Money and Finance
Fans raise £500,000 in four days to save football club from administration
He is a Cheltenham Town FC fan through and through, but football club Wigan Athletic know his name - with the supporters club declaring him “an absolute legend”.
But, aside from joining in with a little bit of the banter of social media – and finding himself suddenly appearing on fans forum chats with the likes of Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy, he has deflected all praise.
We are talking about Murry Toms, elected to the board of Cheltenham Town by its fans in 2017. On his home ground he has helped deliver such recent business wins for the Gloucestershire club as the mass purchase by supporters of head and shoulder cut-outs of themselvesthat filled Whaddon Road for an end of season playoff.
His secret weapon is that he works for Crowdfunder, the online platform which Wigan fans embraced and which saw them, against all odds, raise £500,000 in four days to save their club and keep the possibility of a buyer stepping in alive.
He became involved, as is the Crowdfunder way, in the project, advised, and helped drive engagement. His love of football being no small factor.
“The praise is very humbling,” said Mr Toms, when asked about being lauded by Wigan faithful on social media. “But it is unwarranted.”
Latics fans are the heroes here, he says, in awe of their achievement. They have a different opinion.
One fan tweeted: “You created the platform we needed. Wigan fans have long memories and we won't forget what you've done for us.”
The official Wigan Atheltics Supports Club put it like this: “We LOVE this!!! @murrytomsis an absolute legend and we will be bringing him up to Wigan for a game to say a proper thank you!!!”.
In a nod to the musical history of Wigan and the emotive video that accompanied the club’s campaign, Mr Toms replied on social media, calling the victory ‘Northern Soul’.
What excited him and thrills him – he says, moving the conversation away from himself – is that the fans managed the ‘impossible target’ of half a million pounds with a day to spare, on top of £200,000 they raised just the month before.
To him, it is the power of football, but also ‘the power of the crowd’.
Administrators Begbies Traynor is also engaged and listening. Money, as they say, talks. But backed with each pledge also being a genuine vote the fans are a powerful community voice.
Other pieces of a bigger jigsaw lie just out of view, he said. If a deal fails to materialiseWigan fans and the local authority could come together and write another dramatic chapter.
Wigan’s serious financial plight is no isolated case, it seems, and at least one other high-profile team is watching its battles closely. And a sign that rather than banks and investors clubs see Crowdfunder as a viable option.
“I spent hours on the phone to hundreds of clubs,” said Mr Toms, who is Cheltenham born and bred, but now lives in Gloucester. His approach reflecting the pro-active approach of the British online business.
This was the start of the pandemic. Most of those clubs were interested in how to use Crowdfunder to bolster finances from the loss of match revenue.
“The trick is not to use it as a begging bowl. Crowdfunder is about collaboration, about giving something back, about getting the crowd on side to make things happen,” he said, which is where its proactive staff get involved and help with campaigns, help drive attention and ultimately drive revenue.
Still with football, the likes of Bognor Regis used the platform to help raise £60,000.
“For a club of that size that is massive,” he said, explaining how Crowdfunder made a business decision at the start of the pandemic to waive its usual fees (three per cent on what people raise – and its tipping service) and think longer term.
Crowdfunder campaigns can be for a community street party to raisea few hundred pounds, but also see an increasing number of big businesses involved, along with local authorities and even local enterprise partnerships.
You might think of it as a form of dynamicdemocracy, where the thumbs up or down come immediately, endorsing projects and committing funds.
Crowdfunder has worked tirelessly with Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, on a pay-it-forward campaign to help the capital’s hospitality sector through the ongoing pandemic.
RBS is working with the company – which has an estimated 40 staff work remotely UK-wide – to help encourage the rise of female entrepreneurs.
Campaigns driven through the Crowdfunder platform are helping save music venues up and down the country hit by social distancing. The Music Venue Trust, which represents 670 independent UK music venues right across the UK, has come on board.
Sport England has been using it to identify projects through which to distribute its funds more efficiently.
Big businesses like it because the campaigns create ready-made audiencesand they can step in to match-fund projects and win plaudits instantly– a win-win for everyone.
It is radical, dynamic, and follows the disruptive/constructive path of the usually anonymous collective driving Crowdfunder.
Its DNA can be found on the first series of Big Brother (which launched on-line television en-mass and crashed the internet in the process), enabled the first pizza to be bought online, the first insurance contract to be sold online, helped superchargeHugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage into a social media savvy business, and launched the numerousenvironmentally friendly food-related campaigns which drove his rise to fame.
“Let’s just do it” has always been the philosophy of Crowdfunder, said Murry.
“The grown-up but usually come afterwards,” he added, with a smile, referring to the detail.
But forget all that exciting stuff.
His real hope is that a project will emerge in Gloucestershire that Crowdfunder can throw its considerable expertise behind – driven by a community, a LEP, a BID, a business.
“That would be great, to make a real mark here in Gloucestershire too,” he said, genuinely excited by the idea.
He looks only crest fallen when we return to his beloved Cheltenham Town.
“I have only managed to help them raise £100,000 so far,” he said, referring to the work with Crowdfunder since lockdown. And he looks genuinely gutted. And you can see his mind working away, searching for the opportunity which could change everything.