Free At Last

Part of me feels a little ashamed to quote Martin Luther King as a title of a blog on football, but the closing line of the “I Have a Dream” speech just sums up perfectly how I feel right now.

Wrexham fans have tolerated a decade of suffering, and constant crises which have regularly left them with that worryingly familiar sickened feeling that you get when you know your club is on the brink of extinction. I don’t suppose I should say that’s over now; the vicissitudes of fortune are impossible to anticipate, and it’s clearly going to require hard work and mass support from Wrexham’s fans and the wider community to ensure it works. But no matter how it pans out, it’s massively preferably to what we’ve been going through.

Why? Well first and foremost, it’s a matter of motivation. Whatever happens, at least we’ll know that decisions are being made for the beneft of the club, and no other body or individual. Remove the personalities and speculation about the motives of the previous two regimes and one simple fact remains; neither of them were good for the club. We now stand in the most diminished state in the club’s existance, in debt, out of the Football League and tenants on the ground we owned a couple of years ago. No matter how you try to spin it, we’ve fallen a long way.

So when people doubt whether the WST takeover is a good thing, I have difficulty understanding what they’re driving at. How can things be worse than they have been of late? Why would a fan-owned club be a less attractive option than the traditional one, where capitalists invest in order to get a profit out of the club rather than out of love for the institution?

The WST is committed to only spending the money it generates. Why should I fear that model? Whay should I be concerned by where common sense management will take my club? Why must I be perturbed becuase the owners are committed to getting out of debt and staying out of it? In a couple of years will I really hanker for the good old days, when taxes and wages went unpaid and debt was greeted by further loans from the owners, which eventually must be paid back, whether it’s affordable or not? The establishment might call that an acceptable way of running a club. I call it finding yourself in a hole and continuing to dig.

Of course, it is possible that the project won’t go smoothly. The share issue simply must work and the fanbase must be rallied to support the cause. A huge drive is required to try to ensure that the late confirmation of the takeover hasn’t completely ruined the trust’s chances of making money from the Christmas market.

But if things are hard, at least we know the WST will retrench appropriately. We’re in massive debt because the level of spending over the last five years has massively outstripped our income. Of course there are subtleties within that argument which I could spend hours teasing out, the main ones being the effect of the Wrexham Village student developments and the arrival of the Crusaders. However, the fact is that Wrexham’s board spent well beyond their means. If the new board spend prudently, and have to make savings if things get tight, I won’t be complaining. Realistic budgeting might not be glamorous and might not fund promotion pushes, but it keeps us in business. Isn’t the best aim the WST could have be to secure the club so our grandchildren are able to enjoy the soap opera of Wrexham FC on the pitch, while not having to worry too much about dramas off it?

To guarntee success we need to ensure the rank and file fans, those who go to games but aren’t engaged on a political level, are pulling with the committed. There are clear examples of how this can work. When you go to AFC Wimbledon, which stands apart as a wonderful example of a fan-owned club, there’s a terrific sense of togetherness. The atmosphere is one of unity; everyone pulls in the same direction, club initiatives are supported eagerly and you get the feeling that you’re witnessing something special.

Obviously, that’s partly because it’s a club formed out of adversity and an opposition to authority, as nothing binds people together like having something to fight against. We don’t really have that, so the WST’s challenge is to pull together the broader fan base and make them feel the enthusiasm for this project that the hard core feel.

One of the things which has saddened me in the past, and I’m not talking about the recent past particularly, because I recall this sort of talk a good twenty-five years ago, is the thought that the club fails to reach out to the wider local community. The suggestion has long been that there are plenty of local businesses which would be willing to support the club, but don’t because either they’ve been poorly treated in the past when they were sponsors, or doubt whether the money they plough in would go to the right place

Hopefully, this will no longer be a problem. The WST represent a clean slate and the fact that they have impeccable intentions to put something back into the wider community, not just the club, must surely make Wrexham Football Club an attractive proposition for potential sponsors. If you want your business to be associated with a high profile body which is looking not only to succeed in its own right but also to be a power for good in the town, there’s only one game in town.

The Trust have held up Barcelona as an example of a fan-owned club to suggest success can be achieved with such a model. It’s not a comparison I’m happy with, but not because we can’t be compared to the Catalan giants; in fact, quite the reverse. Their form of fan representation is a great deal less democratic and community-minded than ours. However, we can learn from them in terms of PR. Barcelona are seen as knights in shining armour and don’t have to look hard for business partners. If we can succeed in getting people to see that we’re a club run on sound moral and business principles, hopefully we’ll also be able to forge the same relationship with potential investors.

All this speculation’s fine, but there’ll be lots of hard, dirty work to be done. It won’t be easy, there will be bumps in the road, but it will all be worthwhile. After years of agony, we are finally masters of our own destiny, and that just feels wonderful.

Or, as the Reverend said; “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”


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