Date: 15th August 2020
The concept of supporters owning football clubs is nothing new. It stretches back to when the clubs that we love were in their infancy and were run by the individual members who literally owned the team. In fact some of the original structures have remained in place at places like Stranraer and of course most famously at Queens Park. Along the way most of our senior clubs eventually converted to be Limited Companies either to restrict the liabilities of the individuals or as a way to raise funds through share issues.
That structure of club ownership has been challenged in the past decade as the Community Ownership model has come to the fore, initially with fans owning clubs such as Clydebank and Gretna who fell from the height of the Premier League to reform as supporter owned and run. In the senior game Stirling Albion, Clyde, East Stirlingshire and Stenhousemuir were early adopters of the new model that put fans rather than “investors” right at the front of the picture. Of course, in many countries across the globe community ownership and supporters being involved in the democratic process within clubs they love is something that is treasured and appreciated. In Scotland I know from personal experience that it was often seen as being too radical or not fit for purpose. Indeed, at a meeting with the Scottish Government at the time the Hearts model was being put in place, one of our football chief executives was quite blunt with me that Community Ownership would never work. Having had both good and bad experiences on this from my time at Stirling Albion and despite seeing it fail at Dundee, I always had faith that if the larger clubs got involved the whole dynamic would change. I’ve always thought that the model would work well with clubs with larger numbers of motivated and qualified supporters to call on.
Now those darlings of Community Ownership at Hearts have been joined by a host of other clubs such as Dunfermline Athletic, Motherwell, St.Mirren, Partick Thistle and now Morton who are on the community ownership pathway. Given that it is now recognised that there is very little opportunity to make money from football clubs as an investor, the Community Ownership route is a safe and secure way to guarantee a club’s future. Nobody loves a club as much as its fans and they will never leave it for another “better placed” investment.
One of the huge benefits that could emerge in the years ahead is that as the game develops a democratic process the fans involved at the community owned clubs can not only elect their own Board but also start to break down the barriers at Hampden Park by pushing for the type of overhaul and reform that the game desperately needs. It might not be a conventional revolution or one that might happen quickly, but if the elected representatives at the supporter owned clubs are put in place with a mandate to reform the wider game as well as running their own club then it could well kick start a process of wider reform. It might not be fast and at might take some coordinating but with every financial donation a club takes from its members, the more it needs to take into consideration what those members want.
The Scottish Football Supporters Association want to see a governance structure that is fair, has integrity and is fan centric rather than seeing fans as an easy cash cow that keeps turning up week after week, month after month and year after year. The SFSA has not yet met any fans who believe that what we have now is fit for purpose. If there is anyone out there, apart from employees of the SFA and SPFL, who think differently then let us know and we will share your views to get some debate going. It could well be that the democratisation of the game through Community Ownership is a slow running torpedo that the Hampden Park super tanker can’t turn away from.
Paul Goodwin is a Director of the Scottish Football Supporters Association and has a book titled ‘How to Buy and Run a Football Club: The Fans’ Guide to Community Ownership’ scheduled for publication by Luath Press Ltd later this year.
You can be part of that book by telling us what you think here: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/sfsa-community-ownership
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