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Non-league: “Community ownership made the playoffs possible”

Over the next three weeks, one of the highlights of the non-league season will be taking place as the National League play-offs are contested. Richard Irving, the FSA’s community-owned clubs network manager, explains how some fan owned clubs are right in the mix…

We are delighted that two of our community owned clubs will be contesting the playoffs in the National League North and South divisions at the weekend, and it’s thanks to their ownership model that both sides are able to compete at all.

Chester FC, who have been owned by their supporters’ trust, City Fans United, since 2010 will be away in their match at Altrincham whilst Bath City, who have been community owned since 2017, will be hosting Dorking Wanderers at Twerton Park.

Having had months off from playing, and thus receiving any income, it was not a given that all clubs would be able to afford to take part in the National League playoffs. Both Chester and Bath, however, have benefitted from the increased engagement that comes from being owned by your fans.

At Bath City, a dedicated crowdfunding appeal was approved speedily by the board and, with membership having doubled to well over 1,000 since the change of ownership a couple of years ago, the collective spirit was a key factor in reaching their initial target of £35,000.

Jon Bickley, a Bath City Director said: “Community ownership made this possible, with the breadth of people willing and able to drive the campaign and, most importantly, with the true sense of ownership that is felt by our community of supporters”.

In addition, with the inspired idea of part of the donation being used to allow NHS staff and carers into future games at Twerton Park, by raising upwards of £50,000 the club not only ensured that competing in the playoffs was financially viable but also that some 2,600 NHS nurses, doctors, porters, health visitors, care home workers and careers will be attending a game next season no matter what division the club are playing in.

Chester had to seriously consider whether to compete at all and it was only when their supporters donated significantly and their players agreed to forgo their match fees that the board were able to confirm their willingness to play.

As Club Director Andy Morris told us it was “one of the hardest pieces of work we as a board could undertake”, given the need to balance sporting ambition against the serious potential financial ramifications.

The belief at the club is that all of the great work they are able to do around community engagement, disability, youth engagement and women’s football can be correlated to the success of the men’s first team as it instantly brings about increased interest in the club.

With funding limited by the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic their supporters raised over £130,000 to provide a lifeline and, with a further specific fundraising appeal, ensured that the club were able to compete in the playoffs without jeopardising the future of the club.

We wish both teams good luck at the weekend and, hopefully, in their semi-finals and finals to come.

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