With a General Election scheduled for next year, all the main parties have this week made a football-related announcement. In this article, David Growns summarises what’s happening:
Each of the announcements will strike a chord with us as fans and members of a supporter-owned football club. First the Liberal Democrats came in with support for the introduction of safe standing, which is welcome news. Whilst standing is allowed in League 2 it’s currently outlawed in the top two tiers. The method used to implement it and how it’s done will have an impact on all league clubs and fans. The announcement drew a reaction from Dons Trust chairman Matt Breach :
“The choice to sit or to stand in a designated standing area is something most football fans would like, and a safe way of providing that choice should be applauded rather than resorting to heavy-handed stewarding to prevent standing in seated areas as is often seen in England. I would hope the other parties make this a manifesto commitment; certainly there is widespread support across the political spectrum.”
The second announcement this week came from the Labour Party which made a manifesto commitment to give supporters a stronger voice in the running of their football club. In brief, this proposes giving accredited Supporters Trusts (like the Dons Trust) the legal right to replace up to a quarter of a club’s board of directors and to purchase up to 10% of shares.
The response of the Football League Chief Executive, Shaun Harvey, was disappointing:
“… we have to be careful not to create barriers that act as a disincentive to the next generation of owners and directors, as the game will only suffer as a consequence[…] the average annual loss of a Championship club in 2012/13 was more than £13m with that shortfall having to be met by the club’s shareholders to enable it to continue playing football[…] Improved communications with supporters shouldn’t come at the cost of exposing those same supporters to unacceptable levels of financial risk. “
In other words….” supporter involvement won’t work because the current broken financial model will continue unchanged.” Most people can see that the current governance model is broken and that it has resulted in a third of league clubs going to the wall since 1992, causing unemployment, pain and distress.
Also this week, the Government has announced that it is to set up a Supporter Ownership and Engagement Expert group, that will have its first meeting in London next month. It will have representation on it from Government, the Premier League, The FA, the Football League, Supporters Direct, the legal profession, insolvency and tax experts and representatives from clubs that are owned by supporters (Portsmouth FC, AFC Wimbledon and Wrexham). Its focus will also be on strengthening supporter ownership.
There are four supporter-owned clubs in the Football League and more in the leagues below. More than ten League clubs already have supporter representation on the board and even more have mechanisms in place to make supporters views heard. It works – even in the Premier League, where Swansea City is 20% supporter-owned.
As supporter-owners of AFC Wimbledon, we of course welcome these proposals to engage with Supporters Trusts and promote much greater supporter involvement in the ownership of football clubs.