Falkirk fans’ group to be removed from Bairns board

Falkirk Football Club chairman Martin Ritchie
Falkirk Football Club chairman Martin Ritchie

The appointed fans’ voice in Falkirk FC’s boardroom will be silenced in six months after directors voted to remove the Falkirk Supporters’ Society from the board.

However the club has insisted it is not blocking out supporters’ representation altogether and said it will “open the door wider” for a broader opinion to be heard.

A fans’ representative has been in place since a member of Bairnstrust was co-opted onto the board in 2002 but after last week’s directors’ meeting the club announced plans to ‘broaden the franchise’.

How they go about that though, is still in a pre-planning stage and other than removing the Bairnstrust’s present incarnation – the FSS – there are few other details.

Martin Ritchie, club chairman, says there will be more ‘flesh on the bones’ within the next three weeks but was unwilling to disclose the ideas on the table. He did re-iterate that a fans’ rep will still be welcome round the table, but not necessarily one chosen by FSS.

Although the matter was made public by the club at the weekend, a formal severance notice has yet to be received by the supporters body.

“We will speak to outside bodies in terms of running the process, but that is at an early stage,” Mr Ritchie told Heraldsport.

“Bairnstrust and FSS have been represented but we want to make this open to all supporters – not just those who wish to take up a role within that one organisation.

“We see this as being more inclusive and representative of the fans – not less so. And we refute the suggestion we are denying the support a voice – we are expanding who has that voice.”

To do this the club will likely have to set up their own supporters’ body rather than rely on independent fan-run groups. That though, has been shot down by some supporters groups currently in place.

Many have already expressed their reluctance to the plans, according to ‘Falkirk Fans’ affiliation of supporters clubs which was formed to incorporate all supporters and groups and address the Bairns board’s unease with the narrow selection field.

It was proposed the next representative would come from FF, but this was rejected at last week’s meeting and leaves FSS concerned any new fans’ rep would be without a support network behind them or group to work with away from the board.

Gordon Profit, FSS chairman said: “To be told in recent days that the FSS’s place on the board, a position held since 2002, is being removed is a major disappointment especially at a time when fans of all clubs are asking for better governance and transparency in football. It is a real blow to independent supporters groups who are committed to the long term sustainability of their clubs.

“We have been in dialogue with the club for considerable time to satisfy their, and our, desire to enhance fan engagement. We believed our proposal to the Board – a more democratic structure with ‘one fan, one vote’ – clearly demonstrated a pathway to allow all supporters who hold season tickets to become members.

“Not only are we shocked and extremely disappointed that this was rejected but were astonished that our proposals have been taken and the club now plans to establish their own undemocratic fans’ group.”

Both sides in the fall-out have held meetings with Supporters’ Direct, and both have stressed to The Falkirk Herald they seek mediation rather than a dispute.

Martin Ritchie said his meeting on Tuesday with SDS chief executive Paul Goodwin was “very positive”. Goodwin said: “Falkirk has a strong active support and a board committed to involving their support. We look forward to engaging with supporters groups and the Board to come up with a solution that will serve everyone.”

The FSS ran a survey early this season which was critical of the running of the club. Nearly 70 per cent of around 1000 participants stated had a lack of confidence in the club’s leadership. In light of this the club formed a four-man working party including two fans.

Martin Ritchie also stepped aside from his duties as chairman to conduct a long-term strategy study into the club’s future which is still on-going.