As per the Greens’ 2011 manifesto, Alison Johnstone MSP is proposing that football fans get first refusal when their clubs come up for sale. Teams aren’t just a business like any other: they’re often a cornerstone of their community, and they exist only because of their fans. Football’s not a competitive market for fans – barring the odd glory-hunter and the occasional refugee from a particularly mismanaged club.
And fan ownership works elsewhere, with some of the world’s most successful clubs run by their supporters, including Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, São Paulo. Not to mention Stirling Albion, Clyde, Clydebank, Motherwell, etc. It’s practically compulsory in Germany, and it is actually compulsory in Turkey and Sweden.
How could any other owner have the same kind of commitment to the long-term interest of a club? Are fans going to sell their clubs’ traditional homes and move to a new stadium out by the ringroad? Are they going to get spectacularly into debt for one season’s glory? (actually, perhaps, on the latter – everyone gets carried away from time to time)
And even where the fans don’t yet own a club, just having this right puts them in a much stronger position and changes the relationship. You can’t ignore their wishes when you may have to sell to them. It’s not a magic bullet, though. Sometimes clubs will fall out of fan ownership, perhaps temporarily. And it doesn’t stop owners selling grounds for flats and short-term profit, although this would: if it’s good enough for Old Trafford…
And, pleasingly, Scotland on Sunday got a warm quote from SNP Ministers about the idea. They’ll shortly be consulting on the Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill, to which this would be an amendment, and they said:
“We expect to hear the views of people from across the country and the parliament. We want to enhance the role of supporters’ trusts in football and already fund Supporters Direct Scotland.”
Sounds like this might just happen. And it’s surely time. The national game is currently dysfunctional at a club level and at a international level. Rangers, Hearts, Dunfermline: all three have hit the buffers just since the 2011 election. Just this week, though, it was agreed that fans’ group Pars United would take over Dunfermline.
Meanwhile, Foundation of Hearts are still in contention to take over at Tynecastle. Everyone I know in Edinburgh who cares about football wants to see their bid succeed: wouldn’t it be better if they had a right of first refusal at a fair price? As the Evening News put it this week:
“A unique opportunity to make their own history stands within the grasp of those fantastic supporters. For decades, football fans around the world have talked about the dream of owning the club that they love and taking control of their own destiny. Right now, as a result of several factors coming together, the opportunity exists to make that dream a reality here in Edinburgh. After years of feeling powerless, subject to the whim of a feckless foreign owner, the fans could actually take control of the third best supported team in Scotland.”
They list Hearts’ achievements on the pitch (and the sacrifices made during World War One), and conclude:
“A takeover by the fans would stand alongside those achievements in the annals of the club.”
Quite right. Without wishing to sound too Bolshevik, no more Romanovs!
Disclosure: I’m helping Alison with this campaign and I wrote the press release