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Ownership On The Horizon For Football Supporters?

The British Labour party wants football supporters to have more power over their clubs. Sean Curtin breaks-down the information regarding these new proposals.


The background

Just this week with the BBC’s Price of Football’ revealed the huge sums of money British football Supporters pay to follow their clubs. Both the Conservative and Labour parties expressed concern over the rising cost associated with being a football supporter.

The current Government responded by announcing the formation of a new ‘expert group‘ to address the concerns of fans and give them more of a voice within the game.

Labour have clearly had this idea in the works for some time and capitalised on the BBC’s report to unveil their rather radical plans. Announcing the plans yesterday, Labour stated it would be:

“The biggest legislative shake-up in the governance of English and Welsh football clubs since the advent of the game.”


The proposal

Labour want to give football supporters seats on the boards of every professional club in England & Wales. This would allow them to either remove or install up to 25% of a club’s board of directors. At a minimum, they’ll be able to appoint/fire no less than two directors.

There are some limits to the new power football supporters would get. They would not be able to change the corporate strategy of a club. Nor could they outright block takeover attempts.

The primary benefit for football supporters would be the access they would have to financial and commercial information about the club. This information was previously controlled by the clubs and they are under no obligation to release more than is legally necessary.

In a bold move supporters would be entitled to purchase up to 10% of an ownership stake if a club was subjected to a takeover bid. In other words, should a buyer bid for a club, the supporters on the board would have up to 240 days to purchase up to 10% of shares.

That 10% figure is by no means a cap and should supporters wish to purchase a bigger stake and the new owners approve it, a deal can be struck.

The good news for supporters is that Labour claim their reform proposals have been vetted and analysed and are in accordance with European law.


The Reaction

At present, only 14 professional clubs in England and Wales have fans represented on their board. In the Premier League Swansea are the only team to do so. Their ‘Swansea City Supporters Trust’ were responsible for saving the club from collapse and now own 20% of the club.

The reaction so far has been positive from fan groups. Supporters Direct, an organisation that helps supporters trusts was happy with the news, saying:

“There has always been a resistance to measures that would actually increase the role of fans [but] we have seen the success of clubs where ownership has been shared willingly and openly with supporters’ trusts.”

Meanwhile the Head of the Football League urged fans to remember most owners are also fans, suggesting these reforms might not be necessary. The Premier League looks to keep itself out of this debate.

It issued a decidedly neutral response that it was open to discussion and appears to be keeping its cards close to its chest for now.

If the Labour Party have done the legal homework they say they have, and it’s in line with European law, this could be a fantastic idea.

The tide has been moving away from football supporters for some time. Empowering fans could herald a more sustainable approach, especially in the lower leagues. However this is far from it’s realisation and Labour still need to be elected. An election would likely take place next year so it could be two-three years before this is implemented.

Sean Curtin, Pundit Arena

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