Open letter from councillor backing Pompey Supporters’ Trust’s bid

SUPPORT Cllr Alistair Thompson
SUPPORT Cllr Alistair Thompson
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BELOW is an open letter from Cllr Alistair Thompson to members of Portsmouth City Council backing the Pompey Supporters’ Trust loan bid.

Dear Lord Mayor,

Unfortunately having taken advice from the City Solicitor, due to my work I have a declarable pecuniary interest and am therefore unable to take part in today’s meeting.

I am not permitted to even be in any part of the chamber, unless making a deputation, because of the Council’s rules.

As I am however allowed to make a deputation and conscious that there is likely to be a large number I have decided to send to you my views in written form. I hope they will resonate with members.

From the outset, I will say that I back the loan. I am a member of PST, a proud PFC fan and someone who is absolutely convinced in the importance of today’s meeting. I am truly sorry that I am prevented from taking a full part.

There are many good reasons why I hope members will back the loan request from PST and I could wax lyrical about them all, but I will simply split them into three broad categories: Business, Community and Heart.

Business

Firstly, supporting the loan bid is good business. The football club has helped to generate millions of pounds for Portsmouth with visiting fans spending money in hotels, pubs, restaurants and clubs, etc, but more importantly the image of our football club being broadcast around the word was worth its weight in gold. And the City Council and local businesses benefited through the good years, how many times was the term premier attached to whatever business activity or marketing brochure we produced.

Then there is the direct economic benefit, the employees of the club. Not huge numbers, I admit, but still men and women employed in the ticket office, hospitality, ground staff, those who do the maintenance, the advertising boards, the printers who produce the match day brochure, etc. I don’t think we should give up on these people and I hope we will not.

I am confident that the Trust will strive to increase business opportunities through the involvement of local businessmen and women.

Seeing all this continue by providing a short term bridging loan, which is all PST are asking for is a remarkable return on all the benefits as a City we have accrued.

The final point to make in this section is that within the PST bid, I understand that local businesses will receive the monies they are owed, which in these tough times could mean the difference between continuing to trade and not.

Community

Now turning to the community benefit. I know that the term big society seems to have fallen from fashion recently, but this is exactly the type of direct action that is supported by the politicians from all the three main parties.

The establishment of the Supporter Trust, hopefully that will run the club, is exactly the model held aloft by Phillip Blond, the Red Tory and Maurice Glasman, Mr Blue Labour, and the sort of policy being pushed for at our last Council Meeting by Matthew and Will. A right to buy community assets. If we reject this loan bid I worry that we will set this revolution back in service provision by years, but if we seize this agenda, then Portsmouth could once again set the term of the debate, and empower and inspire ordinary members of our coumminty to take over and run series and assets that they care about and are threatened because if the tough economic client that we live in, but I digress.

The benefit to the Community can be measured very simply in lives turned around, or inspired by PFC. I am not just asking about inspiring youngsters to get out into our parks and kick a ball around but to change their lives. To inspire them to behave better or work harder at school. And to highlight this point I will mention two schemes, the Pompey Study Centre and Faith in Football. Both successful because of their contacts with the football club or former players. We cannot put this all at risk by being so penny pinching that we will not extend a bridging loan to the Supporters Trust. The strap line of the London Game has been about inspiring a generation and our football club has done just that. We cannot allow this to end.

Heart

This is undoubtedly the easiest of all the reasons to dismiss because it is about emotion and my personal beliefs. There will be people who say, ‘you are only backing the PST, because you are a fan’, and this might well be correct, accept I have already outlined good reasons to support the loan, because of the benefit to the community and the economy. The benefit to the lives of young people by inspiring them to work harder, to behave or simply to dream.

To this I would add my belief that the current unsustainable financial system evident by the difficulties of clubs up and down the country who will have to change and indeed the Coalition Government has recognised this fact. Their pledge contained within the Coalition’s Programme for Government says that they will “…encourage the reform of football governance rules to encourage the adoption of cooperative ownership of football clubs by its supporters”. So the Government recognises the need to reform our current system, to move to an older, more traditional, even more small ‘c’ conservative model.

The model, the PST model, should not be dismissed either as an experiment, or even a risk as around England there are more than 120 supporters trusts, with a combined membership of more than 300,000 people. In the last decade around £30 million has been invested by these trusts into English Foootball and today 25 Trusts fully own or control their football club. I hope that after today’s meeting it will be 26.

The remaining 100 have a shareholding, a direct and vested interest in the running of their club according to Supporters Direct.

But it is not just the ownership model that needs to change. There are those both within and outside of Parliament who are arguing that the Localism Act provides the perfect opportunity of protecting stadia by recognising their importance to their local community by designating them (the stadia) as Assets of Community Value. And who would deny the huge community benefit of the PFC on the community in terms of aspiration.

Like many of you I was one of the thousands of Portsmouth fans to cheer on our team to victory in the FA cup in 2008 and then join the 200,000 people crammed onto the Common to celebrate this astonishing success. Who could not have been caught up in the excitement of this day? But this feel good factor extended way beyond the fans. The Council itself as I have already said used PFC in marketing, business likewise, school children throughout out City got to see and hold the FA cup. Anyone present who saw this happening would have seen what this meant to those youngsters. It was in short doing what we hope the London Olympics will do, “inspire a generation”, because it was one of those once in a life time experiences that they will always remember and treasure. And this was replicated in our own Council Chamber with members here desperate to be photographed next to the cup, myself included. Seeing all this evidences my point that the club is a vital part of our City community.

I also believe that Reuniting Fratton Park and the team under the ownership of PST would be an amazing legacy to the City, allowing ordinary fans, members of PST and even this council to have a greater say in future of our club.

And I am confident that if we back the loan in years to come we will look back on today’s meeting and say that the actions of the Council, not only safeguarded the future of our club, but inspired the next generation of Pompey legends.

Members, please back this loan request, to defer this request, add in the unachievable criteria contained within the Leaders email of the 6th August, or even to reject it would be to sign the death warrant of our club and league football in the City for at least 12 months and possibly considerably more.

Please don’t let our Club die.

Please back the loan today and the Supporters Trust.

Cllr Alistair Thompson