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Men’s football: what’s next for football fans

  • The Guardian
  • Issue #1959

The strength of supporter action prevented a power grab by football’s elite as a new Super League disbanded just days after it was officially announced.

Once the backlash began, several of the clubs involved scurried to become the first to withdraw in an attempt to save face, as fans united against football’s latest gluttonous venture.

The fallout from these frantic few days appears to have brought about a wider realisation that fans need to have more of a say in how football is run.

Despite this, the idea that supporters are able to assume a position of power at these clubs through raising money to buy shares is probably unrealistic.

The 50+1 ownership model seen in Germany, which ensures supporters and members remain the majority shareholder, may appear to be the way forward, but could be more difficult to apply in England.

The European Super League led to suggestions that these clubs would soon become little more than franchises, but many of them already are.

In their current state, they might be too far gone when it comes to converting them into fan-owned institutions and this is why many fans have already sought alternatives lower down the league pyramid.

But this doesn’t mean there can be no supporter involvement at these big clubs or that current owners cannot be held to account.

No group has invested more into these clubs than the supporters and they should not have to invest any more money to be seen as worthy shareholders.

Many families’ support goes back generations, whether that be in the local communities that helped shape these 100-plus-year-old institutions, giving them their unique characteristics, or overseas supporters who embraced this identity and helped spread it around the globe.

It has been a difficult moment for fans of these breakaway clubs, the majority of whom were dead against these proposals. During the past week, they were regularly presented with the idea that the clubs they support are gone – if they want to join a Super League let them, good riddance.

Just as it was unfair to these supporters to say “good riddance” to their clubs once a Super League was suggested, it is unfair to ask them to invest further large sums of money to be able to have a say in the running of their clubs.

In his apology to Liverpool fans, principal owner John W Henry constantly referenced “your club.” If he and others are to back their words up with actions, they need to make sure supporters are represented at the board level in the future.

Such supporter representation has been mentioned as part of a fan-led review on football announced by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport this week.

It will be chaired by Conservative MP Tracey Crouch, who is a qualified coach and manages a local girls team at grassroots level.

Both major political parties in Westminster have included domestic football reforms in recent election manifestos, and some of these measures might finally be put into action.

Crouch says the review “will look closely at the issues of governance, ownership and finance and take the necessary steps to retain the game’s integrity, competitiveness and, most importantly, the bond that clubs have with its supporters and the local community.”

The Super League threatened the fabric of the English football leagues. The plans to trickle money down was vague, as they often conveniently are, and it was a move to put the majority of the money football makes in the hands of a cabal of already rich owners.

Many of the clubs who were involved in the Super League are already crippled by debts despite the large sums the game makes each year.

The failed launch of this new league was yet another example of how some of the top clubs in world football are among the worst run.

Different supporter groups will have different levels of satisfaction with their club’s current owners, but they are now all united in one cause after the realisation that they have been taken for granted for too long.

The lack of consultation from owners with fans before agreeing to such a seismic change in the football landscape summed up the attitude of the former towards the latter.

On this occasion, fans had support from broadcasters in the form of passionate arguments from pundits on various channels, but too often these broadcasters have themselves neglected supporters.

And as covered in [a previous] column, the plans for a reformed UEFA Champions League are themselves little more than a Super League under a different guise, and many other issues which have been festering for some time remain.

We might now be about to witness the strength of fan power, but supporters groups now need to use the anger sparked by the shameless Super League plans to build momentum and go after the areas of the game which have been rotten for some time.

The Super League backlash should serve as a prologue to further action which gets to the root of the problems in the game and the way it’s run, including Uefa’s latest plans.

As Leeds United manager Marcelo Bielsa said on Monday: “Football is not only a business, football belongs to everybody. The real owners of football are the ones who love the badge and without them, football would disappear.”

Morning Star

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