In our final ‘Natters With The Chels’ this season, we had a chat with Interim Chair of the Chelsea Supporters Trust, Tim Rolls, after our final home game of the season against Everton last Sunday.
TC: Are you pleased with the generally positive reception that the Chelsea Supporters Trust has had?
TR: I am. We’ve only been in existence three or four months. We’ve got over a thousand members, we’ve done most of the things we said that we’d do, we’ve got a survey going out, we’ve got good contacts with the media, we’ve had two meetings with the club, we’ve made contact with the Council, so yeah, I’m pretty pleased with what we’ve done. There’s always more you can do, we’ve got a long way to go, there’s a lot more to do and it is a long-term project, but I’m happy the way things have gone so far.
TC: Can you tell us a bit about how you became involved with the Trust?
TR: Well, I had a conversation with Cliff Auger and Dave Johnson over a year ago, 15 months ago, and we talked about the idea. They had obviously talked about it before and they asked if I was prepared to get involved and help set it up. I understood what Trusts do – I’ve got a school friend who’s heavily involved in the Aldershot Town Supporters Trust, so I knew what was involved and I was very happy to help do it. So we kicked it off and other people got interested and got involved in the Working Group as time moved on between then and the launch meeting.
TC: So how long did it take between the first discussions to the time the launch meeting took place?
TR: Eleven months. There were a lot of processes and procedures to follow.
TC: And what did you think at the launch event when you saw so many people queuing to get into the venue?
TR: Well, at first my heart sank because it was so chaotic outside, but no, I was very pleased. I know some people say ‘oh people only came because of Kerry Dixon’, but you have to give some carrot for people to come. Most people there would have come anyway I think. We signed up a lot of people that day, so I was very pleased when I saw that many people, because you never know with public meetings, unless you sell tickets perhaps, you never know how many are going to come until you have the meeting.
TC: And how do you envisage things panning out for the Trust over the next few years?
TR: We’ve got a number of key tasks. One is to build membership, both in the UK and overseas and ensure that we represent members views in an open and transparent manner. One fundamental aspect of the trust is regular meetings and an annual election process. We’ve got to further build our media profile, but I think that we’ve made a decent start there. Building a good working relationship with the club will take time, but again we’ve made a start. We must build relationships with other Chelsea supporters’ groups both in the UK and overseas, and increase our influence with a variety of stakeholders. As time goes on there will be issues – we don’t yet know what they are, but there will be campaigns that we need to fight and we need to get involved in, and we need to strive to be a key conduit through which Chelsea fans can get their voice heard.
TC: And do you plan to play a long-term role in the Trust?
TR: Well, the elections are in August, so who knows what’s going to happen, it’s up to the members to decide who they want on the board. Ideally, I’d like to be involved in some capacity for another year or two to help get the thing fully up and running. I think it’s good to have a turnaround of people actively involved. At the moment I’m the interim chairman. I don’t think anyone should be Trust chairman for more than a couple of years, personally.
TC: Over the last couple of years you’ve emerged as one of the ‘go to’ supporters for the media. How did that come about?
TR: My contacts in the media all came about because the club announced that they were trying to buy CPO’s shares in early October 2011. Partly through some of my comments on Twitter being picked up by journalists, but largely because Reema Babakhan, who handled PR for SayNoCPO, is a professional PR executive with superb media contacts and pushed a lot of them in my direction.Within a day of the club announcement I was interviewed by about six or seven newspapers, BBC London News and TalkSport – all a bit bewildering to a media virgin like me. I had little or no involvement with Chelsea fan groups at all previously, so I’m still slightly mystified as to how it all happened! All I’ve ever tried to do was give a logical, rational voice of Chelsea supporters. I’d never say I was speaking for everybody, as clearly I’m not, but giving what I believed was a sensible view. Others in SayNoCPO were also active in the media, not just me, and overall I think as a group we engaged very well with the media over the duration of the campaign.
TC: So did you actually find that once one person from the press had contacted you, it snowballed?
TR: Once I’d spoken to a few journalists and their stories appeared on the web, it snowballed very quickly, because other journalists were looking for contacts among Chelsea fans and picked up on me. As the campaign went on, I built relationships with a couple of key football writers, particularly Dominic Fifield [The Guardian] and Sam Wallace [The Independent], who are influential, and I would say, extremely credible journalists. I became their main contact regarding CPO issues and I tend to be one of their Chelsea contacts now, so if they’ve got a Chelsea issue, they often ring me.
TC: What made you disengage from campaigning on CPO issues after the meeting?
TR: I was always very clear that I was keen to get involved to win the original battle, but there were people better qualified than me to do the long-term campaign. It wasn’t clear where it was going to go, so I did what I said I’d do, which was get heavily involved in winning the vote in October 2011. I was never going to be involved longer term. How the CPO issue pans out longer term depends on what the club do next and what CPO do next. Who knows what’s going to happen next?
TC: Have you been disappointed with on the field events this season for Chelsea?
TR: I was disappointed with the managerial change. Third place in the league was pretty mediocre, second place was probably there for the taking but we threw away so many points in games like Reading, Southampton, Newcastle and West Ham,. We failed in both Swansea games in the League Cup, a competition we were favourites for. The FA Cup, we could probably have won that too. Very disappointed with the Champions League. The Europa League was nice, but it’s not the same as the Champions League. Overall, it’s been an OK season but nothing that special.
TC: And finally, how are you spending this evening, the anniversary of Chelsea winning the Champions League?
TR: Sitting in a restaurant with you and the Chelsea Supporters Trust Working Group!
TC: Thanks very much, Tim.
TR: You’re welcome!
That just about wraps it up from me for this season. I’ll be off on my holibobs for the next few weeks but will return refreshed at the end of June when I’ve no doubt I’ll be lobbing in my two pennyworth on the latest incumbent of the Stamford Bridge hotseat. In the meantime, visit the Chelsea Supporters Trust website and join the ever-growing membership in order to make your voices heard at the inaugural AGM which will be held over the first weekend of the 2013/2014 football season (date to be confirmed). And as always, you can follow me on Twitter @BlueBaby67.