LOFT at the launch of the Gills Trust
Dave Prowse reflects on the launch of the Gillingham Supporters' Trust
After work on Sept 5th Doug and I drove down to Gillingham for the launch of the Gills Trust. Doug, as LOFT chairman, had been invited to give a speech by Supporters' Direct, the umbrella organisation for all fans' trusts, which provides advice for fans wishing to start up a Trust.
Whilst Doug had spoken at LOFT meetings and at a meeting of the Man Utd London Supporters, this was a big night and he was so excited at the prospect he was visibly shaking. The Gills Trust steering committee sat on a small stage and in front of between 50 & 100 fans the Supporters' Direct representative Matt kicked off the evening by trying to sell the idea of a football trust.
Next up we had Ron and Tudor from AFC Wimbledon. Clearly these guys have achieved a great deal but their talk was very brief and they spent the remainder inviting questions from the audience. One Q was whether they felt they had failed by having to go and set up their own club, and you'd not be surprised to hear that they did not see it that way.
Up next was Doug and, grabbing the mic-stand like a pro, he told the attendees not to worry as he had not brought his guitar...He managed to get over his nerves, and spoke extremely well, making many good points and stealing much of the thunder of the next speaker. After Doug had finished, I stood up to take a few questions and emphasised that whilst all may be well now for the Gills, with £6m debts they could get relegated twice and have more debts than the rest of the 3rd Div combined. It is never too early to start a trust.
The next speaker was John from The Owls trust. He was extremely knowledgeable and the aspiring Gills related well to what a bigger clubs trust had to say. His speech was quite brief because Doug had covered much of what he wanted to say, but he came across well. Wednesday are £28m in debt and the board invited the trust to join for £500,000. The Trust raised the money but decided to skip the seat on the board, as the debts would soon become £28.5m. One thing they do is ask the youth scheme what kit they need and then buy it themselves, instead of paying over cash to the club.
I learnt a number of things that evening that have helped remind me of what the Leyton Orient Fans' Trust is meant to be striving for. One thing is to appeal to a broad base of fans. There are many different fan groups at Gillingham and they were sceptical of these "Johnny-come-latelies" in the form of the Gills trust. It is important to respect those who have done their bit in the past and still do now. Fans will not see eye to eye on everything but it would be good to build on what common ground we have.
Another thought occurred as we met three representatives of the club, who had been sent to see what the Trust had to say. These guys seem to have a problem understanding why fans would form such a group and not just support the club in every way that they can. I think the problem is that some club employees give a great deal to the club and cannot understand why fans hesitate to do the same. Aside from the lack of understanding there seemed to be a suspicion of the fans' motives.
It was a very positive evening and, after a tough 5 or 10 minutes when the meeting seemed to be turning into a Scally bitching session, it calmed down, and the group agreed that the Trust should be launched with a clean record and not inherit baggage of other ISA's or fanzines. Gills Trust will be an interesting one to watch as the steering committee are highly qualified and could be very successful. We were thanked for attending by the Gills Trust, and Doug had made such an impact he was invited to be their social secretary. He declined, of course.