Last night the shareholders of Worcester City Football Club Limited (WCFCL) voted through changes to their articles paving the way for community ownership.
The club articles which date back to 1928 were in many ways pioneering as they sought to retain a distributed ownership, recognising the importance of the club “to the many not the few”, restricting the number of shares any individual could hold to 1%.
Watching the shareholders meeting unfold last night it felt every bit like a club that was rooted in and owned by its community but in reality the legal clothes of the club needed updating with the future of the club lying as much in the hands of the shareholders that weren’t there, than those that did. What’s more, following the mismanagement of the club and sale of St George’s Lane in 2013, the club has been living a nomad existence in Bromsgrove and prior to that Kidderminster. Welcoming as both clubs have been, a quick view of the turnover and you can see how the business has been effected, and despite the best efforts of all those now involved at the club it’s extremely hard to build a club rooted in its community, when that community is 30 minutes up the M5.
As is common with many non-league clubs we encounter, the legal structure is outdated, not reflective and worse of all restrictive, with shareholders often sadly deceased or having little interest. On the flip-side from the level of the debate and discussions at the meeting last night including a ‘warts and all’ look back at income and expenditure over the past year and the years proceeding, there were 100+ shareholders who are very much actively engaged, and emotionally as well as financially invested in the future of Worcester City.
The Supporters Trust working with Supporters Direct has long advocated that for the club to survive and make the best use of the goodwill not just from these shareholders but a host of other people and partners outside of the room, the spirit of the articles from 1928 needs to updated in the form of a Community Benefit Society; a democratically run, not for profit which exists for the benefit of the community not individual shareholders (whether their shareholding is capped or not).
Thankfully just over 80% of shareholders voting agreed allowing changes to the articles which removed the cap for the Supporters Trust and immediately allotted circa 140,000 shares in WCFCL (representing about 46% in WCFCL) to the Supporters Trust. There have already been a number of offers from shareholders to transfer their shares to the Supporters Trust to get their shareholding well beyond 50%.
This significance in relation to finding a home back in Worcester and the preferred site where planning permission has been granted (following a supporter led appeal to overturn the original decision), is twofold.
Firstly they are on the way to a legal structure that is more suited to welcoming in more members and partners who see the massive potential that a football club can bring to a community. Not just at 3pm on Saturday, but the opportunities to create a sporting and community hub throughout the week. A model that encourages and rewards everyone to get involved as equal owners, and will only be successful as the community that is willing to support it.
Secondly a legal structure that is more suited to raising the money needed to make that come true. Subject to the CBS holding at least a majority shareholding in WCFCL, community shares will now become an option (an increasingly popular method for community owned ventures in sport, pubs, shops and beyond), and depending on the beneficiaries of the new facility a number of other partners both local and national will be more willing to engage.
There is no hiding that there is still a very long way to go before Worcester City will be back in the City, but last nights vote has the potential to be a hugely significant moment in the history of the club.
To get this far represents a story of dogged determination from volunteers who have put in years of work, to ensure their club survives and thrives for future generations. It inspires others to keep going in the face of adversity and for that we salute you.
Up the City!