Forgotten Liberal heroes: Richard Lillicrap

Richard Lillicrap was probably too little known in Lib Dem circles in the first place to be forgotten, but for hundreds (if not thousands) of committed football fans who are closely involved in running supporters’ trusts or indeed football clubs themselves – like AFC Wimbledon – he was an inspiration.

Richard was a key player in the supporters’ movement, helping dozens of football (and other sports) supporters to organise themselves and take action in their communities to protect their teams from avaricious and uninterested owners.

Richard was also a committed Liberal and saw fan and community ownership of football as the obvious expression of liberalism and community politics in the sporting sphere. He was also a Liberal Democrat councillor for Canbury Ward in Kingston from 1994-98 and a key part of the first ever majority Lib Dem administration that devolved its decisions to seven neighbourhood committees – even thought it meant giving up control in four of these to opposition parties.

And for Swansea City fans nursing their post playoff hangovers Richard will also be remembered. In a few short years Swansea City has gone from avoiding relegation out of the football league, by the skin of their teeth, to the richest (but clearly not best) league in the world. In no small part down to Swansea-mad Richard.

For years the club suffered at the hands of appalling off field management with various owners bringing the club to its knees. But supporters of the Swans weren’t prepared to lie down and let a series of rich, uninterested businessmen use the club as a cash cow. They set up the one of the first supporters’ trusts in 2001 with the aim of securing the future of the club and gaining supporters’ representation on the board.

Of course, one of the driving forces behind the trust in its early days was Richard – who was an accountant by profession and an all round good egg by custom and practice.

Richard and the trust won their battle and secured the future of Swansea City FC, won supporter representation on the board, facilitated the club’s move to the brand new Liberty Stadium and saw the team begin to climb back up the leagues. And Swansea fans – through their trust – continue to own 20% of the club. A fuller history can be found on the Swans Trust website.

Swansea’s story has been replicated up and down the country by thousands of football fans with the best interests of their communities at heart. They have been helped by their UK national voice – Supporters’ Direct – of which Richard Lillicrap was a director.

Richard sadly died on 1 June 2007 after suffering a massive heart attack, aged just 55. And although he wasn’t at Wembley on Monday to see his team’s deserved triumph, I’m sure he was there in spirit – and in the spirit of all those fans who remember football is a beautiful and simple game played by and for the people, not big money or corrupt officials.

Supporters’ Direct now have an award in Richard’s name ‘designed to celebrate and recognise people like Richard who don’t only work at their own trust but provide support and advice to others in the Trust Movement.’ And nominations for this years’ award are still open. So if anyone knows someone who ought to be considered contact Supporters’ Direct by 4th July 2011.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.

One Comment

  • Mike Falchikov 13th Jun '11 - 5:28pm

    Nice piece, Dan. You’ve mentioned him many times, so good to know he’s being “officially” remembered.

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