Whilst this season has seen some fantastically unpredictable football, that has surely thrilled most fans, and certainly the neutral, for me the most striking thing that has been happening this season in terms of football has been the growing financial crisis.
Whilst this has been simmering under the surface for years it really seems to be coming to the fore, firstly with Conference side Chester City being wound up and expelled from the Conference to the soap opera that has been Portsmouth FC in the Premier League.
That well known clubs may cease to exist is a real and palpable threat, Portsmouth have at times been days away from this fate. Cardiff City, who are in serious contention to gain promotion to the Premier League may well be wound up this summer over unpaid tax. Similarly Southend United has narrowly avoided a winding up order from HMRC by settling a £400,000 tax bill at the last moment.
Even some of our biggest marquee names, Manchester United and Liverpool are struggling with massive amounts of debt, the future not looking nearly as rosy as many football fans would hope and dream.
Football clubs are inevitably part of the fabric of a community, sport isn’t now, nor ever will it be, a normal business in the same way that shops on the high street are. And on the current evidence of the problems within Football in the UK at the moment, the model of running our clubs as if they were just any other business isn’t working either.
The answer has to be some sort of Fan Ownership of clubs. The “Socio” model, as used by two of the worlds greatest clubs FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, seems to spring to mind. Mardid and Barca are owned by the club members or “socios”. These members elect the President of the club (The “colourful” Florentino Pérez at Real for example!) who acts kinda like a chief executive and the fans have a say in the running of the club via the Presidential election system.
For me this seems like a much better model of ownership of football clubs, and it recognises their special status as more than just an ordinary business. The fact that Real and Barca are owned and run in this way should give lie to any suggestion that such a model would stop our top clubs competing at the highest level.
As a Trade Unionist one of the things that interests me about this model is the idea of collectivism it enshrines. The “Spirit of Shankly” campaign group set up campaign around the ownership of Liverpool FC and to campaign against the American Owners describe themselves as the “Liverpool Supporters Union”, at the top of their banner they quote Shankly talking about Socialism!
Despite never having been mad keen on the old Wimbledon side I must say I have been really happy at the success of AFC Wimbledon a side set up by fans to combat the scandal of the Franchising out of their club to Milton Keynes. The club is still owned by the fans and doing pretty well having been started from scratch less than 10 years ago.
The reality though is that in practice for this kind of thing to happen some. Big picture changes will need to take place,the Labour plan to allow fans to but a share in their clubs, is a start but IMHO it does not go nearly far enough.
Rather than just making it a possibility we should look to institute changes to make it genuinely easier for fans to forcibly take ownership of their clubs. Mechanisms to make it easier for fans unions to raise capital. Measures to penalise owners who are using their football club ownership as a Casino style gamble to make money (A la the Glazers, Gillette and Hicks, Gaydamark).
Cooperatives are one of the great successes of the progressive movement and for my 2 Cents it is high time they found a place in “The Beautiful Game”. I salute Barcelona “More than a Club”, The Spirit of Shankly, AFC Wimbledon, FC United and all those trying to bring football clubs back to the community and to fans.