The following interview originally appeared in last month’s issue of Red Inc.
Undoubtedly one of the brightest developments regarding the Reds over the past 12 months has been the emergence and foundation of what is now known as the 1895 Trust, the Supporters Trust that was launched last March in Tolka Park. We caught up with acting Committee chair Lee Daly in advance of the Trust’s first AGM last week, who kindly took time out of his busy schedule to provide us with this interview.
Reds Independent: Lee, many thanks for taking time out to provide us with this interview. It only seems like yesterday that many of us packed into the Tolka Bar before the Cork game to hear the thoughts, ideas and importance of a Supporters Trust at the Reds. Can you describe what the last few months have been like being involved with this vital project?
Lee Daly: Well they’ve been busy for one thing! After the mandate was given by 40-50 odd fans at that launch , we formed a steering committee to help drive the trust forward, register it legally and then launch it. We worked with ICOS (Irish Co-operative Organisation Society) to become registered which took us until February. We then held some fundraisers to cover the cost of registration, opened membership to fans and then held our launch night on March 28th.
The next step is our AGM this Friday the 26th of April where we will appoint auditors, approve a business plan and elect a new committee of management for the trust. So as I said it’s been busy but everyone has been very supportive so far and some great work has been done by the acting committee.
RI: So why a Supporters Trust for the Reds, and why now?
LD: A Supporters Trust has a role to play at ever club in Ireland and throughout the world. The fact that it’s inclusive, democratic and non-profit makes it the ideal model no matter what fans want to do, whether it’s lobby on ticket pricing or security, as is the case with the Premier League Trusts like Spirit of Shankly, take a stake in the club, as at Swansea, or outright own the club like FORAS do at Cork City.
Throughout the entire history of the Reds we’ve come perilously close to extinction on a number of occasions, usually because we’ve depended on a narrow set of people to fund and run the club. That can’t go on forever so forming a Trust we feel can help bring stability in the long term by giving fans a structured voice in the operation of the club. As for why now in particular? It was just a matter of a small group of people who felt it was a good idea to go ahead with, and through the first meeting, the launch and now the AGM, that group of people is growing larger and larger.
RI: You’re on record saying that both FORAS and Supporters Direct have been of great assistance to the acting committee of the 1895 Trust. What sort of support both practical and in terms of information have they provided?
LD: The most important resource we’ve used is the Supporters Direct handbook, which every fan should read. It gave us great advice on setting up and what to do. Niamh O’Mahony, who is a former board member of FORAS and project manager of a project on Improving Football Governance through Supporter Involvement, is currently developing an Irish equivalent and that will be launched soon. Both Niamh and Sean O’Conaill, also a former FORAS board member, have been at the end of the phone with advice and guidance, on anything from printing up leaflets to lobbying politicians to holding events.
RI: Have you been impressed or encouraged by the support shown by Shels fans for the Trust over the past 6 months or so?
LD: The fact that we now have over 100 members signed up, a little under two months after opening membership, speaks for itself. More than just joining up though, fans have also given advice and help on a range of issues. Football fans are also engineers, academics, public servants, plumbers, and every other occupation under the sun, all of which the Trust and the club may have to call on at some point. Speaking personally, that has been the amazing thing to see.
RI: The consensus from reading the forums and listening to people at the games is that they see the 1895 Trust as an overwhelmingly positive thing and something they are eager to be a part of and get behind. What would you say to Reds out there who might be considering adopting a ‘wait-and-see’ approach to the Trust?
LD: People are right to be sceptical when it comes to any developments at their club, given it’s such an important thing to our lives. The Trust always wants to hear from people with criticism and concerns so it can try and address them as best it can. In relation to one reservation I’ve heard myself, which is that some people want to see if it’s a success before signing up I’d say two things in response. The first is that what success looks like will be dictated by our members through debate and discussion. Fans should absolutely hold the Trust to account in achieving its goals but people need to play a part in setting them too. The second is that the more people who are involved, the more ambitious the Trust can be. 10 fans working together can achieve a lot but not as much as 100 fans or even 1000 fans.
RI: We understand you’ve met with the Board of Management at the club and have spoken to them about the Trust and the big issues facing Shelbourne now and in the future. What has their reaction been?
LD: Again it’s been positive and supportive and they have allowed the use of Tolka to hold meetings and collect memberships on matchdays. Shels Chairman Joe Casey also spoke and gave a message of support at the Trust launch which the acting committee were grateful to him for doing.
We haven’t gotten into specifics with the board about where exactly the Trust could fit into the bigger picture, as that would likely require a lot of work and serious commitment on both sides. The Trust is only now getting established properly and part of the remit of the incoming committee will be to put together a plan to ensure the long term stability of the club, which of course we will have to work with the board on achieving.
RI: Going back to what you said about the ambitions of the Trust being somewhat dependent on the numbers involved; Notwithstanding it being very early days, and conscious of what you’ve said, what do you think can be the realistic short-term and long-term goals for the Trust? Or is it a little pointless setting such parameters at this point?
LD: For rest of this season, we have three goals: running a fans survey, launching a charity/community partnership and assembling a plan on collective ownership of an asset/ the club. In terms of the long term aims, as Shels fans we have to be ambitious, as the problems facing the club are so large that only big ideas are going to address them.
Of course big ideas and big ambitions need to be backed up sustained planning and work to make the vision actually happen. Myself and Niall Farrell, who is our acting PRO, were over at an FC United game recently. They’ve raised nearly 2 million pounds to build a new stadium and are one promotion off the conference but at the end of the day, they are football fans just like we are. They have the benefit of the right organisation and planning to achieve their goals, which comes from their values and structures.
RI: The membership fee structure for the Trust seems very fair. Can you tell us a little bit about this and the reasoning behind it?
LD: So the basic fee is €15 a year but that is a minimum. We recommend that people pay €50 but they can pay more or less than that, so long as it’s more than €15.
The reasoning behind that is we want to be as inclusive as possible whilst also giving the opportunity for those who can contribute more to do so.
A lot of people have raised concerns that this “isn’t enough” given the debt of the club. However the membership fee is for the running of the Trust and its activities, not to fund a takeover of the club or contribute to the club, as the SSDG already do a good job on the latter.
If a serious opportunity to takeover the club in a way that is sustainable and responsible arises, we will launch a fundraising scheme for that purpose. We are researching the community share schemes at Portsmouth and FC United to see if we can do something similar here.
RI: I really enjoyed the launch night just before Easter. It was terrific to see past legends and fan favourites in attendance and hear them speak so fondly of the club, as well as having both Kevin Rye and Niamh O’ Mahony present on the night. Overall were you happy with how the night went? Was it a success?
LD: It was a great night and I enjoyed listening to the players, Kevin and Niamh immensely. We also got nearly 30 new members signed up and nearly sold out of our first batch of 100 badges. There was some great coverage of the event and particular credit must go to Simon Crowe, a Shels fan who works as a cameraman, who assembled a top video of the night.
RI: Finally, a question not specifically about the Trust! How do you see the Reds faring this season?
LD: It’s been tough so far but as an optimist, I’m predicting the draw in Cork as turning point. I can see us taking something from Limerick and also beating UCD and Bray, which would put a different complexion on things and put us 10th. Having said that it’s gonna be a tough year no matter that, and I’d take us finishing 10th with little complaint right now.
To join, or for further information concerning the 1895 Trust, check out www.the1895trust.com, or speak to one of the volunteers found at their booth at the Drumcondra End on match nights.