In light of recent events at the club, we have released this statement outlining the purpose of the Trust and how our relationship with the club works.
As the club enters the latest chapter in what has been, let’s face it, a pretty tumultuous recent history, the role of the Supporters’ Trust has come under scrutiny in some quarters. I know not all of you follow social media, but those that do can’t have failed to see NFST coming in for criticism in various quarters. Criticism is not new, indeed it is inevitable, and it is not always necessary for us to react. On this occasion however, it has reached sufficient volume that it is only right that we respond to address any concerns you might have.
There have been several questions about exactly what we do and a few allegations about how we go about our role. A common accusation has been that we are too close to the club executive board, that we do as we are told by them and in effect serve no function other than act as another channel for club PR. It has also been occasionally alleged that members of our board receive various benefits such as free tickets and other gifts.
It is perhaps helpful to remind ourselves what role a supporters’ trust plays. Fundamentally, this is to give the fans a voice in the running of their club. Achieving this requires regular official communication which we can share with our members. The EFL requires its member clubs to meet with a fan representative body at least twice a year and since the Marinakis regime has been in place this has consistently happened at formal on-the-record meetings, with many more meetings held in between. We have intervened to pursue individual fan concerns on a very regular basis. It has been our practice to do this behind the scenes rather than share everything we are doing on social media.
NFST is one of just a handful of the 200 or so supporters’ trusts in existence who have reached a memorandum of understanding with their parent club which formalises the dialogue. Our approach has always been to conduct dialogue in a respectful manner across all levels of staff. If the relationship with the club was to break down, our impact and influence would be much reduced meaning we would not be able to carry out our basic functions as an organisation.
More widely on our role, you’ve perhaps often seen people saying it’s for us to “hold the club to account”. Perhaps it’s a semantic argument, but that phrase does overstate our authority somewhat – we have no regulatory powers over Forest and have not been appointed as an investigative body. It is right and proper that we ask challenging questions around appropriate matters and that is something we have consistently done. We choose not to publicly tag the club on social media, this does not mean that regular communication isn’t taking place via other channels. We try to base our input around fact and the input of members.
A constant on the agenda for discussion has been a check that Forest are running responsible finances – in particular FFP adherence. We review the football club’s annual accounts and post our view on our website. This review is undertaken by experienced chartered accountants on our Board. In recent times we have put the fans’ perspective on matters such as season ticket pricing, the academy, catering, stadium cleanliness and the price of the replica kit and sponsorship. Our intervention is always listened to and considered and has on regular occasions influenced club behaviour.
The Trust is not a tame voice for the club and does not act as an unofficial part of their communication channel. There have been occasions when certain information we are privy to has to remain confidential, however the club has never attempted to unduly influence what we report to our members. Our role is to ask the questions our members want putting and then to stand back and let the club speak for themselves. Members and other fans can then judge the responses for themselves, we don’t believe it is for us to interpret what the club says on behalf of the audience, they can do that for themselves.
Some of our areas of our achievements have been:
• Recognised as having established a close to exemplary open dialogue with parent club – comparing favourably with nearly all other similar trusts
• Instigation and facilitation of a YouTube Q&A with the club earlier this year in which we shared some of the hundreds of questions submitted by supporters directly with the club
• The running of a focus group for supporters with disabilities – leading to a full report submitted to the club
• Facilitation of two member surveys and an additional survey last season on Project Big Picture. All results were shared with the club
• Promotion of the HOPE foodbank and Christmas appeals
• Sponsorship of a Forest Women player for several seasons
• Participation in Football Supporters’ Association projects and meetings
• Winning of FSA award for our mental health and community work over the pandemic
• Registering the City Ground as an asset of community value
Finally, to the question do board members get free tickets or other material benefits from the club? Absolutely not. No free tickets, no invites to the directors’ box, no free hospitality. Our independence is critical and accepting any such offer would compromise the relationship. For the record, no such offer has ever been made.
It is important that discussion around the role of the Trust is based around facts and not supposition. We are all unpaid volunteers who have dedicated hundreds of hours of our time in running a supporters’ trust around busy jobs and caring responsibilities – and have continued to do this through the disruption of COVID-19. We are proud that we have established an excellent dialogue with the club on behalf of our members. We have far more contact than most other trusts do, ask more questions and get more answers. There is always more we can do and we are working very hard every day to meet our remit.
Anyone reading this who is not satisfied should bear in mind that we are a democratic organisation which welcomes any of our members to stand in our next election and join the board, putting them in a position to influence future policy.
We welcome any comments or questions relating to our work, we especially welcome any offers to get involved.
Thank you for your support.
Trust chair – on behalf of the board