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[Archived] News Article -> An Interview With Oliver Jones And Wayne Wild, Co-Chairs Of The Rovers Trust

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In BRFCS Podcast 43 the BRFCS editor Wen Y Hu interviewed Oliver Jones and Wayne Wild, the co-chairs of the Rovers Trust, which launched last week on Monday, 27 September. In a separate interview below, they have been good enough to answer many similar questions to provide us with more details on the trust.

Can you clarify the overall aims of the Rovers Trust in terms of ownership of Blackburn Rovers Football Club?

Put simply, we want to bring the club into community ownership. What does this mean? Well, we want to be ready for the opportunity to make an offer for the club (however it presents itself — either a sale or, God forbid, something worse like Portsmouth).

If we can't raise enough to buy it outright, then we want to co-invest with any new owner so the fans have a substantial stake and rights to protect the history, future and reputation of the club.

This model is already successful at Premier League clubs like Swansea, so it is achievable. If the worst happens, we don't want to be in a position like Pompey Supporters Trust, where they are under really tight timescales and have struggled — we want to make sure we are ready.

In terms of how achievable outright ownership is — we've always said it depends on the price, but community funding is becoming more and more common and a realistic alternative to traditional investors — all we are doing here is putting it on a bigger stage to allow 10,000-plus fans to take a stake in the future of their club.

Our role as Rovers Trust is to put the structure in place, which is what we are doing and we have some of the best experts in the country helping us. After that, it is up to the supporters to choose if that is ultimately what they want — if it is, then we all need to do whatever it takes to make it a reality.

Can you account for the activity that has gone on behind the scenes to create this umbrella organisation?

As you can imagine, bringing together two groups, at different stages of development, with different people involved has taken a little bit of time and discussion to understand and clarify the parameters of a merger. This was greatly aided by the fact that both groups are essentially fans that want the best for the club and believe that to be a future where some or all of the ownership resides in the supporter base and local community to protect from the current situation from ever happening again.

We have agreed that the best way for us all to achieve our aims is joining together and hope that we can reinforce this message among the supporters. Many believe that we are trying for the impossible, but we had 20,000 regular attendees at Ewood before the current ownership came along, and somewhere around 100,000 global fans. If every one of these joined in, we would have no problem raising the money. Together we can, but we need people to believe with us.

Over the last two months we held four or five meetings to firstly understand where each other stood on various key points, what the rules and regulations were in each of the groups, and ultimately what the aims were. This has led to a Memorandum of Understanding being produced by Richard Speak at Pall Mall Capital (our London-based corporate finance specialist) and Khurshid Valli at Gateley (our Manchester-based commercial lawyers).

This is now agreed and to formalise it we are having a little signing ceremony on the morning after our Sportsman's Dinner (which is on Friday, 12th October, by the way — tickets still available at £50 for corporates and £35 for supporters).

What is the legal status of the different bodies within the Rovers Trust organisation?

There are currently four legal entities under the Rovers Trust Group umbrella. These are the original BRST Industrial and Provident Society (BRSS Ltd IPS), the original BRSIT Community Benefit Society (BRSIT CBS), the BRSIT Limited Company (BRSIT Ltd) and the BRSIT Community Amateur Sports Club (BRSIT CASC).

BRSS Ltd IPS, and the more recently formed BRSIT CBS, are the Financial Services Authority approved corporate entities that are designed for social or community fundraising. (The FSA is the public body that regulates financial services, fundraisings and to some extent charities.)

These two entities have a number of pre-set rules and regulations that are focussed on the preservation of capital and assets in the entity, not least of which is something called an asset lock. The asset lock means that any money put into the CBS as an investment in shares must be carefully protected and cannot be distributed without the members' approval.

So, for example, if Rovers Trust is successful in buying the club, the assets therein such as Ewood Park, Brockhall, etc. could not be sold off or put at risk by securing debt on them without the members having to vote on it. This is obviously hugely beneficial to the fans and to the community, as no vulture investors could try to sell down the assets to make profits.

Given the two original groups, there are currently two societies, but going forward we intend for the BRSIT CBS to be the membership vehicle. This is due to the fact that the CBS legal form has more protections for the community built in to it and also has a specific provision above a normal IPS in that it has to have as one of its main charters to benefit not only its members but the greater community it operates in. In BRSIT CBS' case, this is the greater Blackburn and Darwen community. The BRSS Ltd IPS entity will be dormant unless it is required in the future. More detailed information on the legal form of a CBS can be found on the Business Link website.

The Limited Company was first established by BRSIT as a normal commercial trading company in order to be able to get a bank account and get the scheme off the ground. The founders of BRSIT currently own it (Dan Grabko, Wayne Wild and Neil Thornton). However, under the Memorandum of Understanding, BRSIT CBS will take 100% ownership of this entity so the members will ultimately own it as well.

The Community Amateur Sports Club (CASC) is the newest entity in the Group. This is the Rovers Trust Sports Club. Over the next year you will see us launch programmes in the community backed by the members, particularly focussing on junior football as well as something for the older generations. We hope to be able to have a visible presence in Blackburn for members and potential members to come and find out firsthand what the Rovers Trust aims and ambitions are not only regarding ownership of the club, but also what Rovers Trust and its members can do for the local community. We hope that we can go some way to filling the gap left by the reduced funding the official BRFC Community Trust has seen over the last two years. The CASC also qualifies for benefits and tax reliefs that we hope to be able to capitalise on for the membership proposition. More information on CASCs can be found at www.cascinfo.co.uk.

As we develop, it may be that more entities are introduced, but this should not distract people — we are Rovers Trust, and any entity created will be owned by the members.

