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Trust No-one

In all the years I’ve been doing SW19, I think I can count on the fingers of one hand the amount of times I’ve ever dedicated to the Dons Trust.

If truth be told, I’m not that interested in it – I used to be a member of it until about 2004/05, then let my membership lapse for various reasons and haven’t been tempted back since.

Nothing sinister, although around about that time those involved were about to delve deep into the legal and constitutional with a lot of gusto. A bit too much gusto for my liking. This said, any time I do try to read what they come up with, it reads something akin to a parish council press release, full of convoluted descriptions about what it does and how relevant it really is to supporting AFCW.

Well, today they’ve just published the recent hoo-har about DT chairmen resigning on the OS (which isn’t the easiest thing to find on the OS, though that’s another story). I think this was around the time that the WGS story broke, though can’t quite be sure. Things tend to blur into one after a while.

Anyway, reading it as an outsider, it just seems one horrible mess – as though it’s tied itself up in so many sub-clauses and revisions that it’s strangled itself. Whether that’s the case or not I don’t know, but I certainly felt in the early AFCW era days people ploughed at 200mph into the whole setup of the DT, and didn’t once stop to take a step back and look at it with a cool head. Seems as though we’re now paying for that.

Now, contrary to popular belief, I’m not anti-DT. Maybe lukewarm towards it, but not outright hostile. In fact, I think it has a vital use in securing the ground and us not getting shunted off again. Trusts generally are good when your club is in the shit – how many times have we heard a supporters initiative getting involved whenever a club is about to go into admin? Not to mention the nice tax breaks you get from being a registered trust.

What isn’t so obvious is what use a trust has when things aren’t going so badly. Yes, it may be hard for a Wimbledon fan to believe but some clubs seem to get along relatively without trouble.

It’s interesting to note that there are an increasing amount of clubs that are jettisoning fan ownership in one way, shape or form. Notts County are the obvious ones here, though Wycombe, Stockport and now Brentford have discharged their responsibilities, so to speak. All for differing reasons,  but money is a factor in all of them.

This is where the flaw of trusts generally are starting to show. Unless people who are members are stinking rich, you will always be limited in how much you can raise if you want significant control via one. And the trouble is, the amount we have to spend on wages alone is only likely to go up rather than down – a recent rumour suggested a Crawley player was owed/paid £9k for August….

Anyway, this site always makes a big banging noise about funding and how we’ll get it. And I’m not going to turn it into yet another rant about it – though the OS’s comments about ground regulations higher up should focus the mind. Instead, I would just put my $0.02 into what the DT’s future holds in relationship to the pretty real demands that we’ll be facing soon enough…..

Personally, I would make the DT smaller but less wieldy. Or to be more specific, “businesslike”. AFCW is primarily a business and needs to act as such across the board, not just in the PLC. Not something that makes a Merton planning application look like this site on a bad day.

I’m not even sure the DT board themselves totally understand what they’re trying to achieve – after all, at least one individual was suggesting a “no” vote to the Stadium and Community issues, despite them voting “yes” to it. This was before they re-read it…

Can you imagine a business running along those lines? We’ll be bust in a year.

How would we get round that? To be honest, I’m not sure – the rather messy approach that the DT seems to adopt appears very difficult to untangle now. If the DT is going to have any more influence beyond blocking any future moves to Milton Keynes, it needs to stop acting like a local council sub-committee.

Somehow, people need to put more candidates up with perhaps more acumen in business rather than consitutional wallahs or even “a well meaning fan”. That may be controversial, but the development of AFCW has gotten to the point that we now need more focused thinking. In the next 5-10 years, we could well be a League club, with everything that entails. Not to mention stadia…

In the beginning, we could get away with people standing because “I am a fan and I believe in the ethics and principles of the trust movement”. Those days are long gone, if they ever properly existed. We need people to bring more ideas to the table now, and not just well-meaning but wishy-washy statements like the ones above.

Ideally, and I don’t really do idealism so you can ignore this paragraph, I would like to see a DT board with people who have proper experience in business (though to be fair, the current DT board has a couple of those), planning, finance, maybe a lawyer, people who know about the football industry – something I think we’re seriously lacking at AFCW, let alone the DT – and maybe the odd fan who has the strength of personality to deal with that. Give them carte blanche to cut down on the jargon, on the processes and whatnot and just get on with the job of what the DT is supposed to do. Whatever that is.

