Non League Daily

Is It Right To Bid?

To most fans, their club’s stadium is much more than just a pitch surrounded by stands. It holds sense of place, and has a special connection often going back decades.

It is the location of their team’s greatest triumphs and in many cases, their biggest disappointments. Either way, they wouldn’t change it for the world. Now, many supporters’ groups are taking advantage of government legislation that gives them a chance to keep things this way. The Localism Act 2011 was passed in Parliament a year ago to devolve power from central government in Westminster to local communities. It was designed to give local people and organisations far greater influence over the area where they live, and the facilities they use.
Supporters’ trusts from the likes of Manchester United and Liverpool have used this legislation to safeguard the future of their respective stadia from owners who they believe might not have the club’s best interests at heart.
The key aspect of the Act for football fans is the Community Right to Bid. The Act states that a local community group with more than 21 members can apply to their council to nominate any local building or land to become an Asset of Community Value. An asset can be of value to the community if it is in their “social interests”. The Localism Act says that these interests can be cultural, recreational or sporting – meaning a football stadium meets these criteria perfectly.
If a supporters’ trust has their ground successfully listed as an Asset of Community Value, then it means they will be immediately informed by the council if the owner of the ground attempts to sell it on at any stage.
The trust would then be given a six week period to declare their interest in buying the stadium. If they announce their intent to bid, then they are given six months to raise the necessary funds.
So far, nine trusts have had positive results with 20 submissions in total. The first to successfully have their club’s stadium listed as an ACV was the Oxford United Supporters’ Trust (OxVox).
Former Oxford United owner Firoz Kassam sold the club in 2006, having previously sold the club’s old Manor Ground to developers for £12million. He still retained ownership of the new Kassam Stadium, leading to supporters fearing for the club’s long-term future. OxVox applied to Oxford City Council to have Kassam Stadium listed as an Asset of Community Value, and were successful in May this year. Speaking at the Supporter’s Summit in the same month, the Chairman of OxVox, Mark Sennett, said that the advantages spoke for themselves.
As well as the six month period where a rival bid for the stadium can be lodged, he cited transparency between owners and supporters’ trusts as the main reason for listing, meaning a trust can have real power and influence over what is a major issue for them. Fans would be involved directly if a stadium was to be put up for sale, meaning they would not just be mere onlookers to any potential deal. However, in August it emerged that Firoz Kassam’s Firoka Group had appealed to Oxford City Council against the listing, with the result currently pending. While this was expected by OxVox, it raises the question of whether a widespread trend of supporters’ trusts applying to list their respective clubs’ stadia would harm relations between themselves and owners.
Tom Hall, Head of England and Wales at Supporters Direct, advised OxVox throughout the process. He agrees that this could be an issue, but only if tensions are there to begin with. He said: “It could cause ill feeling. A trust making a nomination should take the local context into consideration. If you have a friendly owner who you feel is not a threat to the stadium, then you may choose not to submit.
“However, even then I would suggest speaking to the club and selling it as a positive step and a celebration of the club’s role in the community. If the owner has no intentions with regards to the stadium, what has he to fear by it being designated? “Even if they were looking to develop an alternative stadium this would not really delay things as it would take more than six months planning anyway. The trust could only bid as it is not a right to buy. Also, if the new stadium is in the club’s interests, the trust would not stand in its way.”
At Hereford United, the club have nothing against Hereford United Supporters’ Trust (HUST) securing the future of their Edgar Street stadium. However, concerns were raised after an ACV bid occurred, that they believed to have come about prematurely. HUST approached Hereford Chairman David Keyte on the 4th of October announcing their intention to list Edgar Street. Later that same day, the application was made. With Hereford looking for investors to help develop the ground, they believed that an ACV listing would put off any interested parties due to the notice period that must be given to the supporter’s trust.
Bob Pritchard, Non-Executive Director at Hereford United said: “If the 26 week period became active, it is most likely that any property developers’ interest will be dismissed and we will be unable to process a lease purchase contract or planning application for consideration.
“It’s imperative that we all get together to agree a joint strategy. However, I feel that such an ACV action should only be carried out when the leases are signed to ensure that the application area is excluding the two development areas, allowing free negotiations with developers.”
David Keyte and HUST Chairman Chris Williams are due to meet to discuss the process further. A positive reaction to a supporters’ trust nominating a stadium to be listed was certainly the case at Charlton Athletic. The bond between The Valley and Charlton fans dates back to 1919, when the ground was originally built by volunteer supporters digging out a pit for the pitch. By the 1980s, The Valley had become outdated and Charlton were forced to play at Selhurst Park and later Upton Park. Both the club and fans worked together to return the Addicks to The Valley, forging an alliance that remains to this day. Charlton’s Chief Operating Officer Steve Bradshaw said: “Every football club’s stadium can be said to be important to supporters, but I think that is even more so here.
“The club’s exile from The Valley in the late 1980s and early 90s, and subsequent battle to return home in conjunction with its fans, saw a special relationship built between the two parties. We are committed to preserving and continuing this relationship. “There are no current plans to move stadium, and of course we would always give fans the opportunity to have their say in the event that such a situation arose, so the club would support proposals that would formalise this right to consultation.”
Hopefully, the Localism Act 2011 will ensure the survival of various clubs who in the past didn’t have the chance to use the legislation. Tom Hall warned: “Loss of stadium has often led to the collapse of the club. “Last year for example; Northwich Victoria’s stadium was sold to an adjacent chemical company before the fans knew. The club went under a few months later. If it were listed, who knows what could have happened?”
This article by David Ralph first appeared in fcbusiness magazine.
Pictures by Action Images.

TABLES, FIXTURES, Results, Team News & MORE