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Historic vote by fans in favour of creating a Supporters Trust for Sunderland AFC

Rich Speight shares his account of this evening’s online Emergency General Meeting to convert The Red & White Army into a Supporters’ Trust.

Thursday’s meeting was held by Zoom with 110 RAWA members online

We’ve probably all had one or two Zoom meetings over the last four months or so, but, for me, none more important than that held on Thursday evening involving over a hundred Sunderland supporters from around the world.

It was an Emergency General Meeting (EGM) with the purpose of voting on a motion to convert the Red & White Army (RAWA), our independent democratic supporters group, into a Community Benefit Society, more commonly known as a Supporters Trust.

The motions, which were distributed to the 11,000 members of the RAWA mailing list who were all invited to take part, read as follows:

1) That Red and White Army (RAWA) convert to a Community Benefit Society (CBS) and adopt the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) model rules provided by the Football Supporters’ Association (FSA). And that the model rules will replace and dissolve the existing RAWA constitution upon completion of registration with the FCA. You can read the model rules here.

2) Upon conversion, the newly formed CBS will affiliate as a Supporters Trust to the Football Supporters’ Association

3) Membership subscription is set at £5 per year and, if feasible, a mechanism is put in place to allow members to pay more should they wish to do so (regardless of how much any one member pays, the model rules state one-member-one-vote).

4) The current elected committee of RAWA oversees the transition and commits to holding an AGM at the earliest opportunity.

Following an interesting discussion, during which some very good questions were asked, all four motions where passed unamended and with no votes against, with the crucial vote being carried 320 votes to 0 with 1 abstention. The the meeting was quorate under the RAWA constitution, and the vote is valid.

That combination of people voting in the Zoom room and proxy votes collected over the last few weeks have taken a massively important, and what could turn out to be historic, decision; to get ourselves ready, as a fanbase, to play an even greater role in the future of the club we love so dearly.

What happens next?

The new organisation will be set up over the next few weeks and months; the paperwork will be lodged with the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and RAWA subscribers will be invited to upgrade their membership to a £5 subscription, that will bring with it the right to vote in and stand for elections to the new organisation’s board.

An Annual General Meeting (AGM) will now be called, probably before October, where these roles will be up for election. Any member will be eligible to stand for one of these leadership positions, and the current committee stated in the meeting that they welcome anyone who wants to put themselves forward to get more involved in the Trust.

We do have to move relatively quickly in order to have our voices heard formally in any takeover process this summer, should a viable new owner for the club emerge.

One member in the meeting asked a great question regarding what kinds of things are more likely to happen as a result of the conversion. I think it’s important to recognise that this move is not only about the risk to the club posed by Donald and his threat to sell the club to anyone who can pass the EFL’s widely discredited Owners & Directors test. Yes, it is certainly the case that having a Trust in place will allow us a seat at the table should the worst ever happen and the club is put into administration; indeed, at Wigan the Trust was recently given the first option to buy the club by the administrators.

The Trust it is also a long-term project that will be as much about involving and including people in the democratic life of the organisation and in the city, and about giving more power, authority and resources to fans when they enter conversations with the club owners. There is already talk of doing more to support local charities and the great work of the Branch Liaison Committee (BLC) and the Foundation of Light.

Another member asked whether the new can Trust will be able to challenge an unwanted takeover of Sunderland AFC on, for example, ethical grounds? Dave Rose, the RAWA Vice Chair, answered that the Trust committee would be in the position to “do some digging”, some potential buyers many allow the Trust to do it’s own due diligence (but then you’d expect it would only be those with something to hime, and that most successful takeovers will be negotiated privately and not be trailed to the supporters in advance. In most scenarios, such as the one at Newcastle right now, the role of the Trust comes down to canvassing opinion and establishing what the a majority view is amongst the members. Newcastle fans are, on the whole it turns out, rather happy to be going down the road of being owned by the sovereign wealth fund of the Saudi Arabian state despite whatever the private views of their Trust board may be.

It is possible for us to have a place on the Sunderland AFC board ourselves if we collectively buy shares in the club, and there is the also prospect that a benevolent owner might gift shares to the Trust as part of any takeover deal, which has also happened elsewhere in the past. In this case, any further takeover would be seen by the Trust and we would play a greater role in the negotiations. It was noted, however, that this hypothetical person who would represent the Trust on the club’s Board would need to navigate the currents of opinion that swirl through our considerable fanbase.

At the minute, the “Structured Dialogue” meetings serve this purpose, and EFL rules state that the club must meet with supporters twice a year, and independent democratic organisation are specifically mentioned, but there’s nothing to stop the club freezing out RAWA from future meetings. Rose outlined at the meeting how some Supporters Trusts around England are more active than others, and activism and protest is generally centred around issues of ticket pricing and other matchday problems, yet all the while they have a responsibility to maintain a relationship with the Board.

The meeting will, I hope, prove to be the start of the rejuvenation of our club. Important to build the membership of the Red & White Army now, and over 600 new members have signed up in last week alone. The stronger and more powerful the voice of the fans is, the more likely we are to be successful at pulling together, united in a common purpose to get our once great institution back where it belongs.

This evening is one for celebration - there’s not been much cause recently - but the hard work starts now. And it’s up to all of us to make a success of it.

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