This document explains why the Trust – a board of Swindon Town supporters elected by a membership of Swindon Town supporters – is calling for a boycott of income generating activities for Swindon Town whilst under the control of Lee Power. It is the most difficult decision the Trust has ever made. It is a decision no Supporters Trust wants to make.
Town supporters do not need reminding of the painful off-the-field memories of the past – relegation from the top division for financial misconduct, and financial distress leading to two administrations and the need to fight two winding-up petitions from HMRC over unpaid tax.
Why a boycott?
The Trust has concluded that the toxic set of circumstances now facing Swindon Town threaten our league status and even the continued existence of our 142-year old club. Our view is that a boycott is the only way to guarantee the short term and long-term future of STFC by forcing an immediate sale to an owner who has committed to transparency and good governance (and who the Trust commits to holding to account for those promises). We do not think the position of STFC could ever have been worse than it is at the moment.
That position has worsened further with the statement from the manager that he cannot announce signings due to the ongoing court case about the ownership of the club.
Why does the Trust think a boycott will work?
The boycott will give Lee Power no incentive nor enable him to try and delay or avoid the acquisition of the Club by Clem Morfuni though Axis. Any money put into the Club now risks funding Lee Power’s life post-STFC. Any delay in new ownership risks the club becoming increasingly insolvent and, at worst, the circumstances could overwhelm our club.
All of our hard-earned money and that of the Club’s sponsors and potential sponsors should be in our view withheld until we have seen a change in ownership. We should make clear that the Trust will support any new owner that is committed to good governance and financial transparency. But Axis is currently the only viable potential owner that has made those commitments. Able is invisible (and in anyway the Court has decided that Power can’t sell to them).
We know that every single penny from shirt sales, season tickets, ticket sales and sponsorship will be needed to fund the rebuild of our Club when Power has left and we have fresh ownership that we can trust.
We strongly encourage all members and fans to maintain the boycott of season tickets, friendly tickets, merchandise and to give Lee Power no motivation whatsoever to cling on to a club that he seems to have no legal right to own anymore. We applaud the very difficult decision the Official Supporters Club has taken to suspend financial contributions to STFC through channels such as player sponsorship.
We know that this type of action works and have discussed the merits and impacts with the Blackpool Supporters Trust who used the “Not a Penny more” campaign to force another unwanted owner (the Oyston family) out of running their Club. The Blackpool Supporters Trust have positively supported our action and we also have had support from Swansea City’s Supporters Trust for NoMoneyNoPower ahead of our upcoming friendly with them.
Let’s stand together, whatever our decisions
As supporters, we know how difficult it is to miss home matches. We also know a boycott will not be for everyone and we urge all supporters to respect each individual’s personal decision. No fan should be criticised for his or her choice. But we do make a strong plea for all STFC fans and sponsors to boycott the Club and maintain NoMoneyNoPower until Lee Power has left our Club for good.
The legal dispute
The Trust has been concerned about the lack of financial openness and transparency from Lee Power for a number of years. We saw the joint venture between the Trust and STFC to purchase the ground as a key element of securing the long-term future of the club.
The Trust’s concerns about financial openness and transparency intensified when a legal dispute emerged between Power and Michael Standing as to whether Standing owns 50% of Power’s shares and the true source of significant funds that had been paid into STFC.
A trial to decide who owns those shares is now scheduled for September and will determine if Power owns 35% or 85% of STFC. Power asserts in his defence that funds provided to STFC actually came from Gareth Barry on the basis that Barry would share in the profits from a future sale, despite Power stating in an interview with the BBC that he has been the only person funding the club.
The Court case is not just about ownership. There are also issues about what happened to the proceeds of the Matt Ritchie sell-on fees and the ownership of STFC’s training ground. The ground is owned by Power personally but Standing alleges the club is the rightful owner.
We also know from attending Court hearings that allegations of financial wrongdoing have been made against Power. The details have not been disclosed, and Power may prove the allegations are untrue, but their existence is seriously troubling in circumstances where there is no transparency about the finances of the club.
The Trust’s open letter
The ante was upped following Lee Power’s statement back in February 2021 that he cannot continue to fund STFC and that it was “on the brink”, “on the rockface, hanging over the edge” and struggling to survive another month.
In response to Power’s public statements, the Trust wrote an open letter under the heading “Let’s work together” to Power and all stakeholders asking for “leadership, transparency, urgency, and a clear plan and vision” to revive STFC. We asked for financial information and forecasts, and we asked for an opportunity to ask questions, give feedback and contribute to the club’s survival and recovery. We wanted to help.
Above all we asked for honesty, openness and transparency to supporters.
But Power never responded to our letter. Neither has Power’s preferred buyer, Able. The only stakeholder who replied was Clem Morfuni (owner of Axis, the 15% minority shareholder in STFC). He has explained his vision and plans in meetings with the Trust, and in interviews with the Trust, with the Official Supporters’ Club, with the BBC and with STFC podcasts.
Power’s silence mean that we do not have information about the true financial position of STFC. The club’s accounts for the financial year ending in the 19/20 season remain outstanding and are now showing as overdue at Companies House.
Power’s statements in the Court case
However, we do know that Power has told the Court that STFC is “hopelessly insolvent”, that he will no longer fund the Club and that if he cannot sell to Able then the Club should be put into Administration. Only a court injunction has stopped him doing so, he had an administrator ready to go. The Trust cannot understand how the financial position can be this poor. The Trust’s own analysis suggests that income received over the last year, including EFL loans, should mean the club is currently secure.
Power refuses to sell to Axis for reasons that are unclear, and which have been described by the Judge in the Court case as “unconvincing”. However, the Court has confirmed that legal agreements mean that Power cannot sell STFC to Able without first offering the club to Axis. When he was told the alternatives are either to sell to Axis or to continue to fund the Club himself Power suddenly did a volte face and said he could continue to fund the Club. He has not explained how he will do so or why he has changed his mind. The Court has given Power until this Friday June 25th to prove he is willing and able to fund the Club until the trial.
We have also learned in the Court case that Power has acquired debentures held over the club by former owners and is now paying himself £14,000 per month in interest under those debentures. Interest was not previously being paid.
The threat of disciplinary sanctions against the club
The dispute about ownership has triggered FA disciplinary proceedings that, if proven, could trigger severe sanctions for STFC itself. Needless to say, severe sanctions for a club in League Two could lead to the loss of football league status. If the club is found guilty, the Trust will argue as strongly as possible that any sanctions should punish only those responsible and not the club or its supporters. Those arguments would be strongest under new ownership.
Lack of trust
All these issues and problems mean that the Trust has a very serious lack of trust in Lee Power, and in his governance of and financial dealings with STFC.