A movement masterclass with James Mathie, Club Development Manager at Supporters Direct.
The shared purpose, values and experiences of ‘your people’ are at the very core of our Movement Building Canvas. So, when we met a man with eight years’ experience of helping sports supporters influence the running and ownership of their club, we thought we might have a thing of two to learn from him about putting ‘fans first’ in movements for social change. Here’s what he got us thinking about.
With Great Loyalty Comes Great Responsibility
JM: “Sports supporters can have an almost unhealthy relationship with their club. They’re totally committed and they are never going to support anyone else. That’s great, but it can also leave them open to being used and abused by their club.”
SCA: With loyalty comes great responsibility. Check in from time to time and consider whether you’re behaving like the club owners who rarely step foot in your community, or are really taking time to understand, respect and enable the people who are so passionately committed to your cause.
Don’t Sideline your Supporters
JM: “People’s perception of mad, passionate supporters can be ‘imagine having these people on the board of the club – we’re going to end up spending all our budget just chasing success because all they care about is winning’. It is absolutely the complete opposite. Supporters’ friends, family and memories are all wrapped up in their local community. Their club is going to get passed down for generations. They’re going to grow it, invest in it and that means doing more more than winning every weekend – it means growing as a facility and generating social value.”
SCA: Admit it – you’re probably a little bit afraid of what will happen if you give the people who make up your movement more power and agency. If that’s true, how much of that is based on assumptions? If you share the same values, identity and experiences as the rest of the people who make up your movement isn’t it likely that, with some skilful facilitation, you’ll arrive at a shared vision of the future and a more effective way of getting there than if you’d kept them on the sidelines?
Play the Long Game
JM: “Even if you’ve gone on an incredible journey (towards community ownership), raised millions and saved the club from dreadful owners, if you don’t bring everyone else with you, as soon as you’ve made the change then immediately you take the place of ‘the owners’ – it’s master and commander all over again. What you really want is for the majority of supporters to have decided that this is the right thing, with advocates who can hold the debate in your community.”
SCA: You can bring people together by rallying against adversity, but that isn’t deep enough to make an enduring movement. If you only focus on being the hero in victory, then the movement could easily turn against you once it’s won. Think about the shared purpose beyond ‘winning’ and how you will find and engage the people who have the experience, passion and credibility to inspire and mobilise the community for the long game.
Change is a Matter of Choice
JM: “Increasingly, communities are realising that (community ownership) can be a model of choice. We try and get people to realise that ownership of sports clubs does change and it changes fairly regularly – a lot more often than they’re ever going to change their club. And they have the opportunity to influence that at some point. Then we can start saying – how would you like to be involved, what are the different models, and how can we prepare you for them?”
SCA: Change might not seem possible today, but a key role for the organisational movement builder is to educate people about how power works, give them voice and provide them with the practical and technical advice and support to make change happen.