Coventry City can learn from fan-owned Swansea City

20% stake in club by Supporters' Trust gives the fans a voice and a say in the decisions made at board level at profitable club

Click to follow
The Independent Football

For Coventry City fans, there seems to be no hope. The Sky Blues entered administration in March this year and with debts of £60 million, the former Premier League club find themselves scrapping for survival and existence in League One.

The most obvious wish for the supporters is that a multi-million pound tycoon from the Middle East purchases the club and their team shoots up the Football League ladder and gets back into the Premier League. In reality, that ambition is unlikely and history has taught us there are other options.

Swansea City fans know the feeling well. In the summer of 2001, having been relegated to the Third Division, there appeared to be little hope for a football club heading towards near certain bankruptcy. Today, however, the club is thriving. The 2013 League Cup winners are a profit-making Premier League football club with rich, local values at the core of their beliefs. How did they do it? The fans took control.

Swansea have had their ups and downs, but for the past 10 years, there have been many more highs.

In 2001, owner Mike Lewis was struggling to keep the club afloat and with finances crippled, supporters became void of hope and sought refuge in each other.

On Saturday 8 July 2001, a small core of fans called a meeting at Brangwyn Hall, Swansea, to discuss how to save the club from extinction. Further meetings were had and as more supporters united, the Swans Trust was formed.

The Trust’s aim was to simply shackle Swansea’s perilous decline by gaining a stake in the football club and having a say in major decisions. At the Trust’s launch event on 27 August 2001, 600 supporters signed up to be part of the group and from then on, numbers rapidly grew as the fans’ fight to win back their club gathered momentum.

In October 2001, Lewis sold the club to the Australian Petty Group led by Londoner Tony Petty and under the new regime, contracts were cancelled and players were sacked, leading to threats of sanctions from the Football League.

As the ferocity towards Petty increased, the club was staring down the barrel of administration and the fans feverishly wanted their Swans back, which resulted in the Trust making a £20,000 offer to buy out Petty from the club. Petty accepted and the Trust then became a part of a locally based consortium which took over.

Swans Trust board member Alan Lewis believes that the Swans Trust played a crucial role in the club’s survival: “The Trust was a key player in setting up the consortium which eventually bought the club in January 2002. Given the circumstances that existed at the time, the Trust quickly became the vehicle for fans to get involved.

“The fact that it had been formally set up with the help of Supporters Direct, meant that there was a confidence in it as a bona fide organisation and as the crisis deepened with Tony Petty entering the fray, the role of the Trust as a voice for the fans grew.”

There have been huge challenges along the way for the Trust. The path to gaining shares in the club hasn’t been an easy one, but their 20 per cent stake gives the fans a voice and a say in the decisions made at board level.

Lewis added: “The Trust has a presence on the Club Board. That board member was elected by the fans and has an input and vote on all major decisions made by the club. These can range from setting ticket prices to the appointment of a manager.

“It is probably fair to say that the Trust was viewed with some initial uncertainty by some other members of the Club Board, but relationships have grown positively over the years.”

The improving relations off the field between the Trust and the board were mirrored on the pitch as Swansea began to climb the leagues.

After gaining promotion to the League One under the guidance of Kenny Jackett in 2005, the Swans moved away from the Vetch Field and into their new 20,000-seater Liberty Stadium home, partly funded by the council.  

The move to the Liberty proved to be the catalyst in catapulting the club up the Football League as – with Roberto Martinez as manager following the resignation of Jackett – Swansea reached the second tier of English football in 2008 for the first time in 24 years.

From this point on, Swansea would go from strength to strength, and despite the departure of Martinez to Wigan Athletic in the summer of 2009, the Swans weren’t to be derailed from their ambitions of reaching the Premier League.

New manager Paulo Sousa continued Martinez’s good work and attractive football philosophy, before departing for fellow Championship side Leicester City at the end of his first season in charge.

Cue the acquisition of Northern Irishman Brendan Rodgers, who having been sacked as manager of Reading after just six months, was a gamble appointment, but Rodgers’ football philosophy and ambition mirrored Swansea’s ethos.

In his first season, Rodgers led the Swans into the Championship playoffs and along the way, won many plaudits, mainly for his team’s stylish attacking approach to the game.

On May 30 2011, Swansea City beat Reading 4-2 at Wembley Stadium to secure promotion to the Premier League. The board’s hard work, resilience, passion and meticulous planning had culminated in the impossible dream being realised – Swansea City were a Premier League football club for the first time.

Swans Trust’s Secretary Nigel Hamer who has been there since that very first meeting at Brangwyn Hall professes: “Fortunately, it is most unlikely that we will ever fall into the hands of foreign owners, although you never say never especially in football.

“Decisions are democratically made, we do not spend what we don’t have, as our Chairman mentioned only last month, if you make £70 you don’t go out and spend £100.”

Two months after winning the League Cup and securing a place in next year’s Europa League, in April 2013 the club announced record profits of £15.9million. There are plans in place to increase the capacity of the Liberty Stadium to 32,000 and the club has linked up with the city’s university to build a state-of-the-art training facility.

Driven by past distresses and recent success, Swansea City has no plans to relinquish their status as a Premier League team, and with fans and local business people in charge at the Liberty, the future can only be a prosperous one for the club.

Swansea City fans are proof that with resolve and passion, there is hope. Coventry City fans, your football club needs you.