The times they are a-changin’ 2
Posted by John Beech on April 1, 2010
[The second of an intermittent series of reflections on a new and positive zeitgeist in English football which has been developing over the past year. See also the first]
A couple of years ago Supporters Trusts seemed destined to be confined to clubs in the lower levels, notwithstanding that they had already proved their worth with, for example, the saving of Exeter City from oblivion and the master-minding of their return to League football. The thought that they might however a role to play in Premier League clubs would probably have been laughed at.
Today they are active players in the battles for Manchester United and Newcastle (and, north of the border, Rangers). Although not formed as conventional Supporters Trusts, two groups are involved with the battle for Liverpool – Share Liverpool FC, and Spirit of Shankly (originally called ‘Sons of Shankly’).
It’s the boldness in showing their willingness to tackle ownership that is indicative of the significant step forward that fandom is willing to take on today. As Kevin Rye of Supporters Direct has pointed out “The two biggest myths in football – that fans don’t want to buy clubs and can’t afford to buy them – has been blown right out of the water” (1). The exploding of the first myth has been demonstrated with the publication of a YouGov survey conducted for Co-operatives UK (2). The latter myth has shown more resistance, but as Kevin’s colleague Dave Boyle puts it “The only thing stopping these great clubs being owned by fans is the belief that these clubs are just too big to turn into British Barcelonas. But the bigger the club, the bigger the fan base and this survey shows if fans can be united, they can make this happen.“
There are different ways forward to raise the money needed, as the Trusts I have mentioned have shown. Manchester United Supporters Trust have been talking with the Red Knights (3) and hopefully a multi-owner fan-engaged ownership model can replace the current one (which has put total power in the hands of a family with no historic connection to the club, and no obvious reason to show a long-term commitment). There is no reason why the new model should not work.
Newcastle United Supporters Trust have promoted a scheme that could involve Trust members making significant investments through the freeing up of personal pensions. By January they had pledges of the order of £50m (4). On a less serious note, I wonder what impact this will have on the divorce rate in Northumbria though.
I find the situation in Liverpool more difficult to assess – is the existence of two organisations helpful? Both ultimately aim for fan ownership of the club after all, and thus will meet one another more and more head-on if they are successful, which is clearly counterproductive. They might take a leaf out of Pompey fans’ books, where the newish Pompey Supporters Trust [personal membership declared - JB] saw the coming together of twelve separate fans groups.
In God’s Ain Country too, Rangers Supporters Trust is engaging in attempted intermediation by talking to would be backers (5; see statement of 30 March).
What has emerged particularly over the past year is the realistic possibility of fan power, through Supporters Trusts, in even the largest (and thus most expensive to buy) clubs. There is of course still a long way to go, and not every Premier League club actually has a corresponding Supporters Trust. If your club falls into that category, time to get organising!