The roots of the Supporters Trust at Berwick go back to the Foot and Mouth crisis in late 2001 – a strange connection, perhaps. However, the main concern for the Club’s supporters at that time was the fragility of the business activity of its then Chairman, a livestock dealer.
Concern had been growing over the apparent tendency of the Chairman to over-invest in the first-team squad, particularly following a successful period in the Second Division when the Club had several lucrative cup-ties, including a Sky televised game against Glasgow Rangers. Ambition to reach the First Division had led the assembly of an exciting, but relatively expensive squad of players, and a six figure overdraft secured against the Chairman’s business.
During 2002, a small group of fans met with Supporters Direct, who were already active in England and helping supporters to organise themselves into collective action.
Ironically the Chairman welcomed the Trust’s creation at a public meeting in May 2003, citing a lack of support from his fellow Directors and hoping that fans would get more involved in the running of the Club. When he stepped down a few months later, and sold his shareholding to a consortium of three, the Trust’s Chairman was invited to join the Board, and did so on the understanding it was as an elected representative of the Trust.
Twelve months of reasonably amicable working preceded several more months of acrimony, particularly over the sacking of the first-team manager. The new Chairman (and majority shareholder) stated that it was his club, and he could do as he liked. And the reality was, that was pretty much the case. Even collective action by all the other shareholders could not influence the make-up of the Board, whilst the Chairman and his two
accomplices held sway. The Trust Director resigned in November 2004 after he felt his position was untenable, and the Board demanded £10,000 to replace him.
During this time Brookes Mileson was being generous in his support to Trusts around the country, and he donated £10,000 to purchase ten thousand shares in the PLC. He then followed it by donating a further £12,000 so that the Trust could purchase forty thousand shares from other shareholders. This was deeply unpopular with the reigning Board, and they became more hostile in its dealings with the Trust and other fans groups.
Ultimately, it was this hostility that led to change, aided and abetted by two disastrous seasons on the pitch. As attendances dwindled, sponsors and advertisers walked away from the obvious tensions and something had to give. After four seasons of quiet but determined work, the Trust had to try to make some changes…….
In late 2008 a consortium of Supporters Trust, Supporters Club, some existing Directors and new business representatives agreed a package to offer to buy out the existing regime, effectively breaking up the big shareholding and distributing it across several individuals and organisations. After much negotiation, the new Board took its place early this year, and the Club has seen vast improvements in the mood off the field, and the return of valuable assistance from the business community.
For the first time in over 60 years, the Chairman of the Football Club is there as an elected individual, not as the majority shareholder, and the real power to effect change is with the two supporters groups, acting together.
We look forward to a stable and united future – lets hope we can match it on the pitch with some good results!
The story so far……
March 2003 – Trust Steering Group hold public meeting.
April 2003 – we register as an industrial and provident society and an initial Steering Group is finalised. Membership fees are established at a minimum of £2 per month.
May 2003 – Steering Group member John Bell is invited to join the BRFC board.
July 2003 – The Trust prints and distributes 4500 vouchers to local schoolkids offering entry to any league game for £1
September 2003 – Steering Group members decide to sponsor a player to the tune of £120.00.
December 2003 – We purchased our first shares in BRFC – 2000 ordinary shares are bought for £2k on 18th December.
January 2004 – We purchase a further 2000 shares for £2000.
April 2004 – The Trust is recognised an Industrial and Provident Society and a Society Board is elected.
June 2004 – A donation of £1000 is made to Berwick Rangers FC.
July 2004 – The Trust prints and distributes 6000 vouchers to local schoolkids offering entry to any league game for £1
July 2004 – We donate £500 to the newly formed Youth Initiative.
July 2004 – We purchase the club shop from the football club, freeing up extra funds to repay the club’s debt to the bank.
November 2004 – We signed up our 100th member, only six months after forming.
November 2004 – John Bell steps down as a Director of the Football Club after a breakdown in his relationship with the Chairman.
December 2004 – Gretna FC chairman Brooks Mileson gifted £10,000 to the Supporters Trust after a conversation with John Bell. The Trust used the money to buy 10,000 shares in the football club.
March 2005 – We increased our share ownership with the purchase of 40,000 shares, again with the very generous help of Brooks Mileson. The purchase made us the second largest shareholder in Berwick Rangers Football Club.
August 2005 – The Youth Initiative came to the Trust seeking financial support for their infant years. The Trust pledged a one off donation of £4,500 and also created a website for their use.
September 2005 – We donated strips to the local Adult Training Centre football team.
October 2005 – Funded a radio advertising campaign at the request of the club in 2005, to promote the ‘Kids Go Free’ scheme.
December 2005 – We ran a stall at the Bridge Street Christmas Fayre, to sell goods and promote the name of the Trust and football club. It was to be the first of many events we attended. Newcastle defender Peter Ramage popped by to say hello.
January 2006 – In a response to complaints from members about the lack of communication, we produced a full colour newsletter. We have continued to mail out or 16 page updates on a six monthly basis.
February 2006 – We set up a town centre location to sell club merchandise. You can now buy anything from a mug to a strip at Tyne & Tweed in West Street.
April 2006 – Produced and distributed by hand, 4000 leaflets around town and the surrounding district advertising important forthcoming matches during the promotion run-in.
May 2006 – We part funded two buses to the promotion play-off semi final and final, just two of the many occasions we have done this.
July 2006 – we part-funded the transfer of Gary Wood to the tune of £1,000.
August 2006 – Started to publish and produce a full colour programme for every Youth Initiative match, where the Youths keep all the money raised. We are only one of clubs in the country that do this – Rangers being the other.
September 2006 – The football club asked us for help with stadium upkeep, we were happy to donate £500 towards the cost of a new hot water boiler, to help them save energy and money and improve facilities.
October 2006 – We hosted a ‘Championship Dinner’, to celebrate the achievements of the 1979 team
February 2007 – The Trust recruited its’ 160th active member (representing c.35% of the average home gate!) – which marks a continued growth in membership since the Trust was founded.
March 2007 – We contributed £350 towards the cost of running buses to away games in the promotion run in. We also organised the bus trips, ensuring fans could see their team away from home.
April 2007 – We produced limited edition Championship merchandise, including a t-shirt and poster.
July 2007 – We agree to continue to produce programmes for the newly formed Reserve team. This potentially earns over £1000 for the Reserve set-up.
August 2007 – We become away strip sponsors of the new Reserve side.
September 2007 – The club asked if we would contribute towards the cost of a new grass mower. We stumped up £500 to help.
September 2007 – As part of our awareness campaign, we took an advert out in the matchday programme, and an advertising board which is displayed inside the ground.
November 2007 – We launch the ‘Target 200’ campaign to try and achieve 200 paid up members.
December 2007 – We publish ‘Mission Impossible’, only the third ever book about Berwick Rangers FC.
March 2008 – The 200th member joins!
October 2008 – £2500 is donated to purchase new seats in the Main Stand
January 2009 – The takeover of the Club is completed, and Trust Chairman John Bell rejoins the Board, representing one of its largest shareholders.
April 2009 – The Trust agrees to fund a new official website for the Club. Membership stands at 220.
May 2011 – We pass the £50,000 mark in donations to the football club. More details here