Sunday, May 06, 2012

Fan-owned clubs put best foot forward

 Source: Morning Star

 Despite the some drama at the end of the football season it has yet again been good news for football co-ops.

OK, fan-owned Barcelona lost to Abramovich's Chelsea. But Chelsea still have to beat the 130,000 fans who own 84 per cent of Bayern Munich to win the title.

So it's another good season for fan-owned clubs, with three of the four Champion's League semi-finalists being owned by their fans.

The Bundesliga have a 50 per cent plus one rule which means no individual however wealthy can take control of one of its member clubs. So I will be cheering on Bayern in the final.

And when it comes to bankruptcy blues, why does no-one seem to be advocating fan ownership for Glasgow Rangers?

With their global support, surely if any club is capable of rebuilding themselves, it has to be Rangers on the back of such a hugely passionate fan base.

They are in an ideal position to go for fan ownership. Surely their experience of being owned by some particularly dubious people is enough to forever put them off being a rich man's toy.

Meanwhile in the lower divisions we have had some stunning performances from fan-owned clubs.

I will be cheering on Wrexham to make it into the football league after a dramatic year in which the club have been brought back to life thanks to the support of their fantastic fans.

Last summer players went unpaid and pre-season games where called off for lack of cash. Now they are on the verge of promotion.

The fans raised over £100,000 in a matter of hours to raise the conference bond and nearly 6,000 turned up for the battle of fan-owned clubs when they played AFC Telford on New Year's Day.

AFC Telford - another club undergoing rebuilding following a fan buyout - have managed to hang on to their place in the Blue Square League.

Sadly Exeter City, who do a tremendous amount in the community in Devon, will drop into the Championship League 2 to join AFC Wimbledon who have had, well, a mixed season back in the football league.

One of the most amazing performances of the season has been in the Premiership where Swansea, the only Welsh club ever to play in the Premiership, have set people talking with their brand of free-flowing football.

However, not many people realise that without the 20 per cent of the club in the ownership of the Supporters Trust, giving them a seat on the board, this success would not have been possible.

Over time, as other shareholders come and go, the Supporters Trust will most likely come to play an even bigger role in the club.

Elsewhere in Wales, Merthyr Town won promotion from the Western Football League Premier Division to the Southern League just two years after being reformed under supporter's ownership after the liquidation of Merthyr Tydfil FC.

There is no doubt that Supporters Direct, who promote supporters' club ownership and the formation of supporters' trusts, are doing a great job with 26 clubs now in ownership or control by supporters' trusts.

I will be looking forward to the contests for the Supporters Direct Shield between Fisher and Lewes and the Supporters Direct Cup, sponsored by the Co-operative Group, between Wrexham and Enfield Town when both games are played, on Sunday July 8, at Enfield Towns Queen Elizabeth Stadium.

Talking of stadiums, as well as reaching the play-off final in the Evo-Stick League, FC United of Manchester are also celebrating having raised £1.6 million in a community share issue.

This cash will unlock the grant funding they need to meet the costs of their new £4.6m stadium project and building work is set to begin soon at the Moston site.

Many people have commented that in the tussle between the two halves of Manchester that United have been held back this season by the huge burden of debt imposed on them by the Glaziers.

It was this argument that in many ways lead to the formation of FC United. They are not however the only critics of the Glaziers and their financial engineering.

One critic brings me back to where I began - it is Bayern Munich president Uli Hoeness. He argues that it is unfair for the owners of the club to lumber them with almost £450m of debt, something many United fans would have agreed with when they woke up on the morning after City had overtaken them in the Premiership table.

This may soon become a much bigger issue as Bayern are vociferous supporters of Uefa's financial fair play regulations, which could see clubs barred from the Champions League if they fail to reduce losses and adhere to the new financial strictures by 2015.

The German club's chief executive Karl-Heinz Rummenigge insists that Europe's governing body must get tough with those who ignore the rules.

At the moment only Arsenal of the highest profile Premier League clubs would comfortably meet the requirements of the new rules based on recently published financial results.

Under their current ownership model, Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City would all fail.

If it was needed, here is another good reason to rethink how our most popular sport is owned and run.

by Nick Matthews