Thursday, January 20, 2011

Football fans do not expect to pick the team

 Source: The Guardian

 Supporters just want clubs to be run democratically, rather than by the dictatorship of chairmen

o Dave Boyle
o The Guardian, Thursday 20 January 2011

In her column on the role of fans in the ownership and governance of football clubs, Louise Taylor debates whether it's better to have "benevolent dictatorship or democracy" (Power to the people is false economy, 13 January). But in siding with the former, she says that "some supporters need reminding that purchasing a season ticket buys the rental of a seat rather than the right to elect a new manager or left-back".

Fans would hardly ask for their ashes to be scattered over the pitch if their relationship with the club were so cold and simple; but the notion that the fan-ownership movement is about wanting to pick the team is a fallacy. Taylor seems to have taken the idea about voting for the squad from Ebbsfleet, which is unfortunate since that club is not part of the move to fan ownership and democracy – it was based on a canny marketing hook about the wisdom of crowds, not the wisdom of fans creating a vehicle to have strategic control over their club. Instead of Ebbsfleet, she would have been better looking at clubs which are part of that movement, and which paint a rather different picture.

FC United of Manchester have raised £1m in a community share issue via a one-member, one-vote co-operative. AFC Wimbledon, promoted four times in eight seasons and sitting at the top of the non-league pyramid, was re-formed by fans after their club was stolen from them. Exeter City's supporters' trust picked up the pieces of a club in decline, and it has now been promoted twice, with gates increased by 70%.

Taylor criticises club chairmen for "fuelling daft, disingenuous fantasies of democracy"; but the notion of fans being given ideas above their station by owners keen to share power and responsibility over these cherished institutions is risible. Over the last 10 years we have helped fans form over 170 supporters' co-operatives across the UK, representing over 250,000 supporters.

While some enlightened clubs, such as Arsenal, recognise the benefits of a dialogue with supporters' groups, the sad reality is that the contribution of most chairmen is merely to highlight the need for supporter democracy through their own greed, mismanagement and, in some cases, criminality. Fans know that today's "benevolent dictator" is likely to be tomorrow's false god, asset-stripper or capricious egotist.

Taylor suggests that fans should demand more tangible goals, such as lower season ticket prices and better facilities – as if these were not linked to club ownership and governance. Does she really believe that it was simply an absence of benevolence that let British stadiums become crumbling deathtraps, or which caused ticket prices to rise so ludicrously above inflation? The root cause was that the people making decisions were unaccountable to those on the receiving end.

If you want to see what clubs do when they are accountable and democratic, go and watch a game in Germany. The stadiums are new and atmospheric, and the ticket prices are cheap. That model of ownership is a requirement of the German Bundesliga; that's the kind of benevolent dictating we need here.