Meet the new chief of Supporters Direct

Supporters Direct, the organisation that helps sports fans become involved in the ownership and running of their clubs, has a new man in charge of its team. Chief...

Supporters Direct, the organisation that helps sports fans become involved in the ownership and running of their clubs, has a new man in charge of its team.

Chief executive Robin Osterley is taking up the role after 16 years at Making Music, the National Federation of Music Societies.

Robin Osterley hopes to build on the support of MPs in Westminster
Robin Osterley hopes to build on the support of MPs in Westminster

During his time as CEO at the organisation, an advocacy and support group for grass-roots music organisations, he helped grow its funding base significantly and ran several high-profile lobbying campaigns in areas such as Gift Aid and music licensing.

Although third sector career has largely been based in music, Robin has held a number of other appointments at a senior level, including director of ACEO – the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations. He was previously a senior marketing manager in the IT industry.

He is looking forward to the change of professional direction, but as he points, out the two bodies share many common goals.

“I think the interesting thing for me is that although it is a different area there are an amazing amount of similarities in terms of supporting groups in communities and empowering people in the face of opportunities,” he said.

“Whether it is as a member of a choir or football club, we both help communities thrive and build their individual well-being. On the face of it, it may seem like a huge shift but the main purpose is pretty similar.”

Born in Farnborough, Hampshire, Robin moved to Hertfordshire as a young boy and later studied for a degree in human sciences in Oxford.

“I needed to eat after all that studying and earn a decent salary so my early career was in IT sales. Then in 1993 I decided could not bear to be doing this any longer and that was what drove me into an arts organisation with a social purpose.”

Supporters Direct helps fans to set up democratic co-operatives to gain influence in the running and ownership of their clubs. It currently represents over 200 supporters’ trusts and similar organisations across England, Scotland and in Europe, with over 400,000 members. Several clubs in the UK are also majority-owned by their supporters – including League 2 sides Portsmouth, Exeter City, Wycombe Wanderers and AFC Wimbledon.

Supporters Direct has helped previously struggling clubs like Swansea City transform their prospects and become part of the Premier League thanks to its ethos of co-operation and sustainability within the community.

Robin says he is delighted to be joining an organisation with such a successful track record.

“Supporters Direct has been surviving without a chief executive these last few months and it is an incredibly well-run organisation,” he said. “I never fail to be astonished by their fantastic range of contacts.

“My job is to provide a bit of glue for the different parts of the organisation and get them to work together as well as I can. It’s important we work closely together and there are lots of possibilities.”

Current plans include diversifying into other sports in different parts of the world. Under Robin’s leadership, Supporters Direct will continue to strengthen its links with stakeholders in the Premier and Football League, the FA and UEFA and supporters federation.

There is also a lot of support for the organisation at Westminster.

“There are 200 MPs across the political spectrum who are very supportive and I want to build on that,” he said. “I have a lot of experience in lobbying so that should come in useful.

 “A lot of lip service is paid to how important the supporters are but there is no one out there except us who will really sing the fans’ song. There are lots of practical ways in which fans’ voices can be heard.

“For example, it would be very much nicer if fans could participate more in ownership and have a say in how the clubs are run.

“More fans could be given seats on the board to give them the ability,  structure and framework to push their agenda along.”

Like many other community-led bodies, Supporters Direct faces challenges in terms of financial resources. The world of football is also increasingly dominated by the super-clubs with limitless access to funds and Supporters Direct has expressed its concern at proposals by the FA Commission on the future of English football led by FA chairman Greg Dyke.

These include a new tier within the Football League to accommodate Premier League B teams playing ‘reserve’ sides.

“What you might end up with is a ‘football pyramid’ which means that towns may find their club simply swallowed up by these ‘feeder teams’,” warned Robin. “There is also no proof that the scheme would work in promoting home-grown talent.” 

As he takes up his new role, Robin is confident the future is looking bright for Supporters Direct.

“I think this is a good time for us because we are very much seen as the good guys,” he said. “We have already achieved an enviable reputation in what have often been very challenging circumstances. The time I have already spent talking with the staff team has made abundantly clear to me their vast commitment, enthusiasm and knowledge, qualities upon which I will rely extensively as we go forward together.”

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