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Published on May 29th, 2015 | by Bill

How the election result could affect Supporter Ownership

With our 13th Issue out the door just ahead of the General Election earlier this month, we pressed home our belief that understanding the politics of football is crucial for us as fans if we are going to actively push for changes in the modern game… In this contribution, received from Rob Conlon, we get an insight into what the result of that election might mean for one of our pet subjects, supporter ownership. 

The Conservative’s majority victory at the General Election could have a huge impact on one thing millions of British people care most passionately about, their football club, and how it is run.

Following recent protests by supporters at Newcastle United and Blackpool, as well as the return of convicted fraudster Massimo Cellino as chairman of Leeds United, football ownership is now firmly back on the agenda.

Somewhat worryingly for fans of the game, in their manifesto for this year’s election, the Conservatives did not mention the sport in any form whatsoever.

However, Alec Shelbrooke, who held his seat with an increased majority as the Tory MP for the Elmet and Rothwell constituency in Leeds, insists it is still very much in the minds of the government.

He says: “As a start off it is important to say that we are working with the football authorities to look at ways to increase engagement with the fans in the running of the clubs they support. An expert group has been set up to consider the options and that is to ensure supporters form stronger links with those running the club and they make it easier for clubs to become community owned when that is a sensible and sustainable option.”

In 2011 the House of Commons’ Culture, Media and Sport Committee published a report highlighting the need to reform how football in this country is governed, including recommendations for a stronger fit and proper persons test and an amendment of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000, which would help remove some of the legal and bureaucratic hurdles supporters’ trusts must overcome when trying to raise funds to purchase stakes in their clubs.

Initially this was met by a positive response from the government, who gave the football authorities an ultimatum to implement the changes themselves, or else they would introduce legislation which would have forced the reform. Neither of these things have happened.

39-year-old West Ham fan Shelbrooke now admits this may not be possible, saying: “You have to be pragmatic. You have to accept the fact that government actually has very little influence on this. If you try and pass a law then how does that affect Manchester United who are registered on the New York stock exchange?

“You haven’t got the ability to actually impose laws on what is effectively a foreign owned club. The board of directors are registered outside of the UK. So I think what you have got to do is engage with the football community, with the Premier League, with UEFA and with the FA to look at the advantages to a club that will come about as a result of fan representation.”

Chief executive of Supporters Direct, Robin Osterley, has condemned this reluctance to implement legislation as the government continuing to allow the Premier League to effectively have a stranglehold on the game due to the astronomical amount of money it generates.

Formed in 2000, Supporters Direct has helped the fans of 40 clubs in the UK become owners of their teams. In addition, the have aided the development of a further 140 supporters’ trusts, while extending their work across Europe.

He cites the failure to follow up the 2011 report as the biggest disappointment, adding: “What looked like a really powerful and important report was not exactly shelved but never properly implemented. There were a number of things in there about the reform of football which would have been hugely beneficial to us.

“I think that clearly the whole notion of legislating in this sort of area doesn’t sit very well with the Conservatives. You do have issues with legislating what are effectively private companies but football is not just your average business. It really isn’t. Supporters are not just your average consumers.”

That perhaps is the most important point. Fans follow their team up and down the country, spending our hard earned money and investing huge amounts of time.

It’s about time we got something in return, our loyalty can no longer be taken for granted.

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