What is the current status of the board, the members and voting rights?

The boards of each group have been merged with myself and Ozz leading this first phase as co-chairmen. The full board is up on our website and every officer can be contacted directly. Each officer has a specific role and we expect that this enlarged group is going to be able to focus on more new and exciting strategies while having as its core purpose the structuring of fundraising to enable community ownership in the club.

In the week since our launch, we have had 100 members sign up and we haven't even begun marketing yet. BRSIT Ltd itself had around 3,000 interested parties, so we hope to able to sign these up as members as soon as possible and we are reaching out through all of the other fans groups and forums to encourage people to join up.

We also hope to be able to have a big membership launch meeting in November, where we will be able to give full details of not only the membership offer but also the next major stage — starting to raise the money required to show the owners we are serious. It is too early in the planning to say any more on that, but we hope it will be exciting and compelling for the fans.

It is one member one vote, so regardless of whether you can afford to invest in a community share, this really will give you a voice in the future direction of your club if you are a member and we are successful. Initially, members will be voting on the likes of the make-up of the Rovers Trust board, subscription rates and packages, etc., but in time with the successful acquisition of an ownership stake in the club, we hope that our members will be able to have a direct influence on critical, but general, strategic matters within the club such as transfer budgets, long-term investment plans, etc.

What is the relationship between the BRST and BRSIT?

In all honesty, as of our launch, there is only Rovers Trust. The original entities obviously still exist legally, but there is no culture of a BRST faction or BRSIT faction on the board. Nobody is vying to retain the old identities or voting against each other. It is just a board making decisions about what is deemed the best way forward for Rovers Trust. The past has been left behind to make way for a unified future.

What does it mean to be a member of the Rovers Trust or one of the Trust bodies?

As explained above, membership in Rovers Trust from a purely legal perspective means that you are a member of BRSIT CBS. It also means that as a member, you are a partial owner of BRSS Ltd IPS, BRSIT Ltd, and BRSIT CASC, because BRSIT CBS owns all of these entities.

All junior members (under 16s) are members of BRSIT CASC, and are not members of BRSIT CBS and do not hold a voting right in that entity. This is in compliance with FSA regulations, stating that all full members of a CBS must be at least 16 years old.

How does membership of BRSIT and the pledging of funds under the fans ownership initiative relate to Rovers Trust?

The BRSIT pledges were expressions of interest — there was no cash exchanged and no contractual obligation to execute a transaction. Rovers Trust will be contacting each and every pledger to ask them to be a member in Rovers Trust and, when we are ready, to commit to us their original pledged amount on a risk-free basis. We are still developing the pre-share documentation and process, so it is too early to go into details, but we intend to protect our members to the best of our abilities.

Any other donations and funds donated to BRSIT or raised through sales of the BRSIT wristbands, etc., that have not already been expended towards the running costs of BRSIT Ltd will be used for Rovers Trust. If we are contacted by a supporter who wishes to have their donation back now that BRSIT has been merged into Rovers Trust, we will of course return it — but we want to stress our aims are the same, our Board includes all of the old BRSIT Board on it, we remain advised by the same people that advised BRSIT and, if anything, this merger has increased our chances of achieving the original aims BRSIT set forth, not diminished them.

Can you explain your relationship with supporters organisations such as the Fans Forum and BRFC Action Group and clarify the respective roles of the various groups as you see it from the perspective of the Rovers Trust?

Rovers Trust is independent from all fans groups. At the same time we are heavily dependent on each and every one of them. Rovers Trust needs all of the fans groups' members to become our members as well to help achieve the aim of ownership. We believe that any member of any fans group can also be a member of Rovers Trust. We won't be offering travel or pre-match meet-ups, we will not have a home pub, and we certainly won't be competing with any fans group. Rovers Trust will be seeking to achieve influence and ownership on behalf of all of our members, which in turn means all of the fans groups out there. If that is attractive to the individuals in the various fans groups out there, then they should join us.

We won't be commenting on any individual fans group, in the same way we won't be commenting on footballing matters at the club. Until Rovers Trust attains an ownership stake in the club, it is not our job to take stances on whether the team performed well, who the next manager should be, or who the club should sign.

Likewise, we won't be supporting nor condemning actions by any particular fans group. It is up to each group and its members to voice their concerns or not, and act on them however they see fit. However, if they want to have fans ownership at Blackburn Rovers, then they should join us as that is what we will be campaigning, lobbying, asking and demanding over the next months and even years if that is what it takes. We believe the best owners for our club would be the fans and the community, making decisions with only the club's welfare at heart.

What is your view on the resignation of Steve Kean and potential candidates for the vacant manager's position?

Obviously the resignation is good news for Blackburn Rovers on many levels. The fans that have stayed away may now return and hopefully the finances of the club will become more stable. Rovers Trust is keen to see this stability remain for the long term, but with the current owners' record we can't count on this to be the case.

We would urge fans not to think that this is a resolution. This is only the very first step in what would be required to implement the necessary changes at the club to restore it to its well-run reputation. While Steve Kean's departure is excellent news, it has obviously made our job a little bit harder as it will make some forget that the manager situation was just one of the most visible symptoms of the larger problems at the club.

We will of course continue to pursue our aims regardless of who the next manager is. Rovers Trust hope that, for the good of the club, it will be someone with the experience and skill to bring together the squad and lead the club back to the Premier League where we belong.

Thanks to Oliver (Ozz) and Wayne for the interview and also to Rovers Trust finance officer Daniel Grabko for his help with the background work for the interview. For further information about the Rovers Trust, including details of how to become a member, visit the Rovers Trust website.

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