helped out immensely with our rules. There is a lot of exciting work going on with collaboration between fans in Dundalk, Galway, Cork and Dublin, and there should be more on that front soon.
Shelbourne almost went to the wall a couple of years ago. Was that where the Trust was borne from?
It hasn’t been motivated by any one event in particular, just a group of fans coming together and thinking it was a good idea, introducing it to the wider fan-base and taking it from there. Supporters’ Trusts have a role to play at every club, regardless of the prevailing circumstances. A lot of people have worked hard to try and right the ship at Shels, as has also happened at Bohs and in a lot of other situations but trying to place clubs on a sustainable footing in the long term requires a structured voice, something a Supporters Trust can provide.
Ultimately, is the aim for the Trust and the fans to take over the club like Cork and Rovers? This seems to be the way forward not just for Irish clubs, but football in Europe as a whole.
We see the future of Shelbourne as being one where fans mutually own the club they support, as is the case in a lot of countries like Sweden and Germany, and with a few clubs in Ireland and the UK. The exact mechanics and specifics of that journey are something we will have to work to figure out.
Tolka Park was once the beacon for stadium facilities in Ireland but as the club struggled, the emphasis on facilities dropped away. Is that something that could be revived? Is the future of the club in improving the stadium to attract fans, or developing more of a production line from youth teams, or is the the model of a fan-owned club something that might ultimately swell supporter numbers?
Probably all of those things in some form or another but the club is, like many others in the league, straddled with significant debts. This makes investment difficult to attract and places an emphasis on keeping things ticking over on a day to day basis. Where the Trust might play a role is in providing some form of investment, whether it is in a facility, an asset or the club itself. As a registered co-operative, the Trust essentially operates like a business, albeit a non-profit one. That means fans’ money is as good as any other investors and has to be treated with proper care and diligence.