Fan or Private Ownership – Where do Chester go from here?

The situation was desperate at Chester FC. ‘Raise £50k by the end of the season or go bust’ our supporters were told, in other words, by City Fans United board member Laurence Kirby, the governing body that owns the football club. Under three months on and the club’s supporters have doubled the target, our fundraising efforts totalling over £100k in the short time we’ve had.

And yet even still, why does the club feel worse off than we were, these two-or-so months on. How is that even possible?

The team’s performances on the pitch are a separate factor affecting the divisiveness of the fanbase, but still an issue nonetheless. Since Chester’s supporters and a much wider range of fans from the across the country began to contribute to the club financially in January, the Blues have won just one match. To make matters even worse, we sit ten points below safety, having collected just four points from their last available thirty.

It’s this poor run of form that makes up the first half of the fanbase’s division, club management. Following Chester’s 2-0 home defeat to fellow strugglers Torquay United, it was announced that manager Marcus Bignot would be leaving the club come the end of his contract, which expires during the summer. This the favoured decision of a portion of the fanbase, but not for the other. You can’t please everyone, that’s just how life works, and that’s not the fault of the CFU board.

You can also attribute our results to our lack of funding and our issues with relying on free recruitment and the youth academy, but I’ve written about this in the past and it’s besides the point, this is about my problems with Chester or, more specifically, our model.

Chester FC, up until about eighteen months ago, was the dream vision of our fanbase. A governing body, in this case City Fans United, that the supporters can purchase memberships for and become joint-owners of the football club they were born to love and support. This, just the basic premise of fan ownership. We dreamt of transparency, communication with the chairman and the CFU’s board, having our voices heard.

But have we, as supporters, had this in the last eighteen months, or in the crucial period since the club’s financial revolutions were revealed? Barely. Have the fundraisers who’ve kept the club afloat, the hundreds of CFU members, had transparency as promised in January, has there been communication between the board and its supporters? There’s been very little, although an improvement nonetheless.

Despite this, though, the cancellation of a CFU meeting recently, because it was ‘too close to Easter’, was quite astonishing, and makes you question the extent of this improvement.

But the most recent development is the departure of Chairman Simon Olorenshaw and fellow board member Mark Howell, who stated that ‘coming back [following his previous spell] was a huge mistake.’

I’m a member of the CFU, as are hundreds of others and quite possibly you reading this, and I couldn’t give you a reason as to why they’ve decided to step down just five weeks after returning. As a member, wouldn’t you expect an email correspondence or statement of some essence, stating and justifying their reason for departure, but this becomes simply another example of the lack of communication, despite adopting the fan-owned model. I’m upset, though, as both Howell and Olorenshaw would be my preferred choice of board members to lead us into next season.

So at the end of the day, the facts are these. Olorenshaw’s departure is just one of many examples of poor communication with the owners and supporters of the club, and consequently the model, and it would be nothing but a huge shame to see fans lose faith with the system, as it was this that brought football in Chester back into fruition, but could equally well be the system that takes it away.

In terms of the discussion between fan and private ownership, I certainly prefer the former as a model itself, but there are many ways to justify the latter as the best way forward for Chester, specifically.

Are the losses, both on the pitch and financially off it, worth it so that we can cling on to our model? Isn’t the point of fan ownership to allow the fans a say and the chance to communicate with their board? Surely if we’re at risk of further financial turmoil, and not receiving the ‘perks’, if you will, of fan ownership then there’s absolutely no point in proceeding any further with it.

Of course, on the other hand, supporters of the current model can reflect on the demise of the previous Chester City, when owner Stephen Vaughan single handedly drove the club into the ground, due to this own ignorance and incompetence. To that, I say fair enough, but I also give the example of Leyton Orient, who’s previous owner, Francesco Becchetti, pulled the club from the top of League One to the National League in two, horrific seasons. Now, again under ownership, they appear financially sound, with a fantastic manager in Justin Edinburgh, preparing for success once more.

I understand the reluctancy of Chester’s supporters who don’t wish to risk turmoil under private ownership again. The club liquidated once, of course they wouldn’t attempt that for a second time, the reason we’re fan owned in the first place. Although now, I say, I’m no longer willing to risk financial deficits or losses and poor performances on the field, all for the sake of communication and transparency that we don’t get anyway. Yes, fan ownership does mean that these issues can be fixed, but were we not promised an improvement in January, and received very little in the way of that.

I hope that we can find a way to benefit from fan ownership once more, but until the very few members we have left on the board hold an EGM, lay their cards on the table, realise where it all went wrong and become more transparent with the supporters, then I have no reason to support the model as opposed to investment, which utterly hurts to admit.

We aren’t profiting from fan ownership and if we choose to move forward in this model, without a chairman, as is currently the case, to steady the ship, then one would argue that there isn’t a future for the football club. The way the supporters are being treated forces me to believe that there aren’t any advantages to proceeding further under the current model and, until there is, it’s tough to want to contribute and support it, as we’ve banded together to do in recent weeks.

Chester fans, what do you make of these comments? Let us know in the comments below!