Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Brentford's Supporters Have Found a Man They Can Trust

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Brentford's Supporters Have Found a Man They Can Trust

Article excerpt

Byline: Henry Swarbrick Fans who own club are preparing to relinquish control to their chief backer NPOWER FOCUS

[bar] WE ROSLER may not be Jose Mourinho and Sam Saunders is no Lionel Messi but Brentford have more in common with Real Madrid and Barcelona than you would think.

All three clubs are majority owned by fans. Spain's premier teams belong to their members (102,000 for Barca and 60,000 for Real), while in west London, Brentford are 60 per cent owned by Bees United, a supporters' trust who acquired their stake in 2006 with the aim of safeguarding the future of the League One club.

With Chelsea in a dispute with fans over the freehold for Stamford Bridge's pitch and the Premier League's pattern of overspending spreading into the Football League, Brentford's status as the highest ranked side in England with supporter autonomy seems desirable but it is not a situation which will last much longer.

Bees United have put together an option to hand over the club to smartodds. owner Matthew Benham, currently a 36 per cent stakeholder, in 2014. They have done so for the same reason Portsmouth went into administration and Chelsea wish to move from Stamford Bridge: ambition.

In 2009 the board agreed a partnership with the media-shy Benham wherein he would invest at least [pounds sterling]1million a year into the club until the end of the 2013-14 season, in return for preference shares. But being the passionate fan he is, Benham has put in almost [pounds sterling]13m, in equity rather than loans, covering the club's losses for the last two seasons. A philanthropic investment but one that may ultimately take the club away from fan ownership.

"In an ideal world, clubs would be 100 per cent owned by supporters, but Utopian ideals only get you so far," said Brentford director Mark Chapman. "If you have the choice between supporters' owned non-League club and being privately owned but in the Championship, it's obvious what I'd choose. "It is no exaggeration to say if it were not for Matthew's investment we would be a struggling Conference side. If he is going to continue to put seven-figure sums into the club, it gets pretty hard to say he doesn't own it. …

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