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Here’s something to cheer Cristiano Ronaldo up: he is now one of the owners of a soccer team. A landmark agreement has been reached in Scotland: according to the BBC, Stirling Albion, who play in the Scottish First Division, have become the first senior Scottish side owned by its fans through the Supporters’ Trust, one of whose members is, odd as it seems, Ronaldo.
The Stirling Albion Supporters Trust has agreed a £300,000 deal to clear debts and make a one-off payment to Peter McKenzie, chairman for 26 years.
McKenzie, 84, has agreed to write off the £1.2m loan that was due to him.
This marks a successful end to an imaginative and successful campaign by the Stirling Albion Supporters’ Trust to buy the club: they have used new tools such as a community website that would put most official clubs’ efforts to shame, traditional local fund-raising and even media stunts to attract attention: the Trust’s two most famous of its 2,000 members are Cristiano Ronaldo and Andy Murray (from nearby Dunblane).
The Trust was founded in 2002, as a response to growing concern about the club’s debts, and originally had an awkward relationship with the club, as their About page explains:
The Trust was originally conceived in 2002 and was established by a small group of diehard Stirling Albion supporters who were concerned at the growing debt appearing within the Club’s Annual Accounts. The Trust was seen as an ideal vehicle through which financial support could be given to the Club from money raised through membership subscriptions and fundraising activities.
It was also seen as a means of raising awareness within the local community of the existence of a senior Scottish football club in its midst and as an important two-way channel of communication between football supporters and the Club’s Directors.
However, despite the best efforts of the Trust to engage with the Directors, all ideas advanced for the betterment of the Club fell upon stony ground and tangible offers of assistance were not taken up.
This relationship, though, gradually changed due to some enlightened moves on the parts of both the club’s ownership and the Trust: the club accepted an offer from the Trust for the supporters’ to produce the match programme each week, embedding them into the consciousness of fans every game. The Trust even began selling official Stirling Albion merchandise at the Trust’s shop in the centre of Stirling, according to the Trust, “thought to mark the first time that a football supporters’ trust has opened a retail outlet in a town or city centre in the UK.” In May 2009, the Trust launched its campaign to buy Stirling Albion.
The Trust’s page on history shows their smart play of tying their ambition to put the club in the hands of the local supporting community to the region’s past role in Scottish independence: it begins not with the founding of the football club, but with William Wallace:
Many centuries ago two heroes fought for Scottish Independence from the English King Edward I. Their two great victories came on the same soil in the small town (now city) of Stirling. The bridge across the River Forth was where any real army could cross to invade Northern Scotland and this bridge was overlooked by the mighty Stirling Castle (above) making this town the key to the kingdom. These men were William Wallace and King Robert the Bruce.
William Wallace was brought to the world’s attention through the movie Braveheart. His exploits though were well known within Scotland and the ex-pat Scottish communities around the world. Wallace himself was born around 1270 in Elderslie, Renfrewshire. His family were in the lower level of the countries ruling classes.
This tie-in is appropriate: the club’s badge (below) depicts the Wallace Monument at its centre, a monument suitably paid for largely by public subscription as Scottish national identity resurged in the nineteenth century.
The Trust also worked to gain the support of the local business community, offering them membership for just £75, and signing up dozens of them, which surely trickled into local consciousness and earned the trust legitimacy — it will also help them with sponsorship and development in the area moving forward, now they are in charge of the club.
The task for Stirling Albion’s Supporters’ Trust is now not an easy one, but they do have a rare opportunity to use positive momentum from what seems to be a friendly takeover, and one that leaves the Trust in a position to succeed: according to the BBC report, the Trust’s purchase has cleared the club’s debts, and 84 year-old former owner Peter McKenzie has written off a £1.2m loan owed to him.
Supporters’ trusts’ often end up taking over clubs laden with debt and in impossible situations to manage; it appears Stirling’s Trust may be in a position to move the club forward; on the field, the club won the Scottish Second Division last season, and so will play in the First Division this year. They play at a modern venue, Forthbank Stadium, opened in 1993 and owned by the local council.
The fans now own the club, and this means that the Trust’s members will have the following rights, according to the Trust’s FAQ:
- Voting rights on major club decisions from deciding who should be our president to deciding what kits we use.
- A weekly manager’s video update.
- Match highlights sent to your inbox every week
- Automatic entry in a fortnightly draw to win four seats in the directors box
- Automatic entry in a fortnightly draw to win two seats on the team bus for an away match
- Automatic entry in the annual prize draw to win major prizes
- 10% discount on club merchandise
- Weekly draw to nominate a club mascot for each home game
- Local discounts to attract you to visit the club and the city.
We will be watching Stirling Albion carefully to see if the momentum from a superbly executed takeover campaign is followed-up by a model example of a how a Trust can run a club for the benefit of its fans and the local community.