Hereford’s never ending debate – “Hereford FC will never get anywhere until they change the articles of association to “allow investment.” In other words a return to the ownership model. This argument is recycled every time our club suffers a setback. 

Let’s put aside lessons supposedly learnt from the three previous owners. Also let’s park the local authority insistence that supporters must have a meaningful role in club affairs to secure the ground lease agreement.

The ownership model may be the way forward.   It’s the, in theory, “easy” way to find the enormous pot of readies just to compete at the level above when we eventually get there.

Probably the only way. Equally, it’s a big stake gamble and so easy to end up in another fine mess. As Supporters Direct point out “there is a real possibility that the club could be sold to someone who does not have the best interests of the club at heart .” Promises from benefactors are not enforceable once the keys have gone.

For every negative, there’s a perceived positive and no doubt our faithful look enviously at forthcoming matches against the top three, all of which are heavily backed by benefactors.

Supporters Direct again. “The problem is Supporter Trusts watch certain clubs sometimes shooting up the League and overspending to get there and then come crashing down at the end of it.”

Gateshead is the classic boom and bust scenario. This is the fifth, arguably seventh version of a football club in the city. The previous incarnations all closed due to lack of funding. Brackley and AFC Fylde are just money pits and will never be sustainable.

AFC Fylde rely totally on a parent company for its existence and a 71-year-old maintaining both health and enthusiasm. Right now, the model works for their supporters but down the line, who knows. Remember Gretna? Rushden and Diamonds? Colne Dynamos? Bury?

Let’s remember the Notts County Supporters Trust sold the club to Russell King, taken in by his grandiose promises. There was no money and the club ended up £7 million in debt. Telford United recently reverted to the ownership model and now they are fighting relegation. That worked well.

Possibly the wealthiest owner of a National League North club is the Texas billionaire backing Bradford PA. He quickly wearied at chucking money into a bottomless pit to get PA promoted and now will only fund infrastructure to boost community interest. That’s his prerogative and supporters have to adapt or walk away.

Here’s a thought. If there is really a wealthy person who wishes to give a lot of money (not ‘invest’, there’s no return) to an Edgar Street club for reasons of philanthropy, what is stopping them doing so today?

Because they want control” is the standard response. Are we sure?

Why is control, which in truth is a time-consuming unglamorous ball-ache, so important at Edgar Street?

This is Hereford, not the Premier League. No kudos here. Elsewhere, wealthy people back supporter-owned clubs without conditions so it’s difficult to understand why our part-owned club is so different. Could it be there are no big backers and “wanting control” is a smokescreen?

Elsewhere 76% fan owned AFC Wimbledon have two supporters who each give £50,000 per season without any influence in return. Similarly, a new minority shareholder helped to finance their new ground. He never sought or will have control.

At Exeter, wealthier exiled supporters pay into a fund every month to help with transfer fees. Most startling of all is Hearts, newly fan-owned, who in 2020-21 received £6.4 million in donations. Multi million donations are made annually.

The operating model itself isn’t actually major league significant. What really matters are the people behind the model and the prevailing local circumstances.

Do the leaders have credibility, vision, energy and integrity. Or simply, can you trust them?  Clearly supporters in the examples above have that trust.

Its perhaps not well known that Chesterfield are fan owned. They are competing with the big hitters because their Board members – supporters – took out an all-risks insurance policy, which a court decided included covid. They now can, and do, snap up the best non-League talent and have a good chance of promotion.

I do understand that supporters are critical of leadership at Hereford FC. That’s pretty much the case at any club which is performing below expectations.

There is room for improvement – opportunities overlooked and a tendency to play very safe. But equally giving 30+ hours of your time each week as a volunteer is a big personal investment which should always be acknowledged.

Our sparsely populated county with its regular talent drain isn’t exactly awash with under-employed dynamic leaders.

Maybe better to work with the reality of what we have?

Simon Wright

This article first appeared in Issue 134 of Talking Bull. There are a handful of copies still remaining which can be purchased via our on-line store.

 

 

By Editor

Lifelong Hereford supporter who has endured the rise and fall of the club through progressive generations. Sports journalist, broadcaster and commentator who will never forget his Edgar Street roots.

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