In its fundraising notice, the trust says the legal action was brought last month by Morton House, which it accuses of having attempted a “hostile” takeover of the club.
Last August, the English Football League conducted an investigation into claims that Morton House had acquired shares in Rochdale AFC in an attempt to gain control of the club.
The EFL was looking into whether “any relevant person(s) and/or any persons wishing to acquire control of the club complied with the requirements of the Owners’ and Directors’ Test (OADT)”.
Morton House withdrew from this test process and it was reported the same month that it planned to divest in shares.
Now, Morton House alleges the Dale Trust and the board have unlawfully caused prejudice to it as a shareholder in RAFC – a claimed denied by the Dale Trust and the board.
The Dale Trust fundraising notice says: “Without sanction of the board, Morton House was in the process of acquiring shares in RAFC direct from shareholders with the aim of attaining a majority shareholding in the club. Such a takeover was unwelcomed by the Dale Trust and the board but, most importantly, by the fans. On that basis it could only be described as hostile.
“Furthermore, the acquisition of shares by Morton House was contrary to English Football League regulations, which had been strengthened following the sad events at Bolton Wanderers and Bury FC only one year prior.”
It adds: “We believe that this is the first time that any supporters body has ever faced such a legal action and we are calling on the help of football supporters within the UK and from around the world to support us in resisting the claim that has been brought by Morton House which, if successful, could result in it being in a strong position to gain control of RAFC.
“Governance in football is a huge issue right now with the Tracey Crouch Fan Led Review, and we are of the opinion that the safest future for our beloved club is that it continues to be owned and ran by supporters for the benefit of supporters and the community at large.”
The Dale Supporters Trust and eight members of the board of RAFC are facing a High Court legal action brought by a company named Morton House MGT and First Form Construction Ltd (‘Morton House’). It is alleged by Morton House that the Dale Trust and the board have unlawfully caused prejudice to Morton House as a shareholder in RAFC. The Dale Trust and the board strenuously deny this claim.
Because the case is a dispute between shareholders, the litigation cannot be funded by RAFC itself which means that the Dale Trust – a not-for-profit organisation – and the volunteer RAFC board must bear the cost of defending the claim.
Trust chair Colin Cavanah said: “Dale supporters have stood firm and resolute over the past 12 months and have responded magnificently to every obstacle that we have faced during that time.
“Unfortunately, there is one more obstacle that we must overcome, and it is likely to be a very expensive one. Along with the RAFC board of directors, we must now defend ourselves from the legal action brought about by Morton House, and we need your help to do so.
“We are seeking donations from our fellow Dale supporters, those who live within our town that our club represents with such pride and from our fellow football supporters across the country who share the same concerns and ideals that we do.
“Our supporters have been unequivocal about their desire for the club to remain a fans-owned club, and we as a fans’ organisation have acted on their behalf and will continue to do so to ensure that always remains the case.”
Dale chairman Simon Gauge added: “It is important that as directors we stand side by side with our supporters, United as we have been since the new board has been in place, in the fight to be a fan owned club at the heart of and serving our community.”
The Dale Supporters Trust works with the board of RAFC to help give members and fanbase a say in the running of the club, and to help spread ownership among its members.
Rochdale AFC was founded in 1907 and since that time has never had a majority owner, and has instead been fan-owned. Currently, it has over 300 shareholders, the majority of whom are fans.
The Dale Trust and the board have instructed HY Solicitors, who have agreed to act at below-market rates, to act on their behalf. Queen’s Counsel has also been instructed.
“Unfair prejudice claims can be very costly,” the trust added. “We are seeking to raise £130,000 to go towards the costs of defending these proceedings. Should there be any surplus, this would be donated to Rochdale AFC Community Trust, a registered charity, which carries out community work and charitable projects.”
The crowdfunding page can be found at https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/keep-rochdale-afc-fan-owned/.
The trust will also run a number of events over the next few months, with all funds raised going towards the campaign.
Morton House has been contacted for comment.