While there have been proposals about ‘azionaraito popolare’ (popular shareholding) for several years and at various levels of the Italian football pyramid, Thursday’s event was the biggest step forward so far for supporter ownership in Italy.
The launch meeting, held incongruously in the heart of the fascist-era EUR district, was a chance for organiser Walter Campanile and his team to reveal their plans for the first two years of activity. The priority from the start has been the purchase of shares to give supporters a voice in the running of the club, but other ideas include improving communications (notoriously poor at AS Roma), reworking ticket sales arrangements, promoting initiatives which will get young fans more involved, and trying to solve the problems created by the government’s fan ID card proposal, the controversial ‘Tessera del Tifoso’. One of the key aims which Campanile has identified is that of involving overseas supporters: Roma fans can be found in France, Greece, the UK, Indonesia, Australia, the USA, Saudi Arabia… why not involve them too? Many overseas fans would jump at the chance to get involved in running the club they love. Of course they will strengthen the project financially but beyond that, the trust aims to build a genuine sense of a global supporters’ community. The international dimension influenced the name chosen for the trust, MyRoma, which was selected by users of the website.
Antonia Hagemann, of Supporters’ Direct Europe, had flown over from London to participate in the meeting (while I got the chance to practice my English to Italian interpreting skills, endeavouring to turn her speech into some kind of comprehensible Italian for the audience!). Her first observation was that this was the most elegant occasion of its kind she’d ever attended to: no replica shirts here, just chic Italian tailoring all the way! She spoke about the importance of pressure on clubs over governance both from below – ie through Supporters’ Trusts like MyRoma – and from above, through SD itself and from bodies like UEFA and the European Commission. Support from SD has been vital for Campanile’s team and it is very clear that while many distinctively Italian – or even distinctively Roman – touches have been incorporated, the basic model to be adopted is one imported from abroad. The lawyers have closely studied other European structures, in particular those from Spain and Germany, and Campanile has been on a variety of visits both to the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust and to an international conference in Brussels to meet other fans further down the same road.
Inspiration and encouragement came from Jens Wagner, vice-chairman of the trust at HSV Hamburg (where the club is 100% owned by the fans), who spoke about the ways in which trusts can improve relationships with the club. Beyond the obvious priorities of stability and good governance, he addressed issues like rights for disabled fans, programmes for attracting young supporters and the role of fans in upholding & maintaining club traditions. His experience was clearly fascinating for the assembled fans, demonstrating the potential that supporter ownership really offers. On the other hand the audience were perhaps a little disconcerted by Wagner’s casual, indeed rather deadpan announcement that the Hamburg trust’s measures had included the creation of a dedicated supporters’ graveyard. That might be an import too far.
As for the 83 founder members who made up the Constituent Assembly (one for each year of Roma’s history), these were romanisti chosen from all walks of life to create as representative as possible a cross-section of the club’s support. The name which grabbed most attention was that of legendary player Giacomo Losi, nick-named ‘Core de Roma’ (386 appearances for AS Roma, 1954-69). The list includes members of parliament, presidents of fan clubs, office workers, computer programmers, actors, shop owners, lawyers, barbers, singers, graphic designers, air traffic controllers, playwrights, factory workers, university professors, historic leaders of the main ultras groups from the Curva Sud: all these and more besides are represented among the 83 founder members, to reflect the democratic, inclusive aspirations of the Trust.
Next up come practicalities: the association needs a headquarters, a bank account and some kind of secretarial services before it can start enrolling paying members. In the short term, MyRoma will be run by an appointed steering committee of lawyers, accountants and administers, with Campanile as President. Once the association is up and running, elections will be held for all roles. The impression given right from the start has been that this is a serious project, and a large group of people have volunteered considerable amounts of their time and expertise already. Annual membership doesn’t come cheap, at €150 per adult (though there are reductions for overseas members and under-18s). While this is understandable given the need to raise cash to buy shares, it’s possible that this may prove a deterrent to some possible members, especially given the tough economic climate in Italy at the moment – and it’s worth noting that at Hamburg, members only pay €48 a year. Only time will tell whether this pricing policy works out or whether it proves simply too expensive – let’s hope not.
After the meeting and a brief Q&A session the new trust’s board and founder members adjourned downstairs for a short ‘brindisi’ or toast. As local press photographers milled around in the spring sunshine, we were offered nibbles and a prudent half glass of prosecco (well, it was only Thursday lunchtime). A cautious and low-key celebration perhaps, but one which reflects the reality that we were celebrating only the beginning of something, and as yet nothing more. In many ways the hardest work still lies ahead.
The new Trust’s website is at MyRoma.it but is still being assembled. Complete documentation is online in Italian, English versions are imminent, with French and Spanish translations to follow.