Published on October 2nd, 2015 | by Bill
The Importance of Fan Activism
In light of the protests planned by fans across the country this weekend, the following comes to us from long-term friend of STAND, Kev Rye, ex-Head of Policy & PR at Supporters Direct & now advising Hadley Property Group on moving Dulwich Hamlet into fan ownership.
When you’ve left a big campaign or movement, it’s tempting to constantly comment from the outside. The problem is you could end up looking like the ghost at the feast. Still after 11+ years working for Supporters Direct and as an ex-activist with the Wimbledon Independent Supporters Association I have got a few relevant things to say about fan activism & its future.
Since 2000 SD has provided fans with ways to channel the frustration that many felt after years of neglect from the top, founding 200-plus supporters’ trusts and fan-owned clubs. Yet just two years after SD’s formation, the low watermark in the neglect of supporters was hit when the FA Commission on the future of Wimbledon said that fans re-forming the club wouldn’t be “in the wider interests of football”.
SD and its members have fought for the right of some clubs to exist, and of supporters to be part of the ownership of clubs. An important role has also been to make people see that proper regulation of the game is acceptable, if not necessary, and that football clubs aren’t completely the possession of those who legally own them. Even government intervention is no longer totally out of the question.
As for now, there’s much to be optimistic about. One being the government-convened Expert Working Group on Supporter Ownership, in which SD and the Football Supporters’ Federation (FSF) are involved along with the FA, Premier League and Football League. The fan takeover of Newport County is another positive, but the continuing crisis at Blackpool seems unresolvable, with the authorities largely incapable of intervening because it’s regarded as an internal dispute between fans and club.
Then there’s distracting chatter about merging SD and the FSF (which has its roots in the 2002 merger of the fan-created FSA and more conservative National Federation of Football Supporters’ Clubs). While they are often seen as two sides of the same coin, that is not accurate. SD isn’t an English organisation, and hasn’t been since the creation of SD Scotland in 2002 and SD Europe in 2007. It also works in rugby league, and will be shortly carrying out a feasibility study for an SD Cymru. Some on both sides, and others from outside, are advocating a “merger” to create a supposedly more powerful vehicle for fans’ views. This is a needless distraction at a key moment.
Many of the problems facing SD and the FSF have been related to resources and funding. The Premier League makes the organisations it funds sufficiently reliant on them to ensure that they never have quite enough to really make an impact, leaving groups focusing more on how to get their next tranche of cash than on what they need to be doing to advance their work.
It’s vital that fan activists retain a healthy scepticism for the football authorities. They like to use the language of inclusivity but no one should be fooled by it. The Premier League doesn’t employ Bill Bush, a former Tony Blair strategist, as its director of public policy because he likes hosting get-togethers for all his football friends; he’s there to be politically effective, and to win.
Nonetheless the game has genuinely changed because of what we’ve all done. Whether that’s the sheer level of scrutiny on the actions of owners and regulators, the fact that we have so many fan-owned clubs in the Football League and just outside, the proliferation of other groups and campaigns such as Stand, the Football Action Network or supporters’ trusts across the Premier League
At SD I tried to ensure that we supported anyone who wanted to be active and campaign on an issue of importance. One of the best campaigns I was involved in nationally was with the three or four people who created the “No to League Three” initiative last year, opposing an FA plan to place Premier League B teams into a new League division; while the FSF-led “No to Game 39” was another great example. Football activism is a growing phenomenon in 2015 but it relies on highly effective organisations. I’m hopeful that these can continue to develop.