I actually bought several lemons today, at Sainsbury’s, Selly Oak. I was taking part in the ‘Harvest a Lemon’ campaign organised by the Community Partnership for Selly Oak.1 Will a spike in lemon sales result in a better plan for the new store than the one proposed by Harvest and Sainsbury’s? Does a community group stand a chance against big business? I don’t know, but I do know it makes me feel better. Fighting back makes people feel happier than just moaning and doing nothing.
That’s one of the reasons why I’m a member of Blues Trust, even though there seems to be little that fans can do at present. Decisions on the future of Birmingham City FC are made by a small group of men, a long way away from Birmingham. The annual general meeting of the club’s parent company, Birmingham International Holdings Ltd, was held in a room somewhere in Hong Kong.2
That’s a marked contrast to community owned clubs, where fans make the decisions. I know that a lot of people would say that Birmingham City is too big a club to ever be community owned. I bet a lot of Portsmouth fans thought the same about their club but, after plummeting down the leagues under private ownership, the club is now owned by its supporters and hoping to work its way back up. It won’t be easy for them; supporter ownership is no guarantee of success but it does mean that they get good support. Last season they sold 7,250 season tickets and were relegated down to League Two. Relegation usually leads to a decline in ticket sales but they have sold more than 10,000 season tickets for next season. Their chairman commenting on this said, “The biggest asset this football club has by a mile – and it is a fixed asset from a business point of view – is the fans.”3
No model of ownership can guarantee business success but the co-operative business model has many advantages and a variety of different businesses use it. The Green Bay Packers, the community based American football team, has just reported record earnings.4 Its shareholders don’t meet in a room a long way from Green Bay; they meet in the stadium. Closer to home, the John Lewis Partnership5 runs a very profitable employee owned retail business.
Supporters’ trusts have a good record; 33 clubs are owned by their supporters and over 73 trusts have at least one director on the board of their club.6 However, the formation of a trust does not guarantee success; a lot of hard work is involved. I don’t think Blues Trust is perfect but I know that I’m happier getting involved than standing on the sidelines moaning.
I don’t have a crystal ball or any inside information on the future of Birmingham City FC. What I do know is that, if any buyers are out there trying to decide if the club is worth buying, I want to be counted as one of the club’s fixed assets.