Swindon Town Football Club Supporters’ Trust are considering making a £1.1 million bid for the County Ground.
Supporters will be discussing the move at the trust’s annual general meeting tonight (March 16) with the plan to buy the town’s stadium from owners Swindon Borough Council.
The £1.1 million price has been part of discussions for the past two years between the Trust and the council with a formal offer put forward last June – with a view to complete the transaction before March 2018.
The relatively low price for the stadium takes into consideration the Trust’s community status, the need for extensive work to the get the stadium up to scratch and the covenant put in place by the Goddard family that stipulates that the land be used for recreation purposes. As part of this the council would put in place a buy-back clause to prevent the County Ground being sold on to a third party by the Trust in the future.
It is understood that the current Swindon Town Football Club chairman Lee Power and the club itself is not part of this proposal at the moment although it has been put to the them.
The Trust, led by chairman Steve Mytton, wants to bridge the divide between the club and its supporters. In recent years a bid to put a roof on the Stratton Bank failed after the Trust were unable to raise the £500,000 needed for the job – as investors were reluctant to invest money into an asset not owned by the club.
Tonight’s meeting at the Goddard Arms will look into the possibility of fans and investors working together to buy the ground, while addressing several other concerns.
The plan is not without risk for The Trust as the proposal would need to be approved by full council and the team could relocate to another venue at any time leaving the County Ground altogether.
Plans are also being discussed to develop the surrounding area to include ideas for a club museum, sport-themed hotel and gym, and a ‘Legends Way’ among other community and fan friendly facilities.
Aided by representatives from Supporters Direct, Mytton will also raise suggestions for funding the project, taking into account urgent repairs and maintenance, further contingencies, and investment in further developments. This could include crowdfunding, external funding bodies and community shares in the County Ground.
The document going before the 7.30pm meeting states: “There is much more at stake than simply what happens on the pitch this season, or next. There is a unique and exciting possibility for Town fans to own their own stadium, and from there we can set ourselves up for real progress.
“It would be a huge step forward for the Club and a great selling point to outsiders. A bold move that would get the attention of the national press. But we can do more. We need to work on the relationship with Lee Power and try to improve it, as much as some may not like it, he is in the driving seat when it comes to ownership of the Club.
“At some point, we’re sure he will be interested in selling up and we want to be first in the queue, with the ultimate dream – a 51% fan owned Football Club. Okay, we know that’s some way off. It would be a chance for Mr Power to leave a great legacy though, passing the club over to the fans.
“Our dream is based on the German model, where there is the “50 + 1” rule. It means that clubs must be majority-owned by their members (thus a minimum of 51%), thereby preventing a single owner taking control of the whole club. The remaining 49% can be made available to other investors, but a controlling stake in the club cannot officially be bought.
“The TrustSTFC board and membership consists of high quality professionals and supporters with one common goal, to see Swindon Town survive and thrive. We give up our time and money to try and bridge the gap between the Football Club and the fans, and to ensure we are ready for any eventuality. We’ve seen many Clubs (including Swindon) being passed from ‘owner’ to ‘owner’, often with disastrous results and we do not want that again.
“Our parent body, Supporters Direct, advocates fan ownership and many lessons have been learned and shared by clubs who have taken up the challenge already. If Lee Power were to sell to another individual in the future, then the cycle of criticism and arguing is likely to continue, so our aim is to develop a formal structure that is capable of running the club, and also to attract some of the higher net worth individuals and companies around the area to help us achieve future goals.
“We’re already seeing excellent progress, with some very encouraging conversations already happening around the TrustSTFC network. We’ve made no secret of our ambitions when we’ve met with the Swindon Town management, and although share purchase is not of interest to them right now, we will continue to work together in a positive manner, despite the challenges and conflict that sometimes brings.
“We don’t know what will happen next, but we know that without the fans there is no Swindon Town FC.”
Don Rogers and John Trollope will be taking part in a Q&A session from 6.30pm, prior to the meeting formally opening at 7.30pm.