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Recapping The 2018 SDS Summit

Date: 10th September 2018

I was fortunate to attend Supporters Direct Scotland’s annual Supporters Summit this past weekend at Fir Park, home of Motherwell FC.

It was a very interesting and productive day.

It kicked off with Chair Morag McHaffie and new Chief Executive Alan Russell discussing what’s happened with the organisation in the last twelve months.

A key stat I took away from Alan’s speech was the great strides the organisation has made in regards to the Supporters Liaison Officer (SLO) role. It’s grown diametrically and now twenty-five clubs have SLOs speaking directly to fans and hopefully helping provide better match day experiences.

The rest of the morning was taken up with three key speakers; The Well Society, The Foundation of Hearts and SMiSA (St Mirren Independent Supporters Association).

All three organisations that focus on fan ownership of their clubs. It was fascinating to hear from them all as they’re at very different stages of owning the football clubs that they clearly love. It was also heartening to hear that they all manage to share information and tips amongst themselves, helping each other along the way. 

There was much emphasis to the fact that it’s about gaining ownership of your side and not about controlling everything to do with the team, like picking the first team for example.

All three speeches were passionate and very informative. It seems to be a wide held belief that fan ownership will become the norm in Scottish football and you can see why when these clubs have embraced it so much and made it work.

The Well Society are the furthest down the line and they are now the majority shareholders of Motherwell. It was interesting to hear how much they want to involve the community and where their money goes when helping funding the club.

It’s great to look back and see how far Heart of Midlothian have come along since the Vladimir Romanov years. I remember going to see Hearts as they faced St Mirren at Tynecastle, their first since entering administration, and you could tell that the support would do everything to save the fantastic football club.

They’ve now got a new main stand, largely thanks to the Foundation of Hearts and are sitting top of the Scottish Premiership. Foundation of Hearts Director Louise Strutt put it perfectly when she said that they’ve gone from ‘Wonga to Save The Children’ on their shirts.

SMiSA member David Nicol is the fans representative on the St Mirren board and he told us the long journey it took from being a grassroots fans association to owning part of their club and the plan to make SMiSA the majority shareholder by 2026.

It was revealing that he stated he was stepping away from the board later this year, so someone else at SMiSA could get a chance to see the workings of the club from board level. He believes that this is essential as in 2026 they’ll be majority shareholders and will need more people on the board with that kind of insight.

I didn’t manage to attend all the workshops in the afternoon session, as some were being run at the same time. But I did manage to speak to all those running workshops before it started, to get an understanding on what was going to be discussed.

Nicola Hudson, who works for England and Wales’ equivalent of Supporters Direct was there to talk about Getting To Grips With The Rules. Not the catchiest of titles but when I spoke to a few of the attendees it was one that got continually mentioned as they realise how important rules and governance are to their ambitions of becoming members of fan owned football clubs.

Dan Crawford from Fulham Supporter’s Trust also popped up to talk about Structured Dialogue. Now it’s not always achievable for a fans trust to buy into their club. But Dan and his fellow trustees have managed to create a good dialogue between themselves and those that run Premier League side Fulham. It was excellent to see how successful that’s been for them.

Elaine Miller from The Killie Trust gave a workshop on Fan Representatives. In that workshop people found out more about being a supporter representative on the board and issues that occur like confidentiality and conflicts of interest.

Maggie Coats was there to discuss Women at the Game. it was very valuable to learn that organisations are out there to empower female supporters who may feel intimated or just unsure about going to football games. Women at the Game was founded by the late Jacqui Foster, who was also instrumental with her work with Supporters Direct. Hopefully Women at the Game goes from strength to strength as it’s such a wonderful initiative.

I did manage to catch the workshops on SLOs and Disability Access Officers (DAOs). SDS issued their new Supporters Liaison Officer handbook, which is a good read!

As I mentioned earlier these are roles that give fans better access to their football club and to air any grievances. Rangers SLO Greg Marshall was on hand to give real insight into how the role works and how important it has become.

It’s superb that so many clubs have taken the step to hire SLOs but in truth every club should have a dedicated SLO and a DAO.

As Brian McClair reminded me on Saturday, football is nothing without the fans. For too long, Scottish football didn’t treat their supporters with the respect that they deserved. Only when cracks started to appear and some clubs were staring into an abyss did they notice that the fans were always the heartbeat of the football club and the community.

Boards don’t always have the time or the understanding to help the fanbase, especially the disabled supporter, so having SLOs and DAOs are essential in my opinion. We really should strive to get more in at clubs and to shout about their work!

It was a very enjoyable SDS Summit at Fir Park. Here’s hoping for a successful year ahead and for the event to grow and become bigger and better again next year.

By Scott Johnston (

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