Inspired by green and yellow scarves of protest while on a visit to Manchester, the Recre Trust has made an immeasurable impact on the Spanish town of Huelva in its short existence of less than three years.
It was supporters, driven by a rescue campaign designed and led by the trust, that raised an astonishing figure of €1 million in just 25 days to save Spain’s oldest football club, Real Club Recreativo de Huelva, in 2016. And it was the efforts of the trust and its members that saw the club’s former president in court in May, answering for his time in charge. Pablo Comas now faces three years in prison for some of his actions during that period.
Like many supporters, Huelva’s fans were unorganised and enjoying a relatively fruitful period for the club when the idea of a trust was first mooted. A change of ownership saw some minor problems come to light, but nothing of significant concern at the time.
A new sports law in 1992 had required all but four of Spain’s professional football clubs to become a SAD (sports limited liability company), but to many of the supporters in the stands it seemed that nothing had changed though they had actually lost their voice and formal right to have an influence.
That indifference would soon disappear – in Huelva at least.
A meeting was called in late December 2015 and about 400 people gathered to take the decision that not only was a trust needed in Huelva, but a series of immediate actions had to be taken in light of growing problems coming to the surface at their beloved Recreativo.
Narciso Rojas, Recre Trust speaks as an SD Europe workshop in June 2017
Within the ranks of those initial trust members were people with financial expertise, lawyers, retired bank officials and supporters that had already started to look into some of the financial problems at the club. The group even retained the English word ‘trust’ in its name – to signify that this entity was a new – and very different – idea to anything that had happened previously.
Publicly the trust appealed to all individual and small shareholders in the club to come together, and as the membership of the trust grew so did their influence. Pressure was exerted on the owner (Comas), and questions were highlighted and repeated.
The trust’s financial investigations unearthed a series of concerning information but it wasn’t until Comas himself took a legal action against the City Council that the trust decided to act on what they had found. An EGM was called and after hearing a summary of some of the findings, there was an overwhelming vote in favour of engaging a lawyer to take action.
The trust spent two weeks gathering signatures of support – adding 1,500 names to a petition – and ceded control of the process to their legal representative. Amid predictions that the case would simply be thrown out at the first stage of the process, the judge ruled there was enough information to warrant an investigation.
This investigation saw the former President interviewed by a judge and lawyers for the first time over his actions while in charge of the club, and he would later be convicted of two charges related to how he financed his buyout of the club and his involvement in a proposed project for a new sports facility.
In the aftermath of the case, the trust expressed its “satisfaction and respect” with the outcome.
Narciso Rojas, president of the trust, spoke of the collective effort of everyone involved, saying: “When people from Huelva are organised, they can do great things. The taskforce that came together from the stands – financial people, lawyers and volunteers that were willing to help with anything needed – demonstrated that people of Huelva are not as we thought. They will fight for their town and defend it.”
In return for the €1 million raised in 2016, a new association – representing all those who donated to the salvation campaign, many of whom are also trust members – based on the principle of ‘one member, one vote’ gifted the club a loan and is now seeking share capital in Club Recreativo de Huelva as part of that signed agreement.
“We had some people say that if we didn’t give the money for nothing, then we don’t love the club and we just want to own it. But we said: why can’t those two be together? Why can’t we own the club and love it?”
The club is reportedly “near” to having a new owner, following a public competition, and the trust would like to see some additional steps taken. First, it wants to see an amendment to the statues that would see supporters vote on any proposed changes to club colours, badge, anthem, name of the stadium etc. Second, the trust has suggested creating a consultative assembly that would see club management give an update on club activities and finances to supporters, listening to their ideas and input in turn.
“Supporters, organised, are very important for this club,” Narciso added. “The next owners will think twice before they do illegal things. It’s a shame that someone could end up in court because of football. It’s not what we wanted, but we were forced to go to court to defend our club’s interests.
“Clubs, when not owned by supporters, are not allowed to defend themselves. It means someone else has to defend them. The owner is going to decide what the club does, and if the owner is the enemy of the club… the club will not defend itself. So, as supporters, it’s very important to be organised so that we can defend our clubs and take care of them.”