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‘Can Fan Ownership save Scottish football?’ Heriot-Watt University CFI debate

CFI debate Morrow

Stephen Morrow addresses the audience at Heriot-Watt University

Thursday of last week saw the coming together of a range of stakeholders in Scotland’s national game to discuss the question of whether ‘Fan ownership can save Scottish football’ for Heriot-Watt’s CFI 5th Annual Debate.

Speaking on the night and presenting their cases for and against the fan ownership model were:

Ann Budge: Chair and Chief Executive of Heart of Midlothian FC.
Andrew Adams: Professor of Finance and Director of the Centre for Finance and Investment at Heriot-Watt University. He is the co-author of the paper: Mutuality for Football Clubs? Lessons from the Financial Sector” which was published in 2004.
Stephen Morrow: Senior Lecturer in Sport Finance at the University of Stirling. He is the Chairman of the working group – along with Supporters Direct Scotland – on Supporter Involvement in Football Clubs for the Scottish Government
Mike Mulraney: Chairman and Chief Executive of Alloa Athletic FC and a board member of the SPFL.

While the each speaker debated the wording of the question posed, it never the less brought up great discussion among the participants who each had their own personal feelings on the future of the model within Scottish football. While Mike Mulraney (against) and Ann Budge (for) were able to draw upon their personal experiences at their respective clubs, Stephen Morrow (for) and Andrew Adams (against) backed up their own arguments with academia and published research.

At the outset of the evening, attendees were asked to show whether they agreed with the statement by a show of hands. While at the start the majority of the audience did believe fan ownership was the way forward, by the discussion’s conclusion this had drastically shifted. It should be noted however, that the Supporters Direct Scotland 2014 National Fans Survey showed an overwhelming majority of fans believe community ownership could work in Scotland.

However, there are numerous inaccuracies in some of the night’s arguments against fan ownership which I feel ought to be addressed.

The example of FC Barcelona and Real Madrid as member owned clubs and ones whose debts had soared so high, the Spanish government were no longer willing to disclose how much they have accumulated. I feel it’s important to note that Supporters Direct do not promote either Barcelona or Real Madrid as good examples of financially sustainable, well-run football clubs.

There seemed to be a shared opinion between most of the speakers that fan ownership in Scotland had not been done ‘well’ to date. Interestingly, just one hour after the discussion’s conclusion, fan-owned Clyde FC – a Trust-owned club since 2010 – released the news that after 10 years of the burden of borrowing which was wracked up chasing the SPL, they were now completely free of the debt: 

This mood is captured well by former Clyde FC manager Jim Duffy in this video

Additionally, I wonder whether fans of fan-owned Stirling Albion feel they have done ‘fan ownership badly’? The Binos are one of the few clubs to my knowledge that have produced a profit while extending their activities within their local community. While the club initially suffered consecutive relegations, the essence of community ownership is not that of success on the park, but that of ensuring your club will be to support in 25 years time – something that Trust at Stirling have so far done particularly well in my opinion.

In fact, if one was to argue about the success of fan ownership versus private ownership, the proof is in the pudding that no club in fan ownership has gone into administration in Scottish football. The same cannot be said of private ownership. Generally, there seemed an agreement among the speakers that ‘well-run’ clubs should be the model for the game, but that can be unsustainable and put the club in a lot of potential danger if it happens to rely upon one person, such as the case of Gretna FC and former owner Brooks Mileson who passed away while in ownership of the club.

Many of you had your say on the debate and the subject of fan ownership on social media. Below is a selection of tweets following last week;

 

Each one of the speakers agreed that fan ownership has ‘a place’ within the Scottish football and most agreed that benevolent benefactors were ‘running out’ – so who will take on the responsiblity of ensuring these clubs continue to exist? As Stephen Morrow points out, Chairman, players and managers can all change – but supporters will be there for the long-term.

 Andrew Jenkin – Head of Supporters Direct Scotland

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