So it's another Supporters' Trust?
That's right. There are now Supporters' Trusts established at nearly 200 League, Non-league and more recently Rugby League clubs throughout Britain. LOFT was one of the very first Trusts to be established, and even West Ham's fans launched a Trust with our advice, although it has since folded...
But what is a Trust?
A Supporters' Trust, like LOFT, is an independent, democratically-organised supporters' organisation that seeks to represent the views of the fans to the Club and help promote communication from the club to the fans. All Trusts are formally-constituted legal bodies. LOFT, like many others, is registered as an Industrial and Provident Society.
What does that mean?
It means that there are rules that we have to follow and principles that we have to uphold (our rules are available on the Downloads page). We have to abide by the legal requirements that are established for an IPS: we have to have a constitution and a properly constituted structure. As an IPS, we are compelled to be a not-for-profit organisation, to present accounts to the Registrar of Friendly Societies, and to have an Annual General Meeting. The Trust is owned by its members and run by a democratically-elected committee, and holds regular public meetings.
And who makes sure that you do those things?
Well the most important people that make sure that the Trust does as it is supposed to are the members themselves. They make and approve policy, they elect a committee and if they don't like them they'll kick them out and elect a new one. Then there is the independent Registrar of Friendly Societies, who exists to ensure that all registered Trusts and Friendly Societies - from the mammoth Co-Operative Society down to the smallest Football Trust - act in accordance with the rules and requirements that they've signed up to. LOFT has also appointed a number of Co- Opted members who act as Trustees and overseers, to ensure that LOFT's work is proper and appropriate. And, of course, there is Supporters Direct, who ensure that all the Football Trusts are working properly and legally.
Supporters Direct? Who are they?
Supporters Direct was established by government in 2000, charged with turning the Football Task Force's commitment to fan involvement in their clubs into a reality. They're responsible for making sure that fans have the resources and information required to establish Trusts. They negotiate with the clubs, lobby the authorities and generally support the Trust movement. Their remit has more recently expanded into rugby league, and overall they've been hugely successful; since their formation nearly 200 Trusts have been formed with a combined membership of close to 300,000 members. Since Supporters Direct was established, supporters trusts have brought a financial injection of well over £30 million of new finance to football and rugby league, leading to 25 clubs being owned or controlled by their Trusts, with over 65 now having board representation and over 100 with shareholdings at their clubs.
You can read more about SD's role and achievements at their website www.supporters-direct.org.
OK, so LOFT is a properly-established and regulated body, but why establish
one at Leyton Orient?
We created LOFT back in 2001 because a number of fans believed that there was a need for an independent supporters' organisation that could articulate the views of Orient supporters, lobby the club and provide the basis for some element of fan ownership of the football club. Barry Hearn is currently the owner of Leyton Orient, and has previously made clear his objectives and commitment to the club. We weren't formed with the express purpose of trying to replace him at all - indeed, he's been a guest at two of our meetings - but we do want to be there for the day when he decides that he's had enough and is selling up, and Barry has made it clear that the club is for sale for the right price.
And then there's the situation regarding the sale of Brisbane Road to Barry's own Matchroom Sports company, and the threat hanging over the club with the decision to grant West Ham use of the Olympic Stadium post-2012. So while we've had no worries previously about the stability of the club under Barry Hearn, the situation now looks very different, and now more than ever LOFT needs to be a part of the future of the club.
The number of clubs in trouble in the recent past - and the many cases where self-serving and unscrupulous people have bought and run clubs for their own benefit - serve as a constant reminder that we need to think as much about the future as we do the present. The stronger the involvement of the fans in the life and ownership of their clubs, the stronger their voice, their powers of scrutiny and their ability to ensure that their clubs are run properly.
Chesterfield stands as a perfect warning of how badly it can go wrong, and after all their trauma it's no surprise that it was the fans there who ended up running the club through their own Trust. The same can also be said of the other clubs who are now owned or are being run by their respective Trusts. And we’re sure we don’t have to tell you about the circumstances surrounding the most famous of these, AFC Wimbledon...
