Crunch time for Supporters Direct

The future of Supporters Direct, the mutual fans’ body established 11 years ago as a result of initiatives by the Co-operative Party, is in the balance.

The shock decision by the Football Stadium Improvement Fund — which is funded entirely by the Barclays Premier League — to cancel a proposed £1.2 million funding arrangement following “crude and offensive” tweets made by former SD Chief Executive Dave Boyle as he ‘celebrated’ AFC Wimbledon’s promotion to the Football League could spell the end of the organisation’s ground-breaking work with English and Welsh football clubs.

Supporters Direct’s activities in Scotland, Europe and with Rugby League clubs are funded separately, so are unaffected by the FSIF move. However, following Mr Boyle’s decision to resign as Chief Executive at a hastily-arranged meeting of the SD board, there are hopes the FSIF will reinstate the funding in the wake of representations to the Government and Premier League by SD’s new Acting Chief Executive Brian Burgess, MPs, football insiders and Co-op Movement leaders. 

Following the SD board meeting, the organisation — a registered Industrial and Provident Society — said it deplored the online remarks made by Mr Boyle on May 21st and completely disassociated itself from them.

A statement issued by SD expressed confidence in the organisation’s past and continuing role in promoting the supporter trust movement, which it said was “a model of football ownership that allows fans to re-engage with their local clubs, and begin the process of putting the community back at the heart of the football and other sports clubs”.

The statement said SD had been informed the proposed funding from FSIF had been withdrawn as a direct result of the body’s concerns over a number of tweets posted by the SD Chief Executive on his personal Twitter account during the evening of Saturday 21st May.

It is understood that, although Mr Boyle’s comments — aimed principally at MK Dons chairman Peter Winkelman — were made on a private account, they were later forwarded to the Premier League by an online ‘friend’.

Following Mr Boyle’s departure, an executive committee of three directors will work with Mr Burgess to try to steer the organisation through the current funding crisis, which could result in ten staff members losing their jobs.

Supporters Direct Chair Dame Pauline Green said: “The trust movement must now take stock and reflect on how it can most effectively contribute to the development of a healthy, more sustainable football industry at all levels. The Annual General Meeting and conference in Chester next month will be an opportunity for us to debate this with our members and the wider football public.”

Co-operatives UK Secretary General Ed Mayo told the News: “It is genuinely unfortunate for all involved that Supporters’ Direct’s funding should have come into question because of a furore around a rogue tweet.

“We call on the football industry, including the FSIF, to act with responsibility, not just to confirm funding for the vital work of Supporters’ Direct, but also to address the model of sudden death funding that has long hampered its work.”

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