The Charlton Athletic Supporters' Trust (CAS Trust) was formally launched on the 5th of December 2012. This date was chosen because it marked the 20th anniversary of the club's return to the Valley from the exile years.
Background - Supporters Trusts
The Supporters Trust movement took off after the report of the UK Government’s 1999 Football Task Force, ‘Investing in the Community’. The report recognized the increasing frequency of football clubs getting into financial difficulties which threatened their continuing existence, and the detrimental effect this could have on a local community. The umbrella organization Supporters Direct was set up in 1990 with government funding with the aim “to secure a greater level of accountability and deliver democratic representation within football clubs”.
Supporters Direct is now the umbrella and regulatory body for nearly 200 Supporters Trusts in the UK with the following mission statement:
“Supporters Direct will increase the influence of supporters through ownership and involvement in their clubs. We will strive to ensure that all fans have the opportunity to have maximum involvement in the ownership and running of their clubs to enhance their club’s social and cultural value.”
Supporters Trusts are Industrial and Provident Societies (legal entities registered in England and Wales under the Industrial & Provident Societies Act 1965) and are regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. They operate democratically and under rules set out by Supporters Direct in compliance with the 1965 Act.
There are over 30 football clubs fully owned by their Supporters Trust in the UK – the best known being Portsmouth, AFC Wimbledon and Exeter City.
CAS Trust working in partnership with CAFC
The formal aims of CAS Trust ( as set out in the constitution) are:
- to be the vehicle through which a healthy, balanced and constructive relationship between CAFC and its supporters and the communities it serves is encouraged and developed
- being the democratic and representative voice of the supporters of CAFC and strengthening the bonds between CAFC and the communities it serves
- achieving the greatest possible supporter and community influence in the running and ownership of CAFC
Six months after the launch of CAS Trust (May 2013) CAFC announced in the matchday programme that:
“Charlton are to have a closer working relationship with the newly established CAS Trust. Following discussions between the two groups, the Addicks confirmed that the club intends to work collaboratively with CAS Trust in a bid to promote fan engagement”
Collaboration took the form of consultation about marketing and ticket pricing and co-operation included conducting joint supporter surveys.
In November 2013 CAS Trust successfully achieved the granting by The Royal Borough of Greenwich of Asset of Community Value status for The Valley. This status means that CAS Trust has the right to be informed about any proposed sale of the ground and the right to make a bid to purchase within six months of notice of sale being issued.
CAS Trust also led the campaign to obtain greater transparency about the contract between West Ham United and the LLDC for The Olympic Stadium - in particular, because the favourable terms of the deal posed a threat to CAFC
CAS Trust under the ownership of Roland Duchâtelet
When the new owner took over in early 2014 discrete collaboration between CAS Trust and the club was lost with the CEO Katrien Meire deciding that all supporter groups should be afforded the same status.
In February 2015, in response to the dismissal of three managers in less than a year and the circumstances around the appointment of Guy Luzon, CAS Trust called a public meeting at Woolwich Grand Theatre which was attended by nearly 400 supporters. In the words of CAS Trust chairman Steve Clarke: “This was Charlton supporters at their best. As always, fans gave intelligent thoughtful and measured responses. There was the occasional expression of extreme views, and similarly a few who saw nothing to be concerned about. However, by far the majority of the group were clearly worried about the immediate and potentially longer-term future, sending the simple message that they wanted the Trust to engage with the Club’s senior management to express the strength of feeling and concern and seek assurances”.
For the following nine months CAS Trust sought a meeting with Roland Duchâtelet and/or Katrien Meire to pursue dialogue, but this was not forthcoming. Eventually, in December 2015, Katrien Meire agreed that a strategy group should be set up which would include CAS Trust. However, she then appeared to change her mind as nothing more was heard from her on the subject. We continued without success to request a meeting with Roland Duchâtelet but in April 2016 we were offered a meeting with Katrien Meire and Richard Murray.
At this point, the CAS Trust board decided to consult its members on whether there was still a mandate for seeking dialogue. 38% of members (417) took part in a survey, the outcome of which was:
- 18% supported attending the meeting and reporting back.
- 57% supported attending the meeting and advising that the club be sold to a new owner.
- 25% supported refusing to meet.
Representatives of CAS Trust board subsequently met Katrien Meire and Richard Murray and advised them that the majority view of CAS Trust members was that the situation under Duchâtelet's ownership was irretrievable and that the only way for the club to regain the trust and support of fans would be under new ownership.
At its 2016 AGM, the English Football League (EFL) adopted a new rule requiring its member clubs to enter into a process of strategic dialogue with their supporters. This rule was the outcome of negotiation since 2014 between the EFL, The Premier League, the FA, The Dept of Culture, Media and Sport and Supporters Direct and The Football Supporters Federation.
CAS Trust continues to believe that it will be very difficult under Duchâtelet's ownership to recover the trust and affinity required to establish unity with a large number of supporters and that, without such unity, enduring success is unlikely. The situation has worsened since April 2016. The club was relegated from The Championship. Thousands of season ticket holders did not renew. Supporters expressed the extent of their opposition by raising over £50,000 to fund protests. We remain of the view that only a change of ownership can provide a platform for a revival of the club.
However, in line with our constitution, we also remain committed to communication. As outlined in our 2015/16 annual report (and confirmed at our November 2016 AGM) we aim to ensure that strategic dialogue in accordance with EFL rules is maximised. The club has stated that the Fans Forum is their preferred vehicle for this. We have serious reservations about the suitability of the Fans Forum for this purpose but we are nevertheless committed to the principle of strategic dialogue and we aim to conduct dialogue in a way which will ensure that the views and aspirations of our members are trenchantly expressed and that the executive is held to account.