Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Let's Hear It For The Fans

Scottish football fans ownership proposals
It may have escaped your notice but we're all suffering from election fever here in Scotland.

Actually, it might well have escaped your notice. The campaign hasn't exactly caught the public imagination yet. Strange that, given all the massive and impressive personalities involved at the hustings.

I jest.

But the fitba' has elbowed its way into proceedings thanks to a new proposal from the Scottish Greens:

"The Scottish Greens today proposed an extension of land reform and the community right to buy to cover Scotland's football clubs, so fans would have first refusal when their club comes up for sale. The Greens also identified two sources of money to back fan buy-outs: first, from the £1m last week allocated to sponsor the Scottish League Cup from the Proceeds of Crime Act, and secondly through a levy on the broadcast fees received by the Scottish Premier League and the Scottish Football Association.

"The Scottish game continues to be beset by financial insecurity, uncertainty about ownership and structures. These measures are designed to start a long-term shift towards fan ownership of their clubs, work promoted across the UK by organisations like Supporters Direct. Last year saw the successful £300,000 takeover of Stirling Albion by its fans, yet other Scottish clubs - including Dundee and Motherwell - remain in financial difficulty while supporters' trusts work to take control of them."

Patrick Harvie, Co-convenor of the Scottish Greens and the party's top candidate in Glasgow, said:

"Scottish football is in a mess. We have chronic financial indiscipline in football management, and a concentration of wealth and power in the clubs at the top of the game. Fan-owned clubs, on the other hand, are a model that works well elsewhere - not just for Barcelona and Real Madrid, but also for every substantial club in both Sweden and Germany. In the long term, clubs large and small will only thrive on and off the pitch when they are rooted in their communities, and that means giving loyal supporters both the right to buy their clubs and the money to do so."

An interesting proposal. I'd guess it might not be top of the Greens' wishlist if they find themselves bargaining with a minority government. But one never knows.

Slightly put off by the comparisons with other countries. Real Madrid and Barcelona are very different beasts. And, it must be said, both have embraced some of modern football's more extravagant excesses despite, maybe because, of their structures.

Still, it's a fair enough point and I'm sure fan ownership or part ownership will provide the best answers to the problems at certain clubs.

Interestingly the Greens' policy announcement clashed with a statement from St Mirren:

"Last year the board of St Mirren Football Club appointed Richard Atkinson and Chris Stewart to the Club board. This was with the purpose of investigating the feasibility of a Community Interest Company (CIC) based purchase of the 52% of the shares of the Club that have been for sale.

"The board is pleased to report that the initial phase of this investigation has concluded positively and as a result two further individuals are to be brought on as advisors to the board. This is Scott McLennan, former Local Director for LloydsTSB and Tony Fitzpatrick, who requires no further introduction to all St Mirren fans.

"Over the next couple of weeks further details will be announced of a shareholders meeting and a number of public meetings at which all people who may be interested in what a Community Interest Company controlling ownership will mean for them, the team and the wider community."

If nothing else it seems that Scottish football, a game trapped in a perpetual hunt for solutions and answers, is about to hear a lot more about the pros, cons, if, buts and possibilities of fan ownership.

> Fair to assume that both David Cameron and Jeremy Hunt, his Culture, Media and Sports go-to-guy, have had other things on their minds since assuming office last year. But, lest we forget, the Conservative Sports Manifesto had this to say:

"We will reform the football governance arrangements so co-operative ownership models can be established by supporters, as part of a wider package of reform of football finance and governance."

That might be a more fitting legacy than the bungled 2018 World Cup bid. A select committee inquiry into football governance is ongoing and today's Guardian reports that:

"The Culture, Media and Sport select committee's investigation into football governance is set to lead to a formal club licensing system. Indeed, so advanced is the thinking of the committee that what the licensing system would contain is already taking shape.

"Insiders have told Digger that there are four main strands. The committee has been particularly alarmed by the lack of transparency surrounding Leeds United's ownership. Shaun Harvey, the Championship club's chief executive, was left to answer the committee's questions about who are the beneficial owners of the web of offshore trusts that are Leeds's parents, but he said he did not know. This starkly illustrated to the committee the ease with which impenetrable structures can be set up.

"The second licensing condition will be a strengthened fit-and-proper-persons' test. Third will be a restriction on the clubs' gearing ratios of debt to equity or assets, and fourth will be an element of supporter involvement in the decision-making structures of clubs.

"This is set to be enshrined in a Football Governance and Major Events Act, for which parliamentary time has been set aside. The licensing system would be a big incentive for reform of the normally reactionary Football Association. Once the FA became fit for regulatory purpose, oversight of the system would give it proper teeth."

Watch this space.