I've written twice in the past few weeks about problems that I have had with the Aston Villa Supporters' Trust (AVST). You can read those pieces here and here. I felt that it was only fair to afford the AVST with a chance to respond to what I've said, and I am delighted that they have taken up my offer. Below is the response from AVST board member Tony Barnes, published without edits.
If we take your view that football is a business, then from my past experience of working in any customer facing organisation whether that is working for a large supermarket chain, manufacturing bobbins, or assembling construction equipment, or selling engines and services in the Civil Aerospace industry, then the phrases of "Customer comes first" or the "Customer is always right" will always be strategically the first priority. Without customers, you have no revenue and ultimately no business! Your first duty is always to the customer. Your 2nd responsibility is to be "sustainable" so that the business continues either by being a profit making organisation such as a public limited company on the stock exchange, or a non profit making organisation (like a charity, industrial & provident society). In a chicken v egg scenario, the customer comes first!
Football is not just a business. The goal of football is not about making profits. It is a sport, a sport watched by millions for entertainment. But more importantly, it is a sport deep rooted into the community fabric of countries. Our clubs have ties to those local communities and to the supporters who week in and week out come to watch. It is in our DNA and we can never switch to another customer when the product is bad. We are not just customers, but stakeholders in our community club. And the owners are only custodians who pass our great club on.
AVST has existed since 2001 and we have built our relationship with the Club over these years through constructive dialogue. The role of supporters trusts across the country at each club is about supporter representation in the decision-making processes at their club and ultimately fan ownership in some form (eg Swansea have 20% stake). Most of the time, constructive dialogue with Club is not visible to fans and our members, as we aim to influence and show the benefit of supporter engagement. This dialogue and our relationship with the Club has meant that AVST has become the main credible route for 2 way dialogue between Club and fans. So when we need to state in public our discontent, then it's done with a lot of thought and rationale to make it clear to the Board (and supporters) what our view is. It is a different tactic and one we use sparingly. Effective? Yes, from past experience, it rattles a few cages.
So our role is very much keeping a watching brief on the governance of our club and we'll comment on these matters, as well as representing supporter issues nationally and locally. So we are in our rights to criticise the way our club is run.
I'm not going into your word smithing points, other than to say our comments have been widely supported by fans, members and non-members, that this was the right statement to make at this point in time. And I have already apologised for the non-response previously.
AVST will only be as powerful as the number of members who are in it and the number of organisations who have affiliated to it. We need to expand our collective voice, we are "stronger together".
We are looking for more volunteers to assist us to ensure we move forward - please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks to Tony for taking the time to respond! I'll offer my thoughts in the comments below, and I hope you'll join me.