Non League Daily

Supporter Ownership: Involvement inspiring Bath City bid

Where the likes of AFC Wimbledon, FC United of Manchester and Merthyr Town have prospered, the Bath City Supporters Society hope to follow.

Their aims are clear and defined as they look to takeover the Vanarama Conference South club and they are set to launch a £1.4m bid for their club.

The Society secretary Oliver Holtaway believes that a move into supporter ownership, inspired by enthusiasm and inclusion, will be beneficial for Bath City both on and off the pitch.

"Bath City is already supporter-owned in the sense that the directors and major shareholders are City through and through. However it’s become clear that the classic model of directors propping up the club with loans is no longer sustainable. We see community ownership as a means of getting more people in the local area invested and involved in the club.

Giving more people a stake and a say in how the club is run sends a clear signal that we are open to new ideas, new enthusiasm and new talent. We believe that taking this new approach to football will attract new supporters and return the club to profitability"

However he was honest enough to admit that the Society face a number of challenges going forward. Their bid has received the support of former Hull City Managing Director Nick Thompson and work is underway to raise the £1.4m they require to bid for the club.

Holtaway that this can be acheived by "engaging with the whole of Bath", rather than just focusing on the existing supporters.

"The supporter ownership model is relatively new in football so it has been a challenge to explain how it works and what the potential benefits are. For example, one supporter was concerned that if they bought a community share they would be personally liable for the club’s debts if it folded.

Developing a solid business plan to return the club to profitability is also a big challenge but we now have experienced advisors on the Big Bath City Bid team drafting this, including former Hull City MD Nick Thompson, who lives in Bath.

The immediate aim of the “Big Bath City Bid” is to raise £1.4m through a community share offer to buy the club, satisfy its creditors and raise working capital for next season. This means engaging with the whole of Bath, not just our existing supporter base, and showing how a community-owned club can be a great asset for our city"

And the response from the people of Bath has been, in Holtaway's words "great". He admitted that, although Bath is well known for being a hotbed for Rugby Union there had been volunteers offering support in all aspects of preparing the bid for City, pleasingly this includes the local council.

"There’s been a great response from the people of Bath. We’re known as a rugby city but there are lots of football fans here. People have come forward offering all kinds of help: financial, legal, graphic design, handing out leaflets, etc.

Both individuals and businesses have expressed interest in buying community shares. We’ve also met with the local council and they understand how a community-owned club can support local regeneration plans"

Holtaway confirmed that the society were only looking as far as the bid, with future plans falling within the remit of an elected board once they were in control of the club, although they would be looking to work with a mantra of delivering "real benefit to the community".

"It will be up to the future elected board to decide the footballing ambition and direction of the club. But the overarching long-term aim will be to ensure that we have the broadest possible base of investment and participation in the club, and that Bath City FC delivers real benefit to the community"

With a bid getting closer Holtaway stressed the ever increasing role Supporters Direct are playing with the society and paid tribute to the work done by the organisation in helping other clubs through the supporter ownership process.

Supporters Direct have talked us through possible approaches and shared the experiences they’ve gained working with clubs like FC United of Manchester. We expect them to play a crucial role in the development of our prospectus and campaign. Also, the Supporters Direct website is a great resource for explaining community ownership to supporters"

One thing is for sure, if enthusiasm and ambition can assure success then Bath City, and their Supporters Society, could be set for a very positive future.

Interview: Mark Carruthers

Photo: Simon Howe

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