By Sam Adams
The Exeter City Supporters Trust, formed on the 6th of May 2000, is often described as the organisation that brought City out of the dark days of financial mismanagement and on-field underperformance. Famous successes such as their promotion to League 1, along with the memorable FA Cup replay at Old Trafford in 2005, all took place under the steady guidance of the Exeter Trust, who gained ownership of the club in 2003 for Twenty Thousand pounds. These successes highlight the distance Exeter City has come under the leadership of the Supporters trust since the club rid themselves of John Russell and Mike Lewis, the former Chairman and Vice Chairman prior to the Trust’s takeover.
However, to suggest that it was plain sailing for City following the takeover would be to understate the gravity of City’s economic woes; plagued by debts amounting to four and a half million pounds, it would require a Company Voluntary Agreement in order to partially reduce the deficit, with the debts only being fully paid off with help of the revenue gained from the highly lucrative Manchester United home and away fixtures in 2005. The efforts and popularity of the trust have seen over four thousand members buying into the trust before 2012. The effect of Exeter City’s story on the footballing world has been limited, City has perhaps not enjoyed the plaudits they deserved for what was an extraordinary turnaround of fortunes. More recently however, BBC Sport ‘supporters director’ Kevin Rye suggested that ‘Exeter are one of the most important stories in the history of football fan-ownership but are often overlooked because it’s become the norm’. Rye was referring to how other ‘smaller clubs’, such as Wrexham and Chester, have more recently switched to fan ownership.
However, amongst the top teams of English football, fan ownership is non-existent, with no side in the top three leagues of English football being fan owned.
However, this lack of fan ownership at the top level of English football is not the norm in other footballing nations. In the Bundesliga, the top flight German league, Borussia Dortmund’s club shares are held largely by fans, and this team are widely considered trailblazers in the sport. In fact, German law increases the likelihood of fan owned clubs, as laws stipulate that any club must be majority owned by its members, ruling out the almost oligarchic ownership patterns seen in England. Although Exeter City seem to have had only a limited effect on the overall ownership patterns in the upper echelons of British football, its position in football’s history is clear for all to see. City have set a precedent any other club could follow, and with pressure continuously growing over the price of match day tickets and the allocation of those funds within the respective clubs, the ideal of fan ownership may see a resurgence to the top flight as of yet. Currently however, it is only Exeter city and a smattering of clubs that reap the rewards of fan ownership.