Ahead of this weekend, where Ancona will celebrate its football club becoming the first professional Italian side to be owned and managed by supporters, we caught up with the organisers of the event to discuss their remarkable story.
If you've not done so already, don't forget to read The Ancona Story: Passion that can't be Relegated.
On Sunday 31 January Ancona unites to celebrate supporters’ involvement and you will present your project for community involvement. It’s been a long process that began in 2010, what were the key milestones?
As you said, it’s been a long process. But there are three moments that particularly stand out: the formation of our Association in July and August of 2010 with the shareholders' meeting and the involvement of the fans. Certainly the signing of the Statute of the football club U.S. Ancona 1905 by President Marinelli in 2011. And finally, the entry of two supporter directors onto the board of the company and also the development of the project for the relationship with the fans that in time merged with the club’s Supporter Liaison work.
Your project has always aimed to involve a large number of fans, how it has been developed so far and how will you expand in the future?
We believe that in general, the social value that sport delivers has declined in recent years. So it is more important than ever to develop a sense of belonging and value for fans, in everything that we do.
Because of this, we have always paid great attention to projects that involved schools and youth football, but also our efforts to improve the relationship between fans and the club has been crucial. For example, we try to involve supporters in all our communications, especially when advertising events at the stadium or on match day.
The involvement of local investors is one of the aspects that a club owned by supporters must often carry on to become sustainable, what steps have been made in this area?
We have organised a series of direct meetings, involving different people but always aimed at making the development and success of the football club become a positive factor not just for the club, but for the community as well. We believe that if a football club produces the kind of social value we do, it becomes far more attractive for sponsors and local businesses. This is something that applies not just here in Ancona, but across Europe and on a far larger scale.
What are the difficulties you have encountered in the direct management of a club?
The direct management of a club is a very challenging experience, and quite different from any other type of business management.
A football club is built into the social fabric of its community, and everything it does has an impact. It therefore requires continual efforts to make sure this impact is positive - even if they might not seem to have anything to do with football! Keeping up these efforts has definitely been our biggest challenge.
What are some upcoming initiatives dedicated to the fans?
We are working on several projects aimed at promoting supporter involvement across the club’s activities. One example is a ‘service card’ that connects local businesses with activities organised by supporters. Another one is a classic-style kit with the names of supporters incorporated into the design. We have many ideas - finally now is the time to make them a reality!
Sosteniamolancona is among the founder members of a national organisation, Supporters in Campo. What was that experience like, and how has working with other supporters’ groups affected your choices or changed your point of view?
It was a process that took a long time, but was nevertheless very useful. The commitment of everyone involved has led to greater knowledge of what each group is doing, and also that vital confirmation that we are indeed on the right track.
What contribution does SinC have to make to the movement?
SinC is the most credible and reliable source in Italy as regards the participation of fans in club ownership structures.
The experience gained in recent years throughout Italy (and at all levels of football) is certainly critical to the fans and especially for companies. We're not talking about something that can necessarily solve all of football’s problems, but nevertheless an important contribution can come from this area when it comes to reforming the game in Italy.
As a member of SinC, Sosteniamolancona has been able collaborate with international colleagues through Supporters Direct Europe. How has the European experience contributed to your growth?
Interacting with people from outside Italy always helps to broaden our horizons, and integrate their experiences into our work - some are further along (like the English and the Germans) but it is nevertheless always useful. In fact it’s something we consider essential, because it allows supporters to meet beyond the context of club rivalries and exchange ideas on issues that are important to us all.
Staying with the European work, SinC will be involved in the 'Clubs and Supporters for Better Governance in Football’ project. How could this impact developments in Italy?
Significantly. Hopefully it will be seen by supporters (but also others, such as the leagues and federation) as an opportunity to rethink the Italian football system in its entirety.
Is there a European experience that particularly inspires you?
We try to capture the positive aspects of every project, in terms of its objectives, and the results achieved. Addressing misunderstandings around the concept of supporter ownership was not easy, and it was vital to grasp the differences between the various countries. For us, the 50+1 model in Germany and the trust movement in the UK are a constant reference. The result has been an Italian model, which we believe to be a major evolution that opens up new possibilities for the participation of supporters in their clubs.
What do you think are the future challenges for the whole movement?
Continued growth and ‘confirmation’ of the model. Not only from the point of view of successful economic management, but above all the development of a new awareness amongst supporters that there is another way of doing things. Sport in general and football in particular as a vehicle for the community is a concept that Italy has never been entirely used to, and the challenge (and opportunity!) for us as fans is to develop that sense.
Thanks to Sosteniamolancona and Supporters in Campo for their time in compiling this interview.