Andrew Jenkin – Head of Supporters Direct Scotland
Supporters Direct Scotland were particularly encouraged by the Green Party’s proposed amendments to the Community Empowerment Bill which would allow supporters the right to buy a football club should it go up for sale.
The proposals – which were unanimously agreed by Holyrood’s Local Government Committee – will see a supporters group or other community group offered an opportunity to purchase a club should it go up for sale.
SDS believes fans should be central in the decision-making process within football. We have considerable expertise and experiences within the game to be able to help where there is an appetite and opportunity for further fan involvement. We also recognise ownership models come in all shapes and sizes and there isn’t a one size fits all model, with the opportunity for a plurality of ownership structures.
While SDS acknowledges the potential issues with the proposals, we can only congratulate the principle and desire from the Green Party to see supporters more involved. Approaching this issue from a legislative angle won’t be without its difficulties but generally we are greatly enthused by what can come through these amendments and happy to see supporters put at the forefront of the debate around the ownership of clubs.
The proposals have received a some criticism from a range of stakeholders within the game in Scotland and many inaccuracies have been reported and speculated about the proposals and the supporter ownership model in general which I felt could use some perspective.
One of the main assumptions should the proposals go through is that there is going to be a massive surge from fans wishing to purchase their club outright. This simply won’t happen. What this law would mean is that where there is a desire and appetite for a more democratic and transparent ownership model at a club, there is a clear pathway for supporters to go about enacting that. This will only happen if there is clear disillusion of the governance and running of clubs among supporter groups and the will to do something about it.
Another concern is that the Chairmen themselves are supporters of clubs and that in many people’s eyes, this is supporter ownership. Of course, this isn’t incorrect, but when fan, supporter and community ownership is referred to, it is meant through a legal structure which ensures each member of that structure has an equal say in key decision making processes. Within these groups, Chairmen and those charged with governing clubs are elected through a process which enshrines a one-member one-vote principle among memberships.
In Scotland, supporter groups possess immensely strong and skilled individuals who are happy and willing to use their skill sets to help advance clubs within these processes. The idea that just anyone could end up running a club is nonsense and used to suit a certain narrative around supporter ownership. Think about the fan groups we have in Scotland and the immense range of skills and abilities that exist within those groups.
One point made in recent media discussion is that supporters have no experience of running clubs. While this may be true, is it not also true that everyone has to start somewhere? Many Chairmen may have had prior experience running their own businesses, but as we’ve experienced, football is a completely different environment and they too would have been new to the footballing landscape at first.
Much of the thinking behind these proposals comes from the belief that football clubs are not merely limited companies to be traded and instead, the Greens correctly acknowledge football clubs are social, cultural and community institutions. Not only this, but the community model is shown to have all the following benefits:
The arguments for further fan involvement have never been about a better product on the park but are instead about success and sustainability off the park. It is about ensuring people with the best wishes of a club – the supporters- are at the heart of decision making. Clyde’s announcement last year that they are now debt free shows that supporters are good decision makers and financially minded to steer clubs in the right direction. The fact Stirling Albion happen to be bottom of the SPFL League 1 is redundant within the argument as financially they are a sound entity and all involved in the decision making are running it in a way which ensures fans can enjoy the club for years to come. This concept of long-term sustainability is the key issue regarding supporter involvement and ownership of football clubs, and having fans in key, decision-making positions provides a great opportunity to create a sustainable future for Scottish football.
SDS have also been involved in improving conditions for supporter involvement in football governance through a non-legislative approach through the Working Party Group. The Working Group for Supporter Involvement in Football Clubs was set up by the Scottish Government in April 2014. Its remit was to identify, consider and recommend ways to increase and improve supporter involvement in Scottish football clubs.
The recommendations included:
• Development of an annual Supporter Involvement Award
• All clubs should give consideration of the best ways that supporters can get involved in how they are run
• Training and guidance should be given to supporters’ representatives
• That the Scottish FA consider as a matter of priority how best supporters can be represented in its formal governance structures
• Clubs to make various key pieces of information available, including names of all board members, their involvement in the club and the reason for their appointment, details of the number of board meetings held and the number of directors attending
• All SPFL clubs to declare the identity of their beneficial owner
• That best practice guidelines be developed for community clubs
• To explore the establishment of a Business, Community and Football Enterprise unit to provide legal and financial support to supporters and club owners
We believe supporters are integral to the game of football and should continue to be further involved in the decision making with the group offering us the opportunity to shape future recommendations. While these recommendations have received significantly less media attention than the Green Party’s proposals, SDS are just as committed to assisting in their implementation and look forward to seeing them being adopted by clubs and decision makers.