15 February 2014

This Is About Tomorrow

by Peter Ewart | Contributor

Holding the attention of a large gathered crowd of Rangers fans for five minutes can be a challenge. Holding it for three hours on the subject of Community Ownership and Fan Engagement given the history could be considered a minor miracle. Richard Atkinson did both admirably Friday night whilst giving us a frank and polished presentation on one vision of what fan ownership could look like if enough people get on board.

Atkinson certainly impressed. Successful in his own right outside of football he has previously been involved in the Board of St Mirren and subsequently with Supporters Direct Scotland where he volunteers his time to the assist other clubs who may be interested in the fan ownership path. The overriding message that came through was one of ‘this is possible’.

That shouldn’t come as news to any Rangers fan but I think we needed to hear it from an external source and it was massively encouraging. From the outside there is an extent of disbelief, frustration even, that such a large support hadn’t yet mobilised itself. If we are honest I don’t think the support can quite believe it hasn’t happened yet either. But it is up to us to make it happen.

The message was straightforward – if you want increased transparency and accountability from Board or Club owner there is strength in numbers. In fact, weight of numbers is essential. The task was laid out. Dunfermline did it, Hearts are doing it, what is stopping us? What indeed. And you get the impression he has heard all the excuses before. We’re not the only Club where fans are bitchy amongst themselves. We’re just bigger and a lot more visible.

Yes, we get disproportionate PR attention – that is fact. For a small business with a £20m turnover we get the media glare akin to the likes of FTSE 100 business. We are big news and that is not going to go change anytime soon. Fan ownership will be up to fans and fans only and will need to happen in the full glare of the insatiable Scottish media.

Of course it’s easy to be negative given our recent history. The irony wasn’t lost that the meeting happened two years to the day since OldCo entered administration. But of all things that should drive us on to take things into our hands. It should be used as the catalyst.

Does he or Supporters Direct have all the answers? No, they don’t and they don’t pretend to have. A lot of the Rangers support baggage is for us to sort out. When it comes to it should it actually matter at all? That was yesterday, we need to look to tomorrow.

What are we buying into?

SDS involvement is really asking fans to buy into the concept of fan ownership. They have an idea of a variation of the St Mirren, Dunfermline and Hearts schemes that have gone before. Each of those was different and ours would be different again. ‘Community’ to be defined and how members etc would vote. It would be centred on a Community Interest Company, likely with One Person One vote where the interests of the ‘Community’ (which could for example be defined as Rangers fans worldwide) would be served and where assets could be ringfenced. Ultimately that asset lock could be used to protect the ground, although that is some way down the track.

As it stands we are being asked to back the principle. A working group will be set up to put forward ideas for the shape of a CIC scheme, what its goals will be, what the constitution might look like.

You can sign up for information at ScottishFans.org/rangers.

If enough interest was generated, there is the potential for a Direct Debit scheme to be put in place. Conservatively with 20,000 members at £15 a month you could have 5% of the shares in RIFC plc in three months. The more successful the scheme the more you can do with it. It can be wider than buying shares, for example funding for other specific projects and priorities for the benefit of the fans and Club. A CIC provides that flexibility.

The detail will be worked out, with SDS involved the intentions are nothing but honourable and the mood is positive.

What’s in it for the SDS?

The SDS is a government funded outfit who are tasked with facilitating the exploration of fans ownership where it may be wanted. They wouldn’t run the CIC, the individuals don’t want to be involved in the running of the Club or anything similar. There are there to give us advice having been there before and to give us a push start if we want it.

BuyRangers is already out there and there is no reason why a CIC scheme should not complement it. How the fans end up owning the Club is not the point. Getting there is the important bit and I’m not fussy how it is achieved. The Community Interest Company approach is definitely worthy of investigation – that was the unanimous outcome of the meeting and the mood is incredibly positive. That’s quite an achievement in itself.

Of course, there are 1001 reasons not to do it. Too risky, might not work, he said, she said, so and so will complain. But it is worth a try. SDS has offered us a potential route to take a substantial footing in the ownership of the Club. It’s now up to us to work out if that is what we want and if it is to sign up in sizeable numbers.

The past, the baggage, the nonsense has to be moved on from. This is a big chance to harness our enormous support so we can secure current and future generations are able to enjoy the privilege that we have of going to Ibrox to see Rangers Football Club. As Atkinson so rightly puts it, “This is about tomorrow.”