And perhaps we might get a good idea of what the DT actually means if we go down that route. Be honest, how many of you have tried to explain what it does to people, and not got anywhere? It seems the DT is “there” and it’s this big overseeing overlord and if it wasn’t there we wouldn’t have a club (OK, I think that is a big myth of AFCW  – the club would certainly survive if there was no Dons Trust – it would put noses out of joint and some restructuring would be needed, but it would still exist). Even though I suspect most people don’t entirely know what it’s for…..

So, what to do? Well, there’s something I’ve been thinking about for a little while, and it’s this : I’ve heard plenty say that the DT needs to reduce its prices to make it more accessible for everyone. I’m going to go the other way and suggest it should be more difficult for people to join the DT, let alone stand for election.

As in, raise the DT membership fee to £100 per year.

Had your seizure yet? There is a precedence for this, in truth, though you need to hop over the Irish Sea to find it. FORAS (the Cork City trust) charge €120 per year, although you can pay €10 a month. Their plan is to (eventually) take some sort of control over CCFC, and they do at least realise that to run it properly takes money. Hell, after City’s recent problems FORAS has even set up a hardship fund for unpaid players and staff. I doubt that they could have done that on €25 per year.

We don’t (hopefully) have that problem, although the old funding issue does raise its head. I’ve no idea how many people the DT has (let’s assume 1500), but 1500 x 25 = £37500 for AFCW’s coffers each season.

Now, let’s assume that 500 people remain in the DT should it go up to £100. Not an unreasonable assumption, because you can more or less guarantee that for a major thing happening 500 people will get involved in it. One has to only read the DT election results, where I can’t recall more than 700 people ever casting their vote. The 500-strong hardcore will certainly put their money in the pocket for £100 if it means they can still keep involved.

So, if we whip out the non-smoking equivalent to the back of a fag packet, and….. 500 x 100 = £50000. There you go, more money already.

“But hang on”, you say, “that’s going against the aims and objectives of why we set up AFCW”. Is it? What were they to begin with? Two of the stated aims via the OS are:

Financial prudence – To ensure the DT and club?s business is operated in a financially prudent way such as to balance development risks with sound financial management.

Ambition for club – To get AFC Wimbledon promoted as high up the pyramid as possible with an aim of achieving league status in 10 years, i.e. for season 2013-2014.

Hardly going against the “aims and objectives” of setting up AFCW, is it?

So, what would a leaner, smaller DT do? Well, it would certainly have a higher percentage of motivated people in it. At times, I get the impression the DT tries to do things to cover every single AFCW fan and end up getting tied up in knots because of it. All it ends up doing is frustrating those who do want to get involved and just further alienates those who waver or don’t give a toss what they do. Not to mention the sheer size of work that puts immense strain on those running the joint.

Culturally, the DT would need to push itself more towards something resembling the 1889 Club, or at least something more in the way of a business.  The whole AFCW-DT setup would in effect be like what many clubs employ, namely a significant voting block of shareholders rather than just fans owning a bit of the club. I know for a fact that some people are DT members because they see it as a donation rather than anything  more.

Normally, you buy shares in something (as opposed to the stock market) because you want to go to the AGM and have a say in decision making. I don’t doubt that anyone would object to a more committed DT membership, even if less in numbers than right now.

There would be flip sides of course to a smaller DT membership – possible accusations of alienation of the wider fanbase, a smaller pool of talent to draw board members from, higher likelyhood of “undue influence” – although in the latter case, all the DT needs to do is prevent people from voting if they’ve been a member for less than two years and to stand if less than three. But then, that seems to be the case at the moment too…

Whatever is eventually decided, something like this will appear more and more inevitable for AFCW by 2013/14. That’s not just my own view by the way, it’s one I’ve heard privately admitted by at least two top brass at AFCW. You know, the poor buggers who actually have to run the club. Whatever form that takes, it will be a tough (though not impossible) sale to some of our fans – though perhaps easier to others in our fanbase, especially if we “stall” as a club and a team.

Ironically, such a move would probably strengthen the DT. It would focus peoples’ minds, certainly, realising that the DT isn’t the only game in town. Right now, the DT can fuck up strategy reviews and get away with it practically unchallenged. If there is another powerful voice within the club, it couldn’t do that any more – it would have to seriously up its game.

It couldn’t afford to be poor in its communications, to be wedded down by complex terminology and apparent obsession with sub-clauses. To spend at least one year (nearer three) on a strategy review just wouldn’t be allowed any more. Not that it should be accepted now. It would be forced to adapt to an ever-changing club in an ever-changing footballing industry. Not to mention it may well encourage more people to get involved too.

And after all,  isn’t that what the people behind the DT wanted?