Oh, so you want to take over the Football Club?
No, not at the moment - that's simply not realistic or necessary in the current situation - and recent financial events at clubs that were formerly owned by their Trusts (Stockport County and Rushden & Diamonds) show that supporter-ownership is just as fraught with dangers as traditional single ownership. But we do want to see the fans have a stake in the club and the best way to achieve that is through share ownership and a representative, democratic Trust that speaks with a loud voice. To that end, LOFT has bought a total of over 4,600 shares in the past two share issues.
But that's a pretty small number. What's the point of that?
It means, that at the very least, there is a small part of Leyton Orient that is owned collectively by the fans, with the shares held - in Trust - in their name. They can never be sold for profit and we'll always be looking to increase that stake and to further cement the role of fans in the life of the club. Most importantly, however, it means that we've put money into the club in exchange for a tangible share in the ownership of the club.
But why? Such a small shareholding means that you can't do anything.
It means that the fans - collectively - have a stake in the club, and as shareholders the fans have the right to be represented at AGMs and other General Meetings, have a right to the accounts, to question the Directors and be treated with the respect that businesses generally accrue to their shareholders. We become active participants not moaners and critics on the sidelines. If you become a LOFT member then you automatically 'part-own' a bit of your football club. As our stake increases over the years so our influence will increase proportionately. But because the shares are held collectively rather than individually, it means that the fans can begin to punch their weight together, rather than just be individual voices that too often get ignored.
But I'm already a shareholder.
Good for you. You've made a real financial contribution to the life of your club, and no doubt you've no expectation or desire to take money out of the club in dividends or profit. You can hang onto your shares, but if you want to help strengthen the Trust you've got a couple of options. You could transfer some or all of your shareholding into the Trust's name, or you could sign over a proxy that allows us to represent you at an AGM. Contact email@example.com if you want to talk about this some more.
What about the Supporters Club then? Are you trying to replace it?
Absolutely not. Many LOFT members are also members of the Supporters Club, and everyone recognises what an excellent job the Supporters Club does. LOFT's aims and objectives are different from anything the Supporters Club does, however, and we firmly believe that there is a role for the two organisations at Leyton Orient, each working in different spheres. We can't do what the Supporters Club does, and there's no need for us to try when they do it so well, but similarly we can do things that they simply can't do at the moment.
Well, we explicitly invite people to join LOFT to get involved in the issues that concern the fans and to act as a voice for their interests. That often means talking to the club, lobbying the club's officials, campaigning amongst the fans, actively promoting the club in the community, representing the supporters' views to local politicians and media and working with other national and local football groups on supporter issues generally. The Supporters Club doesn't do those things and, quite rightly, doesn't try, because that's not what it is there for, and that's not why people join it. It doesn't have a mandate from the people who've joined it - many of whom are quite legitimately only interested in the social aspects of the Supporters Club - nor does it have the properly constituted legal structure of a Trust that allows it to do it properly. The Trust is a completely independent organisation, and doesn't depend on the club for premises or facilities, and it means that we can speak our mind, and if need be publicly disagree with the Club, without jeopardising our very existence.
But isn't it confusing having two organisations? Wouldn't it be better to work
within the Supporters Club?
Only if you believe that 'hostile' takeovers are the right way to operate and if you're prepared to ignore the fact that there's no mandate from the members for the Supporters Club to take on the sorts of issues that the Trust is concerned with. We've got too much respect for them and their work to do that, and we don't think it necessary when the two organisations have such distinct roles and objectives. We've a friendly and co-operative relationship with the Supporters Club, and keep each other informed of what we're up to and sometimes attend each other's meetings. It might be that some time in the future the two organisations come closer together - and indeed we are working together with the club and fanzines at the moment over the Olympic Stadium issue - but as organisations there is no pressing need to reform.
Any more questions? Contact LOFT for more information.