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 Financial Conduct Authority, and to have an Annual General Meeting. Our Rules can only be changed once the FCA has agreed them. The Trust is owned by its members and run by a democratically-elected Board (usually called the committee), and holds 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 Board and if they don't like them they'll kick them out and elect a new one. Then there is the Financial Conduct Authority, who now ensures 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 directors 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 supporters' 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. At the time Barry Hearn was the owner of Leyton Orient, and had 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 was a guest at a number of our meetings - but we did want to be there for the day when he decided that he'd had enough and was selling up. That day came, with the sale of the club to Italian businessman Francesco Becchetti in July 2014.
The decline of the club and our actions since the takeover are well-documented in the news articles on this website. Suffice it to say that we were right all those years ago to form a Trust and to keep it operational during the years when many questioned what the point was...
And then there's the situation regarding the ownership of Brisbane Road, which Barry's own Matchroom Sports company bought off the club but has since transferred to a Matchroom pension scheme, and the threat hanging over the club with West Ham moving into the taxpayer-funded London (Olympic) Stadium in 2016. So while we had no worries previously about the stability of the club under Barry Hearn, the situation now looks very different, brought into sharp focus by the winding-up petition served on the club.
Now more than ever, LOFT needs to be a part of the future of the club. Even apart from the club's own immediate future, the number of clubs in trouble in the 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.
There are various clubs in the Football League, or once-League clubs who've been liquidated and reformed as phoenix clubs, that stand as warnings of how badly it can go wrong. After the trauma, it's always the fans who are left to pick up the pieces, and who generally who end up owning and/or running the club through their own Trust.
Portsmouth's spectacularly dizzying fall is another salient reminder of the how single ownership can go badly wrong, but now they're the biggest fan-owned club in the League. And we’re sure we don’t have to tell you about the circumstances surrounding the most famous of the 'phoenix clubs', AFC Wimbledon...
Oh, so you want to take over the Football Club?
Prior to March 2017, the answer to that question was 'no' - it simply wasn't realistic or necessary in the situation at that time. Financial events at clubs that were formerly owned by their Trusts (Stockport County and Rushden & Diamonds) showed that supporter-ownership is just as fraught with dangers as traditional single ownership. We were content to be a 'critical friend' to the club and to promote share ownership and a representative, democratic Trust that speaks with a loud voice. To that end, LOFT had bought a total of over 4,600 shares in club share issues.
But now, in March 2017, with the club's very existence under threat from a seemingly-absent owner who isn't paying the bills? Yes, if that were the best way to secure a Leyton Orient Football Club for the future, yes we would take over the club. There's no football without the O's.
I want to help you save Leyton Orient!
Fantastic! Right now you can join LOFT and/or donate to our Regeneration Fund. If you want to talk to us about corporate or other larger-scale support for the Fund, or have other help to offer us, then we really want to hear from you...
What was the point of buying shares in the club?
It meant 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 it further cements the role of fans in the life of the club. Most importantly, however, it meant that we 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 have the right to be represented at General Meetings (AGMs are no longer a legal requirement), have a right to the accounts, to question the Directors and be treated with the respect that businesses generally accrue to their shareholders. We became 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. If our stake increases then 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 General Meeting. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org 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, liaising the FA and Football League, campaigning amongst the fans, 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 most of 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, which 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, one of our external directors is a Supporters Club committee member, so we attend each other's meetings. It might be that some time in the future the two organisations come closer together - and indeed we have worked together at the club's Fans' Forum - but as organisations there is no pressing need to reform.
Any more questions? Contact LOFT for more information.