Supporters Direct faces funding battle after anti-MK Dons tweets

Glenn Moore
Sunday 23 October 2011 02:49

Talks are likely to start this week between the Premier League and Supporters Direct (SD), with a view to restoring some of the funding for the latter organisation. This was withdrawn last week following a series of offensive tweets sent by SD chief executive officer Dave Boyle.

The future of the 11-year-old organisation, which helps fans establish supporters' trusts, was cast into doubt after funding was pulled by the Premier League-funded Football Stadia Improvement Fund (FSIF) following SD's failure, in their view, to satisfactorily discipline Boyle.

Following this decision, Boyle resigned. He had sent several tweets in the wake of AFC Wimbledon's promotion to the Football League two weeks ago, directed at Pete Winkelman, the chairman of MK Dons, and a prime figure in the departure of the original Wimbledon club from south London, and Raj Parker, a lawyer who was on the three-man panel which sanctioned the move to Milton Keynes.

While some were celebratory, if obscene – "The Bible can fuck off. This is the greatest story ever told" – others were highly personal in content and very crude.

Boyle had been at SD since its founding in 2000 and worked on many campaigns, including the founding of AFC Wimbledon, and the establishment of the trust at Swansea City, which owns 20 per cent of the Premier League's newest club, and has a representative on the board.

When his tweets came to the notice of the FSIF they wrote to Dame Pauline Green, chair of SD, asking for her comments. She replied that Boyle had apologised and promised there would be no repeat. The trustees of the FSIF, who include the Football Association and the Government as well as the Premier League, took the view that someone in his position, even if tweeting in a personal capacity, could not make such statements in a public forum and merely be given a rap on the knuckles.

This line was taken in the context of a crackdown on abusive behaviour in the game, including the FA's Respect campaign and the recent suspension imposed on Wayne Rooney for swearing into a TV camera after scoring against West Ham. The FSIF board subsequently released a statement saying they "no longer had confidence in Supporters Direct's leadership and judgement". Funding previously offered to the tune of £1.5m over three years, was withdrawn.

The FSIF statement went on to add that funding would still be available to individual trusts and they should apply directly on a case-by-case basis. However, while this should work satisfactorily with established trusts, much of SD's most significant work is done with setting up new ones, or helping trusts at clubs in crisis.

Thus it would be logical, now Boyle has fallen on his sword, for FSIF to at least fund SD to the extent that they advise fans in such scenarios, and provide over-arching administrative functions such as the annual general meeting and the workshops that take place there.

In a statement issued after an emergency board meeting at the weekend, SD, having pointed out they "deplored" Boyle's tweets and "disassociated" themselves from them, said they would be seeking a meeting with the Premier League Fans Fund (which is administered by FSIF) with a view to resubmitting its funding application. Sources at the Premier League suggested they would be happy to meet.

What is Supporters Direct?

* It was launched in January 2000 as a "community benefit" to society, promoting the value of supporter ownership to sports fans and encouraging fans to set up supporters' trusts

* According to its website, Supporters Direct "campaigns for the wider recognition of the social, cultural and economic value of sports clubs"

* It has assisted clubs such as AFC Telford and AFC Wimbledon, who are owned and run by their fans

* With Uefa funding, it seeks to help supporters' groups in 20 countries, including Italy, Germany and Spain

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